Sunday, February 26, 2006

Are we a republic?

The question is whether Dubai World Port, now proud owner of the British P&O company, should be allowed to run six major ports in the USA. Accusations of corporate racial profiling and anti-Arab bias are buzzing around the coffee tables and talk shows this Sunday. Probably Senator Carl Levin, Democrat from Michigan, did cut to the chase: he mentioned that a law demands a Congressional security investigation if a deal of the transnational kind raises questions of national security. The Republican-run administration apparently has circumvented or short-circuited or avoided or omitted or forgotten -whichever word best fits your mind set- such scrutiny.
To me this fits a consistent pattern of Bush administration’s hubris. They consider themselves to be competent and intelligent and seasoned and knowledgeable individuals that do not need to take into account, or God-forbid, be second-guessed by those elected officials in Congress whose job it is to oversee, or second-guess whatever the Administration (the Executive Branch) is doing.
We have heard, or should have, Justice Alito and Roberts, carefully avoiding to say that, although “the President is not above the law”, the law can be read in such ways as to exempt the President from following it. I advise you to read Ron Dworkin’s view in the February 23rd New York Review of Books on the question.

It is therefore very consistent that this administration acts on the assumption that, because George W. Bush was elected in November 2004 for another four years, the people that have been appointed by him are covered by the belief that he can do whatever he wants, without having to answer to Congress or to the press or to anybody. This attitude is the prevalent tone on the invasion of Iraq, on the conduct of the war there, on the definition of “enemy combatants”, on the use of torture during interrogation, on the infringement of the rights of privacy of American citizens, and even on the obligation of unelected officials to report truthfully about their actions to Congress.
This administration proudly carries the badge of “business-like”, although most its upper command structure comes from the ranks of the civil service. Business thinking, the American way, demands tunnel-vision: whatever it takes to get what I want, don’t bother me with the details, my mind is made-up. Is this the way this Republic was conceived? I think not.
I grew up in a country ruled for forty years by General Franco who claimed to be responsible for his actions only “to God and to History”. Here we are better off: we only have to watch this for another two and a half years.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Observer | World | 37 million poor hidden in the land of plenty

The Observer | World | 37 million poor hidden in the land of plenty

Bush's real motive

Why is W. acting so recklessly in pursuit of the right to spy?

2/9/2006 4:10:03 AM
President George W. Bush’s persistent support of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program — the insidious surveillance system first disclosed by the New York Times on December 16 — represents much more than a stubborn presidential effort to catch terrorists. Rather, it attempts a sea change in our system of government. Only a couple of questioners at this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the NSA program — notably Wisconsin senator Russell Feingold, who quipped in a blog that Bush has a “pre-1776 mentality” — seemed to sense just how fundamental Bush’s gambit is. But none seems to have figured out precisely how and why Bush is acting in such an apparently reckless manner: he wants the authority to go on poaching expeditions against constitutional democracy well into the future.

It is highly likely that Bush’s monitoring program violates the privacy protections built into the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires court-authorized warrants granted on the basis of “probable cause” to justify invasive searches. But it has to be utterly clear to all but the most fawning presidential apologists that the program directly contravenes a congressional statute: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 had already established a top-secret national-security court to grant warrants in highly sensitive investigations on US soil. Since then, FISA courts have hardly stood in the way of intelligence gathering: out of nearly 19,000 warrant applications submitted since 1978, only four — four! — were not granted at first blush. Besides, FISA itself gave intelligence agencies enormous wiggle room, allowing the government, for instance, to obtain a warrant retroactively within 72 hours of commencing a wiretap.

Despite all this, the White House continues to circumvent FISA and Congress, deploying vague assertions of inherent constitutional authority and strained appeals to a 2001 congressional resolution granting the president authority to wage war in Afghanistan. Perhaps most puzzling — on the surface at least — is the president’s refusal to ask Congress to amend FISA. Both houses of Congress, after all, are controlled by the president’s party.

