Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bush Scandals List

INTRODUCTION George Bush, the Connecticut cowboy, the good old boy from Yale was a man of mediocre intelligence, no imagination, great stubbornness, and more than a little vindictiveness. He considered himself the Decider but he was easily manipulated by his handlers. The key was a short, simple sell. Those who had access to him, like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice, knew that once he had consulted his gut or his higher father his decision was forever. This was not a matter of conviction. He hated being challenged. He saw changing his mind as a sign of weakness, and above all he was too intellectually lazy to bother. His was a decision making process where logic, reason, and facts had little or no role. The great power of his office insulated him from any sense of responsibility for his actions and formed the Bubble in which he lived.

Bush’s Presidency began in the shadow of a contested and likely stolen election and promised to be unsuccessful in a largely forgettable and unremarkable way. 9/11 changed all that and transformed a plodding, essentially AWOL one termer into an accidental hero. Bush never had any idea what a President actually did. He had run for the office, not the job. He liked to campaign, not govern. In those around him, he prized loyalty over competence and honesty. A believer in the doctrine of “to the victor go the spoils,” he was the perfect mark for every conniver, bumbler, bungler, hack, hanger on, and would be crony that Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and their friends could find. In the course of a normal Presidency, this would have spelled failure. Post-9/11, it was catastrophic.

At that critical juncture in our nation’s history we needed an adult but got an adolescent. Instead of responsibility, we got a truant. In place of flexibility we got obduracy. In the face of great and complex challenges, we got strawmen, a black and white universe, my way or the highway, regurgitated stump speeches, and a steadfast refusal to compromise not just with opponents but with reality.

What this all came down to was that George Bush should never have been President. He wasn’t just a bad President but the worst one we could have had, the worst our country has yet seen. This was a judgment that most Americans came to well before his second term ended but which our political establishment and media, even after 8 years, never acknowledged or accepted. This collusion was the great tragedy and crime of our times.

1. Walter Reed outpatient treatment, poor living conditions, undelivered mail, lack of caseworkers to oversee and facilitate patient care for amputees, brain injured, and psychologically disabled veterans; Walter Reed is not the only military hospital about which questions have been raised; also out there the underfunding of the VA.

The problems at Walter Reed came to the public’s attention through a series of articles by Dana Priest beginning February 18, 2007. Following them, Gen. George Weightman who ran Walter Reed for 6 months resigned March 1, followed by the forced resignation of Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey the next day. Weightman’s boss Army Surgeon General Gen. Kevin “I don't do barracks inspections at Walter Reed” Kiley who lived across from the notorious Building 18 and who had run the hospital from 2002-2004 lasted one day as the new head of Walter Reed before he was removed. He resigned from the Army on March 12.

One source of the difficulties at Walter Reed was the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) decision on August 25, 2005 to close Walter Reed. Planned renovations were canceled. Another was the privatizing of support services at the hospital. The workforce dropped from 350 experienced professionals to 50 who were not and the contract was given to IAP. IAP began work at Walter Reed in 2003. In 2004, IAP lobbied successfully against an Army recommendation not to privatize the workforce. The OMB reversed the Army finding and the services contract was given to IAP in January 2006 although its implementation was delayed a year. IAP is run by two former KBR executives and had a well connected board of directors as well as being owned by a powerful holding company the Cerberus hedge fund.

However, the generally low priority given to ongoing patient care for wounded soldiers was probably the single greatest reason for the woes at Walter Reed. It bears remembering that there were problems noted as early as 2004 and certainly by 2005 and that Walter Reed is located in the nation’s capital minutes from the White House, the Congress, and the offices of major media outlets. Washington didn’t know about Walter Reed because it didn’t want to know.

The mindset which gives a higher priority to PR than care of the nation’s wounded continues. An August 2008 USAToday story repored that barracks in Fort Sill, Oklahoma meant to relieve conditions experienced by veterans at Walter Reed had mold problems in their ventilation system. The situation had been known for months, but soldiers were ordered not to talk to the press about it. Chuck Roeder, the social services coordinator, who blew the whistle on conditions at the base was rewarded for his diligence by being forced out of his job.
[Health, Incompetence, Supporting the troops, Whistleblower]

2. Firing of US attorneys. Most of the country’s 93 US attorneys are usually replaced within the first 2 years of a new administration and this is what happened when Bush came into office in 2001. US attorneys are political appointees and are chosen to reflect the policy priorities of a President. Still their primary job is to uphold the law, and the law is not supposed to be partisan. Karl Rove, of course, had other ideas. He believes that government should be politicized and populated with compliant partisan hacks loyal to him and his.

The plan was to create a list of political hires and fires of US attorneys under the direction of the White House (i.e. Rove and Harriet Miers) which Gonzales (and Bush) would then dutifully sign off on. There were two components. First, on February 7, 2006, regulations were published giving Attorney General Alberto Gonzales the power to hire and fire all non-civil service employees of the Justice Department (DOJ). On March 1, 2006, Gonzales signed an order delegating this power (subject to his nominal final approval) to two fairly junior and inexperienced staffers: Monica “Loyalty oaths” Goodling his senior counselor and liaison with the White House and his Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson. Second, sometime late in 2005 (shortly before the conference report for the Patriot Act Extension was filed on December 8, 2005), language originating at the DOJ was surreptitiously inserted into the act by Brett Tolman (see 97) which allowed Gonzales to make indefinite interim US attorney appointments without Senate approval. The conference report was passed and became law on March 9, 2006. So again, the two parts were first to set up a system where Rove could control the hiring and firing of US attorneys and second to bypass the Senate confirmation process which might interfere with the first part.

On December 7, 2006, eight US attorneys were notified that they would be fired. Most came from swing states. Most were considered not to have aggressively enough prosecuted Democrats or voter fraud cases in the run up to November 2006 elections, the idea being that such prosecutions would have helped Republicans in close elections. Worse some were investigating and had even prosecuted prominent Republicans. And then there were those partisan hacks waiting in the wings to replace them.

1. Carol Lam, Southern California, convicted Rep. Duke Cunningham and indicted the former No. 3 at the CIA Dusty Foggo
2. H. E. Cummins III, Eastern Arkansas, had been asked to investigate the Republican Governor in the neighboring state of Missouri. He announced the investigation finished in October 2006 a month before the election but was fired anyway to make way for Timothy Griffin, an aide to Karl Rove who had been the principal opposition researcher in the Bush 2004 campaign.
3. David Iglesias, New Mexico, angered Republican Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson when he refused to push for indictments of Democratic officials before the election after they inappropriately contacted him.
4. Daniel Bogden, Nevada, similarly was replaced by Brett Tolman who was crucial to bypassing Senate scrutiny of these appointments.
5. Paul K. Charlton, Arizona, was investigating Republican Representative Rick Renzi for corruption.
6. John McKay, Western Washington, angered state Republicans for not creating voter fraud cases in the 2004 Governor’s race which Democrat Christine Gregoire won by 129 votes
7. Margaret Chiara, Western Michigan. It is not clear why she was fired. She was on the Native American Issues Subcommittee (NAIS) of US attorneys. It may have been to make way for Russell Stoddard who had been languishing out in Guam as First Assistant Attorney after Frederick Black got demoted for investigating Abramoff’s activities in the North Marianas. In July 2008, it came out that Monica "It's against my religion" Goodling may have sought to remove Chiara because of unsubstantiated rumors that she was in a lesbian relationship with an Assistant US Attorney Leslie Hagen (see item 336).
8. Kevin V. Ryan, Northern California, is the only one of the 8 who deserved to be on the list because he did run his office poorly. DOJ actually wanted to keep him on but a federal judge forced the issue and his name was added to the list.

A 9th US Attorney Todd Graves (Western District of Missouri) was asked to resign before the others on January 24, 2006. This resignation took place under pressure from Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) as payback for frictions his office was having with Sam Graves, a Republican Representative also from Missouri and Todd Graves’ brother.

As they say, it is not the crime but the coverup. Gonzales has given so many different and contradictory stories about the firings that it is hard to keep up and then there is his memory. In his Senate testimony of April 19, 2007, he answered he couldn’t remember by some counts 71 times. He didn’t know who had called for such a list. He couldn’t remember having been very involved in the process. He even forgot to mention the March 1, 2006 order in his testimony. In fact, he knew very little about what were major decisions at the department he supposedly ran but, despite this, he did know there was nothing improper in any of it. Testifying in the House on May 10, 2007, his memory and his believability were little improved. Kyle Sampson too had memory problems but did contradict Gonzales’ claim that he had not been involved. For his part, Sampson described himself as just the guy that others dropped their files off to and his contribution to the process was to keep them in his desk drawer. Initially, Monica Goodling took an indefinite leave of absence, then resigned, then said she would take the 5th in any Congressional testimony. On May 23, 2007, after a grant of immunity she testified that Paul McNulty the Deputy Attorney General was more aware of events surrounding the firings (although this is far from clear), that she had crossed the line (i.e. broken the law) in asking career DOJ hires about their political affiliations, that Gonzales’ statements were inaccurate (i.e. he lied), and that Gonzales had sought to harmonize their stories (i.e. obstruct justice). Goodling, like Sampson, tried to portray herself as a bit player despite Gonzales’ extraordinary grant of authority to them both. On June 21, 2007, Paul McNulty testified before the Congress and basically stonewalled, saying that he was out of the loop, that he didn’t know who created the firing list, that there was no problem at the DOJ, and that there was no contradiction between his testimony and that of anyone else, including Monica Goodling. On July 11, 2007, Sara Taylor who left her post of White House political director in May randomly invoked Executive privilege and otherwise and like so many others had a bad memory. She did state that she had had no dealings with Bush concerning the firings. Along with her selective use of Executive privilege, this contention further undermined the claim that an Executive privilege was involved and left the possibility of a contempt citation. An unintentionally revealing insight into the mindset of those who work for this Administration came in Taylor’s testimony when she stated, “I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously.” Her oath was, of course, not to the President but to defend the Constitution. On July 12, 2007, former White House counsel Harriet Miers refused to appear pursuant to a House Judiciary Committee subpoena, leaving her open to contempt proceedings as well.

From this use of Executive privilege, it is clear that the White House, and more specifically Karl Rove, was involved in the firings and was, in fact, calling the shots in this affair, and that those at Justice, including the Attorney General, were just the eager, if dim, facilitators of it.

In addition to the Sampson and Goodling resignations, Michael Battle Director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) who informed the US attorneys of their firing left the DOJ on March 16, 2007. Paul McNulty the No. 2 at the DOJ and Deputy Attorney General announced his resignation on May 14, 2007 to become effective later in the summer. Although left out of the loop on the details of the firings and giving false Congressional testimony as a result for which he apologized, McNulty did approve the firings and through his Chief of Staff Michael Elston warned several of those fired to stay quiet about them. Elston announced his resignation on June 15, 2007. On June 22, 2007, Bill Mercer who was Acting Associate Attorney General (the No. 3 spot at the DOJ) withdrew his nomination for the permanent position. On August 27, 2007, Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation as Attorney General effective September 17, 2007.

The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) informed the Senate in June 2007 that it was investigating Goodling’s claim that Gonzales had tried to tamper with her testimony.

Congress intervened and changed the relevant provision of the Patriot Act to re-instate the Senate’s role in confirming US attorneys (May 22, 2007). This was signed into law June 14, 2007. Provocatively, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continued to make interim appointments right up to the Presidential signing.

In September 2008, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility issued a joint report on the US Attorney firings. Their investigation was hampered by an unprecedented lack of cooperation from within the Executive Branch itself. Not only did major players like Harriet Miers and Karl Rove decline to be interviewed but the White House refused to provide relevant materials or redacted them to the point of rendering them useless. Even more extraordinary Justice’s own Office of Legal Counsel (which now acts as more of an adjunct of the White House in the Justice Department) also refused to share materials. Monica Goodling, of course, declined to cooperate as did Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) .

As happens in most IG reports, this one pulled its punches. It sought to ascertain if there was a credible rationale for each of the firings, an approach fundamentally at odds with the political nature of the firing process itself. Chiara might have been fired for performance reasons and not sexual orientation. With Lam, it might have been about guns and immigration. McKay, a disagreement about a file sharing system. Charlton, a death penalty case. But all these miss the point. Credible rationales were not the object of the exercise.

As the report concludes:

. . . the process the Department used to select the U.S. Attorneys for removal was fundamentally flawed, and the oversight and implementation of the removal process by the Department’s most senior leaders was seriously lacking. In particular, we found that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty failed to adequately supervise the U.S. Attorney selection and removal process, and they were remarkably unengaged in the process. Instead, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General Kyle Sampson, with very little input from other Department officials, designed, selected, and implemented the removal process, with little supervision or oversight.

This is certainly damning, but it still invites us to accept an incredible scenario, that the senior management of the Justice Department, faced with significant high level personnel changes in which they either had a direct say or substantial interest, simply took a walk, asked no questions, and left it all in the hands of a virtual nobody. While this DOJ OIG-OPR report fills in details, the real story behind the US Attorney firings remains to be told.
[Criminality, Politicization of the DOJ]

3. Plamegate. Scooter Libby Chief of Staff to the Vice President was convicted on March 6, 2007 on two counts of perjury before the Grand Jury and one count each of obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI. Placing political payback (against an individual and an agency) above national security, the Vice President’s office orchestrated the outing of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame, her cover company Brewster Jennings, other agents which had used this same cover, and her contacts. All this was done in retaliation for an op-ed in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 written by her husband ambassador Joe Wilson. In it, he publicly debunked the “16 words” in Bush’s January 28, 2003 State of the Union which claimed that Saddam Hussein had sought to obtain uranium from Africa (Niger). Wilson had been sent to Niger to investigate this charge in February 2002 at the request of the CIA and had reported nearly a year before its use in the SOTU that it was false. This undercut the argument that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat and showed that the Bush Administration had known this was so in advance of the war. After several attempts by among others Karl Rove to pitch Plame’s identity to the media, on July 14, 2003, Valerie Plame was outed in a column by Robert Novak In his closing argument at the Libby trial, Patrick Fitzgerald detailed Cheney’s guiding hand in the conspiracy behind the outing and spoke of a “cloud” over the Vice President. That cloud remains.

On June 5, 2007 Scooter Libby received a preliminary sentence of 30 months in federal prison, with a 2-year term of supervised release following the completion of that sentence, a $250,000 fine, and a requirement of 400 hours of community service. This was confirmed June14 and bail during appeal was denied. Scooter’s defense solicited letters on his behalf from Washington’s conservative elite. These praised his legal expertise and national security credentials and were likely counterproductive since they made clear he was well aware of the legal ramifications of lying to a grand jury and the security implications of outing a CIA agent. A group of conservative attorneys led by Robert Bork also filed an unsuccessful, last minute amicus brief questioning the legitimacy of Patrick Fitzgerald’s appointment as prosecutor. It called the appointment a “close” question although its rationale depended upon a lone Supreme Court dissent in a case that was not closely decided and its effect would be to prevent independent investigations of high US officials. On July 2, 2007, a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit unanimously denied Libby’s appeal. Hours later George Bush commuted Libby’s sentence eliminating any jail time. This is an Administration that believes it is outside the law and acts accordingly. It is not so much that they have contempt for the law. Rather they have contempt for us. The cloud that was over Cheney now covers Bush as well.

A civil suit filed by Valerie Plame was dismissed on July 19, 2007 by judge John D. Bates who ruled that, while Plame’s complaint had merit, the court did not have jurisdiction. It was dismissed again on appeal on August 12, 2008 on procedural grounds.

On December 10, 2007, Libby’s lawyers announced that they were dropping his appeal. This is all part of a legal strategy to stonewall and run out the clock. Since Libby had his sentence commuted rather than receiving a pardon, he could continue to assert a 5th Amendment privilege if he were summoned to give testimony before Congress. Beginning an appeal gave a patina of credence to such a contention. However, to go forward with the appeal once this point had been made would have been expensive and unnecessary. The last thing Scooter wanted was a successful appeal since this could have resulted in a retrial and another conviction, very likely after Bush had left office. At that point Scooter would have no one to commute his sentence or pardon him and he could have faced real jail time. This was not the object of the exercise.
[Criminality, Intelligence, Iraq]

4. Iraq: axis of evil, lack of preparation for occupation, looting, including the National Museum, too few troops, lack of training, lack of equipment, lack of securing loose Iraqi munitions, disbanding the Iraqi army, banning the Baathists, the CPA, cronyism, Paul Bremer, losing tons of money literally, lack of international inclusion in reconstruction and security, weak Constitution, formation of sectarian parties, weak government, denial of actual conditions in Iraq, for example, its civil war, ignoring 4 years of failed policies and the basic proposal of the Iraq Study Group to withdraw, escalating instead, continuing lack of any discernible mission.
[Iraq, Middle East, WMD]

5. Afghanistan, transferring resources to Iraq before the job was finished, the results: a resurgent Taliban, continuing warlordism, and exploding opium production. On January 30, 2008, three independent non-partisan reports on Afghanistan by the Center for the Study of the Presidency (Jones-Pickering), the Atlantic Council, and the National Defense University concluded that Afghanistan had been neglected, was in danger of becoming a failed state, and that a new comprehensive policy was needed. You would think that after 6 years we would have one but this was the Bush Administration and the failure to pay attention to the basics was one of its hallmarks.
[Afghanistan, War on Terror]

6. Iran and saber rattling, axis of evil, lack of engagement, refusal to talk to, addressing the nuclear issue through threats, clumsy attempts to blame Iran for the debacle in Iraq and a failure to recognize their very real interests there.
[Iran, Middle East, WMD]

7. North Korea, axis of evil, ditching the 1994 agreement and freezing of bank accounts because of dubious uranium program, the plutonium program which led to a fizzled first nuclear test, and something like a return to the 1994 agreement. On June 26, 2008, Bush declared that he would ask Congress to rescind its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. While this move was primarily to establish some sort of a positive legacy for him, it underlines how off track his North Korea policy was during most of his Presidency and how although tenuous this one foreign policy success was due to that most abhorred of all concepts in the Bush Administration: diplomacy.

8. Osama bin Laden. The blown opportunity at Tora Bora. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the roles of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in terrorism. Pakistan’s intelligence service the ISI created the Taliban. Despite $11 billion in US aid from 2001 through 2007, the government of Pervez Musharraf continued to give it safe haven in Pakistan. As for al Qaeda, those efforts which did occur were limited and often timed to the visits of American dignitaries. In addition, Bush’s oft stated policy of spreading democracy was dealt a blow when Musharraf fearing a Supreme Court decision preventing him from holding the Presidency and remaining Chief of Staff of the armed forces declared a state of emergency and instituted martial law on November 3, 2007.

The Saudis for their part funded radical madrassas throughout the Moslem world and have a domestic educational system run by the most extreme of their homegrown extremists. Saudi and Gulf oil dollars found their way to many terrorist groups as well as the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
[War on Terror]

9. Civilian contractors; also no bid contracts; in Iraq Halliburton tainted food and water, overpriced gas; Blackwell and the use of private security contractors, what used to be called mercenaries, with little or no accountability.

10. The Military Commissions Act: torture, indefinite detention, the end of habeas corpus, and kangaroo courts. One of the last acts of the Congress before the November 2006 elections, it passed the Senate on September 28 and the House the next day and was signed into law by Bush on October 17. The short story on this is that, pre-election, the Republicans pushed it and the Democrats caved on it. As bad as the military commissions envisioned in the act are, the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) which designate who is to be tried are even worse. They were complete shams. Decisions were made on the flimsiest and most general information without challenge or taking into account the methods (torture) used to obtain it. Detainees lacked effective legal representation, and the CSRTs did not come close to meeting minimal standards of judicial process, even a preliminary one. To top it off, as later military judges have found, the CSRTs designated detainees “enemy combatants” which does not meet the Military Commissions Act standard of “unlawful enemy combatants” vitiating their findings to date. Even when they make up the rules they can’t get it right.

The case of Murat Kurnaz shows how flawed the CSRTs are. He was a Turkish citizen who had lived his entire life in Germany. On October 3, 2001, at the point of getting his German citizenship, he traveled to Pakistan to visit religious sites. In December 2001, he was removed from the group he was traveling with, arrested by Pakistani police, and flown to Guantanamo 4 weeks later. In September 2002, he was interrogated by American and German intelligence officers who concluded that he had no links to terrorism and should be freed. This view was repeated in a memo dated May 19, 2003 from the commanding general of the Criminal Investigation Task Force, the Pentagon unit responsible for interrogating detainees. Against this was a memo dated June 25, 2004 by Brigadier General David Lacquement, then head of the US Southern Command's intelligence unit, who said Kurnaz was a danger because he had among other things prayed during the national anthem, asked how high the basketball rim was in the prison yard (which in Lacquement-speak indicated a desire to escape), and enquired about guard schedules and detainee transfers. There was also the accusation that Kurnaz knew someone who knew a suicide bomber (except this was later shown to be untrue) and had stayed at a hostel in Pakistan run by a religious group linked to terrorism (the group’s link was also untrue). Kurnaz’s CSRT was held on October 4, 2004 where he was determined to be an enemy combatant. His lawyers challenged this in a DC District Court. (This was before the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.) In a January 2005 opinion, Judge Joyce Green found that the CSRT process had been biased and was contrary to US and international law. This opinion became public on March 25, 2005 when it was inadvertently released by court officials. Nevertheless, Kurnaz continued to be held. In January 2006, a yearly Review Board hearing reconfirmed.that Kurnaz was an enemy combatant. Meanwhile Kurnaz’s detention and German participation in his interrogation was giving the story legs in Germany. Also in January 2006, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought up the case with Bush. On May 31, 2006, the FBI weighed in indicating that it had no interest in Kurnaz. In July 2006, a special Review Board met and determined that he was no longer an enemy combatant. The reasons for this change of status remain classified. Kurnaz was flown back to Germany goggled and shackled where he was released on August 24, 2006. Despite repeated findings by the intelligence community that Kurnaz was innocent of any links to terrorism, flimsy, false, and easily refutable evidence allowed by the CSRTs resulted in his detention without any formal charge for more than 4 1/2 years, a detention that would have continued if it had not been for the accidental leak of details of his case by a DC court and the personal intervention of the head of the German government.

On July 20, 2007, a three judge panel of the DC Circuit in Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. US rejected parts of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) of 2005 asserting that it will expect to examine all information bearing on a detainee's case and not just what the government used in deciding to hold a detainee. SCOTUS on June 29, 2007 changed its mind and decided to take a look at these cases in the fall, especially in light of what the Circuit Court might decide. On June 10, 2008, SCOTUS in a 5-4 decision with Kennedy writing the majority opinion and Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting ruled that that review procedures in the the DTA did not provide an adequate substitute for the writ of habeas corpus, that the CSRTs were deficient, that the Constitutional requirements for its suspension (rebellion or invasion) had not been met, that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) could not strip habeas out, that practical not formal considerations applied to its extension to non-citizens overseas, and that because the US exercised effective if not de jure sovereignty over Guantanamo, accordingly the writ of habeas corpus ran there. This is another indication that the “judicial” structure that the Administration sought to construct at Guantanamo continues to collapse under its own un-Constitutional weight. It also underlines the divide in the Court among those justices who subscribe to the Bush doctrine of the unilateral Executive and those who believe in the traditional doctrine of judicial review embodied in Marbury v. Madison early in the country’s history.

