- January 30: Bush intends to launch a troop escalation in Afghanistan, similar to that he is implementing in Iraq, to counter an expected Taliban spring offensive, a "surge" largely being ignored in Congress and the American media.
War in Afghanistan
And as in Iraq, the same problems are cropping up: reluctant allies, meddlesome neighbors, a weak central government and the realization that time is not on its side. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a hastily convened NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels last week, "Every one of us must take a hard look at what more we can do to help the Afghan people and to support one another." She continued, "We need greater commitments to reconstruction, to development, to fight the poppy economy. We need additional forces on the ground -- ready to fight. And we need to provide greater support for the development of Afghan institutions, especially security forces. ...If there is to be a spring offensive, it must be our offensive."
- Reversing the recent US trend of ignoring Afghanistan, the US has pledged an additional $8.6 billion for police and army training, plus $2 billion more for road-building, electricity and counter-narcotics efforts. And some of the 3,200 US Mountain Division troops whose tour has been extended will form the go-anywhere "theatre tactical reserve" long demanded by the NATO force commander, British general David Richards. "It will be used where he best wants to make a difference -- his force, his choice where he employs it," said US Major General Benjamin Freakley.
- Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Washington had prioritized governance and democracy-building at the expense of development. "The US has grossly underfinanced economic aid efforts and left far too much of the country without visible aid activity," he wrote last month. "The present central government [of president Hamid Karzai] is at least two or three years away from providing the presence and services Afghans desperately need. In Iraq the failure to honestly assess problems in the field, be realistic about needs [and] create effective long-term aid and force development plans may well have brought defeat. The US and its allies cannot afford to lose two wars. If they do not act now, they will."
- The US's NATO allies are expected to offer little help. Lithuania has signed on, but no other nation has responded to the US's call for assistance. Rice hinted after the NATO meeting that more European cash, and the easing of national restrictions on in-country troop deployments, might be forthcoming. But NATO has not responded to the US's call for 6,000 allied troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. (Guardian)
- January 30: The US is finding itself increasingly cut off from the Arab nations it believes are its allies over its warlike rhetoric towards Iran.
War with Iran
Many in the region, including the Arab moderates that the US so treasures, see Iran as increasingly ascendant in the area, the US as in retreat, and the US as largely responsible for the increase in sectarian divisions that plague the nations of the Middle East. Iran is closer than ever to Palestinian resistance organizations, assuming some of the financing that those groups had once obtained from Gulf Arab states, a move popular among most Arabs. Iran is challenging the United States in Lebanon and perhaps in Iraq, with ideology in both nations and with funds and arms in Lebanon and, again perhaps, in Iraq. And Iran is celebrating the overthrow of Iranian opposition regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. "The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," says Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the US and its Arab allies in the region." Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel, adds, "After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning."
- Every nation in the region is watching anxiously as the US escalates its aggression towards Iran. Bush has ordered Iranian "operatives" in Iraq to be captured or killed. Cheney has said that the deployment of a second US aircraft carrier task force to the Persian Gulf is intended to signal to the region that the US is "working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat." And John Negroponte, outgoing director of national intelligence, told Congress this month that Iran's influence is growing across the region "in ways that go beyond the menace of its nuclear program."
- An Iranian response to any American military attack would be swift. "Iran's supporters are widespread -- they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're everywhere. And you know, the American soldiers in the Middle East are hostages of Iran, in the situation where a war is imposed on it. They're literally in the hands of the Iranians," says Najaf Ali Mirzai, a former Iranian diplomat in Beirut who heads the Civilization Center for Iranian-Arab Studies. "The Iranians can target them wherever, and Patriot missiles aren't going to defend them and neither is anything else. Iran would suffer, but America would suffer more."
- The tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims throughout the Middle East are rising, and many in the region accuse the United States of stoking that tension as a way to counter predominantly Shi'ite Iran. Fear of Iranian dominance is coupled, sometimes in the same conversation, with suspicion of US intentions in confronting Iran. "It was necessary to create an enemy to justify the failure of the American occupation in Iraq," Talal Salman, the editor-in-chief of as-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper, wrote in a column this month. "So to protect ourselves against the coming of the wolf, we bring the foreign fleets that fill our lands, skies and seas."
- Arab rulers allied with the United States have issued stark warnings. Jordan's King Abdullah in 2005 spoke darkly of a Shi'ite crescent that would stretch from Iran, through Iraq's Shiite Arab majority, to Lebanon, where Shi'ites make up the largest single community. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt suggested last year that Shi'ites in the Arab world were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. And in a rare interview, published on January 27, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested that Iran, although he did not name the country, was trying to convert Sunni Arabs to Shi'ism. Meanwhile, the US accuses Iran of trying to exert its influence on the formerly exiled Shi'ite parties in Iraq and their militias, on Hezbollah, a Lebanese group formed with Iranian patronage after Israel's 1982 invasion, and even on the Sunni Muslim movement of Hamas in the Palestinian territories. "I disagree with Iranian policy, but you have to give the Iranians credit," says Abdullah al-Shayji, a political science professor and head of Kuwait University's American Studies Unit. "You have to appreciate that they have an agenda, they're planning for it, they seize the opportunity, they see an American weakness and they are capitalizing on it."