So why does Bush insist on flouting the courts and Congress? The most compelling yet most disturbing explanation is this: the president is likely seeking to establish a precedent that grants him inherent constitutional authority to act on his ownin national-security matters, not only without congressional authorization, but in the face of a congressional statute — here, the 1978 FISA law — that directly depriveshim of that authority. One hint that this is really the administration's agenda came out during Monday's testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez, when he refused to elaborate on this extraordinary claim of presidential power. Asked whether Bush was claiming to have inherent power to conduct the eavesdropping program on his own, Gonzales ducked: “fortunately, we need not address that difficult question.” Gonzales also studiously avoided responding to any question that sought to determine what other programs, current or future, Bush might pursue on the basis of his claimed inherent executive authority.

Whatever else he may or may not be, Bush is strategic: what better vehicle for delivering himself sweeping, unchecked “inherent” presidential power than through an appeal to national security in an area — electronic surveillance — where public-opinion polls indicate that Americans are most willing to sacrifice civil liberties in exchange for perceived security? The dirty little details of surveillance law are sufficiently esoteric and legalistic that the average citizen remains largely in the dark, distracted by siren calls of security. After all, who isn’t in favor of protecting America when all that is at stake is privacy? Why worry about a little wiretapping when you know that you are doing nothing wrong?


But granting Bush — or any president — sweeping, unchecked power in direct violation of a statute would open a Pandora’s box of imperial possibilities. There are other areas where the president has run up against either a congressional statute (consider the bipartisan anti-torture legislation recently enacted at the behest of Arizona senator John McCain) or an attempt by the Supreme Court to limit presidential power (the court’s decision in the summer of 2004 requiring hearings for those held as “enemy combatants” at the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba). That’s why Bush is reaching beyond Congress and the courts in an effort to convince the American people that he needs special power to protect them.

If Bush wins this round, the next step will almost certainly be a claim to presidential power to engage in torture or executive detention of citizens with neither charge nor trial nor time limit. Precedents sometimes have unwelcome consequences. But in this case, the consequences are not wholly unpredictable, and we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned. Unless this unprecedented claim of unfettered presidential power to eavesdrop is stopped in its tracks, there will be no logical stopping point for taking a principled stand to protect our most essential liberties in the future.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Telegraph: US preparing blitz against Iran

US prepares military blitz against Iran's nuclear sites
By Philip Sherwell in Washington
(Filed: 12/02/2006)
'10,000 would die' in A-plant attack on Iran
Weblog: A sobering view of Iran
Strategists at the Pentagon are drawing up plans for devastating bombing raids backed by submarine-launched ballistic missile attacks against Iran's nuclear sites as a "last resort" to block Teheran's efforts to develop an atomic bomb.

Click to enlarge
Central Command and Strategic Command planners are identifying targets, assessing weapon-loads and working on logistics for an operation, the Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
They are reporting to the office of Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, as America updates plans for action if the diplomatic offensive fails to thwart the Islamic republic's nuclear bomb ambitions. Teheran claims that it is developing only a civilian energy programme.
"This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment," said a senior Pentagon adviser. "This has taken on much greater urgency in recent months."
The prospect of military action could put Washington at odds with Britain which fears that an attack would spark violence across the Middle East, reprisals in the West and may not cripple Teheran's nuclear programme. But the steady flow of disclosures about Iran's secret nuclear operations and the virulent anti-Israeli threats of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has prompted the fresh assessment of military options by Washington. The most likely strategy would involve aerial bombardment by long-distance B2 bombers, each armed with up to 40,000lb of precision weapons, including the latest bunker-busting devices. They would fly from bases in Missouri with mid-air refuelling.
The Bush administration has recently announced plans to add conventional ballistic missiles to the armoury of its nuclear Trident submarines within the next two years. If ready in time, they would also form part of the plan of attack.
Teheran has dispersed its nuclear plants, burying some deep underground, and has recently increased its air defences, but Pentagon planners believe that the raids could seriously set back Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran was last weekend reported to the United Nations Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency for its banned nuclear activities. Teheran reacted by announcing that it would resume full-scale uranium enrichment - producing material that could arm nuclear devices.
The White House says that it wants a diplomatic solution to the stand-off, but President George W Bush has refused to rule out military action and reaffirmed last weekend that Iran's nuclear ambitions "will not be tolerated".
Sen John McCain, the Republican front-runner to succeed Mr Bush in 2008, has advocated military strikes as a last resort. He said recently: "There is only only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option and that is a nuclear-armed Iran."
Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, has made the same case and Mr Bush is expected to be faced by the decision within two years.
By then, Iran will be close to acquiring the knowledge to make an atomic bomb, although the construction will take longer. The President will not want to be seen as leaving the White House having allowed Iran's ayatollahs to go atomic.
In Teheran yesterday, crowds celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution chanted "Nuclear technology is our inalienable right" and cheered Mr Ahmadinejad when he said that Iran may reconsider membership of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
He was defiant over possible economic sanctions.