On September 24, 2007 in the Khadr case, a military appeals court found that on hearing more evidence a military judge had the power to determine that an alien enemy combatant was also an “unlawful” one. If upheld, this could clear the way for trials under the MCA. On November 8, 2007, the government informed Khadr’s defense that it had an exculpatory eyewitness which it had known about from the beginning but only chose to tell the defense about several years into Khadr’s detention. On May 29, 2008, the Pentagon announced that the judge in Khadr’s case Army Colonel Peter Brownback had been removed. No reason was given but there was a push on to start trials before the November 2008 elections and Brownback had threatened to suspend proceedings because the prosecution had been stalling about sharing records with the defense concerning Khadr’s detention. On June 8, 2008, it came out that Khadr’s attorney Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler had come across a military directive which ordered interrogators to destroy their handwritten notes of interrogations, i.e. destroy evidence, obstruct justice. The notes are important because they give a blow by blow account of interrogations and are far more complete than the sanitized summaries put together later based on them. They could, as the defense contends, show that Khadr’s various confessions were the product of torture. And their destruction effectively poisons the well in any prosecution of Khadr. On June 9, 2008, Kuebler was to submit an affidavit on this to SCOTUS in the Boumediene case. (see also item 85)

On October 5, 2007, the chief Guantanamo prosecutor career Air Force Colonel Morris Davis resigned in a dispute with reserve Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann (until recently a corporate lawyer now legal adviser to the convening authority for the Military Commissions Susan Crawford). The function of the convening authority is to approve or reduce charges against the accused or make plea agreements with them. It is supposed to be an arbiter, but in a clear conflict of interest, Crawford and Hartmann pressed the prosecutor’s office to file the most serious charges possible in an attempt to drum up publicity and support for the military commissions process. Davis has since said another reason for his departure was the placement of his office under that of the Department of Defense’s General Counsel. The DOD GC is William Haynes (See item 194) who signed off on the torture memos prepared by John Yoo for the Department of Defense. No matter how rank and foul this travesty of American justice is, it seems to have a never-ending capacity to get worse.

In Congressional testimony on December 11, 2007, Hartmann refused to say whether waterboarding was torture or whether waterboarding of an American soldier by a foreign government would be considered torture. He did suggest that he had no problem with evidence gained by torture being admitted into court proceedings.

On March 8, 2008, Bush vetoed the Intelligence Authorization bill because it outlawed waterboarding and required intelligence agencies to adhere to interrogation methods authorized by the Army Field Manual. Bush reiterated his standard lies on the subject:

While details of the current CIA program are classified, the Attorney General has reviewed it and determined that it is lawful under existing domestic and international law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. I remain committed to an intelligence-gathering program that complies with our legal obligations and our basic values as a people. The United States opposes torture, and I remain committed to following international and domestic law regarding the humane treatment of people in its custody, including the “Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [On this last, he appended a signing statement saying that he would follow the DTA only if and when he felt like it].”

On March 11, 2008, the House failed to override 225-188.
On May 9, 2008, the judge Captain Keith Allred presiding over the first Guantanamo trial, that of Salim Hamdan, ordered Hartmann to have no further contact with the proceedings because he was too closely associated with the prosecution.

On August 6, 2008, Hamdan was convicted of giving material aid to terrorists but acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiracy in the African embassy bombings and to kill Americans in Afghanistan. The prosecution argued that Hamdan was more than Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur but also his bodyguard. It could not explain, however, why in that case Abdallah Tabarak who was Osama bin Laden’s chief of security was released from Guantanamo in 2004 after 3 years detention there. It also pointed to the precedents of Nuremberg but again could not explain why Erich Kempka, Hitler’s driver, was never charged with anything. The defense pointed to testimony of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that described Hamdan who has only a 4th grade education as a primitive Bedouin fit only to wash cars and change tires. When Hamdan was detained, two shoulder fired missiles were found in his car, and this appears to be the basis for his conviction on the one count. In this sense, the commission acted correctly and in adherence with its rules, but this trial in no way validates those rules.

Hamdan was determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by the thoroughly discredited, sham process of the CSRTs. He was held for years without trial and subjected to coercive interrogations and denied the benefit of legal counsel during these. He was sent before a military commission where his lawyers were severely limited in the defense they could present. They had little access to evidence or ability to challenge it or present exculpatory evidence of their own. Evidence derived from coercive interrogations was allowed. The surprise is that under these conditions and before a handpicked military jury who did not even need unanimity to convict the prosecution still could not make the main part of its case. Yet even if Hamdan had been acquitted on all charges, his indefinite detention would not have ended.

Nuremberg was about holding leaders responsible but Hamdan is the very opposite of a leader. He is very much a pawn, perhaps not quite an innocent, certainly not a fighter. He is a small man caught up and by larger events. And this is what the Bush Administration’s War on Terror has produced after 7 years and the commitment of untold resources: the conviction of Osama bin Laden’s driver on a lesser count. Could anything be more ridiculous and pathetic?

The following day on August 7, 2008, Hamdan was sentenced to 66 months. The judge indicated he would credit current time served which amounts to 61 months making the effective sentence 5 months. The prosecution was asking for 30 years. What happens when Hamdan’s sentence is up remains unclear, but it will occur shortly before the inauguration of the next President.

On November 25, 2008, Hamdan was sent to Yemen where he will be held until December 27 and then released.

On August 14, 2008, Hartmann who is supposed to act as a neutral supervisor was barred from further involvement in a second trial that of Mohammed Jawad due to bias in favor of the prosecution by trial judge Colonel Stephen Henley. Also on August 14, 2008, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Zierhoffer, a military psychologist supervising Jawad’s interrogation, invoked her article 31 rights. Article 31 is the military version of the 5th Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination. Despite Jawad being a juvenile, known not to have any intelligence value, and rapidly deteriorating mentally, Zierhoffer recommended that techniques, such as prolonged periods of extreme isolation and sleep deprivation, be continued with him, resulting in Jawad attempting suicide. This isn’t us, or at least it shouldn’t be.

On September 19, 2008, after having been barred from 3 Guantanamo trials, Thomas Hartmann was moved from his former position. He will now oversee the planning and operating of the trials. The Pentagon was unwilling to eliminate Hartmann’s prejudicial influence but has sought to make it less apparent.

On September 24, 2008, citing a lack of due process and the suppression of exculpatory evidence in the case of Mohammed Jawad, the prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld quit. Jawad, a juvenile at the time of his capture, was accused of throwing a grenade at Americans. In a sealed affidavit, Vandeveld stated that prosecutors knew that Jawad may have been drugged prior to the attack and that two other men had, in fact, confessed to it. It says a lot about how rotten the military commissions process is that even military prosecutors can’t stomach it.

A November 1, 2008 story in the Miami Herald reports that Thomas Hartmann has decided to retire from the military effective February 17, 2009. With vacation time, he would be gone before the inauguration. This may be a classic case of getting out of Dodge. He is currently facing two different investigations by the DOD for his Guantanamo activities.

On November 18, 2008, the chief military judge at Guantanamo Marine Colonel Ralph Kohlmann announced his immediate retirement. He was previously scheduled to retire in April 2009. His departure confuses further an already thoroughly dysfunctional and discredited process.

On November 20, 2008, a conservative federal district court judge in Washington, DC Richard Leon in the first habeas review of Guantanamo detainees ordered the release of 5 Algerians. These were Lakhdar Boumediene, Saber Lahmar, Mohamed Nechle, Mustafa Ait Idir and Hadj Boudella. Leon ruled that a sixth Algerian Bensayah Belkacem who was considered the leading al Qaeda operative in Bosnia had been lawfully detained. The six had been seized by US forces in Bosnia citing a plan to blow up the US embassy there. They were taken to Guantanamo in 2002 and have been held there ever since this despite a Bosnian court having decided that there was insufficient evidence against them. In October 2008, the government had withdrawn the bombing plot charge but claimed the men had been on their way to fight in Afghanistan. Leon noted that the government’s case rested on a classified document from a single unnamed source and termed it a “thin reed”. On December 16, 2008, the government returned 3 of the 5 (excluding Boumediene and Lahmar) to Bosnia.

A January 14, 2009 story in the Washington Post reports that Convening Authority Susan Crawford did not refer Mohammed al Qahtani, the man who was supposed to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker, for prosecution because he had been tortured. While saying that the interrogation techniques used against Qahtani had been authorized, Crawford indicated they had been abused in his case.

Also on January 14, 2009, federal district judge Richard Leon ordered the release of another Guantanamo detainee Mohammed el Gharani, a citizen of Chad. Gharani was arrested in Pakistan where he was learning English in 2002 when he was 14. He was accused among other things of belonging to an al Qaeda cell in London in 1998 although he was 11 and living with his parents, poor immigrants working in Saudi Arabia at the time. Even among the many egregious cases of dimwittery in the War on Terror, this one stands out in its stark injustice.

A January 25, 2009 story shed further light into just how much of a fraud the commissions process at Guantanamo has been. A declaration by Darrel Vandeveld, a former Guantanamo prosecutor (see September 24 above), reported that, despite having 6 years to prepare them, the Pentagon had no real case files on any of the detainees. There was no central repository for files and evidence, no chain of custody for physical evidence, not even a cataloguing system so that material held in various locations and databases could be assembled into such a file. It is difficult to express what a serious professional breach this is. Case files are the basis of any serious prosecution. It says so much about what a kangaroo process Guantanamo was that neither the Convening Authority nor prosecutors bothered to create such files and guard their integrity.
[Guantanamo, Torture, War on Terror]

11. Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the destruction of New Orleans, FEMA and “Heck of a job, Brownie,” lack of preparation, lack of emergency aid, slowness of reconstruction, Bush ignores for days then gives address from Jackson Square in New Orleans promising aid which never comes or much of which goes to politically connected outstate no bid contractors, disparity between response to Louisiana and Republican Trent Lott’s Mississippi; Bush refuses to waive 10% state match for federal funds (waived in many previous disasters) increasing the bureaucratic paperwork, reducing aid to affected areas, and further slowing and complicating rebuilding.
[Cronyism, Katrina]

12. Bush authorized warrantless NSA wiretapping in October 2001. Joseph Nacchio former CEO of Qwest convicted April 19, 2007 of insider trading reported that the NSA in a meeting on February 27, 2001 (1 month after Bush became President and 6 1/2 months before 9/11) tried to sign Qwest up to a warrantless surveillance program and that when Nacchio refused the NSA pulled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts from the company.

Under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) a warrant would be needed from the FISA court (federal judges entrusted with these decisions in addition to their regular jobs) for domestic to international telephone or internet communication. The bar for such a warrant is extraordinarily low, has almost never been denied, and can be granted up to 3 days after the surveillance as begun (in order to give maximum flexibility in emergency situations). This is in contrast to international to international communications which have always been considered legitimate targets for US intelligence organizations and require no warrant.

The post-9/11 Bush program acquired its legal basis from a John Yoo memo originating in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It went much further than cutting FISA out of the loop and probably included surveillance of both international and domestic communications of targets generated from datamining NSA databases as well as their contacts and the contacts of those contacts in ever expanding and less relevant circles. While incredibly intrusive and in violation of Fourth Amendment protections, this operation was to all intents and purposes worthless. FBI agents sent to check out the information they received from this program were invariably sent on wild goose chases. They wasted a lot of time and resources on them, all of which could have been better spent elsewhere. Because this was often where their information led them, they took to calling these Pizza Hut leads. It has been suggested that what the NSA was using in its surveillance was a program called Main Core, a searchable database of databases. It is rumored to contain data on 8 million Americans deemed suspicious (yes, I don’t know what that means either) who in case of national emergency would be subject to anything from arrest to heightened surveillance. It may have been this massive warrantless surveillance, real or potential, of huge numbers of Americans that troubled some, like James Comey and Jack Goldsmith, at the DOJ. It screamed lack of probable cause and smacked too closely of being an enemies list, only a lot bigger.

In addition to this, the Administration appeared intent on exploiting the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to expand the scope of its surveillance. This act requires telecoms to configure their equipment to facilitate governmental wiretapping. While the act was not envisioned as a means of large scale warrantless wiretapping, it could with the help of service providers like the telecoms be turned into one. Supporting this view is that on March 10, 2004, the DOJ, FBI, and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) petitioned the FCC to extend CALEA to the internet (see item 252). This action coming as it did on the same day as the Ashcroft hospital visit (described below) may have been an effort to expand or acquire additional cover for a data mining program like Main Core that was already in operation.

In any case in March 2004, the OLC under its new head Jack Goldsmith a defense oriented conservative rejected Yoo’s reasoning and reversed its position on the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General James Comey both conservatives and Bush appointees accepted this finding. Then Ashcroft came down with acute gallstone pancreatitis and transferred his powers to his deputy Comey who became Acting Attorney General. In a scheme apparently orchestrated by Vice President Cheney, Bush called Mrs. Ashcroft and Cheney “on the President’s behalf” ordered then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card to go to the hospital and get the ailing and doped up Ashcroft to sign off on the surveillance program. Mrs. Ashcroft informed her husband’s Chief of Staff David Ayers about the coming visit and he contacted Comey. Comey in turn contacted FBI Director Robert Mueller to order the FBI agents guarding Ashcroft to remain in his room (as witnesses) and raced to the hospital and Ashcroft’s room in the ICU. This set the scene for the now famous March 10, 2004 hospital room confrontation where Gonzales and Card ignoring Comey tried to get Ashcroft’s signature. Ashcroft was, however, lucid enough to refuse to sign and to point out the obvious: that he did not have the power to do so since Comey was the Acting Attorney General. Despite the refusal by the DOJ to vouch for the program’s legality, Bush re-authorized it anyway. A threat by Ashcroft, Comey, and Mueller to resign did, however, result in changes to the program. The OLC came up with a narrower justification under the AUMF for a more limited program which became the TSP (Terrorist Surveillance Program). It should be noted that this program in all of its manifestations and despite its various justifications has been illegal on its face since its inception.

The program became public when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times reported on it on December 16, 2005. In 2006 various unsuccessful attempts were made to accommodate the program. This included the infamous attempted "compromise" by Arlen Specter to legalize its worst excesses and retroactively amnesty any illegalities. Under mounting pressure and with a new Democratic Congress, Alberto Gonzales announced on January 18, 2007, a “deal” with the FISA court which would put the program under its supervision. Gonzales maintained, however, that Bush still had Article II power to go outside the court if he wanted to.

On July 24, 2007, Gonzales testified under oath before Senate Judiciary Committee that before going to the hospital to see Ashcroft he had met with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders overseeing intelligence matters (the Gang of 8) to discuss Comey’s objections and that they had approved the predecessor to the TSP. Several of the Democratic members of the Gang of 8 denied that such approval was ever given. Additionally, Gonzales asserted that the program discussed was not the TSP but another program. Both General Hayden then head of the NSA and John Negroponte then DNI have indicated that this was precisely the program discussed albeit in its unmodified form. Finally, Gonzales maintained in his testimony that there had been no serious disagreement about the program despite the objections from the DOJ. Along with his constantly changing testimony concerning the US Attorney firings, this discrepancy led four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 26, 2007 to ask Solicitor General Paul Clement (in his role of Acting Attorney General for matters in which Gonzales has recused himself) to name a special prosecutor to determine whether Gonzales has obstructed justice, perjured himself, and made false statements.

Despite previous abuses, April 10, 2007 intelligence czar DNI John “Mike” McConnell (not to be confused with Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell) proposes allowing NSA to conduct domestic surveillance of foreign nationals completely outside of FISA, extend from 3 days to one week surveillance without seeking FISA permission “in emergency situations,” immunize telecoms, and extend FISA warrants from 120 days to one year. McConnell has a large conflict of interest in the immunization of telecoms issue. Like too many others, McConnell has benefited from the revolving door between government and private enterprise. He has been director of defense programs at Booz Allen Hamilton a large defense and intelligence firm with CIA and NSA consulting contracts and chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the primary business association for NSA and CIA contractors. In short, he has intimate connections to precisely those corporate players most closely involved in promoting the use of telecoms in intelligence gathering and with the greatest vested interest in keeping this arrangement going .

On August 5, 2007, Bush signed into law a 6 month revision of FISA which would allow warrantless wiretapping of non-American individuals “reasonably” thought to be outside the US and incidentally of US citizens as long as these were not the primary targets of surveillance. The Attorney General (at the time of the bill’s signing this was still the eminently untrustworthy Alberto Gonzales) and the DNI (the as we will soon see truth challenged Mike McConnell) alone and without any outside judicial review would see the program was properly carried out. In effect, this was a backdoor way to surveil Americans without a warrant. It also granted telecommunication companies prospective immunity for aiding the government in these activities during this 6 month period but not retroactively for their past actions.

The need for such a bill was raised at the last minute as lawmakers were on their way out of town for the August recess. Although it only became public later, the ostensible reason for modifying FISA at this particular juncture was an unspecified terrorist threat to the Capitol (which DNI McConnell knew at the time was based on an unreliable source). Mike McConnell then negotiated with Democratic Congressional leaders on a Democratic bill to address perceived shortcomings in the FISA law. The White House, however, wanted FISA gutted, and McConnell reneged on his deal with the Democrats. With the Congressional vacation coming on and members eager to leave, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid caved. Through their parliamentary machinations, the Democratic bill was defeated and the Republican version endorsed by the White House passed. The end result was, abetted by a dishonest DNI, another power grab by the Bush Administration and the failure of the Democrats to stand up to it.

On September 10, 2007, DNI McConnell testified before a Senate committee that the newly gutted FISA law the Protect America Act resulted in the arrest of 3 Germans planning to attack Americans in Germany. When German authorities pointed out that the Germans in question had come to their attention through US surveillance initiated under the old FISA statute, McConnell retracted his statement without apologizing for it.

On September 20, 2007, McConnell testified falsely again that surveillance of Iraqi insurgents holding American troops had been held up for 12 hours due to FISA court restrictions. The delay, however, occurred because of the initial weakness of the request submitted by the NSA to the DOJ (which given the low threshold for FISA warrants is telling) and subsequent foul ups in finding a senior official to sign off on it. Since the old FISA law allowed surveillance to begin up to 72 hours before the granting of a warrant, it is unclear why this was even an issue.

Because the Protect America Act (PAA) was set to expire after 180 days, in December 2007, an attempt was made in the Senate to pass a permanent extension. There were two principal versions of this bill, the Intel version from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) chaired by the conservative Democrat Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and another a revision of the Intel version that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC). The Intel version was Republican friendly and was chosen by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) as the base or favored version. It granted the retroactive immunity the telecoms had been lobbying for (not in the SJC bill), allowed basket warrants for the surveillance, not of individuals, but of classes of persons, had weak minimization (i.e. disposal of information on Americans incidentally obtained) requirements and oversight, and gave only vague assurances that the program would not be used for reverse targeting (using a foreign national as an excuse to surveil an American). An objection by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) threw this well orchestrated process into disarray, and Reid pulled consideration of the bill on December 17, 2007.

In January 2008, with the PAA due to expire on February 1, Reid made a second attempt to pass the Intel version. This time he was blindsided by Bush and the Republicans. Senate Republicans played politics. They refused to allow any face-saving amendments (all of which were likely to be defeated anyway) to be brought up and were willing to see the PAA expire instead. Bush for his part announced he would veto even a short extension of the PAA to give the Senate time to act. So on the one hand Bush and the Republicans argued that the PAA was absolutely necessary and if it was not passed the terrorists would win and we would all die. On the other, they were perfectly ready to see it expire just so they could stick it to Senate Democrats.

On January 28, 2008, with the SOTU scheduled for later that evening, that is what happened. In a near party line vote, Democrats defeated the Republican move (48-45 with 60 votes needed) for cloture on the Intel version of the PAA with no amendments. The Republicans then defeated a similar motion for a 30 day extension of the PAA on a straight party line vote.

So to recap briefly, Senate Democrats were ready to pass a bad bill, but the Republicans who supported the bad bill wanted to rub the Democrats’ faces in it first. As a result, everything fell apart, and the upshot was everyone could and did blame everyone else. High school was not this bad.

On January 29, 2008, a 15 day extension (to February 15, 2008) was agreed to by voice vote in the House and by Unanimous Consent in the Senate. An agreement was made to consider amendments to the PAA in return for a cloture vote. All of the amendments were rejected by Republicans voting as a bloc and conservative Democrats voting as weasels.

SA 3915 (Feingold): stoppage of surveillance of an American upon finding of FISA court and minimization of information so acquired. Rejected: 40-56

SA 3913 (Feingold): No reverse targeting of Americans. Rejected: 38-57

SA 3910 (Feinstein): Exclusivity (surveillance must be conducted under FISA). Rejected: 57-41 (Needed 60)

SA 3979 (Feingold): Segregation and audit of communications involving Americans. Rejected: 35-63

SA 3907 (Dodd): No retroactive immunity for telecoms. Rejected: 31-67

SA 3912 (Feingold): No bulk surveillance. Rejected: 37-60

SA 3927 (Specter): Substitution of US for telecoms in civil suits. Rejected: 37-60

SA 3919 (Feinstein): Transferal of civil suits to FISA court (with an eye to dismiss). Rejected: 41-57 (Needed 60)

The first two were defeated on February 7. The others on February 12, 2008. Cloture was invoked, and the bill passed in the Senate 68-29. Senate Republicans timed their votes close to the February 15 expiration date in an effort to force the House to drop consideration of its own bill and accept the Senate version without revision. Instead the Democratic House leadership played for time and sought a further 21 day extension to the PAA. On February 13, 2008, this action was defeated by House Republicans along with a small group of liberal Democrats 191-229. In effect, the liberal Democrats called the Republicans and Bush Administration’s bluff. The deadline passed, the country did not collapse, as right wing commentators ominously predicted. A few Democrats showed some backbone although the vast majority of them continued to punt or enable. Somewhat lost in all the kabuki was the real object of the exercise: to grant immunity for the telecoms. DNI Mike McConnell touched on this in a February 15, 2008 NPR interview:

The issue is liability protection for the private sector. We can't do this mission without their help.

But even this admission is heavily spun. The telecoms have substantial protection from liability under existing law and their exposure to large payouts is minimal. The government and telecoms are intimately intertwined, and this relationship will not be changed by a failure to grant immunity to them. Further the telecoms can not duck future cooperation with the government (even if they were so inclined) if that cooperation is accompanied by a court order. No, immunity is not about protecting the telecoms (they don’t need it) but rather squelching civil lawsuits which if allowed to proceed could expose the extent of this government’s spying on its own citizens. This isn’t about national security. It is about CYA.

On June 20, 2008, the House passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (HR 6304) by a vote of 293-129 with 105 Democrats, including the whole of the Democratic leadership, voting for. The bill spearheaded by the Democratic Majority leader Steny Hoyer was another cave on the part of Democrats to a deeply unpopular President at the end of his term. The text of the 114 page bill was made available to lawmakers less than 24 hours before the vote, meaning that almost no Representative actually read the bill before voting on it. No amendments were allowed, and only one hour was given for debate.

The bill granted effective retroactive immunity to telecoms in a particularly cowardly way, not by Congressional action but by shifting responsibility to the federal district court level. All that was required was that the telecoms show they had received an OK from the President. There was no requirement that they demonstrate that they thought that the President’s request was lawful or that they (with their large legal departments) made any effort to assess its legality. This would end current lawsuits against telecoms which seek to learn what kind of spying the government was doing on its own citizens.

On minimization (removal of information on untargeted Americans), the bill allowed for review by the FISA court only as to whether the government followed in general terms its own procedures, but gave the court no scope to judge the legality of the procedures themselves.

If the government disagreed with the FISA court, it could continue wiretapping throughout the appeals process and keep all information so gathered regardless of the outcome of the appeal.

The bill also contained a superfluous “exclusivity” clause making FISA the only bill through which this kind of surveillance could be carried out. I say “superfluous” because FISA already was the exclusive “legal” vehicle for such surveillance.

In short, this is a dreadful piece of legislation and shows that the rot in our body politic is not confined to the Republican Party. House Democrats could have proposed responsible, uncontroversial changes to the FISA law, but they chose instead to endorse the lawless actions of the President and the telecoms and see that the extent of that lawlessness never saw the light of day.

On July 9, 2008, the Senate easily voted down amendments to the House bill and passed it unchanged 69-28. Both Harry Reid the Senate Majority Leader (in how the bill was brought up) and the 2008 presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama (in not only not leading any opposition to the legislation but in fact supporting it) were instrumental in the passage of a bill codifying the power of the government to spy on its citizens without a warrant, sanctioning the illegal activities of telecoms, and hiding from public view the extent of the Bush Administration’s lawlessness in this area.

No Republican voted against the bill. 21 Democrats and Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) voted for it.