- The range of Iranian responses to American aggression is wide. They could blockade the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which 20% of the world's oil passes; they could retaliate in Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon; they could attack US targets in the Gulf. "There is a policy the Iranians have and they've repeated it often -- the Gulf is either safe for everyone or no one," says Mirzai. In an attempt to contest Iran's influence, the United States has sought to form an axis among Sunni Arab states it considers moderate: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and smaller countries in the Gulf. Israeli officials have spoken about a possible alignment of their country's interests with those states to arrest both Iran's influence and its nuclear program. But Zisser says, "Iran's threat could do something to bring them together, but I would say that any alliance that comes out of it would be defensive in nature. These countries are not going to be able to unite in any way that would meaningfully change the face of the Middle East."
- Dakhil warns, "It's very bleak and it's very dangerous. We have a sectarian civil war in Iraq now and this is drawing sectarian lines through the region. This is the most important, the most dangerous ramification of the American war in Iraq." (Washington Post)
- January 30: Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee begin working to thwart Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq and place new limits on the conduct of the war there, perhaps even forcing a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
Iraq war and occupation
The committee Democrats are joined by Republican Arlen Specter, the former chairman of the committee, who also asserts that Bush does not have the power to ignore Congressional opposition to his plan to send more troops to Iraq. "I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole decider," says Specter. "The decider is a joint and shared responsibility." Specter believes a clash over constitutional powers is "imminent."
- Democrat Russell Feingold says he is preparing a resolution that would stop all financing for American troops in Iraq after six months, with the exception of a limited number working on counterterrorism operations or training the Iraqi army and police. In effect, it would call for all other American forces to be withdrawn by the six-month deadline. Feingold is joined by only two other senators, Dick Durbin and Edward Kennedy, in supporting the resolution. Many Democrats hesitate to advocate cutting off funding in any way for the troops, fearing to be seen as failing to support the soldiers, and Bush officials and Republicans such as Dick Cheney have in essence dared the war's opponents to try cutting off financing. But Feingold is unmoved by the rhetoric and the political threats, saying, "Since the President is adamant about pursuing his failed policy in Iraq, Congress has a duty to stand up and prevent him." Republican Orrin Hatch is one who is promoting the administration's message, telling the Senate that "some who say they support our troops turn around and talk about defunding them. The message to our troops is that we no longer support them." But, showing some of the Democrats' new willingness to counter Republican accusations, Durbin responds by citing reports that some of the new troops are being sent to Iraq without adequate training or equipment. "Now who is standing behind the troops?" he asks. Feingold notes that his resolution would "not hurt our troops in any way" because they would all continue to be paid, supplied, equipped and trained as usual -- just not in Iraq.
- Durbin suggests that Congress revisit the resolution it passed in 2002 authorizing the use of force in Iraq, since the prime reasons cited in it -- the threats posed by Saddam Hussein and by weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was thought to possess -- were no longer factors. "By what authority do we continue this war?" he asks.
- The committee hears from an array of military historians and Constitutional experts. One such expert, the Library of Congress's Louis Fisher, tells the committee, "I don't know of any ground for a belief that the president has any more special expertise in whether to continue a war than do the members of Congress." Fisher reminds the committee that the Constitutional title of "commander in chief" was meant by the framers to emphasize unity of command and civilian control over the military. "The same duty commanders have to the president, the president has to the elected representatives," he says. Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger, who was a senior Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, adds that "Congress does not have an all or nothing choice," and can "validly limit the presidential use of force." A resolution to restrict future financing for deployment in certain places would be "fully within Congress's powers," he says. "I think the constitutional scheme does give Congress broad authority to terminate a war," says Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who was a White House associate counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003. Dellinger adds, "It is ultimately Congress that decides the size, scope and duration of the use of military force." "Today we've heard convincing testimony and analysis that Congress has the power to stop the war if it wants to," says Feingold.
- In response to questions by Kennedy regarding Iran, the panel of experts agree that Bush has the power to take what actions he sees fit to deal with any short-term threat that Iran might pose to American troops in Iraq, but that he would need some form of Congressional authorization to begin any large-scale or long-term conflict.
- Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch points out Specter's record of tremendous hypocrisy when it comes to pretending to stand up to Bush on Constitutional issues. Specter was forced to admit on January 17 (see above item) that he was the one who unilaterally, and surreptitiously, inserted language into the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act that allows the Attorney General to make indefinite "interim" appointments of US attorneys without going through Congress; Alberto Gonzales has fired a round dozen such attorneys and replaced them with political hacks whose main qualifications are loyalty to Bush. And Specter, after loudly protesting the recently passed bill on enemy combatants as "patently unconstitutional on its face," turned around and voted for it. He explained that the federal courts could "clean it up" later. When the story broke that Bush had authorized the NSA to conduct wiretaps of US citizens and others without a warrant, Specter again protested loudly, and even opened Judiciary Committee hearings on the issue. Specter seemed to be standing up to Bush's unilateral power grab. But then Specter, after secret negotiations with White House officials, introduced legislation authorizing massive wiretapping without court review, allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to issue secret rulings on the constitutionality of any warrantless wiretapping the president saw fit to bring to it, and immunizing the executive branch against any criminal charges for illegal tapping that might have preceded the new law. And, of course, Specter, though publicly critical of the Iraq occupation, hasn't had the guts to actually come out and declare that he will vote for the non-binding resolution against the escalation. (New York Times, Reuters, Attytood)
- January 30: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says that it is impracticable and extremely difficult to make nuclear power plants crash-proof to an attack by hijacked airliners.