Capitol Hill Blue - Intel pros say Bush is lying about foiling 2002 terror attack

Capitol Hill Blue - Intel pros say Bush is lying about foiling 2002 terror attack

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

No More Mr. Tough Guy - New York Times

No More Mr. Tough Guy - New York Times
February 8, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
No More Mr. Tough Guy

I've always thought Dick Cheney took national security seriously. I don't anymore. It seems that Mr. Cheney is so convinced that we have no choice but to be dependent on crude oil, so convinced that conservation is just some silly liberal hobby, that he will never seriously summon the country to kick its oil habit, never summon it to do anything great.

Indeed, he seems determined to be a drag on any serious effort to make America energy-independent. He presents all this as a tough-guy "realist" view of the world. But it's actually an ignorant and naïve view — one that underestimates what Americans can do, and totally misses how the energy question has overtaken Iraq as the most important issue in U.S. foreign policy. If he persists, Mr. Cheney is going to ensure that the Bush team squanders its last three years — and a lot more years for the country.

Listen to Mr. Cheney's answer when the conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham asked him how he reacted to my urgings for a gasoline tax to push all Americans to drive energy-saving vehicles and make us energy-independent — now.

"Well, I don't agree with that," Mr. Cheney said. "I think — the president and I believe very deeply that, obviously, the government has got a role to play here in terms of supporting research into new technologies and encouraging the development of new methods of generating energy. ... But we also are big believers in the market, and that we need to be careful about having government come in, for example, and tell people how to live their lives. ... This notion that we have to 'impose pain,' some kind of government mandate, I think we would resist. The marketplace does work out there."

What is he talking about? The global oil market is anything but free. It's controlled by the world's largest cartel — OPEC — which sets output, and thereby prices, according to the needs of some of the worst regimes in the world. By doing nothing, we are letting their needs determine the price and their treasuries reap all the profits.

Also, why does Mr. Cheney have no problem influencing the market by lowering taxes to get consumers to spend, but he rejects raising gasoline taxes to get consumers to save energy — a fundamental national interest.

Don't take it from me. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, who recently retired as chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 3 about his New Year's resolutions: "Everyone hates taxes, but the government needs to fund its operations, and some taxes can actually do some good in the process. I will tell the American people that a higher tax on gasoline is better at encouraging conservation than are heavy-handed [mileage standards]. It would not only encourage people to buy more fuel-efficient cars, but it would encourage them to drive less."

Mr. Cheney, we are told, is a "tough guy." Really? Well, how tough is this: We have a small gasoline tax, but Europe and Japan tax their gasoline by $2 and $3 a gallon, or more. They use those taxes to build schools, highways and national health care for their citizens. But they spend very little on defense compared with us.