Baucus (D-MT)Bayh (D-IN)Carper (D-DE)Casey (D-PA)Conrad (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)Inouye (D-HI) Johnson (D-SD)Kohl (D-WI)Landrieu (D-LA)Lincoln (D-AR)McCaskill (D-MO)Mikulski (D-MD)Nelson (D-FL)Nelson (D-NE)Obama (D-IL)Pryor (D-AR)Rockefeller (D-WV)Salazar (D-CO)Webb (D-VA)Whitehouse (D-RI)
More on the FISA modification legislative history can be found here.

On October 9, 2008, ABCNews came out with a story (first reported on by Amy Goodman on May 13, 2008) in which whistleblowing military communications operators admitted that they had listened routinely in on phone calls of ordinary Americans overseas, that they had recorded and transcribed them, and in some cases passed them around to colleagues to gossip about and make fun of. This directly contradicted statements by George Bush and former NSA head and current CIA Director Michael Hayden that warrantless wiretapping was only directed against foreign terrorists.
[Revolving Door, Surveillance, War on Terror, Whistleblowers]

13. SWIFT surveillance of international financial transactions. After 9/11, the US Treasury Department began the Terrorist FinanceTracking Program which served the international secure messaging system known as SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) based in Belgium with broad subpoenas which resulted in the network turning over large parts of its database involving millions of records to US authorities.

Essentially, the US government was allowed to peek in on most of the international wire transfers between banks in the world. As long as all parties are foreign, US law does not have much to say about this, but many transactions involved Americans. This brings up 4th Amendment considerations which expressly forbid “unreasonable searches and seizures” and demand a warrant that is both specific and based on “probable cause”. Hoovering up for data mining purposes millions of bank records of ordinary Americans sending money abroad violates all aspects of this Constitutional protection. The program came to light on June 23, 2006 in articles in major US papers. Subsequently, there were announcements that the program had been modified but it was not clear how. The real question is how many of these post-9/11 “emergency” programs of dubious legality are still out there running years later.
[Surveillance, War on Terror]

14. Black prisons and extraordinary rendition to facilitate interrogation by torture

Khalid El-Masri a German citizen was detained by Macedonian police in late 2003. His name was similar to the alleged mentor of the al Qaeda Hamburg cell (of which two of the 911 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi as well as Ramzi Binalshibh were members). He was held for 3 weeks and then released. Although the CIA knew that this El-Masri was not the one they were looking for, they kidnapped him and took him to Afghanistan where he was interrogated and beaten for months. Eventually, on May 28, 2004, after two orders from then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and being made to promise never to talk about what happened, El-Masri was dumped at night on a road in Albania. On December 6, 2005, the ACLU filed suit on his behalf in federal court. On May 12, 2006, Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis III dismissed the case accepting the government’s contention that a suit into Masri’s illegal detention would compromise national security. The dismissal was upheld by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 2, 2007. On January 31, 2007, a German prosecutor issued warrants for 13 people suspected of participation in the kidnapping. For his part, since his release, El-Masri has had a troubled history. On May 17, 2007, after an argument with clerks about a defective iPod, he set fire to the store and burned it down. On October 9, 2007, the Supreme Court denied certiorari to a suit by El-Masri and let stand a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion accepting the government’s state secrets argument and dismissing the case.

Meanwhile on February 17, 2003, the CIA kidnapped a cleric Abu Omar in Milan and rendered him to Egypt where he was held and tortured. In December 2005, an Italian court issued arrest warrants for 22 (now up to 26) CIA agents. Abu Omar was released early in 2007.

Several European countries are looking into the rendition programs. These efforts are complicated by US stonewalling and the complicity of their own intelligence services.

Something similar happened to Maher Arar. A Canadian resident with dual Canadian/Syrian citizenship was detained at JFK in New York on September 26, 2002 because he knew someone who knew someone who knew Osama bin Laden. He was held in US custody for 2 weeks without access to a lawyer. Then because the Canadian government falsely declared he was no longer a resident and with the knowledge of their intelligence services, he was rendered to Syria where he was held for a year and tortured. He was released October 5, 2003 and returned to Canada. The Canadian government eventually exonerated Arar and paid a $10.5 million settlement. A suit entered by Arar in US federal court was dismissed on February 16, 2006 on national security grounds. The US government has never admitted any wrongdoing and Arar continues to be on the US No-Fly list. On June 5, 2008, DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner in Congressional testimony said that his office had opened an investigation into whether immigration officials had broken the law in sending Arar to a country that tortures. He also revealed the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) had begun a similar investigation in March 2007 into the activities of DOJ lawyers in the affair.

On August 12, 2008, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided on its own (sua sponte) to take another look at the Arar case en banc (with all the appellate judges of the Circuit involved). Oral arguments were scheduled for December 9, 2008.

As for black prisons, these were created to hold high value ghost detainees up to one hundred in number beyond the oversight of the judiciary and Congress, essentially so that they could be tortured. 14 of these, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were eventually transferred to Guantanamo. In Europe, Poland and Romania were rumored to be sites of the prisons. US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan held others. The remainder were scattered throughout the world in complicit countries and on other US bases. Although there had been previous revelations, the story broke officially in a Dana Priest Washington Post report of November 2, 2005. President Bush acknowledged their existence nearly a year later on September 6, 2006.

The purpose of both rendition and black prisons was to gain actionable intelligence, an obsession in the Bush Administration. In its pursuit, they stooped to torture and bartered our image as a champion of human rights for a stack of unreliable information. It is an exchange that is impossible to justify.
[Guantanamo, Torture, War on Terror]

15. Homeland Security: white elephant (organization), black hole (money), Tom Ridge and threat levels, Michael Chertoff and general incompetence.

As of May 1, 2007 in a House report on the DHS, under Chertoff’s direction, there were 138 vacancies and another 92 currently being recruited among the department’s top 575 positions. Most of these were in the department’s policy, legal and intelligence sections, immigration agencies, FEMA, and the Coast Guard. Luckily, nothing important.
[DHS, Incompetence, War on Terror]

16. K Street Lobbyists, Jack Abramoff, North Marianas, removal of investigating US attorney Frederick Black (Guam), Gale Norton and Steven Griles at Interior, go betweens Italia Federici for Norton and Susan Ralston for Rove, tribal casinos; conviction of Rep. Bob “Freedom Fries” Ney (R-OH) for conspiracy and false statements re Abramoff’s Indian casinos scam.
[Abramoff, Corruption, Cronyism]

17. Kyle “Dusty” Foggo was Executive Director under Porter Goss at the CIA from November 4, 2004 to May 12, 2006. In this, the No. 3 post at the agency Foggo ran daily operations. On February 13, 2007, Foggo was indicted along with Brent Wilkes by fired US attorney for Southern California Carol Lam (two days before she left her office) for wire fraud, deprival of honest services, money laundering, and conspiracy for steering business to Brent Wilkes, a figure in the Duke Cunningham scandal. This indictment concentrated mainly on a water contract for CIA personnel overseas and expensive vacations to Hawaii and Scotland paid for by Wilkes. On May 10, 2007, an expanded, superseding indictment was filed. This indictment added Wilkes-Foggo deals involving cover for CIA air operations, selling armored cars to the CIA, and rental of office space, $1.35 million transferred out of government contract accounts to Wilkes’ businesses, and details more of the expensive dinners Foggo was treated to. On February 19, 2008, Foggo’s case was transferred from the Southern District of California to the Eastern District of Virginia, nearer to Langley and CIA headquarters. On May 20, 2008, Foggo was indicted in Virginia. Added on to previous charges were receiving “sexual companionship”, i.e. hookers in exchange for favors and seeking the “enrichment of a mistress” by helping her get a job in the office of the CIA’s general counsel. On September 29, 2008, in a plea bargain Foggo pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in exchange for no more than 3 years in prison.
[Corruption, Politicization of the DOJ]

18. Duke Cunningham convicted of receiving $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion, the MZM connection. Mitchell Wade the founder of the defense contracting firm MZM purchased Cunningham’s Del Mar home for $1,675,000 then put it back on the market a month later for $975,000. Cunningham lived in Washington on a yacht owned by Wade. In exchange for these kinds of bribes and favors, Cunningham steered contracts to MZM. One of the first in July 2002 was for $140,000 for computers and office furniture for Vice President Cheney which turned out in actuality to be for anthrax screening (for which MZM had zero expertise). Another in September 2002 was for a data storage system for CIFA (see item 158 on CIFA’s domestic spying). $5.4 million of the $6.3 million contract was profit. As it turned out the system was incompatible with CIFA’s and was never installed. As often happens in these kinds of arrangements, Lt. Gen. James C. King who helped set up CIFA went to work at MZM and became its President in June 2005 replacing Wade. By the time that Cunningham pled guilty on November 28, 2005, he had managed to steer $150 million in contracts to MZM, a firm which before Cunningham and Wade hooked up received no important government contracts.

Another player in the Cunningham scandals was Brent Wilkes who founded ADCS a data conversion firm. He too won contracts through Cunningham and according to Wade set up a prostitution ring for the benefit of Cunningham and other legislators at the Watergate and Westin Grand hotels. On November 5, 2007, Wilkes was convicted in federal court on all 13 felony counts he was charged with. These included conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and wire fraud. In addition to paying for flings in Hawaii and Las Vegas for Cunningham, Wilkes was accused of giving Cunningham $100,000. Wilkes said it was to buy Cunningham’s boat although the deal never went through and Wilkes never asked for the money back. Wilkes also passed along $525,000 to help cover a mortgage for a house in Santa Fe for Cunningham. In exchange for these bribes, Wilkes’ company received about $80 million dollars in contracts. The government lost $30-60 million and Wilkes made about $46 million as a result of his deals with Cunningham. On February 19, 2008, US District Court judge Larry Burns went against probation and prosecutorial recommendations and sentenced Wilkes to 12 years in prison. He could have gotten 60.

On December 15, 2008, Mitchell Wade who was a smart enough operator to cooperate early and often with the government was sentenced to 30 months and a $250,000 fine, pretty much of a wrist slap for his participation. In addition to his help with Cunningham, Wade also apparently gave information in the investigations of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Rep. Allan Mollahan (D-WV.), Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), outgoing Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), and former Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL).
[Corruption, Sex]

19. Tom Delay, creator of the K Street Project, squeezing lobbyists to finance Republicans only, indicted for conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws (money laundering) in Texas, also connections to the Abramoff scandal. Major figure in Washington culture of corruption.
[Abramoff, Corruption]

20. Mark Foley, chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, resigned over the House page scandal: sending sexually explicit messages to pages. [Corruption, Sex]

21. Cheney’s Energy Policy, Big Oil’s writing of it, and refusal to divulge that participation.

22. Tax cuts for the wealthiest, corporations and on capital gains; retention of the AMT.

HR 1836 the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act was signed into law June 7, 2001. It was projected to reduce total surpluses by approximately $1.35 trillion over the 2001-2011 period. Its principal feature was a reduction spaced over the 2001 to 2006 period in the 4 highest tax brackets.

HR 2 the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act was signed into law May 28, 2003. It increased the exemption amount for the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT), decreased the tax rates for income from dividends and capital gains, modified tax law relating to bonus depreciation and expensing, and allowed certain 2003 corporate estimated tax payments to be shifted into 2004. Its principal effects would occur in its first 5 years from 2003-2008 and would cost $342.9 billion in this period.

HR 1308 the curiously named Working Families Tax Relief Act was signed into law October 4, 2004. Its main feature involved extensions and changes in the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Its principal costs occurred over the 2005-2009 period and were estimated to be $122 billion.

In 2005, there was an attempt at another tax cut bill which failed. In 2006, the Republicans broke their tax cuts up into a couple of bills .

HR 4297 was signed into law May 17, 2006. It was to cost about $70 billion, split roughly between cuts on dividends and capital gains on the one hand and cuts in the Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT) on the other.

HR 6111 was signed into law December 20, 2006. It was a minor catchall bill extending and modifying some expiring tax provisions and was projected to cost $40 billion over the period from 2007 to 2016.

Looking over the various bills, it is likely they became increasing hard to sell over time. They certainly became smaller. Still a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. It’s just that after Bush got a trillion dollars for the rich in his first bill, everything else seemed small by comparison.

23. Global warming: denial of manmade origin, followed by minimization of the effects of the manmade contribution, continued reliance on fossil and carbon based fuels, little movement on CAFE standards and conservation, and political interference in scientific reports

March 13, 2001, Bush rejects Kyoto Protocols (finished December 1997 but never ratified by the US Senate) and casts doubt on the causes of climate change.

June 11, 2001, in reference to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, Bush questions both the extent of global warming, its impact, and the manmade contribution to it.

February 14, 2002, Bush announces his Clear Skies Initiatives which lacks any limits on CO2.

April 2002, at the urging of ExxonMobil Bush blocks reelection of Robert Watson, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and advocate of reducing greenhouse gases.

June 3, 2002, an EPA report to the UN admits global warming largely due to human activities.

June 4, 2002, Bush dismisses the report as “put out by the bureaucracy” and reiterates his opposition to Kyoto.

August 19, 2002, White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) chief of staff Philip Cooney a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a non scientist questions why climate change is mentioned at all. In September 2002, for the first time in six years, the annual EPA report on air pollution “Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2001 Status and Trends” omits the section on global warming.

November 2002, Our Changing Planet, an annual report to Congress on the Climate Change Science Program for oversight and budget purposes is heavily edited by Philip Cooney.

April-May 2003, CEQ Chairman Jim Connaughton edits the draft of what will be the August 2003 “Fabricant” opinion.

June 23, 2003, the EPA issues “Draft Report on the Environment 2003” in which the section on global warming was pulled after Philip Cooney sought to replace data showing sharp increases in global temperatures with references to a study funded by the API questioning the evidence for global warming.

July 2003, the Administration releases its Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program. Philip Cooney along with other CEQ officials made at least 181 edits emphasizing the uncertainty of global warming and 113 de-emphasizing the human contribution to it. The CEQ also inserted language about the possible benefits of global warming and removed recommendations to do something about it.

August 28, 2003, in response to a petition by environmental groups to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on new cars (based upon an April 10, 1998 opinion by then EPA General Counsel Jonathan Cannon which found that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases were air pollutants), the EPA denied the petition. The General Counsel at the time Robert Fabricant reversed what was known as the Cannon memo and declared that greenhouse gases were not air pollutants.

Early 2005, Bush meets with author, non scientist, and global warming skeptic Michael Crichton. Bush had read his novel “State of Fear” which depicts global warming as a conspiracy.

June 1, 2005, Rick Peltz a scientist at the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (USCCSP) resigns and accuses Phillip Cooney, the chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) of editing scientific papers so that they would agree with Administration policies on climate change.
June 10, 2005, Cooney resigns.
June 13, 2005,
Cooney is hired by ExxonMobil.

September 21, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, Max Mayfield, the Director of the National Hurricane Center in testimony before the Commerce Committee denied a connection between Katrina and global warming, ascribing an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes to natural fluctuations. Mayfield was a popular and respected media figure whose thinking on this was out of the mainstream. His testimony, however, was carefully worked out between committee staff and the Office of Legislative Affairs at NOAA to in the words of one staffer Tom Jones smack “the shit out of this issue.”

December 2005, NASA climatologist James Hansen reported his work was being monitored and his access to the press limited by a 24 year old Bush political appointee in NASA’s PR department George C. Deutsch. Deutsch also tried to qualify references to the Big Bang as this conflicted with his fundamentalist beliefs.
February 7, 2006, Deutsch resigns after it becomes known that he lied on his resume about having a college degree.

April-November 2006, the Smithsonian (almost all of whose $1.1 billion budget comes from the government) self censors an exhibit on climate change in the Arctic which it had delayed six months while trying to tone it down.

July 20, 2006, Dr. Thomas Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data
Center at NOAA had his Congressional testimony on global warming modified and weakened by political appointees at the White House Council of Environmental Quality, the OMB, the Commerce Department, and NOAA.

January 30, 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists releases a report indicating that 150 climate scientists from 8 federal agencies had personally experienced at least one instance of interference in their work in the previous 5 years (for a total of 435 incidents).

April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA rejects the Fabricant opinion and requires the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. The commonwealth of Massachusetts argued successfully that it and its citizens had suffered and would suffer ecological damage, including loss of coastal lands, due to global warming.

May 2007, Bush continues to use the mantra of short term, unsustainable “economic growth” to oppose meaningful international (G-8) approaches, such as carbon trading and emission caps.

May 31, 2007, in an NPR interview, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin admits that global warming exists but doubts that it is a problem “to be wrestled with”.

September 28, 2007, Bush at a meeting held in competition with a UN conference on global warming called on those countries which emit the most greenhouse gases to set voluntary caps but did not say what those should be, even for the US.

October 23, 2007, the White House cut written testimony of Julie Geberding director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from 14 pages to 6 removing references to specific diseases, health problems, and global warming as “a serious public health concern.” As Jason Burnett who resigned June 9, 2008 as associate deputy administrator of the EPA related, this was done at the direction of Vice President Cheney’s office by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to avoid a finding that climate change was a public threat which in turn would have forced action under the Clean Air Act.

December 3-15, 2007, at the UN's Bali conference on moving beyond the Kyoto Accords, the Bush Administration continued to refuse binding commitments for reduction in carbon emissions. Instead there will be two more years of negotiations effectively punting any real decisions to the next Administration. Unfortunately, the effects of global warming are unlikely to wait on this further bout of procrastination.

December 2007, in conformance with the April 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, Jason Burnett (who had been brought on board the EPA in June 2007 by Stephen Johnson specifically to deal with the Court decision) notified the White House via an email that greenhouse gases were pollutants which should be controlled under the provisions of the Clean Air Act. The White House instructed Burnett to say his email had been sent in error. Burnett refused. To avoid it becoming part of the public record the White House refused to open it.

January 24, 2008, Vice President Cheney’s office again per Jason Burnett seeks to have the phrase “greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment” removed from Senate testimony prepared for EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. Jason Burnett refuses and the language stays. Again Cheney’s goal was to avoid any admission that greenhouse gas emissions were harmful and so subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

April 16, 2008, in yet another attempt to pre-empt an international conference (this one in Paris opening the following day), Bush announced the goal of stopping the growth in greenhouse gases by 2025 long after he is gone and some 10 years after climatologists say this needs to happen to avoid catastrophic changes. Essentially, the Bush program is to let business be business, not raise taxes, and trust to new technologies without significantly funding them. Bush also criticized the Supreme Court decision that required the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Bush and the EPA continue to stall on this.

May 5, 2008, a draft US proposal to the G-8 would shift responsibility for carbon emissions decisions away from the G-8 and to the Major Emitters group. This group includes countries like China and India which along with the US have little interest in fixed targets for greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush proposal would remove a deadline of 2050 for long term goals and would defer any discussion of mid term goals (2020-2030) to a UN conference in December 2009. It also argued that biofuels were not responsible for increasing world food prices.

May 27, 2008, the US Climate Change Science Program (USCCP) with the USDA lead agency released a major report on the effects of climate change on agriculture and forestry. It noted that some crops may mature faster but be more subject to extremes that could lead to crop failure. Higher temperatures could result in higher mortality and lower productivity in livestock. The West will continue to experience drought and increased risk of forest fires. In the Arctic, polar bear habitat will continue to diminish. Weeds and exotic species will spread. The growing season has increased by 10 to 14 days in temperate zones over the last 19 years.

May 29, 2008, the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the National Science and Technology Council released its report on climate change in the US. It projected that the health of the young, elderly, poor, disabled, and uninsured would be disproportionally affected by global warming. Extreme weather would become more common and insect infestations and water borne diseases would spread. The report came in response to a court order in August 2007 of Judge Saudra Brown Armstrong of the Northern District of California in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups alleging that the Bush Administration had violated the 1990 Global Change Research Act. The act required that the government publish a report every 4 years assessing the impact of environmental change on the US. The last such study was released in 2000 at the end of the Clinton Adminstration. The Bush Administration argued that some 20 reports it had requested in 2003 fulfilled its obligation under the law. The judge did not think so. While the Administration did eventually have to write the report, it was able nonetheless to delay the process 3 years and to avoid complying with the law for almost the whole of the Bush Presidency.

June 2, 2008, the NASA Inspector General released a report on the Hansen affair (see December 2005 entry above) in which it concluded:

“Our investigation found that during the fall of 2004 through early 2006, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public through those particular media over which the Office of Public Affairs had control (i.e., news releases and media access). We also concluded that the climate change editorial decisions were localized within the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs; we found no credible evidence suggesting that senior NASA or Administration officials directed the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs to minimize information relating to climate change.”

For all that it seems to be saying, what it is actually laying out is a variation of the “few bad apples” defense: wrongdoing occurred, it was localized, those in charge were not involved. This is unsurprising. Many IG offices pull their punches because they overly identify with the agencies and departments they are tasked with overseeing. The NASA IG, in particular, has a history of doing this (see 149). Indeed it softens its stance yet further, asserting that the apples were probably not so much bad as misguided. The report says that the December 2005 decision to cancel Hansen’s interview with NPR “was unilaterally made by a junior Schedule C political appointee in the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs.,” i.e. the 24 year old George Deutsch, but goes on to add that “The evidence, however, reflects that this appointee acted in accord with the overall management of climate change information at that time within the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs.”

June 9, 2008, Jason Burnett associate deputy administrator at EPA resigns over obstruction of action to address the April 2007 Supreme Court decision mandating government regulation of greenhouse gases.

June 16, 2008, an unprecedented internal EPA memo directs members of its enforcement division not to cooperate with investigations of the agency’s Inspector General or Congress’ Government Accounting Office (GAO) but to refer any contacts to the EPA’s political staff “to ensure consistency and coordination”, i.e. to control and spin what information is released and generally stymie any real investigation into political interference in the agency’s work.

July 9, 2008, as Bush left his last G-8 summit at which he again failed to make any hard commitments on reducing greenhouse gases, he bid other members “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.” Another of his toxic legacies.

July 11, 2008, the White House declares the Clean Air Act is “ill-suited” to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

(see also item 42)
[Energy, Environment, Inspector General]

24. Terri Schiavo (family and privacy rights in end of life cases); Senate Majority leader Bill Frist making his famous (and erroneous) video diagnosis; the memo written by Brian Darling, the legal counsel for Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) that the Schiavo case was a great political issue which could be used against the Democratic Senator from Florida Bill Nelson. Republicans who had cast the Schiavo case as a “moral” issue initially declared the memo a Democratic plant and dirty trick before the real source came out. [Political Interfence, Religion]

25. Big budget deficits and vastly increased national debt; the national debt as of the date of Bush’s 2001 inauguration was $5.7 trillion. By January 2009 it was $10.6 trillion, an increase of 85.6%.

Bush began his Presidency in 2001 with a $128.2 billion surplus left over from the Clinton Administration. By 2004, with his tax cuts and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush achieved a budget deficit of $412.7 billion. At this point, under the aegis of Bush’s “ownership society”, the country entered into a bubble economy and by 2007 the deficit declined to $160.7 billion. However, in August 2007, the housing bubble burst (item 87). The deficit for 2008 increased sharply to $438 billion. The projected budget deficit for 2009 (the government’s 2009 fiscal year began on October 1, 2008) in January 2009 as Bush leaves office was $1.186 trillion, and this does not include supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nor approximatively $400 billion for an expected Obama stimulus package.

26. The stacking of SCOTUS with right wing conservatives Roberts and Alito; the threat to Roe v. Wade; April 18, 2007 in a 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart SCOTUS upholds a ban on “partial birth” abortions (intact dilation and extraction). The procedure is rare and performed for medical reasons. Such a ban has been a goal of abortion foes who see it both as a step in a direct overturning of Roe and as part of an indirect approach to place so many restrictions on abortions as to effectively eliminate them.

The opinion written by Kennedy is remarkable for its inflammatory use of language (partial birth abortion, abortion doctors, killing the fetus, etc.) and example (an account of the procedure by an anti-abortion nurse). Kennedy manages to condescend not only to women but to their physicians as well. He essentially gives them both his considered medical opinion, as a lawyer, and orders them to follow it. The word hubris comes to mind.