Anti-terrorism and homeland security
Furthermore, the NRC says it is the military's responsibility, not the corporate power plant owners, to take steps to avert such an assault. The NRC, in a newly revised security policy, directs nuclear plant operators to focus on preventing radiation from escaping in case of such an attack and to improve evacuation plans to protect public health and safety. "The active protection against airborne threats is addressed by other federal organizations, including the military" and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), says the agency. The NRC refuses to recommend that the government establish firm no-fly zones near reactors, or to recommend that plant operators build barriers to protect reactors or to mount anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down threatening planes. These are recommendations made by a number of nuclear watchdog organizations. Merely requiring plants to take steps to protect the public from radiation and provide evacuation plans are steps "are sufficient to ensure adequate protection of the public health and safety" in case of an airborne attack. The NRC adopts the new plan with a unanimous, 5-0 vote, with no discussion. The plan has been reviewed by the agency for 15 months. NRC chairman Dale Klein says optimistically, "Nuclear power plants are inherently robust structures that our studies show provide adequate protection in a hypothetical attack by an airplane." The plan also provides for preparations for land-based terrorist attack, but only mandates preparation for four or five attackers armed with light small arms weaponry.
- Democratic senator Barbara Boxer says that the NRC does not seem to have followed the direction of Congress "to ensure that our nuclear power plants are protected from air- or land-based terrorist threats" of the magnitude demonstrated on 9/11. Her House colleague, Edward Markey, says the NRC "has missed an opportunity to provide the public with a real solution to the nuclear reactor security problem." And Daniel Hirsch, president of the Community to Bridge the Gap, a California-based nuclear watchdog group that had urged the NRC to require physical barriers to keep planes from hitting reactors, calls the security measures "irresponsible to the extreme." Hirsch says, "Rather than upgrading protections, [the NRC plan] merely codifies the status quo, reaffirming the existing, woefully inadequate security measures already in place at the nation's reactors." (AP/ABC News)
- January 30: Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a key player in the White House's propaganda campaign to misrepresent Iraq as an imminent threat to the US and Israel, testifies in the trial of former White House senior aide Lewis Libby.
Lewis Libby perjury trial
Miller's testimony is unusual and at times dramatic. Miller testifies that Libby identified CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson to her during each of her three conversations with him in June and July 2003 -- twice before July 10, when Libby says he learned of Plame's identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert. Miller spent 85 days in jail for not revealing the confidential source of Plame's identity, but agreed to testify after Libby, under pressure, granted Miller a waiver.
- Miller's initial testimony is straightforward, mostly repeatind what she told Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury in October 2005 (see the October 2005 page and other items throughout this site for more information). Guided by Fitzgerald, Miller says she met with Libby on June 23. Libby was frustrated and angry about media accounts, some fueled by intelligence community leaks, that suggested the Bush White House had misrepresented the prewar WMD intelligence. He was particularly upset, according to Miller, about stories that had appeared regarding an unnamed ex-ambassador (Joseph Wilson)who had taken a trip to Niger in 2002 to investigate the allegation that Iraq had tried to buy uranium there and who had concluded the charge was unfounded. Libby identified the ambassador as Wilson and added Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In her notes, Miller wrote that the wife was employed at the "bureau," a reference to the Counterproliferation Division within the CIA. She says that this was the first time she had heard anything about Wilson's wife working at the CIA. She also testifies that Libby referred to Wilson's trip as a "ruse" and an "irrelevancy," and that Libby complains about a "perverted war of leaks" initiated by the CIA against the White House.
- During their second meeting, on July 8, two days after Wilson had publicly identified himself as the former ambassador in question, Libby was, in Miller's words, "quietly agitated." He defended the administration's use of the prewar intelligence, claiming there had been solid intelligence to back up Bush's use of the uranium-in-Africa allegation in his 2003 State of the Union speech. Libby maintained that Wilson's reporting had supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger, a flat misrepresentation of Wilson's own report. Libby again referred to Wilson's wife, this time saying she was employed at WINPAC (the CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control, a unit of the agency's intelligence directorate). Libby was wrong. Plame was the operations chief of the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit within the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine operations directorate. During this meeting, Miller testifies, her pen didn't work, but she still managed to take some notes. She doesn't explain how; perhaps she scratched away with the tip of the pen. During a third interview with Libby, on July 12, Miller says she told Libby the Times wasn't interested in doing a story on Plame. Miller's is the latest account showing that Libby was in the know about Plame and was discussing her with others before the leak outing her as a CIA officer appeared in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column. Miller's testimony contradicts Libby's claims that in the days prior to the leak he did not know about Plame's CIA connection and that he had not leaked any information regarding her to reporters.