So who protects their oil supplies from the Middle East? U.S. taxpayers. We spend nearly $600 billion a year on defense, a large chunk in the Persian Gulf. But how do we pay for that without a gas tax? Income taxes and Social Security. Yes, we tax our incomes and raid our children's Social Security fund so Europeans and Japanese can comfortably import their oil from the gulf, impose big gas taxes on it at their pumps and then use that income for their own domestic needs. And because they have high gas taxes, they also beat Detroit at making more fuel-efficient cars. Now how tough is that?

Finally, if Mr. Cheney believes so much in markets, why did the 2005 energy act contain about $2 billion in tax breaks for oil companies? Why does his administration permit a 54-cents-a-gallon tax on imported ethanol — fuel made from sugar or corn — so Brazilian sugar exports won't compete with American sugar? Yes, we tax imported ethanol from Brazil, but we don't tax imported oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Russia.

"Everyone says we need a new Marshall Plan," said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy expert and the author of "The Case for Goliath." "We have a Marshall Plan. It's our energy policy. It's a Marshall plan for terrorists and dictators."

How tough is it, Mr. Cheney, to will the ends — an end to America's oil addiction — but not will the means: a gasoline tax? It's not very tough, it's not very smart, and it's going to end badly for us.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

Friday, February 03, 2006

Didn't See It Coming, Again - New York Times

Didn't See It Coming, Again - New York Times
Didn't See It Coming, Again


The White House should hire an anthropologist.

Corporations have begun hiring anthropologists to help them improve product designs and interpret markets. And clearly, the Bush foreign policy team doesn't understand any of the markets where it is barging around ineptly trying to sell America and democracy.

The brand value of America has been in steady decline. The state of the union is sour but the state of the world is chilling, thanks to a hideously ham-handed Bush foreign policy crew that was once billed as a seasoned "dream team."

The more the White House tries to force-feed democracy to tempestuous parts of the world, the more it discovers that you may be able to spin and scare voters in the U.S., but the Middle East is not so easy to manipulate. W. believes in self-determination only if he's doing the determining. Fundamentalists in America like to vote for Mr. Bush, but elsewhere they're violently opposing him.

It's stunning that nearly four decades after Vietnam, our government could be even more culturally illiterate and pigheaded. The Bushies are more obsessed with snooping on Americans than fathoming how other cultures think and react.

One smart anthropologist reinforcing the idea that "mirroring" — assuming other cultures think like us — doesn't work would be a lot more helpful than all of the discredited intelligence agencies that are costing $30 billion a year to miss everything from the breakup of the Soviet Union to 9/11 to no W.M.D. to Osama's hiding place to the Hamas victory.

Bush officials keep claiming they couldn't have anticipated disasters — from the terrorist attacks to Katrina — even when they got specific warnings beforehand. Busy building up the fake nuclear threat in Iraq, they misplayed the real ones in Iran and North Korea. In London Sunday, Condi Rice admitted that all of our diplomats and spies were caught off guard by the Hamas win. "I've asked why nobody saw it coming," she said. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."

Instead of paying the Lincoln Group millions to plant fake newspaper stories in Iraq, the Bush team might try reading real newspaper stories here. Instead of simply believing any fact that makes him feel self-important, the president might try reading history.

Like many other presidential candidates I've interviewed, W. said he liked Winston Churchill. But if he really had read Churchill, he would at least have understood that the Middle East never turns out the way you expect. Churchill, who called Iraq "an ungrateful volcano," would not have been surprised by the new poll showing that close to half of Iraqis approve of attacks on American forces.

The State of the Union is a non-event. But Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, being blown up by a roadside bomb has forced the media to focus on what the Bushies try to hide — all the injured and maimed coming home from Iraq.

Mark Landler's Times piece noted that the ABC journalists came to the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, "on a military transport plane carrying 31 wounded soldiers — about a normal daily influx for this hospital."

As Denise Grady wrote in The Times, the survival rate in Iraq is higher than in other wars, but the wounds are multiple and awful: "combinations of damaged brains and spinal cords, vision and hearing loss, disfigured faces, burns, amputations, mangled limbs, and psychological ills like depression and post-traumatic stress."