27. Medicare: a bigger time bomb than Social Security left unaddressed.
[Economy, Health]

28. Medicare Part D: In an effort to spike a Democratic issue and protect the interests of drug and insurance companies, Republicans came up with their version of a Medicare drug prescription bill (Medicare Part D). The fix as they say was very much in. Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA) Chairman of the Commerce Committee was listed as the principal “author” of the bill which was largely written by industry lobbyists. Shortly after its passage, Tauzin announced his retirement and swung a deal to become a lobbyist at $2.5 million/year with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Big Pharma’s trade group. Thomas Scully who headed Medicare at the time lied to Congress about the program’s expected costs, understating them by $139 billion ($395 billion vs $534 billion), and then threatened the program’s chief actuary Richard Foster with firing if he told Congress the truth. He too quickly returned to the private sector and a law firm Alston & Bird lobbying for the healthcare industry.

The bill came up for a vote in the House at about 3 AM on November 22, 2003. Votes are usually held open for 15 minutes. After 45 minutes, the bill was failing 215-219. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom Delay spent the next few hours engaged in arm twisting and, in the case of Nick Smith (R-MI), bribery. They were successful. The vote was closed at 5:53 AM after nearly 3 hours, and the bill passed the House 220-215. It passed 54-44 in the Senate 3 days later on November 25, was signed into law December 8, 2003, and, after a signup period, went into effect January 1, 2006.

The bill prohibited Medicare from using its market share to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices and forced enrolling seniors into private insurance plans. It presented them with multiple and confusing plans which might cover some but not other of their prescriptions. On top of this, most plans had various co-pays and deductibles further complicating the situation. And it had its famous donut-hole, which was introduced to meet the Administration’s fake cost estimates. Prescriptions would be covered up to a certain amount and then not covered until a higher threshold had been reached. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) described the program succinctly as “somewhere between a bureaucratic nightmare and elder abuse.”
[Corruption, Health]

29. Healthcare (in general)

30. Cooked intelligence and the Office of Strategic Plans/ Doug Feith; stovepiping and Cheney’s alternate intel operation; pitching stories to credulous compliant reporters like Judy Miller then citing these stories as independent evidence; Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress feeding fake stories and dubious sources like “Curveball” into the mix; the subsequent coverup and Republican delayed and deep sixed Congressional investigations into the politicization of intelligence; an Inspector General’s report of February 9, 2007 declared Feith’s activities inappropriate but stopped short of calling them illegal. The IG’s rationale seemed more political than legal since Feith was running an intelligence operation which would be illegal.
[Inspector General, Intelligence, Iraq, Political Interference]

31. 2000 Presidential election; voter suppression and cooked felons list, Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Governor Jeb Bush, Bush consigliere Jim Baker oversaw the recount, Theodore Olson argued Bush v. Gore: SCOTUS decided 7-2 to stop recounts because of inconsistent procedures and 5-4 insufficient time to begin new recount, giving Bush the election.

32. 2004 Presidential election; Ohio voter irregularities that consistently favored Bush; Ken Blackwell was the Republican Secretary of State and honorary co chair of the Bush campaign who oversaw the election in Ohio. He opted for touch screen voting machines which left no paper trail and were sold by Diebold whose CEO Walden O’Dell was a Republican fundraiser. Long lines and too few machines in traditionally Democratic and minority areas also occurred.

The Ohio Republican Party was unusually corrupt and was largely voted out in the November 2006 elections. It was epitomized by Tom Noe a Bush Pioneer who made illegal contributions to the Bush campaign at the same time he was looting millions from the state’s workers comp program in a kooky coin investment scheme. He’s currently serving ~20 years on state and federal charges.

33. Attempts to torpedo the 911 Commission. Although now largely forgotten, the Bush Administration fought the 9/11 Commission every step of the way and it was only pressure from the American public and most especially from the families of the victims of 9/11 that the commission was formed and was able to come up with some kind of a report however flawed and incomplete.

Bush and Cheney resisted calls for such a bipartisan commission for over a year arguing that the matter was best left to Republican controlled intelligence committees in the Congress. It was not until November 27, 2002 that Bush announced the commission’s formation. He did his best to see that it went nowhere. Members were to be chosen by both Congress and the White House raising questions about the commission’s independence. Democratic co-chair George Mitchell on December 11, 2002 and Republican chair Henry Kissinger (whom the White House had insisted on appointing) on December 13, 2007 resigned due to conflicts of interest. Kissinger did not want to make public the financial records (and connections) of his security consulting company Kissinger Associates. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton were named to replace them. The specter of conflicts of interest remained. Through their careers in government and on corporate boards, essentially all of the commission members had such conflicts. Perhaps the most egregious of these was Philip Zelikow the commission’s executive staff director who had worked closely with Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council in the first Bush Administration and co-written a book with her.

Bush also tried to limit the commission’s activities by giving it a budget of only $3 million to investigate the biggest terrorist attack in the country’s history. The Challenger investigation cost $50 million by comparison. Later Kean and Hamilton asked for a further $11 million to be included in the $75 billion supplemental slated to fund the invasion of Iraq. The White House initially refused the funds before reversing itself.

The White House also placed many roadblocks in the commission’s path slowing its work. The commission was originally given 18 months or to the end of May 2004 to make its report. When a 60 day extension was requested, this too was initially denied. The commission report was eventually released on July 22, 2004.

The White House sought both to shape and limit testimony. Before former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke testified, then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales contacted two commission members Fred Fielding and James Thompson with information to discredit Clarke which they duly presented.

On Presidential Daily Briefs, after dragging its heels for months, the White House allowed them to be viewed by only 4 of the 10 commissioners who were to report back to the others. However, the White House denied the full commission access to the notes made by the 4 approved commissioners. Moreover, of 360 PDBs requested, only 24 were made available by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. On March 14, 2004, the White House finally responded to the commission by releasing a 17 page summary of PDBs related to al Qaeda from the Bush and Clinton Administrations.

The White House refused requests for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify. The rationale given was that historically National Security Advisers had not testified before Congress. This was completely untrue, and Rice finally testified on April 8, 2004. Rice’s testimony, however, came with the price that no other White House aides were to be called.

Bush initially placed a one hour limit on his testimony before the commission. This was rejected. But his testimony was highly conditioned. On April 29, 2004, he and Dick Cheney together met with the commission in private with no oath or transcript and only one staffer to take notes which were not to be made public.

In an op-ed in the New York Times on January 2, 2008, chairmen Kean and Hamilton accused the CIA and the Bush Administration of obstruction by withholding information about taped interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri (see item 288).

Finally, it should be remembered the 9/11 Commission was bipartisan. This does not mean the same thing as non-partisan. In order to achieve consensus, there was a deliberate decision not to assign personal blame. This was a critical shortcoming. Because as the Bush Administration’s repeated obstruction of the investigation into its complacency and inaction before 9/11 showed, it had much to hide.
[Political Interference, War on Terror,]

34. Failure to implement the 911 Commission recommendations. The Commission report was released on July 22, 2004 with its recommendations. A Republican President and Republican controlled Congress stalled and delayed them for 3 years. It was not until Democrats regained control of the Congress that anything was done. HR 1 on implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations passed the Congress on July 27, 2007 and was signed into law on August 3, 2007.
[Politics, War on Terror]

35. Marginalization of the UN. Neocons hate the UN.
A) It doesn’t do what neocons tell it to do.
B) It is multilateral and neocons think only unilateral action by the US is effective.
C) It does not opt for military force as a first resort.

So, of course, on August 1, 2005, Bush named UN hating neocon John Bolton as UN Ambassador in a recess appointment. Bolton famously stated in a 1994 speech that “If the U.N. building in New York lost its top 10 stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” The top floors are where highest ranking UN officials have their offices. His thinking has not moderated since.

Of course, the Administration has not hesitated to use the UN when it has suited its purposes. It cited Security Council resolutions from the First Gulf War in its AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Force against Iraq) (see item 128). It would have gone for a Chapter 7 UN resolution authorizing military force for the 2003 invasion of Iraq if it thought it could get one. That wasn’t in the cards. This explains why, despite the incongruity, resolutions from the First Gulf War were used to give a patina of international legitimacy to the Second Gulf War. Later on June 8, 2004 as the CPA was coming to a close, the Administration sought and obtained Security Council Resolution 1546 which sanctioned the presence of American forces in Iraq for a limited time subject to update. This permission was most recently updated in Resolution 1790 on December 18, 2006 which extends the American mandate in Iraq to December 31, 2008.
[Foreign Affairs]

36. Preventive war doctrine, aka Cheney’s one percent doctrine and the Bush doctrine. Bush first enunciated it at a speech at West Point on June 1, 2002. Preventive war is different from pre-emptive war. In preventive war, there is no imminent threat and this type of war is considered a war crime. (Think of Hitler attacking Poland.) In pre-emptive war, there is an imminent threat and this type of war is sanctioned by international law. (Think of the Israelis striking the Egyptian army in the Sinai in 1967)

Philip Zelikow a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, friend and colleague of Condoleezza Rice, and later Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission was asked by Rice then National Security Advisor to rewrite a State Department paper on US policy in the post-9/11 world. The result was the National Security Strategy of September 2002. In it, Zelikow stated preventive war as US policy.

Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination . . . And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.

If a threat is not fully formed (or if indeed it does not exist except as a manifestation of neocon paranoia), there is no imminence, and if there is no imminence, we are talking preventive war, a war crime.

In a curious and very late attempt at revisionist history, on December 11, 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied that Iraq, the preeminent example of the Bush Doctrine, was about pre-emption, i.e. prevention.

QUESTION: After 9/11, the President declared policy of preempting threats to the nation before they fully manifested themselves. Yet we've seen some of the intelligence about those threats is often flawed, significantly. Can a preemption policy coexist with imperfect intelligence?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would argue with you -- I don't think I would argue with you, I would argue that we have -- I don't think we’ve yet employed preemption. I would -- we could have a discussion about Iraq, continuing state of war since '91, shooting at our airplanes, almost a half dozen or more resolutions on this issue. I mean I think this was a long, long buildup. And I think it was a case in which you implement it or you had pretty much exhausted diplomatic options with Iraq.

Problem, as Ross Perot used to say, solved.
[Criminality, Iraq, Law, War on Terror]

37. Loss of US reputation internationally after massive post-911 world support. Here are some percentage US approval ratings pre-Bush and near the end of his term.

Pew Global Attitudes Proj.
Great Britain




The 2008 numbers are after the bursting of the housing bubble in August 2007 but before the September 2008 financial meltdown.
[Foreign Affairs, War on Terror]

38. No serious attempt to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Bush’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would charitably be described as hands off and disengaged. On June 24, 2002, Bush did for the first time seem to support the creation of a Palestinian state:

And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.

But as can be seen this declaration was highly conditioned and even then it would result initially in only “provisional” sovereignty for Palestinians. From this, it took almost a year for the Administration to come up with a more detailed plan. On April 30, 2003, it announced its Roadmap:

The following is a performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet [the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia]. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005, as presented in President Bush’s speech of 24 June . . .

A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.

The plan if not a quid pro quo for British participation in the invasion of Iraq was at least at the very strong suggestion of the British. The message was, however, stepped on by Bush as it came out just one day before his well known Mission Accomplished speech where he effectively and inaccurately declared victory in Iraq. After this, nothing happened except for the occasional vague pronouncement of even vaguer talks. The epitome of this was Condoleezza Rice’s announcement in Luxor on January 15, 2007 of talks on talks to develop a “political horizon” for a return to the “Roadmap” leading to a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

As the Bush Administration approached the end of its seventh year and the question of her legacy occupied Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, she arranged with Bush’s general support the Annapolis peace conference. The conference was attended by representatives of more than 40 countries, including the Saudis and Syrians but not the Iranians (who were not invited) and the Iraqis (who were invited but declined). It lasted a grand total of one day (November 27, 2007) and ended not with a commitment to act but as on all previous occasions a commitment to talk. This was not surprising given the political weakness of the three primary participants Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Bush’s detachment was exemplified by his inability to pronounce the names of either of his two guests of honor referring to them as “Ehud Elmo” and “Mahoomed Abbas” and his own rapid departure after his speech.

Shortly before a week long trip (January 8-16, 2008) to the Middle East where he was to visit Israel for the first time, Bush philosophized in a January 6, 2008 interview for al Arabiya about his Administration’s record on Israel-Palestine:

for the couple of years of my administration. It took a while to convince people that the two-state solution was in the security interests of both parties. And plus, there was a couple of difficult — there was a difficult situation, the truth be known. One was the intifada, which made it awfully hard to discuss peace at that time. The other was the Iraq invasion. It just — it created the conditions that made it more difficult to get people's minds in the right place to begin the process. And so now I think we've got the stars lined up, and I think we got a shot, and I'm going for it.

Of course, he really isn’t going for it. After having criticized Clinton’s efforts as belated and incrementalist, Bush thinks he can achieve a deal by coming even later to the problem and solving it while being less involved. This is not serious.
[Foreign Affairs, Incompetence, Middle East]

39. Underfunding of basic research. The federal budget for R&D in 2006 (the last year that Republicans held a majority in the Congress) was $132.3 billion. In constant FY 2005 dollars (used hereafter), this broke down to around $73 billion in defense related R&D and $56 billion in non-defense R&D.

Defense R&D increased 2001-2006 from $50 billion to $73 billion. Most of this increase came from weapons development, not basic science. From 2001-2005, defense spending on science and technology (basic research) rose from slightly more than $10 billion to about $13 billion before being cut back to 2001 levels in 2006.

Non-defense R&D initially increased due to a 5 year initiative 1998-2003 (begun during the Clinton years) to double funding for the NIH from approx. $14 billion to $28 billion. After this point NIH funding (which accounts for half of non-defense R&D) stagnated. Non-defense non-NIH funding has remained essentially unchanged since 1992 (or for about 15 years).

While Bush has greatly increased the size of the federal budget, during his tenure funding for basic research which has been the foundation of our technological preeminence has languished or been cut. Democrats since taking control of the Congress have made some moves to increase funding in the 2008 budget.
[War on Science]

40. Alberto Gonzales: politicization of the department, even down to the intern program, decimation of career lawyers and evisceration of divisions, like civil rights. The US attorney firings and the use of political litmus tests in hiring. The use of corruption, voter suppression, and voter fraud cases to influence elections.

Gonzales was counsel to the President before becoming Attorney General. This should have meant that he moved from being the President’s lawyer to the people’s lawyer but it is clear that he continues to see his main client as the President. Some think that he is dishonest; others say he is incompetent. He is both.

On August 27, 2007, Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation as Attorney General effective September 17, 2007. On December 31, 2008, Alberto Gonzales in an interview in the Wall Street Journal declared in a burst of self-pitying narcissism “for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.” Apparently his support for torture, turning the Justice Department into a political tool of the Bush Administration, and spying on Americans did not win him the respect and adulation he thought it would. How sad.
[Incompetence, Politicization of the DOJ, War on Terror]

41. FDA: drug testing; food safety: underfunding, cutback in inspections and inspection staff (a decrease of 12% between 2003 and 2006), reliance on self-policing, lack of inspection of imported foods, and inability to force recalls.

42. EPA: mercury levels for coal plants, delay in release of climate change reports; failure to address CO2 levels in global warming: Massachusetts v. EPA April 2007. On May 14, 2007, Bush asked government agencies to come up with a plan and submit it to him 3 weeks before he leaves office. The stalling continued on May 31, 2007, when Bush called for what was termed an aspirational goal of coming up with voluntary limits to greenhouse gases in the next 18 months (or again just before he leaves office) to go into effect after Kyoto expires in 2012. The number of civil cases brought against polluters decreased 70% between 2002 and 2006 compared to the rate in the 1990s.

December 19, 2007, going against the unanimous recommendation of his legal and technical staff, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson refused to grant California a waiver so that it could enforce stricter than federal emissions guidelines. The state along with 16 others sought to force automakers to cut emissions in all their vehicles by 30% by 2016. On January 2, 2008, California sued the EPA to force a reversal of its decision.
On January 18, 2008, Johnson sent heavily redacted documents to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works investigating his decision. In the accompanying letter, Associate Administrator Christopher Bliley in explaining the redactions cited executive privilege (even though none of the decision making involved Bush), a “chilling effect” upon his staff (even though he ignored them), confusion the public might have in understanding “the Agency’s full and complete thinking on the matter” (even though it’s clear what Johnson was up to), and the lawsuits by the states challenging Johnson’s decision (which would not have been filed if Johnson had not made such an unjustifiable decision).

On February 8, 2008, in New Jersey v. EPA, the DC Court of Appeals threw out the EPA’s plan to use a voluntary cap and trade system to reduce mercury emissions in coal and oil fired power plants. The plan would have allowed plants that failed to meet their emissions goals to purchase credits from those plants that had. The problem with this kind of system is that it would allow some plants to be dirtier than others and so expose some communities more than others.

As to the facts of the case, the court found that in December 2000 the EPA had deemed it appropriate and necessary to regulate mercury emissions from coal and oil fired power plants under the mandatory and stricter rules of Section 112 of the Clean Air Act (USC Title 42 Sec. 4712). In 2005 under the Bush Administration, the EPA removed these power plants from the Section 112 list of polluters. To do so, the EPA needed to show that emissions from all such plants were at “a level which is adequate to protect public health with an ample margin of safety and no adverse environmental effect will result.” (Sec. 112 (c)(9)(B)(ii)) It didn’t do this. It couldn’t do this. A cap and trade system for a major pollutant would never fit such a requirement. As a result, the court ruled that the EPA decision to remove these power plants from Section 112 was unlawful as was consequently the EPA’s cap and trade scheme.

On August 19, 2008, in Sierra Club v. EPA, the DC Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision with Brett Kavanaugh (entry 137) dissenting overturned a 2006 Bush Administration prohibition on states using stricter than federal pollution monitoring standards, if they deemed these to be inadequate, in the issuance of permits for emissions from industrial sources, such as power plants, chemical plants, and refineries. In 1990, amendments to the Clean Air Act had mandated that the government set minimum standards for monitoring but allowed states to enact more restrictive rules as these became outdated or were found to be insufficient. The prohibition by the Bush EPA was seen as a major rollback of the nation’s clean air laws and a gift to polluting industries.
[Energy, Environment, Law]

43. Porter Goss and the gutting of the CIA: Goss a conservative Republican Congressman who chaired the House Intelligence Committee was chosen to replace George Tenet in 2004. He promised to be non-partisan in his new role, a promise he did not keep and which it is difficult to imagine anyone took seriously at the time. He brought with him some of his House staff, the “goslings”. Their doctrinaire style produced confusion, demoralization, resignations, and not much else. Having done what damage he could and being largely isolated, he resigned suddenly on May 5, 2006, achieving the distinction of being one of the few people who was too big an embarrassment even for the Bush Administration, well that and that he was outmaneuvered and marginalized by the Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.
[Incompetence, Intelligence]

44. Militarization of intelligence: Rumsfeld perhaps out of pique that the Afghanistan operation was largely a CIA affair and conceiving the world as one big turf battle pressed to put all special operations under Pentagon control. The vast majority of intelligence funding is already funneled through the Defense Department. In addition to this, the current intelligence czar the Director of National Intelligence John Michael McConnell is a retired vice admiral. The CIA is currently headed by an active duty general Michael Hayden (USAF). The top man at the NSA (formerly headed by Hayden) is Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander (Army). General James R. Clapper Jr. is Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Lt. Gen. William J. (Jerry) Boykin is Deputy Under Secretary for Intelligence, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Ennis is Deputy Director for Human Intelligence at the CIA. Retiring Army Lt. General Dell Dailey, formerly Director of the Center for Special Operations at the Pentagon which runs black ops, was nominated to head the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) at the State Department. He was confirmed June 22, 2007.

National Counterterrorism Center was headed by another retired vice admiral John Scott Redd from August 1, 2005 to November 10, 2007. He left after making remarks that Iraq had made the country less safe and had helped in the recruitment of terrorists. The current acting head of the NCTC is its principal deputy director Michael Leiter, a civilian.

45. Rampant cronyism
[Corruption, Cronyism]

46. Signing statements: As of late 2007, there have been 156 signing statements challenging about 1,100 provisions in about 155 federal bills. In the past signing statements were used to establish grounds for a possible future challenge by the Executive branch or to assert that signing a specific bill did not imply a surrender of some underlying Presidential power. Bush has used them to maintain that he will only obey a law or a part of a law when it suits him.

47. Unilateral (aka Unitary) Executive doctrine: the brainchild of John Yoo and David Addington which seeks to establish a legal framework through misreading the Constitution for a Presidential dictatorship

On December 7, 2007, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released parts of Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions that he got declassified concerning Bush’s warrantless wiretapping programs:

1. An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.
2. The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II.
3. The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations.

What this says is that the President under his Article II powers as Commander in Chief can do whatever he wants and that he is the sole arbiter of whether what he does is legal. This echoes Richard Nixon famous dictum of May 19, 1977: “Well, when the President does it that means it is not illegal.” And we saw how well that turned out.

On April 30, 2008, John P. Elwood, Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) testified before Congress that the President has the right to ignore or change existing executive orders without disclosing that he has done, meaning that he can deceive the Congress and public if he wishes to and create programs that directly violate known EOs with no oversight from anyone.

48. Overuse and abuse of the National Guard and Reserves. According to a report by an independent commission on the National Guard and Reserves released January 31, 2008, more than 88% of these units were not combat ready or prepared to deal with a catastrophic attack on the country. They had an equipment shortfall in 2007 of $48 billion. In more than half the states, they had less than half the equipment they needed. A lot of equipment is in Iraq intact, worn out, or destroyed there.

One recommendation was to place active duty troops directly under the authority of governors in an emergency, which would almost certainly be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

National Guard and Reserve troops have been used extensively in Iraq. This was not what they were really envisioned to do, or what many of them had signed on to do. They often lacked adequate training and equipment. On the other hand, they were cheaper than active duty Army soldiers and were essential to Bush’s strategy of keeping large numbers of troops deployed in Iraq.

One sign of just how dismissively the National Guard has been treated is the following. In a story reported October 3, 2007, the Pentagon wrote orders for 1,162 members of the Minnesota National Guard (who served 22 months in Iraq, the longest tour of any ground unit there) for 729 days in order to avoid giving them GI Bill education benefits which they would have been entitled to if they had served one single day more.
[Supporting the troops]

49. Increasing unpreparedness of US ground forces (Army and Marines): too many tours, extended tours, too little rest between tours, insufficient training; also stop loss, lowering of recruitment standards.
[Supporting the troops]

50. US balance of trade deficit. This is a measure both of our general indebtedness and our competitiveness. In 2001 it was $385 billion. In 2006 it was $788 billion, a 105% increase. In 2007, it declined to $731 billion, a 90% increase. The deficit in goods (as opposed to services) accounts for almost all of this.

51. 2005 Grassley Bankruptcy bill heavily favoring lenders.

52. Mexican cross border trucking and safety concerns.

53. Karl Rove did not lose his security clearance after his participation in the Valerie Plame case. Instead it was quietly renewed in late 2006. Henry Waxman would like to know why.
[Intelligence, Politics]

54. Detention of families for immigration violations; large ICE raids which leave children of detainees unaccounted for; immigrant detentions for long periods in a hodgepodge of facilities without adequate medical care (resulting in deaths), suicide prevention, or legal representation.

On March 6, 2007, the US Immigration and Customs Service arrested 361 undocumented workers in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The raid was widely criticized because there had been little coordination with Social Services to see that children of those detained would be taken care of.

On May 12, 2008, ICE conducted another mass raid in Postville, Iowa against a kosher meat processing plant Agriprocessors with a history of worker safety and environmental violations in which 389 undocumented workers were arrested. In the Postville case, denied access to immigration attorneys (other court appointed attorneys were provided) and threatened with felony convictions with a mandatory two year minimum, 270 (within 2 weeks of their arrest) accepted a plea bargain of 5 months in prison followed by immediate deportation. While ICE was eager to rush prosecutions of the workers, no manager at Agriprocessors has yet been charged with anything.

In California ICE raids over 3 weeks beginning May 5, 2008 targeted against those who had not obeyed deportation orders led to the arrest of 905. 410 of these were incidental arrests for immigration violations during searches for members of the first group. About half of the 905 were quickly deported.