- Miller's memory of the first meeting she had with Libby on June 23rd, and her veracity in general, becomes an issue in her testimony. Fitzgerald brings out the fact that Miller did not mention the June 23 meeting in Libby's office during her first grand jury testimony, even after she finally decided Libby had freed her from a promise not to discuss their conversations. Miller retorts that at Fitzgerald's request she went back and found notes of the June 23 meeting and then described it in a later grand jury appearance. (Miller's story of the "found" notes about the damning conversation has struck many observers as, at best, facile, and at worst, a lie, most likely an attempt to protect Libby and/or herself.) Libby attorney William Jeffress cross-examines Miller fiercely over her recollections of the June 23 meeting and over her claimed memory lapses in general; the exchanges sometimes become testy. Jeffress asks Miller how she could testify that Libby was agitated on June 23 when she couldn't even remember the meeting in her first grand jury testimony. Miller stands her ground, acknowledging that her memory "is mostly note-driven," and insists that rereading the notes "brought back these memories" of the June 23 meeting. But she does admit that she cannot be "absolutely, absolutely certain" she first heard about Plame's identity from Libby. Reporter David Corn calls Jeffress's cross-examination of Miller "a thrashing."
- Miller says Libby told her about Plame a second time on July 8. Five government officials, including ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, also have testified that they discussed Plame and her CIA job with Libby before July 10.
- Earlier in the day, the jury sees notes that Libby took on, or about, June 12 that indicated Dick Cheney told Libby then that the war critic's wife worked at the CIA.
- In one exchange, Miller tells Fitzgerald, "I was surprised to see a great debate, a very angry one on whether or not WMD had been distorted or the White House had lied." Fitzgerald asks to whom the anger was directed, and Miller replies, "At the [Bush] administration, at the media in particular, and me." She also testifies that after Wilson's op-ed ran she thought it was odd that a person connected with the CIA on WMD issues would be making critical comments about the administration skewing intelligence. She says that during her meetings with Libby she was more focused on working on Iraq WMD issues and that Libby was focused on who-said-what of the State of the Union: "I was focused on chemical and biological weapons, not the he said she said, Washington politics."
- Jeffress asks her how she can testify that Libby was agitated on June 23 when she couldn't even remember the meeting in her first appearance before the grand jury, and plays a tape of Miller during a broadcast interview saying "it's really easy to forget details of a story you're not writing." She says she never intended to write a Plame story herself. It is at this point when Miller says that her rereading of her notes "brought back these memories" of the June 23 meeting. Like other witnesses, Miller recalls that Libby tried to assert that Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, was sent to Africa to find out the truth behind the Iraq-Niger assertions by Plame, and that neither Cheney nor his office had any idea that Wilson was making such a trip. Both allegations are false, though it is possible that Cheney did not immediately know of the Wilson trip (see related items throughout this site). When Libby first identified Plame as working in "the bureau," Miller says she first thought he means the FBI. It didn't take long for her to determine that Libby actually meant the CIA. During their July 8 meeting, Libby told Miller that Plame worked for the CIA division specializing in weapons of mass destruction.
- Libby's lawyers are also demanding that Miller reveal her sources in relation to the other people she says she spoke with about Plame. Miller says she thinks she spoke with other White House or government officials regarding Plame, and Libby's team is trying, with little success, to say that Miller must have learned about Plame's CIA identity from those other sources, and not just Libby. Judge Walton says he will keep Libby's defense lawyers from going too far in impugning Miller's credibility and in demanding that Miller reveal her other sources -- which, she says, she can't remember anyway. (MSNBC ["Fact File"], AP/Sierra Times, Attytood, The Nation, ABC News, AP/Breitbart, National Journal)
- January 30: Federal scientists have been pressured by the White House to play down global warming, advocacy groups testify at the House's first investigative hearing since Democrats took control of Congress.
Global warming and the environment
The hearings are based on reports issued by two environmental watchdog groups, which both say that over 120 scientists across seven federal agencies have been pressured to remove references to "climate change" and "global warming" from a range of documents, including press releases and communications with Congress. Roughly the same number say appointees altered the meaning of scientific findings on climate contained in communications related to their research. Roger Pielke, a science-policy specialist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says that "the Bush admininstration has engaged in hypercontrolling strategies for controlling information" on global warming.
- The hearing focus on allegations White House officials for years have micromanaged the government's climate programs and have closely controlled what scientists have been allowed to tell the public. "It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change," says Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a critic of the Bush administration's environmental policies, including its views on climate. "We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming and minimize the potential danger." In the Senate, concurrent hearings expose similar accusations and denunciations from an array of Democrats. "This is a problem whose time has come," says Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her words are echoed by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who says, "This is an issue over the years whose time has come." Another Democratic contender, Barack Obama, says that "for decades far too many have ignored the warning" about global warming. "Will we look back at today and say this was the moment we took a stand?" Waxman says his committee has not received documents it requested from the White House and other agencies, and that a handful of papers received on the eve of the hearing "add nothing to our inquiry."