The Oilman in Chief lecturing us last night, after five oblivious years, about being drunk on oil, now that Halliburton and Exxon are swimming in profits — Exxon's revenues were bigger than the gross domestic product of either Saudi Arabia or Indonesia — was rich.

A more honest TV moment was Christiane Amanpour labeling Iraq "a black hole." The "spiraling security disaster," she told Larry King, had robbed Iraqis of hope, "and by any indication whether you take the number of journalists killed or wounded, whether you take the number of American soldiers killed or wounded, whether you take the number of Iraqi soldiers killed and wounded, contractors, people working there, it just gets worse and worse."

But, hey, how could the Bushies have known that occupying a Middle East country — and flipping the balance of power from one sect to another — without enough troops to secure it could go wrong? Who on earth could predict the inevitable?

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

State of Delusion - New York Times

State of Delusion - New York Times
State of Delusion

So President Bush's plan to reduce imports of Middle East oil turns out to be no more substantial than his plan — floated two years ago, then flushed down the memory hole — to send humans to Mars.

But what did you expect? After five years in power, the Bush administration is still — perhaps more than ever — run by Mayberry Machiavellis, who don't take the business of governing seriously.

Here's the story on oil: In the State of the Union address, Mr. Bush suggested that "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol" and other technologies would allow us "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East."

But the next day, officials explained that he didn't really mean what he said. "This was purely an example," said Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary. And the administration has actually been scaling back the very research that Mr. Bush hyped on Tuesday night: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is about to lay off staff because of cuts to its budget.

"A veteran researcher," reports The New York Times, "said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol."

Why announce impressive sounding goals when you have no plan to achieve them? The best guess is that the energy "plan" was hastily thrown together to give Mr. Bush something positive to say.

For weeks administration sources told reporters that the State of the Union address would focus on health care. But at the last minute the White House might have realized that its health care proposals, based on the idea that Americans have too much insurance, would suffer the same political fate as its attempt to privatize Social Security. ("Congress," Mr. Bush said, "did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security." Democrats responded with a standing ovation.)

So Mr. Bush's speechwriters were told to replace the health care proposals with fine words about energy independence, words not backed by any actual policy.

What about the rest of the speech? The State of the Union is normally an occasion for boasting about an administration's achievements. But what's a speechwriter to do when there are no achievements?

One answer is to pretend that the bad stuff never happened. The Medicare drug benefit is Mr. Bush's largest domestic initiative to date. It is also a disaster: at enormous cost, the administration has managed to make millions of elderly Americans worse off. So drugs went unmentioned in the State of the Union.

Another answer is to rely on evasive language. In Iraq, Mr. Bush said, we have "changed our approach to reconstruction."

In fact, reconstruction has failed. Almost three years after the war began, oil production is well below prewar levels, Baghdad is getting only an average of 3.2 hours of electricity a day, and more than 60 percent of water and sanitation projects have been canceled.

So now, having squandered billions in Iraqi oil revenue as well as American taxpayer dollars, we have told the Iraqis that from here on in it is their problem. America's would-be Marshall Plan in Iraq, reports The Los Angeles Times, "is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding." I guess you can call that a change in approach.

There is a common theme underlying the botched reconstruction of Iraq, the botched response to Katrina (which Mr. Bush never mentioned), the botched drug program and the nonexistent energy program.

John DiIulio, the former White House head of faith-based policy, explained it more than three years ago. He told the reporter Ron Suskind how this administration operates: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. ... I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues."

In other words, this administration is all politics and no policy. It knows how to attain power, but has no idea how to govern. That is why the administration was caught unaware when Katrina hit, and why it was totally unprepared for the predictable problems with its drug plan. It is why Mr. Bush announced an energy plan with no substance behind it. And it is why the state of the union — the thing itself and not the speech — is so grim.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company