Such raids don’t actually reduce the number of “illegal aliens” in the country in any significant way. They are sensationalist gestures for the benefit of anti-immigration groups to show that something is being done when in fact very little is. They are also meant to terrorize and demoralize undocumented workers not so much to encourage them to leave but to further disempower them.

On October 30, 2008, the CEO of the Postville Agriprocessors plant, the son of the owner, Sholom Rubashkin was arrested. The federal complaint alleges that he had advanced knowledge of the ICE raid and had sought to obtain fraudulent IDs for his workers.
[DHS, Immigration]

55. Dubai Ports deal. After all the fearmongering about terrorism, the Bush Administration backed a deal to sell the running of many of America’s ports to a Middle Eastern firm.
[Politics, War on Terror]

56. The Patriot Act that no one had time to read and passed anyway; the Patriot Act extension that people had the time to read and passed anyway.
[Law, War on Terror]

57. Attempts to privatize Social Security dating all the way back to a stacked commission report of December 11, 2001; Andrew Biggs who favors privatization made deputy director of Social Security in a recess appointment after the Senate made it clear it would not take up his nomination because of his privatization views.

58. The War on Science: stem cell research, global warming, evolution, research funding, energy, abstinence programs, AIDS prevention.
[War on Science]

59. Conviction of David Safavian for lying and obstruction June 20, 2006 re his dealings with Jack Abramoff. In the 1990s, Safavian was a business partner of Grover Norquist. In 2002, he was named Senior Advisor and Acting Deputy Chief of Staff at the GSA and in November 2003 was made head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the OMB in the White House. On June 17, 2008, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Savafian. On December 19, 2008, Safavian was again convicted of obstruction and making false statements.
[Abramoff, Corruption]

60. Presidential adviser Claude Allen stealing from Target.

61. Bush casually admits to lying about decision to fire Rumsfeld

62. Armstrong Williams and paid propagandists.

63. Decimation of the Labor Department presided over by Elaine Chao, married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; job safety, job creation, wage increases, unions, and workers’ rights have languished under her stewardship. Edwin Foulke who heads OSHA continues the Administration policy of trusting to self-regulation of industry, by industry, for industry.
[Cronyism, Labor, Politics]

64. Net neutrality and media content and ownership policies.

65. Backing Israel while it destroyed Lebanon July 12, 2006-August 14, 2006
[Foreign Affairs, Middle East]

66. Presidential Daily Brief August 6, 2001: Bin Laden determined to attack in US.

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Ladin implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America.”


We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [deleted] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Shaykh” Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Obviously, no one could have predicted, especially since the World Trade Center is mentioned in the first paragraph, both Yousef and al-Rahman were involved in the first bombing of the Twin Towers, and Bin Ladin had only publicly stated his intentions of using aircraft 3 years previously. No one could have predicted, which no doubt explains Bush’s response to the CIA briefer who read him the PDB:

All right. You've covered your ass, now

[Incompetence, War on Terror]

67. EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman declares toxic filled Ground Zero safe for cleanup. On August 9, 2003 the EPA Inspector General finds differently. In Congressional testimony June 25, 2007, Whitman states that it was not her fault and blames the terrorists for the site being toxic. On April 22, 2008, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Whitman should not be held liable for her declaration because her lie did not “shock the conscience” of the appeals panel, a finding that says more about the panel than Whitman.
[Environment, War on Terror]

68. Sago mining disaster hearings and MHSA’s David Dye who walked out of the hearings; Bush push for reduction in fines for safety violations and non-collection of them since 2001.

69. Bush nominates Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on October 3, 2005. She was serving as White House counsel after Alberto Gonzales went to the DOJ. A typical Bush crony appointment, nevertheless it quickly runs into problems. Miers has little knowledge of Constitutional law, but what dooms her nomination is that conservatives don’t think she is conservative enough. Think Roe v. Wade. The nomination is withdrawn October 27, 2005. A few months later Miers’ involvement in the firings of the US attorneys begins.
[Cronyism, Law]

70. Bush vetoes a stem cell research bill July 19, 2006 (Bush’s first veto). Bush vetoes a second stem cell research bill June 20, 2007 (Bush’s third veto).
[War on Science]

71. Attack on Plan B contraception, staffing Women’s Health positions with religious conservatives: Dr. Eric Keroack at Health and Human Services who thought birth control demeaning to women and Dr. David Hager at FDA who tried to keep Plan B prescription only. His wife contended in divorce proceedings that he had repeatedly sod*mized her without her consent. On October 15, 2007, Bush appointed Susan Orr as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs (Keroack’s position). Orr who currently heads child welfare programs at HHS is a virulent opponent of birth control considering it part of a “culture of death”. This is another example of an upside down appointment: choosing someone whose positions are the very antithesis of their job’s mission. [Health, Politics]

72. Clear Skies Act of February 14, 2002 a failed attempt to weaken the Clean Air Act. Bush reacted by changing standards on nitrogen oxide, SO2, and mercury through the EPA. The Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 based on bad science in how to protect communities from forest fires and on the effects of “thinning” forests, i.e disrupting ecosystems. The real aim was to remove public input on forest management decisions by claiming sweetheart deals with logging companies were, in fact, to protect communities from fires even when no communities were nearby.

On December 5, 2007, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2003 US Forest Service rule, part of the Healthy Forests Initiative, which exempted cuts up to 1,000 acres and burns up to 4,500 acres in national forests from environmental review. The rule allowed about 1.2 million acres to be cut or burned each year without studying the environmental impact of these activities. [Environment]

73. Missile defense shield that doesn’t work. So far the only tangible result is that Vladimir Putin has used it as an excuse to introduce a new class of MIRVed (multiple warhead) ICBMs and threaten the Europeans. This is payback for the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty announced December 12, 2001 and entered into effect June 13, 2002. On June 14, Russia announced that it was pulling out of START II (negotiated in the 1990s) which covered the de-MIRVing of ICBMs and which Russia had never gotten around to ratifying anyway. Putin knows that Russia is not threatened by such an ineffective system and that Russia has plenty of conventional ICBMs to overwhelm it even if it did work. As for targeting Europe, although it sounds scary, this represents little change from current policy. De-targeted Russian (and US) missiles can be re-targeted in a matter of seconds to minutes. On July 14, 2007, Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. The Bush missile shield is providing an excellent excuse for Russia to detach itself from the security framework put in place at the end of the Cold War.

The missile shield program has also suffered from problems with its target missiles. A September 26, 2008 GAO report noted that target missiles (often old rockets) experienced a failure rate of 7% (3 of 42) in tests from 2002-2005 and 16% (6 of 38) in 2006-2007. During this period, the costs of each target missile varied between $4.5 to $8.5 million. In December 2003, the DOD awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to build new target rockets. These are expected to cost between $32 and $65 million a piece during the period 2008-2010. They are over cost and behind schedule. In fact, none are now expected for delivery before 2009.
[Foreign Affairs]

74. Leandro Aragoncillo naturalized Filipino-American in Cheney’s office (previously Gore’s) accused of spying for the Philippines and possibly France, pled guilty to unlawfully possessing secret US government documents. He was sentenced to 10 years on July 18, 2007.

75. Defunding overseas AIDS programs that promoted condom use for prevention; ineffective abstinence only programs. With these should be mentioned domestic abstinence only programs directed at teens which have proven to be abysmal failures. [Foreign Affairs, Health]

76. Call for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman.

77. Opening up Bristol Bay, the last pristine large-scale salmon fishery in the world, to oil drilling. Congress has also sanctioned further drilling in the Gulf of Mexico including off the coast of Florida. Interior is set to propose also drilling off the coast of Virginia which would need Congressional approval.

78. Accusation that Clintons trashed the White House before leaving, including stealing the Ws from keyboards.

79. James Guckert aka Jeff Gannon had a series of websites 1999-2002 where he advertised his services as a male “escort” or prostitute. In November 2002, Guckert began posting and publishing conservative pieces under the name Jeff Gannon. Although he had no journalistic experience, Gannon was soon accredited to the White House press corps where between February 25, 2003 and early 2005 he appeared over 200 times. During this period he represented Talon News and GOPUSA, websites owned by Robert Eberle a Republican operative from Texas. Several of Gannon’s visits did not correspond to press events and has led to speculation about which of his trades he was practicing during them. Gannon was known for lobbing softball questions and writing stories from press releases. On January 26, 2005 this led to his undoing when he asked at a Presidential press conference a question that appeared too friendly even by Washington standards,

Q Thank you. Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock-solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?

It is important to point out that Gannon was exposed by the liberal blogs dailykos and Americablog. Although Gannon had been engaged in these antics for two years under the nose of the White House corps, steely-eyed reporters that they were, they never noticed.

80. Native American trust funds. In 1887 the Dawes Act allotted individual Native Americans plots out of trust lands amounting to about 139 million acres. The federal government was to administer and manage these lands for the benefit of Native peoples. In 1889, however, lands not already allotted were made available to non-Native people. The trust lands rapidly shrank, profits from their sale and use were diverted, and the government’s accounting procedures were so bad it will never be known how much money was lost. In June 1996, a class action lawsuit was filed in DC federal district court with Judge Royce Lamberth presiding: Cobell v. Secretary of the Interior (Babbitt, Norton, Kempthorne) over the Department’s management of the trust known as the Individual Indian Money program or IIM.

The Cobell case spans both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Both saw Interior Secretaries and others cited for contempt. Both saw government offices destroy relevant evidence. The government has yet to address seriously the two issues of the case, compensation and reform of the trust. Instead it has engaged in a stalling strategy which so enraged Judge Lambert that “intemperate” remarks he made in July 2005 led to his eventual replacement in July 2006. That same month Senator John McCain (R-AZ) proposed an $8 billion settlement. This is a far lower figure than what the government owes the trust but illustrates the reality that the government has no intention of paying fair compensation or even making a real effort to find out what such compensation would be. On March 1, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales added insult to injury by suggesting an even lower all inclusive settlement number of $7 billion. The case drags on with the government trying to “right” one historic wrong by committing another.

One interesting aside is that as part of the Cobell case the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Office of the Special Trustee, the Office of Historical Trust Accounting, the Office of Hearing Appeals and the Office of the Solicitor all had their access to the internet pulled from 2001 to May 2008 by court order due to their mishandling of information. The current DC district court judge overseeing the case James Robertson of the DC district rescinded the order citing the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) which he said left no role for the courts in online security and information management. The Interior Department of which the BIA is part has received an F on FISMA’s annual report card for the past 2 years. It is amazing that the BIA and other offices over a period of 7 years could not resolve this issue and that it took a ruling that ignored the facts of the matter to reinstate their access.

On August 7, 2008, Judge Robertson awarded the native American plaintiffs $455 million a fraction of what even the government has offered them in the past, an inexplicably low figure given the value of the resources and the lengths of time involved. Robertson’s judgment seems rather a validation of the government’s policies of massive mismanagement, corruption, and failure to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities. Trust lands were never administered with their native owners in mind but as a cash cow for mining interests, oil companies, developers, and ranchers, everyone in fact but them. Apparently Judge Robertson thinks this was just fine.
[Corruption, Incompetence, Politics]

81. Selling creationist materials at the Grand Canyon gift shop claiming it was 6000 years old.
[War on Science]

82. In March 2003, the Pentagon announced a ban on photographs of coffins of slain American soldiers as they are returned to this country at Dover AFB. On June 21, 2004, the Republican led Senate defeated an attempt to allow such coverage. On November 11, 2004, the Pentagon announced restrictions that kept reporters at least 50 yards from any funeral. In the past, they have been allowed at the rear of them. This is not about privacy but about hiding the realities of war.

Although an accepted practice of previous Presidents and with Arlington National Cemetery only a few miles from the White House, Bush has not attended a single funeral for any serviceperson killed in his wars. His stated rationale? “Because which funeral do you go to? In my judgment, I think if I go to one I should go to all. How do you honor one person but not another?” Bush’s answer is apparently as Commander in Chief to honor none of them.
[Supporting the troops]

83. False military reporting: Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch. Pat Tillman was an NFL player who post-911 joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan April 22, 2004. He was immediately mythologized John Wayne-style by the military. On May 28, 2004, it came out that he died in a friendly fire incident. Details of Tillman’s death and the coverup surrounding it continue to dribble out. On July 13, 2007, the Bush White House invoked Executive privilege on its communications with the Pentagon concerning the story pursuant to requests from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It is likely that Bush knew within a week of Tillman’s death that the initial accounts of it were false. Executive privilege has become an indispensable tool in the stonewall this Administration has constructed around itself.

On July 31, 2007, retired Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger who headed Army special forces received a letter of reprimand from Army Secretary Pete Geren for his role in the affair and may lose a star and a tenth of his retirement pay. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal who heads the Special Operations (black ops) Command approved Tillman’s Silver Star citation on April 28, 2004 in which Tillman is described as being killed by devastating enemy fire. The next day he sent a back channel memo saying he thought Tillman may have been the victim of friendly fire. McChrystal remains on active duty and has never been punished although a Pentagon Inspector General’s report recommended that action be taken against him for misleading and inaccurate statements.

A July 14, 2008 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sought to look up the chain of command to determine when top officials in the Bush Administration learned that Tillman’s death was from friendly fire and what they did with this knowledge, “But on the key issue of what senior officials knew, the investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall.” The report noted that “On the day following his death, April 23, White House officials sent or received nearly 200 e-mails concerning Corporal Tillman” but that there was incredibly a “complete absence of any communications” from the White House on its learning of his death by friendly fire.

Jessica Lynch was a private in the Army. On March 23, 2003 during the invasion of Iraq, her convoy took a wrong turn in An Nasiriyah and was ambushed by Iraqi forces. Lynch was seriously injured when the vehicle in which she was traveling crashed into another. She was transported to an Iraqi hospital where she was treated for her wounds. She was rescued in a special night operation on April 1, 2003. On April 3, the Washington Post published a story leaked to it by the military that Lynch had been shot multiple times, had shot several Iraqis, and continued fighting until she ran out of ammunition. It was a huge story but completely fictitious as Jessica Lynch was the first to point out when she was able. Unfortunately, the report was unable to establish how this false story was disseminated as those involved suffered from the amnesia that always afflicts officials in this Administration when they are questioned about illegal or embarrassing activities.
[Afghanistan, Media]

84. AIPAC espionage scandal; former DOD employee Lawrence Franklin pled guilty to passing information on Iran to Israel through two AIPAC employees.

85. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram; the Marine massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha and its coverup. A few cases:

Rasul: On June 28, 2004 SCOTUS in a 6-3 decision ruled that the US court system had jurisdiction over non US nationals held at Guantanamo. Rasul had been released to the UK before the ruling on March 29, 2004.

Hamdi: On June 28, 2004 SCOTUS 8-1 ruled that U.S. citizens can not be detained indefinitely as enemy combatants without due process. Hamdi was released to Saudi Arabia on October 9, 2004 on condition that he give up his US citizenship.

Hamdan: On June 29, 2006, SCOTUS in a 5-3 decision ruled that Bush’s military tribunals were illegal under the UCMJ and the Geneva Conventions and needed Congressional authorization (which was supplied by the Military Commissions Act or MCA of September 2006)

Khadr/Hamdan: On June 4, 2007, a military court dismissed charges against them because their Combat Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) had designated them enemy combatants. The MCA authorizes trials for “unlawful” enemy combatants only, which they had not been designated. On September 24, 2007 in the Khadr case, a military appeals court found that on hearing more evidence a military judge had the power to determine that an alien enemy combatant was also an “unlawful” one. If upheld, this could clear the way for trials under the MCA.

al Marri: On June 11, 2007, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a legal US resident (similar to Hamdi) can not be denied due process and held indefinitely as an enemy combatant outside the purview of the US judicial system. On December 5, 2008, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and would likely hear the case in the spring of 2009 if it doesn’t get mooted first by action by the incoming Administration.

[Guantanamo, Law, War on Terror]

86. Asserted right to open US mail made on December 20, 2006 in a signing statement to HR 6407 the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act:

The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the Act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.

[Intelligence, Law]

87. The housing bubble, its collapse, subprime mortgage crisis. Since about 1998, subprime mortgage loans have accounted for about 1/4 of US home sales. Such mortgages allowed people with low or bad credit ratings to purchase homes. Easy credit resulted in a housing boom/bubble between 2000 and 2005 and was touted as a major plank of Bush’s “ownership society”. The problem was people were sold too much house financed by loans that they could initially, if marginally, afford but which they could not after a few years as the terms on their loans changed and monthly payments greatly increased. The effects of this nonsensical lending and speculation were delayed for awhile as the housing market was on the way up and the value of homes (including those financed by subprime loans) steadily increased, but in late 2006 the bubble became unsustainable and burst. Ameriquest the largest subprime lender went belly up after a $325 million settlement with 30 state Attorney Generals for deceptive lending and marketing practices. (Its former CEO Robert Arnell was appointed Ambassador to the Netherlands by George Bush.) It was not alone. Other subprime lenders like Mortgage Lenders Network USA and Ownit followed suit. Market analysts try to downplay the significance of the subprime disaster but its effects continue to ripple through financial markets. For one thing most of the mortgage loans were not held by the original lenders but sold to investors and hedge funds. As a result two Bear Stearns funds failed and on August 9, 2007 the French bank BNP Paribas froze withdrawals from 3 of its funds due to subprime losses sparking a major sell off in stock markets and a liquidity crisis. In the following 3 business days, the Fed injected $64 billion into markets and the European Central Bank ~$213 billion in an effort to stabilize them. The fallout from this housing bubble collapse will be with us for years and is going to be very, very expensive.

On December 6, 2007, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson presented the Administration’s much awaited plan to help homeowners with subprime mortgages. The program called for a voluntary 5 year freeze on rates due to reset between January 1, 2008 and July 31, 2010. It was available only to those who were not delinquent in their payments and delays but does not do away with interest rate resets at the end of this period. Finally, it would affect at most 20% of such loans and probably far fewer (~12%). All in all, the Paulson plan does little to help homeowners but then it was never meant to. The real reason for the plan was to support housing prices which could fall 20% to 30% due to the subprime bubble and so thereby minimize losses to investors.

On January 11, 2008, Bank of America agreed to purchase the mortgage lending firm Countrywide for $4 billion in stock. The company had originated some $408 billion in mortgages in 2007 and was heavily exposed in the subprime market when trading in such loans froze after the BNP Paribas panic in August 2007. Bank of America had previously sunk $2 billion into Countrywide on August 22, 2007. The Bank of America buyout was a classic case of throwing good money after bad.

On December 11, 2007, the Fed cut short term interest rates down to 4.25%. This is the rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans. It was the third rate cut since September 2007 bringing the total decrease to a full percentage point. While this could fuel inflation, it is unclear that it will have any effect on the underlying fundamentals of the liquidity crisis brought on by the subprime bubble.

On December 18, 2007, European central banks created a $500 billion fund to provide two week loans to commercial banks at 4.21% interest. The problem with most banks is not that they lack money on hand but that they are leery of lending it.

On February 13, 2008, Bush signed a $160 billion stimulus in the form of a tax rebate.

On March 16, 2008, JPMorgan agreed to buy Bear Stearns which had been heavily involved in the subprime crisis and suffered accordingly for $236 million or about $2 a share. Bear Stearns stock had traded as high as $172 in January 2006. The Fed assumed up to $30 billion in risk for the company’s shakier investments. Basically, JPMorgan got Bear Stearns’ assets and the Fed guaranteed its debts. The thing that really scared the financial community and led them to avert the company’s collapse was that it was into the derivatives market to the tune of $13.4 trillion. If it had fallen, it might have taken the whole international financial market with it. Even so Bear Stearns’ exposure to the derivatives market is not unusual for large investment banks. Still investors resisted, and on March 24, 2008, JPMorgan raised its offer to $10 a share.

On July 11, 2008, IndyMac, the largest savings and loan in Los Angeles, collapsed. It had experienced a run on its money after letters by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) expressing concerns about the bank’s viability were released on June 26, 2008. It is the largest bank failure related to the subprime fiasco. The episode is another demonstration of how the impacts from this debacle are still being felt and underlines the pervasive fear, protestations to the contrary aside, that the worst is not over.

The giants in the room are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, publicly owned government sponsored enterprises, who own or back some $5 trillion of the nation’s $12 trillion mortgage market. As of July 2008, they have lost nearly 80% of their stock value since the subprime meltdown in August 2007. They are quite literally too big to let fail although the Bush Administration is doing the minimum to shore them up. However the companies continued having problems raising money for their mortgage lending operations.

On September 5, 2008, the government informed the heads of Freddie and Fannie that the companies were going to be put into conservatorship. This would allow the government to restructure the companies while keeping them private. Government plans put together by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson included replacing the current heads and boards of the companies, wiping out the holdings of small investors and backing those of large institutional ones: banks, foreign governments, mutual and pension funds. These guarantees will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. It is a classic example of “privatizing gains and socializing losses.” As is so typical with the economic approach of this Administration, those who knew the most and can best sustain the losses will be secured while those who can afford it least and had the least involvement in creating this mess will be left to pay the bills for it.

On September 7, 2008, the government announced details of its takeover. Herbert Allison the former chair of teachers retirement fund TIAA-CREF was named to head Fannie. He was the national finance chairman for McCain’s Presidential campaign in 2000. David Moffett a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group was picked to run Freddie. A Carlyle hedge fund with large investments in Fannie and Freddie failed in March 2008. It is troubling that both come from groups that have the most to gain from a government bailout of the mortgage lending/holding companies. More disturbing still is that both have such glaring conflicts of interest.

Under the Paulson plan, each company would pay an at least 10% dividend on $1 billion of government preferred stock. But in return for this $200 million a year it would receive, the government has guaranteed to back their losses up to $200 billion ($100 billion each). Also at some time in the future if the companies ever became profitable the government could buy up 80% of them for $1 a share. The contrary case is more likely where the government would need to buy them because they continue to be unprofitable. A largely ignored part of the Paulson plan would be to reduce Fannie and Freddie participation in and share of the mortgage market beginning in 2010. This would have the effect of making mortgages less available and more expensive. But, at the risk of repeating myself, the whole government response to the housing bubble is and has always been about protecting large speculators in the name of market stability and at the expense of everyone else.

On September 14, 2008, the financial services company Merrill Lynch sold itself to Bank of America for $50 billion in what will likely turn out to be a bad deal for BoA. On September 15, 2008, the investment bank of Lehman Brothers, a prime player in the subprime market along with Bear Stearn, with its stock now virtually worthless, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Currently teetering are the bank Washington Mutual and the insurance giant AIG which was heavily into credit default swaps (these were essentially insurance policies for subprime loans and amounted to free money for AIG on the upside of the housing bubble but translated into enormous debt exposure when the bubble burst and AIG had to start paying up on them).

On September 16, 2008, the federal government bought a 79.9% stake in AIG in exchange for a two year $85 billion line of credit through the Fed at about an 11% interest rate. AIG has $1.1 trillion in assets and a customer base of 74 million. Its stock had traded as high as $70.13 in the last year but had since lost around 95% of its value. Amazingly, in just 10 days, the US government has become the world’s largest landlord and insurance provider.

Also amazing was that the only Wall Street executive at the meeting to decide AIG’s fate was Lloyd Blankfein Paulson’s successor as CEO of Goldman Sachs. Goldman was AIG’s largest trading partner and stood to lose $20 billion if AIG went under. So no conflicts of interest there, nope, no.

On September 18, 2008, the Fed in conjunction with central banks around the world sought to increase liquidity into financial markets to the tune of $247 billion. $110 billion was made available in what are called swap lines to the European Central Bank; $60 billion to the Bank of Japan; $40 billion to the Bank of England; $27 billion to the Swiss National Bank; and $10 billion to the Bank of Canada. Two points need to be made here. First, the problem is not liquidity but that banks aren’t lending the money they already have. Second, in the past, these injections of liquidity have been used not for regular day to day business needs but to fuel excessive speculation.