- The House hears testimony about a survey of 279 government climate scientists, showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the climate threat. Their accusations range from a challenge to using the phrase "global warming" to raising uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree, to keeping scientists from talking to the media. The Union of Concerned Scientists' Francesca Grifo testifies that the survey, and subsequent interviews with government scientists, have "brought to light numerous ways in which US federal climate science has been filtered, suppressed and manipulated in the last five years." Grifo's group, along with the Government Accountability Project, which helps whistle-blowers, produced the report. Drew Shindell, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says that climate scientists frequently have been dissuaded from talking to the media about their research, though NASA's restrictions have been recently eased. Prior to the change, Shindell says that interview requests of climate scientists frequently were "routed through the White House" and then turned away or delayed. He describes how a news release on his study forecasting a significant warming in Antarctica was "repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down" at the insistence of White House officials. Another blatant example focuses on the issue of hurricanes and global warming: in 2005, the White House stepped in to block an interview MSNBC sought with NOAA scientist Thomas Knutson, who a year earlier had published a modeling study on the potential link between hurricanes and global warming. The interview was to focus on new research by other scientists that suggested global warming has contributed to trends toward stronger hurricanes. "We are beyond the anecdotal," says Grifo, referring to press reports of a dozen instances of interference that have emerged over the past 12 months. "We now have evidence to support the view that this problem goes deeper than just these few high-profile cases."
- Desperate Republicans continue to attempt to cloud the issue, with House Republican Tom Davis possibly trumping his own argument by saying that although "I am no climate-change denier," he questions whether "the issue of politicizing science has itself become politicized. ...The mere convergence of politics and science does not itself denote interference." Waxman and Davis agree that the administration had not been forthcoming in providing documents to the committee that would shed additional light on allegations of political interference in climate science. "We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming and minimize the potential danger," says Waxman, adding that he is "not trying to obtain state secrets."
- In the Senate, Republican James Inhofe, who preceded Boxer as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has his own conspiracy theories. There is "no convincing scientific evidence" that human activity is causing global warming, he declares -- Inhofe has frequently called the entire issue a hoax -- and adds, curiously, "We all know the Weather Channel would like to have people afraid all the time." Boxer wryly retorts, "I'll put you down as skeptical."
- Democratic House member Peter Welch calls it a "stunning personal experience" to hear federal scientists say they had been stymied from talking about climate change. "There was a story about a scientist who got authorized to speak at a conference. He was prohibited from using the phrase 'global warming.' He was allowed to say 'global,' and he could say 'warming,' but he couldn't put them next to each other. It became a charade," he says. Democrat Henry Waxman says the administration appears to want "to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming." Welch says he had read about scientists being muzzled, but, "It's a stunning personal experience to hear directly from scientists whose life work has been compromised, who live in fear of retaliation or compromised careers if they adhere to their code of ethics as scientists."
- The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune writes in an editorial, "Good climate scientists have no political agenda. They seek to apply their skills within the long-established norms of scientific inquiry to understanding what is happening to global climates and what that portends. Their findings are critical to ensuring that the US government embraces the wisest possible climate policies. Ensuring the integrity of federally funded climate science should thus be a high priority for the US government, which does most US climate research. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has turned that priority on its head." The editorial calls Bush's "lack of respect for and efforts to manipulate science" "sordid." It continues, "The reason for the political interference is clear: The Bush administration has an indefensible pro-business bias that trumps even the health and welfare of the nation's citizens. Because efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming could have severe impacts on deep-pocket companies close to the administration, its perverse logic dictates that the global warming science be suppressed. ...[T]he effort is despicable. Americans do not expect their government to put the needs of business ahead of the national interest or to interfere with legitimate scientific inquiry. The Bush administration has done both, to its shame."
- Interestingly, the Associated Press's original headline for this story was "Chairman: Bush Officials Misled Public on Global Warming." CNN watered down its own headline for the same story to read, "Lawmakers Hear of Interference in Global Warming Science." The original story, available at the Fox News link below (irony of ironies), includes a number of damning quotes and information that CNN stripped out of its own version. Additionally, CNN rewrote its version of the story to focus much more on the partisan political aspect of the issue, particularly focusing on the seizure of the issue by Democratic presidential candidates. A comparison of the two versions is instructive. (AP/CNN, AP/Fox News, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune)
- January 30: Democratic senator Ron Wyden is attempting to cut off Pentagon sales of surplus F-14 parts, saying the military's marketing of the spares "defies common sense" in light of their importance to Iran.
(See the January 16 item above for further information about the F-14 aircraft parts sales.) Wyden is responding to media investigations of the surplus sales, which largely go to repair aging fleets of F-14 Tomcat fighter planes owned by Iran. Wyden's legislation would ban the Pentagon selling surplus F-14 parts and prohibit buyers who have already acquired surplus Tomcat parts from exporting them. Wyden's bill, the Stop Arming Iran Act, is co-sponsored by fellow Democratic senator Richard Durbin. So far, no Republicans have joined in on the legislation. "It just defies common sense to be making this kind of equipment available to the Iranians with all that they have done that is against our interests," says Wyden. "I just want to legislate this and cut it off permanently, once and for all." The US military retired its F-14s last fall. That leaves only Iran, which bought the fighter jet in the 1970s when it was a US ally, flying the planes. The Pentagon already plans to sell about 60% of the roughly 76,000 parts for the F-14, viewing them as general nuts-and-bolts-type aircraft hardware that can be sold safely to the public without restrictions. It plans to destroy about 10,000 other components it considers unique to the F-14. The agency is reviewing 23,000 other parts it believes it can sell under existing law. But it says it will consider their potential value to Iran. Wyden's bill will cut off the supply of all surplus F-14 parts, and cut off all opportunities for Iranian "fishing expeditions." GAO investigations have found valuable surplus accidentally getting included in boxes of what are supposed to be nuts-and-bolts-type hardware. Wyden's Democratic colleague, John Kerry, has asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate the surplus security weaknesses. (AP/CBS News)
- January 30: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales expands Congress' access to classified documents detailing the government's domestic spying program, but still hasn't satisfied several lawmakers demanding information about surveillance.