On September 19, 2008, as the government’s intervention in financial markets continued, the Treasury Department said it would take the entire $50 billion worth of the Depression-era Exchange Stabilization Fund and use it to guarantee the $2 trillion money market financial sector. Money markets are big holder of short term and usually quite safe loans. Problems began, however, on September 16, 2008, when two of the largest Reserve Primary Fund and BNY Mellon Institutional Cash Reserves broke the buck, i.e. when the return on a dollar invested in them fell below one dollar, in response to losses from the Lehman bankruptcy. This began a run on the funds generally. $224 billion was pulled from them in the week ending September 19 with $89.2 billion on September 17 alone. There was also a report that Paulson intervened directly with institutional investors on September 18 to prevent another $500 billion from being withdrawn.

Also on September 19, 2008, the SEC announced a ban on short selling to last until October 2. This principally was to relieve pressure on the investment bank Morgan Stanley whose share price had fallen 40% in a week and caused a sharp rise on Wall Street as speculators were forced to cover their shorts. Most ominously Paulson and Bernanke stated their intentions of bailing out financial companies by buying their toxic mortgage backed securities. This is a horrendously bad decision for four reasons. First, it rewards those whose greed and stupidity are most responsible for this disaster. Second, it doesn’t help homeowners who have been completely forgotten in the rush to “stabilize” financial markets. Third, it leaves taxpayers holding the bag for what will end up costing them trillions. Fourth, it does nothing to change and re-regulate the financial system so this won’t happen again.

On September 20, 2008, the Bush Administration announced its plan to bailout financial institutions holding toxic mortgage backed securities. It would invest Henry Paulson with vast new powers. As CEO and Chairman of the investment bank Goldman Sachs, Paulson championed the deregulation and bad practices that led to the current financial meltdown. For the last two years, as Treasury Secretary, he did nothing to stave off the bursting of the housing bubble and until the last two weeks nothing to address its aftermath. The Administration’s proposal would give him $700 billion and absolute unrestricted discretion to buy toxic mortgage backed securities from whom he wants, at what price he wants, and do what he wants with them, without review by anyone, outside of a pro forma report to Congress.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

This is an impossibly bad idea for the 4 reasons I gave in the last paragraph but in addition puts one of the worst actors in charge of the “cleanup”.

On September 21, 2008, foreign banks decided they too wanted a piece of this $700 billion bonanza and Paulson obligingly modified his plan to include foreign financial institutions which had “significant operations” in the US whatever that means, and it could mean almost anything. The Fed also accepted the application of the last two investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to join the Fed. They would convert themselves into bank holding companies, have to reduce their degree of leveraging to 10 to 1, and accept greater oversight but in exchange they would gain access to the Fed’s short term loan facilities. It was the drying up of credit that posed the greatest threat of failure to them. And in their new forms it is entirely conceivable that Paulson would ask them to help manage the bailout to the meltdown they did so much to create.

What is simply stupefying is that Paulson wants effective control of $700 billion based on a vague 2 page plan that White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the Administration needed months to work out. This raised the question of why Congress and the public were not brought in earlier and their input sought instead of presenting it as a fait accompli with only two weeks for the public to react and the Congress to act before its pre-election adjournment. The vagueness of the plan can not be overstated, unsurprising in such a short document. Indeed the only solid part of it is its $700 billion cost, and it turns out that was made up.

“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

In this Administration, this is what passes for a serious plan and a considered approach to deal with a potential financial collapse. Such dimwittery got us into this mess. More will not get us out of it.

On September 24, 2008, the Fed announced it would extend the currency swaps (to supply dollars to foreign central banks) it introduced on September 18 for overnight loans to $10 billion each for the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Sveriges Riksbank and $5 billion each by the Danmarks Nationalbank and the Norges Bank. This brings the money committed to these to $277 billion.

On September 25, 2008, Washington Mutual, the nation’s largest savings and loan, with assets of $307 billion was seized by government regulators and, without informing either its board or CEO, sold to JP Morgan Chase for $1.9 billion. If WaMu had failed, it might have cost taxpayers $20-$30 billion. What is disturbing though is that JP Morgan picks up a very large bank for almost nothing and will be able to dump WaMu’s bad loans on to taxpayers as part of the Paulson bailout. In other words, JP Morgan makes out like a bandit. It keeps the good stuff and sells the crap to the rubes taxpayers. This is the problem of bailing out Wall Street instead of reforming it.

Much was made of the fact that Paulson and Bernanke were not going to bailout Lehman Brothers, but that is not the whole story. On September 25, 2008, a commenter to a Yahoo message board noted that Citibank was Lehman’s largest unsecured creditor with claims of $138 billion. On September 15, 2008, the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy, JP Morgan transferred $87 billion to it, and $51 billion the next day for a total transfer of $138 billion. The Federal Reserve of New York made exactly similar transfers to JP Morgan on the same dates. So while Lehman was allowed to fail, the Fed used JP Morgan and Lehman to effect a secret bailout of Citibank. What the Fed got in return for its money is currently unknown. JP Morgan appears to have gotten WaMu. What is clear is that the Fed did a run around the bankruptcy laws in a way which could well be illegal and constitute fraud.

On September 26, 2008, the Fed added another $10 billion to its currency swap with the European Central Bank and $3 billion to the Swiss National Bank. Instead of overnight loans, these two banks and the Bank of England will make them for a week to ease end of the quarter cashflow problems. This brings the value of these swaps to $290 billion.

On September 23, 2008, Paulson and Bernanke pitched their plan to give them what they want or else to the Senate Financial Services Committee chaired by Chris Dodd (D-CT) and the next day before the House committee chaired by Barney Frank (D-MA). In the second hearing, Paulson modified his position slightly saying he was for some oversight and would accept caps on CEO remuneration. Both Dodd and Frank offered plans which were modifications of Paulson’s. On September 25, 2008, Bush was supposed to meet with Congressional leaders of both parties as well as the two Presidential candidates to finish the deal. The object was to give both sides cover for a plan that was strongly disliked by most of the public. John McCain in something of a political stunt “suspended” his campaign and canceled his appearance at the first Presidential debate scheduled for September 26 to hurry back to Washington to take charge. His efforts were appreciated by almost no one. He signed on to a flaky last minute plan put forward by House Republicans which would have involved more deregulation and cutting the capital gains tax. The deal blew up, and McCain decided that sufficient progress (and damage both to a deal and his campaign) had been made that he would, in fact, show up for the debate and restart his campaign which he had never really suspended. It is important to point out that none of these plans address the fundamental problems of refinancing mortgages and defusing derivatives, and so none of them will succeed. They may delay things by a few months at a tremendous price but we are still looking down the barrel of a very large and very ugly economic gun.

On Sunday September 28, 2008, Bush, the Presidential candidates, and Congressional leaders of both parties endorsed a “compromise” bailout plan (HR 3997). The bill was 110 pages long, so much longer than the original 2 page Paulson plan. But it was still the Paulson plan, just a lot of lipstick had been added. Paulson would still be able to buy, hold, and sell what he wanted (not just mortgage backed securities but any securities he wished) from whom he wanted (both American financial companies and any foreign one with “significant” US interests not owned by a foreign government). He would be the one to set up the market mechanisms (reverse auctions) to buy the finance industry’s crap assets. He would be the one to hire employees and contract companies to manage the auctions and assets, and he would be the one to write the conflict of interest rules which would govern these and ensure he could hire anyone he wanted. One of the few additions is an insurance program for bad assets which was unlikely to be widely used but was included to mollify rebellious House Republicans.

Of central importance was the retention of the $700 billion figure. The bill engaged in some kabuki on this to make it seem that there were conditions on the money but there really weren’t. Paulson would initially get $250 billion. When this was exhausted, he could make a determination to Congress and with the President’s OK alone get another $100 billion. The other $350 billion was also effectively at his disposal since it required a joint resolution of both Houses to disapprove it and in the face of a likely Presidential veto the Congressional resolution would require a veto override (a 2/3 vote in both Houses) to prevent its disbursement.

Most notably absent from the bill was any attempt to re-regulate markets now or to extend direct aid to distressed homeowners (except for continuing an income tax exclusion). On the other hand, it contained a veritable blizzard of oversight panels and calls for reports. A Financial Stability Oversight Board, the Comptroller General (GAO), SEC, Fed, OMB, CBO, a program Inspector General, various House and Senate committees, and an online list of the bailout’s business were all supposed to be part of the oversight process. Yet none of these had any enforcement authority. That power remained with Paulson. Among the reports (in addition to all the audits), one was supposed to give recommendations for market regulation to be completed by April 30, 2009, 7 months away and in another Administration. Another also on regulation by the Congressional Oversight Panel was due January 20, 2009, i.e. on Inauguration Day. A third was to examine the role of mark to market accounting (pricing assets according to their current sale value) in bank failures and a fourth was to cover the effects of leveraging and de-leveraging.

There were also interesting bits hidden away in the nooks and crannies of the bill. One particularly artful example involved a simple change of date to a prior bill but what it did in effect was to allow the Fed to pay interest on reserves held by banks and permit banks to carry zero reserves. Another suspended mark to market accounting allowing financial institutions to artificially inflate the value of their assets to improve their balance sheets.

Interestingly Paulson held no press conference on the bill’s contents for the public but he did make a private telephone conference call to 800 bankers and financial officers to discuss it. This call was subsequently leaked to the internet. His take home message was I’ll get the $700 billion, and I will take care of you guys. Paulson said that if Treasury was forced to make direct purchases from companies of their assets, then he would follow the same aggressive method he had used with Fannie, Freddie, and AIG where CEOs lost their jobs. However, if companies opted to participate voluntarily in the bailout program, he was willing to be generous. He would not buy their assets at fire sale prices but at what he called a “reasonable” value. Restrictions on golden parachutes applied prospectively, and only in cases of bankruptcy or firing. He would not seek stock warrants (essentially options to sell stock at some future time) on the first $100 million of assets purchased, and the warrants would be for non-voting stock. Finally, he sought to re-assure them over a provision of the bill that called for the government to recoup any losses to its $700 billion fund after 5 years from the financial industry generally. He said that this was essentially boilerplate that showed up in many Congressional bills, that 5 years was a long time away, and that new legislation would be required at that time for it. In other words, he thought it would be defeated and wouldn’t happen.

On September 29, 2008, in a 15 minute vote that was held open for 38 minutes, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats defeated the bill 205-228 in the House. 140 Democrats voted for the Bush-backed “compromise”. 133 Republicans opposed it and their President. It is probably too much to hope for but it would be nice if at this point lawmakers discarded the Paulson plan and considered alternatives. The Swedish or Scandinavian response to their banking crisis in the early 1990s might be useful. Banks were forced to acknowledge their losses, and only when the extent of their losses was known were they recapitalized under stricter regulation. Such an approach encourages private participation because assets are set at their true market value.

In addition to this, however, there must be help for homeowners and restriction of the funny money instruments and accounting principles the financial industry used to produce this mess. For this, we don’t need further studies, all conveniently due in the next Administration. What we need is to recognize and clear out the debt in the present system, and this along with reform will create confidence in a new more regulated, transparent one.

In other events on September 29, 2008, the Fed increased its currency swaps pool with foreign central banks from $290 billion to $620 billion in a further move to inject liquidity into markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell 777.68 points or nearly 7%. Another big bank bit the dust. Wachovia was bought out by Citigroup for $2.2 billion. Citigroup agreed to assume the first $42 billion of Wachovia’s mortgage related losses and paid the FDIC $12 billion in preferred stock and warrants to assume the rest. This represents a further major concentration of banking in the United States and likely loss of competition. The Citigroup buyout of Wachovia (which was for its banking operations) ran into problems when on October 2, 2008, Wells Fargo made a counter offer of $15 billion in stock for the whole company and planned on using Wachovia’s losses as tax write offs.

Overseas the credit crunch was also taking its toll. On September 29, 2008, the UK seized Bradford & Bingley. The government kept control of its £50 billion mortgage portfolio and spun off its banking operations to Spain’s Santander. Meanwhile the Benelux countries forked out $16.2 billion to bailout and partially nationalize the bank giant Fortis which had problems with financing an earlier merger. On September 30, 2008, the governments of France, Belgium, and Luxembourg bailed out the bank Dexia, a lender to mainly local governments, with a cash injection of $9 billion. What this should tell you is that the shocks from the shaky American financial markets are being felt throughout the world economy.

On October 1, 2008, the Senate in a 74-25 passed its version of the bailout. Its bill ran 451 pages long. It contained the original “compromise” bill with few changes, such as an increase in the limit from $100,000 to $250,000 for FDIC insured accounts. The greater length was principally due to the attachment of an energy bill and a smorgasbord of tax provisions, including ones dealing with wooden arrows (Sec. 503, pp. 295-296) and wool products (Sec. 325, pp. 300-301). Only one Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who gave a ringing speech condemning the bill was allowed to offer an amendment, one to raise tax rates for 5 years by 10% on those making over $500,000 a year ($1 million for couples) to help pay for the bailout. On a voice vote only Sanders’ voice was heard in favor of it.

An October 2, 2008 New York Times story related how after 55 minutes of discussion on April 28, 2004 the SEC, lobbied by the big 5 investment banks, removed limits on their ability to leverage. In exchange the companies agreed to open their books to the SEC but the SEC, especially under the leadership of its head Christopher Cox, made no real effort to keep tabs on what these companies were doing. Only seven people were assigned to an office to monitor them and their (before the fall) assets of $4 trillion, and the office has lacked a director since March 2007. The result was a casino mentality with no limits and no oversight.

There have been perhaps 4 major decisions that allowed the current meltdown to happen. This 2004 SEC decision was one of them. The other 3 are:

1) the 2003 ban by the Office of the Comptroller of Currency on the pursuit of mortgage writers for predatory lending by state attorney generals.
2) the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act which included not only the “Enron loophole” but deregulation of derivatives markets.
3) the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which repealed the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act which placed a wall between regular banks and insurance companies on one side and investment banks on the other.

On October 3, 2008, the House voted on the Senate package which with the tax provisions now came in at over $800 billion and passed it 263-171 with a majority 172-63 of Democrats voting for and a majority of Republicans 91-108 voting against. There is no evidence that the liquidity the bill injects into the financial system will be used to free up credit. This is known as a liquidity trap. There have been several injections of liquidity into the system over the last year and the credit crunch has only worsened. The reason is that banks and financial institutions don’t know who is solvent and who is not. While the bill allows them to dump toxic assets on the government, $700 billion is unlikely to cover all their losses. It is only a down payment on them. So the problem remains the same. The banks and financial institutions don’t know who’s solvent. They are likely to hold the cash or restrict severely to whom they lend. Since the bill doesn’t help distressed homeowners beyond a little lip service to their plight, foreclosures, a housing glut, and downward pressure on housing prices will continue and feed back negatively into the financial system. The lack of re-regulation will not help re-instill confidence in the system either. What makes this all especially tragic is that there were at least 3 viable alternatives to the current crisis: 1) direct government buying up of problem mortgages; 2) direct government investment in banks; 3) direct government valuation of mortgage backed paper. These singly or in combination together with re-regulation would have provided a cheaper and more effective answer to the meltdown and subsequent credit freeze.

On October 6, 2008, the Fed announced that, per the passed Paulson plan, it would begin paying interest on required bank reserves. It also increased immediately to $300 billion the amount it would make available to banks in 1 and 3 month loans using crap paper as collateral. This is just the start. The loan program called the Term Auction Facility (TAF) could have after further auctions, according to the Fed, $900 billion in outstanding loans by the end of 2008, collateralized by, to repeat myself, crap.

World stock markets greeted passage of the bailout (and lack of concerted action in Europe) by falling precipitously. The Dow fell nearly 800 points during the course of the day (9525.32-10322.76) and closed, after a late rally, down 369.88 at 9,955.50, the first below 10,000 closing in 4 years.

Also on October 6, 2008, Henry Paulson named 35 year old Neel Kashkari as interim head to run the bailout. Kashkari was a senior adviser to Paulson at Goldman Sachs and followed him to Treasury in June 2008. Goldman Sachs will likely play an integral part in managing the bailout and profiting from it. In other words, what we are seeing is that those who caused the meltdown are being entrusted to deal with it. It is difficult to see how this could become more incestuous or how the conflicts of interest could be any deeper.

On October 7, 2008, the Fed, in response to the drying up of short term credit from money markets after some broke the buck after the Lehman failure, announced a new program the Commercial Paper Funding Facility which would make 3 month unsecured loans to eligible banks, companies, and local governments (to meet payrolls or pay suppliers, for example). The size of this market is large between $1.6-1.8 trillion and no dollar estimate was put on the Fed’s intervention. The Dow continued to react negatively to the government's expensive but ineffective moves to shore up the financial system and fell 508.39 points to close at 9,447.11.

On October 8, 2008, while the small country of Iceland teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, the British partially nationalized 8 of its largest banks. In exchange for preferred stock, the British government agreed to provide capital and loan guarantees. This strategy invests their government in the total worth of the company, not just its bad asssets as with the Paulson plan, and gives it leverage to require that banks to free up their credit for normal business and consumer lending, again in contrast to the Paulson plan.

The Fed and several central banks minus Japan cut their lending rates half a percentage point. For the Fed, this meant a reduction in federal funds and discount rates to 1.5%. This will make money cheaper to borrow if you are a bank but it is unclear if it will make banks any more willing to lend to anyone else, like businesses and consumers. The Fed also announced that AIG which had already blown through $61 billion of the $85 billion advanced to it would receive another $37.8 billion injection of cash. In what is symptomatic of the lack of transparency in the financial system the Fed described its action in terms which were, in fact, opposite from what it was doing.

Under this program, the New York Fed will borrow up to $37.8 billion in investment-grade, fixed-income securities from AIG in return for cash collateral.

On October 8, 2008, the Dow dropped 189.01 points (2%). On October 9, 2008, the Dow dropped a further 678.91 points (7.33%) to close below 9,000 at 8,579.19. This is the lowest close since May 21, 2003. Exactly 1 year ago, the Dow closed at its all time high of 14,164.53. In that year, the Dow has declined 5585.34 points or 39.4%. Of particular note is that it has fallen 2251.88 points (20.8%) since October 1, 2008 when the Paulson plan was passed by the Senate and signed into law. This is a clear vote of no-confidence in both Paulson and Bernanke and their efforts to date. As a result, money is hemorrhaging out of stocks seeking safer havens, such as currency.

Also on October 9, 2008, Citigroup gave up on its bid to take over Wachovia. Interestingly, with all of its problems, Wachovia was able to loan $8 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Although Wachovia is to be repaid at some point, what this amounts to is a very large campaign contribution to Republicans and goes to show that no matter how tottering the financial system is it is never too shaky for a little corruption.

An October 11, 2008 story in Bloomberg reported that Treasury Secretary Paulson had directed Fannie and Freddie in late September (in advance of the passage of the $700 billion bailout) to add to their portfolios of bad mortgage securities to the tune of $20 billion a month each from a $200 billion emergency fund that had been set up to help them deal with the problems that had sent them into conservatorship. This is yet another example of the double-dealing and lack of transparency which has come to characterize Paulson’s approach to the crisis. While he was telling Congress one thing, he was doing something else behind their backs. He used money meant to shore up Fannie and Freddie to increase their liabilities, and he did so in the pursuit of a strategy which the events of the last week have already discredited. To date, Paulson’s instincts on how to deal with the meltdown have been too little too late, or just plain wrong.

On October 12, 2008, the Fed okayed the takeover of Wachovia by Wells Fargo and Treasury said it would protect a proposed $9 billion Mitsubishi purchase of 21% of Morgan Stanley. On October 11-12, G7 finance ministers and central bank governors met and came up with no coordinated plan.

On October 13, 2008, the Mitsubishi-Morgan Stanley deal was finalized on terms so favorable to Mitsubishi that it was pretty much impossible for them to lose any money, and giving the Japanese company a reasonable chance of making a killing on it. This says a lot about the sorry shape the former investment bank giant is in. On this day, the Fed made another capital injection in financial markets when it took off all limits on currency swaps (which it had rapidly increased to $620 billion as recently as September 26, 2008) involving the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, and the Swiss National Bank.

European countries announced a series of initiatives to shore up their banking systems. In addition to the British move to partially nationalize 3 of its banks, the Germans announced $500 billion in guarantees for inter-bank loans and a further $108 billion to invest in banks. The French came up with $435 billion in guarantees and $52 billion to invest. The Spanish had a $130 billion plan and the Italians a $27 billion one. Meanwhile in the US, Paulson and his Mini-me Kashkari continued to dither. They announced they would be setting up a program to buy into banks. It would be voluntary, on what were described as attractive terms for banks, and would be as per the $700 billion bailout plan be for non-voting stock. Paulson’s policy of missing the point and doing too little too late continues.

In reaction to the European, as opposed to the American, actions, the Dow had a good day. It rose 936.42 points (11.08%) to 9,387.61. It is important to note that as currently structured this is a stopgap and has yet to address the fundamental problems: bank solvency, deregulation, credit default swaps, falling housing prices, and forgotten homeowners.

Later in the day, Treasury got around to announcing some of the details of its new plan. It would commit up to $250 billion of the $700 billion bailout package to buy stock in banks. At the same time the FDIC announced it would guarantee inter-bank loans for 3 years but would charge a premium to do so.

On October 14, 2008, Treasury announced further details of its new bank program. It would invest $125 billion in large banks and financial houses and make $125 billion available for smaller banks. Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo would each receive $25 billion. Paulson’s old firm Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, both recently converted to bank holding companies (although I do not think that either currently owns a bank), would get $10 billion each. Bank of New York Mellon got $3 billion and State Street $2 billion. In exchange the government would get preferred non-voting stock paying a 5% dividend per year for the first 5 years and then 9% thereafter. Banks could, however, buy back this stock after 3 years. The government would also get warrants to buy common stock equal to 15% of the money invested. (These would only be worth something if the bank’s stock went up.) Excessive compensation and golden parachutes would be banned but this amounts to a restatement of the joke standards which occur in the original bailout bill. The FDIC also announced that it would extend protection to roughly the one-third of small business accounts that its new $250,000 limit did not currently cover.

On October 15, 2008, the Dow nosedived again dropping 733.08 points (7.87%) to close at 8,577.91. This volatility is an important indicator that problems underlying the meltdown remain unaddressed and that the reality that the world economy is in recession is slowly sinking in.

An October 18, 2008 article in the Guardian reports that the 6 firms to receive a $125 billion injection of capital from the US government are slated to pay their employees $70 billion in compensation this year most of it in the form of bonuses. Obscene? Divorced from reality? Of course, that $70 billion is nearly half the size of the$160 billion stimulus package earlier this year for the entire country. But what did you expect? These are Henry Paulson’s people. He is one of them. The rest of the country may be headed toward Depression but those who sent it there must be kept in their Porsches and mistresses.

The industry argument is that bonuses are necessary to keep top talent at a company. There are two replies to this. First, this top talent is made up of those most responsible for the current meltdown. Are these the people they really want to keep, let alone reward? Second, seriously where are they going to go? The financial sector has been hemorrhaging jobs. The truth is that there are many others, at least as qualified, who would love to take their places.

An October 20, 2008 Wall Street Journal article reported that under pressure from Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) insurance giant AIG recipient of a $122 billion bailout has agreed to cancel 160 events which would have cost $80 million. More importantly it has agreed to suspend its lobbying efforts which incredibly included a push to get states to loosen requirements on regulating mortgage lenders.

On October 21, 2008, the Fed announced yet another program the Money Market Investor Funding Facility (MMIFF). Its object was to help money markets in their redemptions (cash demands from their customers) by buying up to $600 billion of their short term (90 day or less) paper with the further goal of loosening up credit at more of a commercial and consumer level. In keeping with the lack of transparency and corporate cronyism that is typical of all these efforts, JP Morgan was chosen by a group of undisclosed money markets to administer the program and buy their securities and those of an also undisclosed list of other money markets. Nice bit of back scratching that.

On November 4, 2008, the Libor (short term interbank loan rates) fell to pre-Lehman levels. The 3 month rate fell to 2.71% and the overnight rate went to a historic low of .38%. This was a major goal of the trillions that Bernanke threw into the financial system. The theory was that getting the Libor lower would free up credit. This really didn’t happen however because the underlying solvency questions remained unresolved and unaddressed. The continuing credit crunch is seen in the spread between the Libor and Fed rates which remains elevated at 2.11%. Prior to September 15, the spread was 0.11%.