Investigators' applications, legal briefs and orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are now open to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House and Senate intelligence committees, according to Gonzales. Two weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Democratic Chairman Patrick Leahy and Republican Arlen Specter, criticized Gonzales for refusing to answer specific questions about the secret court's new oversight of the controversial program. The documents would not be released publicly, Gonzales says. "We're talking about highly classified documents about highly classified activities of the United States government." Leahy says he will decide after he reviews the papers whether further oversight or legislative action is necessary. Specter stops short of calling for them to be released publicly but says "there ought to be the maximum disclosure to the public, consistent with national security procedures. ...They will not be made public until I've had a chance to see them."
- Several lawmakers accuse the Justice Department of still holding back crucial classified documents about the surveillance, including the original presidential order that created it in October 2001. "We have informed Justice Department officials that the committee's requests for those documents remains in effect," says House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes. "We are hopeful that the administration will comply with those requests in a timely fashion and that further efforts to secure that material will not be necessary." It is possible that Congress may issue subpoenas for those documents. (AP/Examiner)
- January 30: Veteran reporter and columnist Robert Scheer writes that the revelations in the Libby trial constitute grounds to impeach Bush.
Lewis Libby perjury trial
Scheer writes, "This case's importance lies not in the narrow charge that Libby committed perjury in testifying about his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Wilson; that was merely one facet of a far-ranging plot to deceive Congress and the public about perhaps the most important issue of our time: the prospect of terrorists obtaining a weapon of mass destruction." Scheer notes a number of events, thoroughly documented throughout this site, that lead to a case for impeachment, including the knowingly false claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger, and the White House's orchestrated smear campaign against ambassador Joseph Wilson when Wilson publicly debunked the claim.
- Scheer writes, "The Libby case testimony, centered on the chicanery of the vice president, certainly suggests that impeachable offenses occurred at the highest level of the White House. Just how conscious the president was of the deceits conducted under his authority, what he knew and when he knew it, is precisely what an impeachment trial would determine." Scheer cites testimony in the Libby case that shows the White House used former CIA director George Tenet to help cover up the lies behind the Iraq-Niger claim, made infamous in its 16-word reference in Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address. "The record is unmistakably clear that the CIA and other intelligence sources warned the White House before the president's speech not to make the bogus Niger claim, and that the reference had been voided out in a previous speech. Yet, after Ambassador Joseph Wilson exposed this fact more than a year after the invasion, Cheney orchestrated a new deception to shift the blame to Tenet. That is the smoking-gun revelation in the testimony of Cheney's former spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, a Harvard-educated lawyer who still works in the White House." Scheer quotes the report by the Washington Post, "one that offers a devastating glimpse into the moral depravity of this administration," he writes. The Post reported, "At length, Martin explained how she, Libby and Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley worked late into the night writing a statement to be issued by George Tenet in 2004 in which the CIA boss would take blame for the bogus claim in Bush's State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa. After 'delicate' talks, Tenet agreed to say the CIA 'approved' the claim and 'I am responsible' -- but even that disappointed Martin, who had wanted Tenet to say that 'we did not express any doubts about Niger.'"
- Scheer cites the "deliberate corruption of the integrity of the CIA, the nation's premier source of national security information" as "ris[ing] to the level of 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' which the Constitution holds out as the standard for impeachment. And can there be any more egregious example of betraying the oath of office of the president to uphold the Constitution than his deceiving Congress from the very well of the House on the reasons for going to war? The Constitution clearly delegates to Congress, and not to the president, the exclusive power to declare war, and deceiving our representatives in making the case for war is a far more important crime than the perjury charge against Libby."
- Scheer concludes, "Cheney, like some Daddy Warbucks cartoon character of old, has been so blatant in his corruption of the nation's second highest office that we seem to have become inured to further revelations of his evil influence. Instead of being shocked, we are more likely jaded by even more examples of the man's use of his office to persistently undermine our democratic heritage. Too bad he wasn't cursed by an overactive libido." (Truthdig)
- January 30: Democrat Pete Stark, the chairman of the health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, writes that the new Bush health care proposals will be disastrous for ordinary Americans, but provide windfalls of benefits for the wealthy, and for health care insurers and corporations.
Medicare and Medicaid cuts; health care
Stark writes that Bush's proposal "would raise taxes for 160 million workers who receive group health insurance benefits. The president's plan would limit the tax deduction to $7,500 for an individual's health insurance premium. The high rate of medical inflation would soon cause an income tax increase for most Americans. Employers would cancel group plans. Workers could buy individual policies, which have higher costs and more limited access than group plans do. The suggestion that employers would pass on the group insurance savings in higher wages does not pass the smirk test." Stark also notes that "Tax deductions are regressive and provide much greater benefit to the wealthy than to the poor. In Bush's plan, a high-income person who is currently uninsured would receive nearly $6,000, while a low-income individual would receive $1,200. The individual insurance market discriminates against those who are sick or at risk of becoming so. Currently, employers cover both healthy and sick, spreading risk to reduce costs. Individuals, however, would be at the mercy of insurance companies that use family history, genetic indicators, age, occupation and illness as reasons to jack up rates -- or exclude coverage altogether. Millions of Americans would therefore see their premiums increase substantially." Stark concludes, "Much like Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, 'gold-plated' health insurance is a figment of the president's imagination. The problem with our health system is not that Americans can afford to use too much health care; it's that too many can't afford any. Bush's proposal would destroy the very system through which the vast majority of people get their coverage today and fail to replace it with an alternative means of obtaining quality care. It doesn't deserve Congress' consideration." (USA Today/Yahoo! News)
- January 30: As Democratic senator Russ Feingold chairs a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to emphasize that Congress has the authority to compel Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq -- a power that extends past merely cutting off appropriations -- Feingold faces complaining Republicans who assert that Congress has no such authority.
Iraq war and occupation
Blogger Glenn Greenwald revisits the statements made by many of these self-same Republicans in 1993, when, in the process of forcing Bill Clinton to withdraw troops from Somalia, they asserted this same authority. "[I]t is quite striking," Greenwald observes, "that Republicans back then certainly did not seem to believe that Congress lacked the ability to restrict the president's power to deploy troops. They argued exactly the opposite - that they had that power -- and they used it to force Clinton out of Somalia...."
- Senator John McCain, one of the loudest of the Republicans claiming that Congress has no right to impose its will on the presidency, said something quite different on October 19, 1993. "There is no reason for the United States of America to remain in Somalia," McCain said. "The American people want them home, I believe the majority of Congress wants them home, and to set an artificial date of March 31 or even February 1, in my view, is not acceptable. The criteria should be to bring them home as rapidly and safely as possible, an evolution which I think could be completed in a matter of weeks. Our continued military presence in Somalia allows another situation to arise which could then lead to the wounding, killing or capture of American fighting men and women. We should do all in our power to avoid that. I listened carefully to the president's remarks at a news conference that he held earlier today. I heard nothing in his discussion of the issue that would persuade me that further US military involvement in the area is necessary. In fact, his remarks have persuaded me more profoundly that we should leave and leave soon. Dates certain, Mr. President, are not the criteria here. What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that and other Americans die, other Americans are wounded, other Americans are captured because we stay too long -- longer than necessary -- then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible...."
- McCain continued, "We suffered a terrible tragedy in Beirut, Mr. President; 240 young marines lost their lives, but we got out. Now is the time for us to get out of Somalia as rapidly and as promptly and as safely as possible. I, along with many others, will have an amendment that says exactly that. It does not give any date certain. It does not say anything about any other missions that the United States may need or feels it needs to carry out. It will say that we should get out as rapidly and orderly as possible." It is fascinating to see how closely McCain's rhetoric, and that of the other Republicans quoted below, parallels the current rhetoric of the antiwar Democrats, whom McCain and other Republicans vilify as "cut-and-run" cowards.
- On October 5, 1993, Republican senator Strom Thurmond told the Senate, "It is past time for the Congress to come to grips with this sorry spectacle and force the administration to find a way out of the quagmire -- before Somalia becomes the pattern for future United States missions with the United Nations." Two days later, Thurmond was echoed by Senator Phil Gramm, who said, "The President's decision to extend our presence for 6 more months is totally unacceptable to me and totally unacceptable, I believe, to the Congress. If the people of Texas -- who are calling my phones every moment, who are sending me letters and telegrams by the hour -- are representative of the will of the American people, the American people do not believe that we should allow Americans to be targets in Somalia for 6 more months. I cannot see anything that we would achieve in 6 more months in Somalia."
- Republican senator Dirk Kempthorne was more assertive than merely demanding an immediate withdrawal, saying on October 5: "Mr. President, it is time for our troops to come home. I would give this directive to the military leadership and that is that they are to use whatever means they determine necessary to secure the release of American POW's in Somalia, because to leave them behind would be to issue a death sentence to those Americans, and that is absolutely unacceptable."
- Republican senator Slade Gorton echoed the words of antiwar Democrats almost word for word, saying on October 6: "We are in a disaster, Mr. President. If we had retreated earlier, we would have left fewer dead Americans behind. It is time to retreat now and leave no more dead Americans behind and to learn the lesson that American power should be used only where we have a clear stake in a conflict, a clear goal to be achieved, the clear means to reach that goal, and the potential of clear support on the part of the American people. As none of those exist in Somalia today, it is time to leave. And for this body, it is time to debate this issue and not the nomination of an Assistant Attorney General."