On November 6, 2008, the Bank of England cut its benchmark rate 1.5% to 3% and the European Central Bank cut its rate 0.5% to 3.25%. These are futher indications that the world economy is slipping into recession and that lenders continue not to lend.

On November 10, 2008, the Treasury Department announced that as part of a new comprehensive deal with AIG it would pour another $40 billion into the bottomless pit and sometime insurance company. It is getting really tricky even to know how much the government has spent on AIG. The government rather disingenuously argued that by investing $40 billion in AIG it was actually reducing its exposure from $152 billion to $112 billion. However most of the government’s $122.8 billion credit line to AIG or around $112 billion has already been spent. However most of the government’s $122.8 billion credit line to AIG (the $112 billion) has already been spent. Taking into account the $40 billion the government is now committing, it is likely that the $152 billion number is what has been sunk into the company to date.

There is, of course, more to the story. There always is. The government which now virtually owns AIG is setting up two shell companies to offload debt from AIG’s bottomline. The government as AIG will put up $5 billion and the government as itself will put up another $30 billion to set up a company to buy back $70 billion in credit default swaps (CDSs) for 50 cents on the dollar. Losses from this company will not show up on AIG’s balance sheet. Similarly, the government in its role as AIG will lay out $1 billion and as itself $22.5 billion to buy back collateralized debt obligations (CDOs which AIG had insured through its CDSs). So while the government is saying that it is reducing its interest in AIG it has actually increased its involvement from around $112 billion to $210.5 billion (the $40 billion plus the $35 billion and $23.5 billion entities). To add insult to injury, Treasury announced that it was freezing AIG’s bonus pool, not reducing or eliminating it, but just keeping it at current levels. The economy is in recession. It is hemorrhaging jobs. The deficit is exploding, and this is Henry Paulson’s idea of how to treat those most responsible for the debacle: that their bonuses only will not be increased. It would be laughable if it did not make you want to weep.

And one further point. Paulson is taking the $40 billion out of the $700 billion bailout (the TARP). No indication where the $52.5 billion for the two debt buying entities will come from. Taken together with the $250 billion bank bailout, this means that Treasury has already committed $290 billion of the intial $350 billion portion of the bailout and so far not one dime of it has been spent on its ostensible purpose of buying toxic assets. Given the speed with which Paulson is blowing through bailout funds, he is on track to spend most or all of them before President Obama takes office and to very little effect other than helping out his cronies.

A November 10, 2008 Bloomberg article reported that since the failure of Lehman on September 15, the Fed has dwarfed the Paulson bailout making $1.172 trillion in loans to banks and bringing its overall lending to more than $2 trillion.

A November 10, 2008 piece in the Washington Post reported that Paulson’s Treasury Department issued a 5 sentence revision on September 30, 2008 to a 1986 law governing Section 382 of the tax code. Known as the Wells Fargo Ruling, this change allowed banks to merge with other banks and use the losses of one to count against the profits of the other for tax purposes. Two days later on October 2, Wells Fargo used it to finance its takeover of Wachovia. It is estimated that the ruling was worth $25 billion to Wells Fargo in the deal. It has been used since in a rash of bank mergers and could result in a $140 billion windfall for banks over and above the $250 billion they are getting so far from the bailout. And oh yes, it isn’t legal. Neither Paulson nor Treasury had the power to change the law. It isn’t clear what a lameduck Congress will do about it though. This is just further evidence, if any were needed, that Paulson is a loose cannon who either is a bumbling idiot who doesn’t know what he is doing, or someone who will loot the government and break the law as long as he is allowed to do so to enrich his friends and cronies on Wall Street, or both.

The arrogant lawlessness of the current Administration, the greed of Wall Street, and the abject cowardice of the Congress guarantee that nothing will be done before the next Administration comes to office, and maybe not even then. The Great American Steal looks like it is going to be with us for a while.

On November 11, 2008, the Bush Administration announced another cosmetic plan to help homeowners. This one would work through Fannie and Freddie, be available to only a few hundred thousand homeowners not bankrupt, delinquent at least 90 days, and still owe at least 90%. Terms would be a rollback in interest for 5 years for a payment of 38% of monthly income or less, then an increase in rates with a mortgage extension of up to 40 years. The principle on the loan would not be reduced. This seems more like a plan to defer and spread out foreclosures for the benefit of Fannie and Freddie rather than avoiding foreclosures to help homeowners.

On November 12, 2008, in his never ending quest to show that he remains solidly behind the curve, Treasury Secretary Paulson announced that no bailout monies would be used to buy up toxic assets.

During the two weeks that Congress considered the legislation, market conditions worsened considerably. It was clear to me by the time the bill was signed on October 3rd that we needed to act quickly and forcefully, and that purchasing troubled assets – our initial focus – would take time to implement and would not be sufficient given the severity of the problem.

And later

Over these past weeks we have continued to examine the relative benefits of purchasing illiquid mortgage-related assets. Our assessment at this time is that this is not the most effective way to use TARP funds

What you need to keep in mind is that buying up toxic assets was the raison d’être of the Paulson plan, the TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program) referred to above. It was what, he asserted, was needed to keep the financial system from collapsing. Even at the time he was warned by many that it was a supremely bad idea, and after kicking it around for nearly two months, he now agrees but makes it sound like he had questions about it from the beginning. He didn’t. This typifies the Paulson style: absolute confidence coupled with a refusal to address or even acknowledge core problems. He dithers, gets it wrong, and even when he stumbles or is pushed in the right direction he embraces a solution that is totally inadequate. In other words, Paulson is very much part of the problem, not part of the solution.

On November 14, 2008, head of the FDIC Sheila Bair announced a mortgage assistance plan for distressed homeowners. It would involve modification of loans through a mix of loan extension, interest rate reduction, and forbearance on the principal. Bair estimates that half of some 4.4 million mortgage loans mortgages currently in default or expected to be in default by the end of 2009 and not held by Fannie and Freddie could be modified. Even if a third of these re-default, 1.5 million homeowners would be helped at a projected cost of $24.4 billion. Monthly payments would not exceed 31% of monthly income. For the first 8 years, the FDIC would assume half the loss of a redefault in conjunction with loan servicers. The major obstacle to the plan is that the $24.4 billion would come from the Paulson bailout and neither Paulson nor his younger clone Kashkari want to use even a thin red dime of it to help ordinary Americans.

On November 18-19, 2008, executives of the Big 3 auto companies came to Washington to testify before Congress and ask for $25 billion in loans. Republicans blocked any deal and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told them to come back on December 4-5 with a detailed plan. Now there are several things that need to be said here. The American auto industry has been poorly managed for decades. They resisted successfully making their products cleaner and more fuel efficient and instead promoted the sale of trucks and SUVs on which they could make bigger profits. That said, the fault for the current downturn in the industry has less to do with Detroit than with Wall Street with regard to the credit crunch, the recession, and even the initial spike in oil prices (this item and 365). Unlike financial institutions, the auto industry is part of the real economy and represents millions of jobs which would be put in jeopardy if the Big 3 were allowed to go bankrupt. The loss of even a portion of these would send the economy into a deeper and longer recession. The amounts of money involved are actually rather small compared to the trillions that Paulson and Bernanke have been throwing (with little result) at banks and financial companies. There is also the mismatch between the no plans, no strings attached approach taken toward the financial community and the “detailed” plan demanded of automakers. And there is a continued absence of a concerted plan from the Congress on what it wants to see done by anyone.

Additionally, Republicans, especially Southern Republicans, would like to use the current crisis for ideological reasons to attack unions and effectively destroy the UAW and for purely selfish, extremely shortsighted, and even “unpatriotic” motives to use a bankruptcy of American automakers to favor foreign non-union auto plants in their states. What they don’t seem to understand is that if the economy tanks no one will be buying cars and autoworkers won’t be working whether they are living in Michigan or Alabama or in a union or a non-union shop.

Finally, no bailout of the auto industry or the financial community will work unless it is part of an overall coordinated plan to restart the economy.

On November 23, 2008, the Fed with participation by the Treasury and FDIC announced a rescue plan for what has been the nation’s largest banking concern Citigroup. The company has seen a drop in its share price in the last year from a high of $57.40 to a low of $2.91. Part of this reflects bad decisions it made. However, a lot of its recent fall was the work of short sellers which the SEC has done almost nothing to curb, despite the instability they produce. The Citigroup bailout consists of a government backed guarantee on $306 billion of the bank’s assets. The company will be responsible for the first $29 billion in losses. After that there will be a 90-10 split on losses between the government and Citigroup with the government responsible for the 90% share. Treasury will take the first $5 billion of these through the TARP. The FDIC is then in for the next $10 billion and the Fed is in for the rest to the $306 billion limit. In exchange for this guarantee, Citigroup will give the government $7 billion in stock with an 8% dividend ($4 billion to Treasury; $3 billion to the FDIC). It agrees to pay no more than 4 cents a year per share in dividends on its other stock and to submit a plan to limit executive compensation. In addition, Treasury will make a direct $20 billion investment in Citigroup. All the stock the government gets in the deal will be non-voting, or in other words more of the same: Citigroup gets the money and gets to keep its top management, and the taxpayer gets neither ownership nor control but does assume the risk.

A November 24, 2008 story in Bloomberg reports that the government has already made $7.76 trillion in commitments to the financial community as a result of the financial meltdown. The Fed whose role in this crisis has largely gone unreviewed has made $4.74 trillion or 61% of the pledges on behalf of the government. Financial institutions have already made use of $3.18 trillion or 41% of them. Meanwhile the government and Congress are going through contortions over a $25 billion bailout for the auto industry and the more than a million jobs it represents.

On November 25, 2008, the government upped its commitments to financial markets to $8.56 trillion. Paulson and Bernanke’s efforts to free up credit markets continue to founder due to the unstated insolvency of much of the banking sector. As a result in a further attempt to loosen consumer credit without addressing the fundamental issue of insolvency, the Fed announced yet another loan facility worth $200 billion with a $20 billion guarantee from the Treasury. The Fed would basically exchange money for the banks’ consumer credit paper. In an even bigger move, the Fed will buy up $600 billion of debt from Fannie and Freddie, $100 billion directly and $500 billion funneled through its asset managers.

On November 28, 2008, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the official caller of these things, announced that the US economy had been in recession since December 2007. Because the NBER analysis is retrospective, its announcement comes many months after the event. But it was obvious following the blowup of the housing bubble on August 9, 2007, the economy was in trouble. The $160 billion stimulus had only mild transient effects in the second quarter of 2008. That was about it. The country was distracted by the Presidential race, but the Bush Administration, Treasury’s Paulson, and the Fed’s Bernanke, for whom this wasn’t a concern, spent their time doing as little as possible to address the slowing economy.

On December 3, 2008, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced new rules for Wall Street’s three ratings agencies: Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch. The ratings agencies used old models to rate the new and much riskier financial instruments that led to the housing bubble and later the financial meltdown. They also had an inherent conflict of interest with those seeking their ratings because they were funded by them and made large profits by working with them. The new rules require greater transparency and verification in the ratings process, but, typical of the Bush Administration, leave the biggest conflict of interest, the funding mechanism, in place.

On December 9, 2008, the interest rate on T-bills hit zero on a Fed sale of $30 billion on 4 week notes. On the same day, the rate on 3 month notes actually turned negative. This is indicative of both a flight to safety but also deflation.

On December 10, 2008, the GAO issued a report on the Treasury bailout. It found that the TARP run by Neel Kashkari did not know, and had not put in place the means to know, how banks were spending the $155 billion so far injected into them under the Capital Purchase Program (CPP). As a result, the TARP had no way to tell if the banks were honoring their agreements with the government or if all those billions were having their intended effect. Instead Kashkari favored developing general metrics rather than specific monitoring by regulators to see if banks were doing what they were supposed to be. Likewise, he had no way to know if limits on executive pay, dividends, and stock repurchases were being respected.

Additionally, Kashkari has done nothing to smooth a transition to the next Administration. His office remains understaffed. As of November 21, it had 5 permanent hires and 48 employees assigned from other Treasury sections out of a projected need of 200. There was a lack of oversight of contractors hired by Kaskari’s office and a lack of internal controls to assure that the money Kashkari was spending was well spent. Nor were regulations governing conflict of interest in place. These are especially important because of the dominant role that former Goldman Sachs employees and contractors have had in the program. Of course, if this was done, this most crony capitalist of programs would have to fold up shop.

On December 4, 2008, the GAO issued a similar report on tracking banks’ aid to distressed homeowners.

Also on December 10, 2008, the Congressional Oversight Panel created by the bill that set up the TARP as an afterthought came out with a report that echoed many of the points made in the GAO report, underlined the perilous state of the US economy.

And in a December10, 2008 story in Bloomberg, it was reported that Ben Bernanke in a response to a letter from Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) announced that the Fed would not participate in any efforts to save American automakers. Now on the one hand, the Fed’s primary mission is to oversee the financial system but on the other given its massive and unprecedented intrusion into the economy and the failure of both the Fed and Treasury to foresee the devastating effects of the Lehman collapse, it seems a curious place to draw a line. But it is consistent with Paulson and Bernanke’s actions to shore up the paper “bubble” economy at literally any cost and their indifference and even hostility to the real economy and the plight of ordinary Americans.

On December 11, 2008, the Senate failed to invoke cloture 52-35 (60 votes needed) on a bill to bailout the auto industry effectively killing it. This made it more likely that the automakers and their supplies would be forced into bankruptcy. 3 million Americans could become unemployed at a time when the economy is already hemorrhaging jobs. The effort to destroy the industry, the union, and all those jobs was led by ideologically driven Southern Republicans, like Bob Corker (R-TN), Richard Shelby (D-AL), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

A few Republicans favored cloture: Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Collins (R-ME), Dole (R-NC), Lugar (R-IN), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (R-PA), Voinovich (R-OH), and Warner (R-VA) but as it was clear the cloture vote would fail their votes were cosmetic and largely meant to placate constituents. Only Dole and Warner’s votes meant anything since both are leaving the Senate. Less explicable were the votes of Democrats who voted against cloture: Baucus (D-MT), Lincoln (D-AR), and Tester (D-MT). Reid (D-NV) also voted against but his was a standard parliamentary maneuver to allow for a later reconsideration. 12 Senators did not vote: Alexander (R-TN), Biden (D-DE), Cornyn (R-TX), Craig (R-ID), Graham (R-SC), Hagel (R-NE), Kennedy (D-MA), Kerry (D-MA), Smith (R-OR), Stevens (R-AK), Sununu (R-NH), and Wyden (D-OR). The reasons for the non-votes were various. I include this information because this was a vote of a critically important and criminally irresponsible nature. It was a vote to send the country into depression.

Also on December 11, 2008, Bernard Madoff, a former chairman of the NASDAQ was arrested for perpetrating a fraud which lost up to $50 billion in investors’ money. It has been called the largest Ponzi scheme committed by a single individual in US history. This appellation is perhaps intentionally misleading because it distracts from the fact that the whole financial system has been run collectively as an over-sized Ponzi operation. Madoff began his investment firm in 1960. He had consistent profits regardless of market conditions which no one else could reproduce. In 1992, a fund associated with Madoff was investigated but he seems to have escaped any real scrutiny. It appears he operated his scheme for decades. By 2000, his company had several hundred million in assets and it seems to have ballooned into the billions in the Bush years. He was able to get away with his fraud for so long because he held his accounts within his own firm instead of with an outside bank. He had status as a Chairman of NASDAQ. He had successfully dodged one investigation. And with SEC Chairmen like William Donaldson (2003-2005) and Christopher Cox (2005-present) who were rabidly anti-regulationist, he was essentially home free. It took the financial meltdown to do him in. His victims include many retirees, charities, foreign banks as well as many celebrities and wealthy. Some of these certainly knew that what Madoff was doing was too good to be true but as long as he was making money for them they were willing not to ask to many questions. As part of an eventual settlement those who made profits with Madoff will have to return some or all of them to make good in so far as that is possible those who lost their shirts. It is still an open question where the money went, how much was actually lost, and who all was involved in Madoff’s crimes. In any case, Madoff is a metaphor for the current financial system and its failures.

On December 16, 2008, the Fed announced it was lowering the federal funds rate (the rate at which banks lend to each other, usually overnight) to zero to .25 percent. It said it would continue to buy large amounts of agency debt (Fannie, Freddie, and Sally (student loans)) and mortgage backed securities (crap assets). Finally, it said it was considering buying longer Treasuries. Since it has taken short term rates to essentially zero, buying longer term T-bills would be a way of affecting and lowering longer term interest rates. To date Bernanke has pumped trillions into a liquidity trap, i.e. the money goes to the banks but doesn’t get lent back out, and has now lost an important tool in regulating monetary supply. Rather than change a failed policy which has done nothing to free up credit, he is continuing to double down, now contemplating a move into longer term interest rates.

On December 17, 2008, with the Bush Administration continuing to dither over extending a $14 billion bridge loan to the American auto industry, Chrysler announced it would close all of its 30 plants for one month beginning December 19, 2008. At the same time, Ford said it would increase its holiday shutdown to three weeks. There really is no other way to put it, as the economy skates on the edge of depression, the Republicans play games.

On December 19, 2008, as part in another of a long series of Friday news dumps, the White House finally announced a temporary bailout for the auto industry. $13.4 billion will be made available in short term loans from TARP funds with an additional $4 billion in February. In exchange the government would get warrants for non-voting stock. This is a deal that could have been worked out a month ago but wasn’t due to the ideological opposition of the Administration to doing anything that would help out the real economy and the ongoing desire of Republicans in both the Congress and the White House to destroy unions in general and the UAW in particular. The agreement contains the standard lines about limits on executive compensation and prohibits dividends during the course of their loans. The automakers are to show by March 31, 2009 that they are financially viable, a requirement which was never made of financial institutions which received the vast majority of TARP money. This is kabuki. The automakers will come up with re-structuring plans and, regardless of their feasibility, the Obama Administration will approve them (because the alternative is depression).

The package also has a set of noxious “targets” which represent a grab bag of conservative demands but being targets they don’t actually have to be met. Rather they are meant to supply conservative critics of the auto bailout future talking points:

An exchange of equity for debt to reduce their debt by 2/3. This would essentially sell the companies to bondholders.

Wages and work rules similar to those for foreign automakers by December 31, 2009. When legacy costs are factored in, these would likely make autoworkers for the Big 3 earn less than their non-union counterparts working for foreign brands.

It would allow the companies to make half their payments into retirement funds in the form of fairly worthless stock

And finally it would eliminate the jobs bank, something the union has already agreed to.

In addition, Secretary Paulson has asked that Congress free up the remaining $350 billion in TARP funds. Given how poorly Paulson has spent the first half $350 billion, it would be very unwise to let him anywhere near any further funds.

Also on December 19, 2008, the Fed announce that it would allow access to its $200 billion Term Asset-backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) to all investors, including hedge funds, who hold consumer debt instruments. This means that they can dump these instruments on the Fed in exchange for cash. The theory, but unfortunately not the practice, is that these investors will use the money they get to invest in more consumer credit. There is no indication that they will. The inclusion of hedge funds is an especially worrisome sign because there are increasing questions concerning the solvency of these private opaque actors.

On December 29, 2008, Treasury announced it would lend $5 billion for non-voting stock with an 8% annual dividend to the finance company GMAC which is co-owned by GM and the Cerberus hedge fund (which also owns Chrysler). GMAC is in the process of converting itself into a bank holding company. In order for it to do this, bondholders must agree to swap 75% of GMAC’s $38 billion debt for stock. Treasury would also lend up to $1 billion to GM to buy a further stake in GMAC. Cerberus looks to be functionally insolvent and so can not sink any money into the deal but it is unclear, except for the crony capitalist way these deals get structured, why it shouldn’t lose its stakes in Chrysler and GMAC.

A December 31, 2008 story in TPMMuckraker notes another instance of crony capitalism perpetrated by those who are supposed to be seeing us out of this mess. Private managers of a Fed program announced November 25, 2008 (see above) to buy up $500 billion in mortgage backed securities from Fannie and Freddie (who themselves have been directed by Treasury’s Paulson to buy up some $400 billion in these toxic assets; see October 11, 2008 paragraph above) are Goldman Sachs (please try to restrain your surprise), Blackrock, Wellington Management, and PIMCO. PIMCO holds some $500 billion in these securities (61% of its assets) and lobbied for the creation of this program. Under a selection process that was not made public, it now comes out that it is one of those overseeing the buy back (a function it also lobbied for) of exactly the kind of securities it holds. All of this is one big conflict of interest and shows once again that the financial bailout is being run by and for precisely those who created the need for it.

On January 12, 2009, George Bush at President-elect Barack Obama’s request notified Congress to release the remaining $350 billion of the Paulson bailout. Doing it this way will allow Obama to use the money with the same lack of controls as under Bush..

On January 16, 2009, Treasury announced a further bailout of Bank of America. Bank of America expressed “surprise” that the investment bank Merrill Lynch which it took over in September lost $15.3 billion in the last quarter of 2008. In a deal structured similarly to the recent one with Citigroup, BoA will receive another $20 billion in TARP funds (in exchange for $4 billion in BoA stock) and it will receive a “backstop” for some $98.2 billion of its crap assets. BoA will cover the first $10 billion, the FDIC picks up the next $10 billion and the Fed and BoA split any other losses on the remaining $78.2 billion, 90% by the Fed, 10% by BoA. So just to recap, BoA is at most out $4 billion in stock plus $10 billion in initial losses plus 10% of $78.2 billion in subsequent losses or $21.8 billion. But it just received $20 billion from Paulson so for a net pay out of $1.8 billion, it has gotten a government guarantee on $98.2 billion of its crap assets.

This is just obscene. What is happening here is about recapitalization of the banking industry by the backdoor without the government or the taxpayer getting anything but debt in return. It is yet another case among so many of “Privatizing gains and socializing losses”. BoA is under no obligation after this either to help distressed homeowners or resume normal lending to ease the credit crunch. It is also an example of how taxpayers are paying for the consolidation now occurring in the financial industry. BoA takes over Merrill, keeps the good stuff, and dumps the crap on the government, and ultimately the American taxpayer. And it shows once again how the paper economy is favored over the real one. The BoA bailout is not just a sweetheart deal. It is a giveaway. It was agreed late at night with no one watching or asking questions and none of the very public and long drawn out groveling that was required of the auto industry and its executives for a deal that was much smaller and had much harder conditions.

As long as Paulson and his successors in the incoming Obama Administration continue to favor BoA and other institutions like it over the wider economy and the interests of ordinary Americans and as long as they refuse to address the fundamental problems underlying the meltdown, we are not going to get out of the current crisis but we will pay for it anyway. Their priorities and approach remain completely out of whack. BoA comes out of this stronger, but the economy and the country have been made weaker.

And if even after all this BoA still has problems, it can follow the model of Citigroup one step further. Citi is currently in the process of splitting itself in two. In one part will be its profitable operations and in the other will be its remaining crap and unprofitable divisions. One will go on conducting business as usual and the other will be allowed to fail, be bailed out again and again by the government, or be sold if anyone can be found crazy enough to buy it. There is no way that the government should let Citi do this, but there is not a chance that it won’t. But that is the thing, the people who perpetrated the meltdown on us are also the people who are running the response to it, and neither those in government or in the industry have changed how they do business, the business that got us in this mess, at all.