- Republican senator Jesse Helms said the same day, "Mr. President, the United States has no constitutional authority, as I see it, to sacrifice US soldiers to [then-UN Secretary General] Boutros-Ghali's vision of multilateral peacemaking. Again, I share the view of [Democratic] Senator [Robert] Byrd that the time to get out is now. We can take care of that criminal warlord over there. We have the means to do it and the capacity to do it. But it ought to be done by the United Nations. I do not want to play in any more UN games. I do not want any more of our people under the thumb of any UN commander -- none." Helms then went where no Democrat has yet gone in the Iraq debate: "As a matter of fact, while we are at it, it is high time we reviewed the War Powers Act, which, in the judgment of this senator, should never have been passed in the first place. The sole constitutional authority to declare war rests, according to our Founding Fathers, right here in the Congress of the United States, and not on Pennsylvania Avenue. I voted against the War Powers Act. If it were to come up again today, I would vote against it. I have never regretted my opposition to it."
- Republican Alan Simpson said on the same day, "...I am willing to support our President, our Commander in Chief, if we have a policy either for decisive, potent, and powerful military action, without quarter, without reservation -- or obviously for us instead to withdraw from Somalia. What I cannot continue to support is the continuing endangerment of Americans in the service of a policy that remains absolutely mysterious and totally muddled."
- Two days before, Republican Judd Gregg, who is now a vehement supporter of the presidential authority to conduct a war as he sees fit, said, "...I hope that we, as a Senate, will proceed to discuss the issue of Somalia in the near future, in the immediate future, before any more American lives are lost; and that we shall put into definition and some focus what is our purpose there and, most importantly, how we intend to disengage or, if it is our decision, how we intend to engage pursuant to the laws which we, as a nation, have as a constitutional democracy."
- Greenwald points out that in 1993 as well as in 2007, Feingold has been consistent in his arguments. He said then, and says now, that that the Constitution vests war-making power in the Congress and that Congress can, and in both the cases of Somalia and Iraq should, restrict the President's use of military force. On October 5, Feingold said, "In February, I declined to cosponsor the Senate resolution which was introduced and passed in one day because I thought the resolution was too vague in terms of the United States mission and duration of our commitment in Somalia. It was also because of the War Powers Act, because of a lack of congressional approval for this specific mission, that I, with six of my colleagues, voted against that resolution in the DOD bill. It turns out, I believe, that the original resolution, which mandated a withdrawal of US troops within 30 days unless continuation was authorized by a specific act of Congress, was probably the correct position. I join several of my colleagues who have spoken today to say that we should leave Somalia now: we should not increase the American troop level or increase our involvement. Our continued presence risks not only more American lives but also the possibility that the worldwide broadcasting of the mistreatment of US prisoners will so inflame our national pride that it will be increasingly difficult to leave." In 1993, Feingold was hailed by Republicans as a sensible Democrat. Today, his patriotism and fitness for office are constantly questioned.
- Greenwald writes, "When Bill Clinton was President, most of the country's leading Republicans did not seem to have any problem at all with Congressional 'interference' in the president's decisions to deploy troops (really to maintain troop deployments, since President Bush 41 first deployed in Somalia). There wasn't any talk back then (at least from them) about the burden of '535 Commanders-in-Chief' or 'Congressional incursions' into the President's constitutional warmaking authority. They debated restrictions that ought to be legislatively imposed on President Clinton's military deployments and then imposed them. And Sen. McCain in particular made arguments in favor of Congressionally-mandated withdraw that are patently applicable to Iraq today. And he specifically argued with regard to forcible troop withdrawal that 'responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States.' The Constitution hasn't changed since 1993, so I wonder what has prompted such a fundamental shift in Republican views on the proper role of Congressional war powers." It is not difficult to answer Greenwald's closing rhetorical question. (Unclaimed Territory)
- January 30: During a recent mini-tour by Bush of a Caterpillar tractor factory in Peoria, Illinois, Bush got behind the wheel of a huge tractor and played chicken with several reporters, perhaps even putting the reporters at risk.
George W. Bush
"I would suggest moving back," Bush said as he climbed into the cab of a massive D-10 tractor. "I'm about to crank this sucker up." Reporter Holly Bailey tells the story: "As the engine roared to life, White House staffers tried to steer the press corps to safety, but when the tractor lurched forward, they too were forced to scramble for safety. 'Get out of the way!' a news photographer yelled. 'I think he might run us over!' said another. White House aides tried to herd the reporters the right way without getting run over themselves. Even the Secret Service got involved, as one agent began yelling at reporters to get clear of the tractor. Watching the chaos below, Bush looked out the tractor's window and laughed, steering the massive machine into the spot where most of the press corps had been positioned. The episode lasted about a minute, and Bush was still laughing when he pulled to a stop. He gave reporters a thumbs-up. 'If you've never driven a D-10, it's the coolest experience,' Bush said afterward. Yeah, almost as much fun as seeing your life flash before your eyes." (One commentator points out that a D-10's fastest speed is about the same as a person trotting, so in theory at least, anyone who felt themselves in danger could run to safety. However, considering the fact that Bush went roaring after the reporters within a confined space, and with obstacles to be hit, to pin people between, or to knock over, Bush definitely showed poor judgment and willfully endangered the safety of others for his own entertainment. And what does it say about a president -- or anyone -- whose first instinct upon taking control of a giant construction vehicle is to drive it at someone while laughing? (Newsweek)