In a February 5, 2009 New York Times story, Elizbeth Warren, chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel on the TARP, reported that, according to the panel’s calculations the Treasury in its bank bailout paid $254 billion for assets worth $176 billion for a loss of some $78 billion or a wastage rate of 30% of the funds it handled.
[Corruption, Economy, Elections]

88. Bush connections to Enron and Ken Lay. Lay was connected to the elder Bush but helped finance the younger Bush’s gubernatorial campaign. In 2000 he was a Bush Pioneer, and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the Republican convention and the Bush inaugural celebration. Through Enron, he also contributed more than a million dollars in soft money to the Republican party. In exchange, Bush stayed out of the California energy crisis and Lay participated in Cheney’s Energy Task Force which wrote Bush’s business friendly energy policy. When Enron collapsed, Bush could barely remember ever having met the man.
[Corruption, Politics]

89. Refusing to intervene in the California electricity crisis in early 2001. On January 29, 2001, in remarks Bush said, “the situation is going to be best remedied in California, by Californians.” He maintained that the crisis occurred because demand outstripped supply but, in fact, the crisis was the result of unscrupulous speculators like Enron producing unnecessary shortages and then capitalizing on them.
[Corruption, Energy, Politics]

90. Lack of action on Darfur despite Congress declaring it genocide in a resolution (H.Con.Res. 467; Sen.Con.Res. 133) of July 22, 2004 and Bush’s own Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 9, 2004 in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
[Foreign Affairs]

91. In 1992, Senators Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn passed legislation creating the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to secure, destroy, or remove poorly secured WMD related materials from the former Soviet Union, especially nuclear ones in Russia. On May 11, 2001, neocon John Bolton was made Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security which oversaw this effort. Under his leadership in the two years after 9/11, less nuclear materials were secured than in the two years before 9/11. Efforts to transfer weapons grade plutonium to this country to keep it out of the hands of terrorists were delayed for over a year because Bolton was squabbling with the Russians about who should pay liability insurance on the shipments. This issue was only resolved after Bolton’s departure to become UN Ambassador in August 2005.
[Foreign Affairs, WMD]

92. Refusal to grant security clearances to OPR (Office of Public Responsibility) lawyers investigating the role of Gonzales both as WH counsel and later as AG in authorizing warrantless NSA wiretapping thus quashing the investigation.
[Politicization of the DOJ]

93. Political interference in the Justice Department lawsuit against Big Tobacco. 3 then DOJ officials Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum (No.3 at the DOJ), head of the Civil Division Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and his deputy, Dan Meronin intervened in June 2005 at the last minute in the government’s case. They torpedoed a provision which would have removed corporate officers shown to have engaged in fraud. They asked that some witnesses weaken their testimony. They also reduced a government demand for an industry funded smoking cessation program from $130 billion to $10 billion. Later, the presiding federal judge Gladys Kessler ruled that a prior appellate court decision precluded such a program. Of course, this was not the argument which the DOJ officials were making. Their interest was in keeping Big Tobacco from taking a Big Hit.
[Politicization of the DOJ]

94. White House involvement in election day phone jamming of Democrats in New Hampshire November 5, 2002; Charles McGee, former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party pled guilty to conspiracy on July 28, 2004 and was later sentenced to 7 months in prison; James Tobin New England head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee made two dozen calls to the White House over a three day period during this time. He was convicted for his participation on December 15, 2005. This was reversed on appeal March 21, 2007. His case was sent back to the district court and will be retried in December 2007. A major reason for the slow progress of the Tobin case to trial (3 years) was that the FBI assigned only a single agent part time to it.

On October 14, 2008, Tobin was indicted on two counts of lying to the FBI in relation to its investigation of the phone jamming scandal.
[Corruption, Elections, Politics]

95. Sweetheart plea deal proposed by the government for Steven Griles former No. 2 at Interior (Abramoff scandal) for lying to Congress: no cooperation demand, the minimum 10 months, 5 to be served at the home of his now wife Sue Ellen Wooldridge who had just left Justice where she was an assistant attorney general heading the environment division. She signed a generous consent decree with ConocoPhillips despite being friends with a Conoco vice president and despite the fact that Conoco was being represented by Griles.

On June 26, 2007, US District Judge Ellen Huvelle sentenced Griles. Griles asked for probation and blamed the Senate for his lying. The judge didn’t buy this or the government’s deal and doubled his prison time to the full 10 months. He was also fined $30,000 and given 3 years probation.
[Abramoff, Corruption, Criminality]

96. The unfired (Bush appointed) US attorneys who targeted 80% of their political corruption cases against Democrats.
[Politicization of the DOJ]

97. Insertion into the Patriot Act extension of language allowing US attorneys to be named without Senate approval. This provision originated with Daniel Collins a former Associate Deputy AG back in 2003 but was taken by then Assistant AG for Legislative Affairs (now Principal Associate Deputy AG) William Moschella in 2005 and forwarded to Brett Tolman, a protege of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch on Arlen Specter’s staff who snuck it into the bill. Specter denied knowledge of the insertion and said he had not read the bill. He admitted, however, that his chief of staff Michael O’Neill did know. As a reward, Tolman was nominated US attorney for Utah and confirmed by the Senate July 21, 2006 in the usual way and not the one he slipped into the Patriot Act. Gonzales approved but maintained he didn’t know how it happened.

Showing once again that the Administration takes care of its own, on June 19, 2008, Michael O’Neill was nominated to a federal district court judgeship in Washington, DC. A New York Times story from July 4, 2008 reports that O’Neill plagiarized a passage in a 2004 Supreme Court Economic Review article he wrote. The publication retracted O’Neill’s article in 2007. As often happens in these cases, other instances of unattributed borrowings have emerged.
[Politicization of the DOJ]

98. Massive and illegal abuse by FBI of National Security Letters (administrative warrants) or NSLs. A report by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine of March 2007 estimated that 143,000 NSLs had been issued between 2003 and 2005. An exact number was not possible because recordkeeping was so bad that an unknown number were never properly recorded. In response to the IG’s findings, Alberto Gonzales stated that he was unaware of abuses in the program although he had begun receiving reports about them beginning in 2005. On June 15, 2007, DC federal district court judge John Bates ordered the FBI to begin producing documents related to NSL abuse pursuant to a FOIA request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation by July 5. On July 13, 2007, Attorney General Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller announced that a new office would be formed within DOJ’s National Security Division to oversee the program and prevent abuses. Of course, these were the same people who promised that there would be no abuses in the first place.

On March 13, 2008, a follow up IG report on the FBI’s use of NSLs came out. It found that the abuse of NSLs continued through 2006. According to its data, the FBI issued 39,346 NSLs in 2003; 56,507 in 2004; 47,221 in 2005; and 49,425 in 2006 for a total of 192,499 over 4 years. The fraction of US citizens involved in NSL requests increased from 39% in 2003 to 51% in 2004 to 52% in 2005 to 57% in 2006. Although actual percents were redacted out, sampling figures indicate that for 2006, 64.8% of NSLs requested concerned counterterrorism cases, 33.9% counterintelligence, and 1.3% cyber attacks. The report also found that the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division had issued 11 follow up “blanket” NSLs to cover information previously obtained by the Communications Analysis Unit “in response to exigent letters or other informal requests.” In all, the 11 requests involved billing records for 3,860 which turned out to be for 2,196 unique telephone numbers. Put bluntly these blanket NSLs were patently illegal and senior FBI officials who signed off on them should have known this. The core problem with NSLs remains. Because they have to pass only bureaucratic and not judicial review, the standards that govern them are inherently less rigorous and open to misuse and abuse.
[Intelligence, Law]

99. Attempted use of GSA to promote Republican candidates; presentation by Scott Jennings deputy political director to Karl Rove at a video conference of 40 political appointees hosted by GSA head Lurita Doan in violation of the Hatch Act. Later, Doan testifying before Congress had severe memory loss. Doan at GSA has been involved in various contract irregularities. In a letter to Bush on June 8, 2007, the Office of Special Counsel which investigates this kind of thing called for Doan to be punished to the fullest extent for violations of the Hatch Act and obstructing its investigation.

At least 20 other meetings involving senior officials from 15 government agencies and the White House discussing political prospects were held before the 2006 elections also in violation of the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has begun investigations into these.

On April 29, 2008, Doan sent out an email saying she had been asked to resign and had done so. It is amazing it took so long.
[Corruption, Politics]

100. Karl Rove and the culture of corruption. What did Karl Rove see in George Bush that he tied his fortunes to Bush’s political star? Rove saw Bush as inhabiting the intersection of often disparate and conflicting elements of the Republican Party. Bush came from a powerful Texas family. His father had been President and that meant not only name recognition but contacts to the Republican Establishment. Bush Senior was also tightly connected to the conservative monied classes in Texas, the Northeast, and the country more generally. Despite this, Bush Junior assiduously cultivated and exploited a “good ole boy” image so at odds with his family’s wealth and power. Although born in Connecticut and schooled in the Northeast, as a Texan and with the Everyman shtik, Bush could also lay claim to being both a Southerner and a Westerner and so tap into two important bastions of the Republican Party. As a recovering alcoholic turned to religion, Bush Junior added in another part of the Republican base the religious Right, evangelical and family values vote. With this and a smattering of Spanish, Rove saw Bush could court the Hispanic vote as well. In other words, from Rove’s point of view Bush was a political goldmine.

Here were two men with little knowledge of or curiosity about the world, motivated by no great philosophy but with a great thirst for power and a willingness to do anything no matter how sleazy or dirty to win it. This was not about consensus building. It was about 50% plus 1 or close enough for a court to decide in their favor. Rove probably would have sought to politicize the federal government in favor of the Republican Party anyway but the disputed nature of the 2000 vote gave him an added incentive and 911 supplied him with a golden opportunity. The result has been the most thoroughgoing politicization, often in contravention of the law, of all aspects of government in our lifetimes.

The goal was to carve out a permanent majority using the 50% plus one philosophy, but there were two problems. First, while Bush personified the many facets of the modern Republican Party, neither he nor Rove ever unified them. The conflicts between social conservatives, libertarians, and the wealthy remained. The wealthy got their tax cuts but the financial situation of Nascar dads became more precarious. Social issues got two Supreme Court justices but no real money, and to date little change in the law. Nativist types clashed with pro-business ones over immigration. Rove’s outreach to the expanding numbers of minorities in the country came crashing down. The result was a peeling off not a building up until Bush and Rove were left with only their hardcore base of 25-30%. Second, placing political loyalty above professionalism and experience in government did not strengthen the Republican Party or the conservative cause. It created instead an environment of corruption, cronyism, incompetence, and failure. Examples of this can be found everywhere in this Administration and form much of the content of this list, but the epitome of this collision between ideology and the real world is Iraq. The practical problem with politicization of government is that it doesn’t work and produces bad results of which Iraq is the most obvious and worse.

On August 13, 2007, Karl Rove Bush’s chief political adviser throughout his entire political career announced his resignation to become effective on August 31, 2007. From his 5 appearances before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame/outing of a CIA agent case, to violations of the Hatch Act and the Presidential Records Act, the US Attorney firings, and lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s influence peddling schemes, investigations have swirled around Rove. Bush has invoked Executive Privilege to protect him. It may not have been enough. In Washington’s culture of corruption, all roads lead to Rove. [Abramoff, Corruption, Politics]

101. Voter suppression, voter ID laws, exaggerating the problem of voter fraud, attempts to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act on its renewal; Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican volunteer in the Florida recount, was Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights division where he signed off on Tom Delay’s 2003 Texas redistricting plan and a 2005 Georgia voter ID law overruling staff recommendations that they were discriminatory. Both were struck down in the courts. In the Georgia case, a federal appeals judge compared the ID system to Jim Crow poll taxes. In April 2005, on his own and without consulting voting rights attorneys, Spakovsky incorrectly advised the Arizona Secretary of State that provisional ballots should not be given to voters who lacked proper ID. Spakovsky went on to be a Commissioner at the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in a January 6, 2006 recess appointment. In October 2007, Spakovsky’s nomination to a regular appointment was bundled with that of other FEC nominees but instead of ensuring his confirmation it caused all the nominations to languish. On December 18, 2007, a federal district judge in Florida Stephan Mickle granted a preliminary injunction against a Spakovsky backed plan that would have rejected voter applications if information on them differed from that on their driver’s license or Social Security records. The judge stated that such requirements made it harder to vote and so undermined the intent of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). On December 31, 2007, Spakovsky announced in an email that day was his last at the FEC. On May 6, 2008, Bush agreed to a separate vote for von Spakovsky (which ensures his defeat) but he also withdrew the nomination of the Republican FEC David Mason. Mason had questioned if the Republican Presidential nominee could opt out of public financing after having used it to get his name on the ballot in some states and as collateral for an “if needed” loan from a bank.

The head of the Civil Rights Division during the period of the Texas and Georgia cases was Bradley Schlozman. Schlozman was highly political. He wanted to know if prospective hires were Republicans and forced out employees who committed the sin of not agreeing with him. Although having no prosecutorial experience, Schlozman was named US attorney for Western Missouri on March 23, 2006. In a blatant attempt at voter suppression and in contravention of DOJ guidelines, he filed voter fraud cases days before the November elections. His was one of the first of the “interim” appointments made under the revised provisions snuck into the Patriot Act and there have been suggestions that his predecessor Todd Graves was forced out to make way for him. He left in April 2007 to work at the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA). Schlozman testified about his activities before the Senate on June 5, 2007. Like most recent DOJ witnesses, he suffered from extreme memory loss. He testified that Craig Donsanto OK’ed the pre-election Missouri cases although Donsanto is the one who wrote the DOJ guidelines. A May 2007 update to these guidelines weakens or eliminates the prohibition on bringing politically sensitive cases near to an election. Schlozman quietly left the DOJ sometime mid-August 2007.

John Tanner has been head of the Voting Rights Section since 2005. He precleared the Georgia ID program going against the recommendation of 4 out of 5 of the section’s career attorneys. The one dissenting attorney was new and was apparently one of the political hires to a career position made by Schlozman. Tanner also changed guidelines so that staff could not recommend an objection to a state voting law. In June 2005, he wrote a preemptive letter to election officials in Franklin County, Ohio assuring them that the lack of sufficient voting machines in minority areas during the 2004 election did not amount to discrimination. Finally, in October 2007, Tanner was still defending the Georgia ID law asserting that its negative effects fell primarily on the elderly and so by extension on whites because “minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first.”

In addition, although Tanner’s productivity has been minimal his travel at taxpayer’s expense has been maximal. In 2003-2004, he racked up 206 days of travel during 46 trips. From May 2005 (after becoming head of the section) to the end of 2006, he took 36 trips accounting for 97 travel days. This is widely at variance with his predecessors. It also included 3 trips to Hawaii one each year although the section had no lawsuits ongoing or in preparation. One of these was taken with his deputy Susana Lorenzo-Giguere who is herself being investigated for filing motions so that she could charge per diem expenses while on summer vacation with her family in Cape Cod.

On January 11, 2008, Tanner’s replacement Christopher Coates demoted Lorenzo-Giguere and another Tanner deputy Yvette Rivera. Rivera had been accused of discriminating against African American employees.

John Tanner announced his resignation on December 14, 2007 to be effective immediately. He is not, however, gone. He transferred to the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices. From there, it appears that Tanner, despite his racial insensitivity, was detailed by the DOJ to Alabama to help draw voting districts.

Wan J. Kim who headed the Civil Rights Division after Bradley Schlozman’s departure is an Orrin Hatch protege. Kim announced announced his resignation effective August 31, 2007.
[Corruption, Elections]

102. Campaign finance and political corruption. The McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act of March 27, 2002 is a much ballyhooed piece of legislation which did remarkably little to “reform” campaign finance. Principally, it did two things. First, it prevented general or soft money collected by the parties to be used, outside regular campaign limits, for specific races. Second, it placed restrictions on “single issue” groups advertising immediately before an election. What happened is what you would expect. Soft money went elsewhere, specifically into 527s, tax exempt political organizations which could back candidates as long as they did not do so overtly.

Then the Supreme Court on June 25, 2007 in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life intervened and removed the restrictions that had been placed upon 527s by McCain-Feingold (see item 202). Also by allowing 527s to name candidates it greatly weakened the first part of the act as well. This is a recurring theme in our politics. A campaign finance reform bill closes one door but leaves five others open. Meanwhile monied interests carve out new doors and knock gaping holes in the closed door. The result is that money governs our politics and owns our politicians more than ever. Our government continues to become less and less ours and more and more of the money, by the money, for the money.

Nor are the practitioners of campaign finance reform above playing fast and loose with financing rules. John McCain got a $1 million loan in December 2007 two weeks before the New Hampshire primary from Fidelity & Trust Bank of Bethesda, Maryland. The deal was that if he did well he would stay outside public financing and pay the money back from the expected increased contributions which primary victories bring. On the other hand, if things went badly, he promised to stay in the race long enough to qualify for public funds and pay the bank loan back from these. If this seems to be ethically and legally dubious, that’s because it is.
[Corruption, Elections]

103. Swift boating of John Kerry (2004); push polling and McCain’s black baby in the South Carolina primary (2000); on April 4, 2007, Sam Fox made Ambassador to Belgium in a recess appointment. Fox’s nomination was withdrawn in the Senate where it faced certain defeat. Fox was controversial because he had given $50,000 to the anti-Kerry smear campaign of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
[Elections, Politics]

104. No Child Left Behind, based on flawed and false data, chronically underfunded, capricious in its evaluations, places test scores above knowledge; allegations have arisen that people at the Department of Education pushed reading programs as part of NCLB that they had financial interests in.

105. Susan E. Dudley made administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. Dudley who doesn’t believe in regulation except in extreme cases when the “market fails” was named to this powerful regulatory post in a recess appointment on April 4, 2007.
[Anti-candidate, Economy]

106. Paul Wolfowitz, after his disastrous hyping of the Iraq war, did a McNamara and went to the World Bank to do good. He brought his neocon values, a doctrinaire, secretive management style, and a real gift for poor leadership to rail against corruption in 3rd world countries while practicing some of it himself closer to home. Prohibited from supervising his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, a senior communications officer at the bank, he detailed her to the Department of State, gave her a raise of $47,340 twice what was permitted, and then a further raise of $13,000 bringing her salary to $193,000 tax free and making her the highest paid official in the State Department and that includes Condoleezza Rice. Wolfowitz’s eventual defense of the raise was that Riza was very angry at leaving the Bank and might have sued although as the Bank later pointed out she did not have grounds to do so. Her initial boss at state was none other than Liz Cheney. Her job through State was to set up the Foundation for the Future to promote civil society in the Middle East. After 1 1/2 years there, it still has no permanent office, executive officers, or staff and has yet to disperse a grant. There is also the matter of a security clearance that Riza, a non-citizen unaffiliated with an allied government, would need to work at Defense (through an earlier contract with the defense contractor SAIC arranged by Wolfowitz through Doug Feith) or more recently at State and which would be extremely unusual to give to someone in her situation.

Wolfowitz dragged out his departure from the Bank for nearly a month doing serious damage to the institution. He was eventually forced to announce his resignation on May 17, 2007 effective June 30, 2007. In keeping with his double standard on corruption and despite his disastrous stewardship at the Bank, he will not go cheaply into the night. His severance package will be in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. The poor should get such deals. On June 25, 2007, pro-business, free trader (and like Wolfowitz) neocon Robert Zoellick was approved as the World Bank’s new president.

In December 2007, Wolfowitz doing a stint at that den of current and washed up neoconservatives the American Enterprise Institute accepted an offer from Condoleezza Rice to take on the part time position of chairman of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board. The post was last held by the somnolent and Presidential candidate Fred Thompson. The Board’s current 18 members are members in good standing of the nation’s military industrial complex with ties to Lawrence Livermore, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Bechtel and with a heavy concentration on nuclear weaponry.
[Anti-candidate, Cronyism, Economy, Iraq, War on Terror]

107. Kenneth Tomlinson chairman of the CPB politicized public broadcasting, commissioned a biased study to monitor liberalism on Bill Moyer’s show NOW, resigned after an IG report alleged political tests and inappropriate dealings in the creating of a new show; later he was put on the board of governors for the Voice of America where there were further allegations of hiring a friend, misuse of staff, improper billing, and use of his office to run a horse racing operation.
[Corruption, Cronyism, Media]

108. Matteo Fontana, a general manager in the Office of Federal Student Aid in the Education Department held and sold shares worth at least $100,000 in Student Loan Xpress whose activities he was ostensibly overseeing. He was placed on paid leave. Fontana’s boss who oversees the student loan program Theresa Shaw resigned on May 8, 2007 a few days before Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was to testify before Congress. The official reason given for Shaw’s leaving was that she had “plans to take some time off.” This is part of the larger scandal of sweetheart deals between universities and companies making loans to students to the detriment of students. On June 1, 2007, the Department of Education came out with new rules to regulate the $85 billion student lending business.
[Corruption, Education]

109. A 9th US prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger in Minnesota was replaced by Rachel Paulose. Paulose at age 33 joined the DOJ and after less than 2 months as a senior counsel to deputy attorney general Paul McNulty she was named to the USA position in Minnesota. She was also reputed to be good friends with Monica “Loyalty oaths” Goodling and had a reputation for quoting the bible and dressing down staff. As a result on April 5, 2007, three of her top assistants, career prosecutors, resigned their administrative positions and voluntarily demoted themselves rather than work with her in a sign of their complete lack of faith in her abilities.

The push to oust Heffelfinger appears to have resulted from an attempt to suppress the Native American vote in 2004. In Minnesota, many Native Americans vote Democratic, live off reservation, and have tribal IDs as their principal source of identification. The Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer refused to accept these for voting purposes. An assistant US attorney in Heffelfinger’s office Rob Lewis contacted Joseph Rich a career prosecutor and the head of the voting section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Rich recommended an investigation which was vetoed by Bradley Schlozman. Attempts to gather further information were effectively derailed by Hans von Spakovsky. Shortly before the November election, federal District Judge James Rosenbaum ruled that tribal IDs could be used. Heffelfinger who was cited in testimony by Monica Goodling as spending too much time on Native American issues (He headed the US attorneys subcommittee on Native American issues) resigned effective February 28, 2006. As one of her first acts, interim USA Paulose got rid of Rob Lewis.

On November 19, 2007, Paulose’s resignation as USA was confirmed. It had been reported in September 2007 that she was the subject of an Office of Special Counsel investigation enquiring into her conduct as USA in Minnesota. She will return to main DOJ where she will serve as the counsel to Rachel Brand Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy.

On December 3, 2008, the OSC announced a settlement with John Marti an attorney in the Minnesota office. It concluded that “Based on considerable evidence of intent, animus, and motive, OSC concluded that Ms. Paulose constructively demoted Mr. Marti.” It also found that Paulose had acted in violation of the Whistleblower Act. The retaliation occurred after Marti, informed by a coworker that Paulose routinely left classified terrorist-related homeland security reports unsecured on her desk and on an open bookshelf, filed a report with the DOJ.
[Elections, Politicization of DOJ]

110. The lost White House emails: not an accident but a policy.

The official White House email system:

February 26, 2001 White House counsel Alberto Gonzales informs White House staff they must preserve their email in conformance with the Presidential Records Act.

June 4, 2001 Bush announces plan to name a special assistant to the President to act as Chief Information Officer for the White House and “improve” electronic records keeping.

Late 2001 or early 2002 the White House deactivates the Automated Records Management System (ARMS) for archiving emails. Instead the White House begins transferring emails from its EOP server to a file server. The system is not secure or complete and emails can be deleted from it. On top of this, back up tapes which might capture and preserve some of these deletions are regularly wiped and recycled. Chief Information Officer Theresa Payton says this was in keeping with “industry best practices”. The problem is that these “practices” violate federal law, i.e. the Presidential Records Act and the duties and responsibilities of her position.

March 2003-October 2003 marks the period in which backup tapes were not retained. It encompasses the start of the Iraq war, the Valerie Plame coverup, and discussions concerning the destruction of the torture tapes.

October 2003-October 2005 emails continue to be lost. Despite daily audits, no one notices for 2 years

In October 2005, someone does finally *gasp* notice. The Office of Administration does a study which finds hundreds of days (473) between March 2003 and October 2005 where various components of the White House system contained few if any emails. The OA estimates 5 million emails were lost during this time.

The unofficial system:

Beginning in 2001, Karl Rove and about 35 other White House officials used Republican National Committee (RNC) GWB43.com and other email accounts for government business circumventing and violating the Presidential Records Act. Per a letter of Henry Waxman to Alberto Gonzales, it has been reported that Karl Rove used RNC accounts for 95% of his communications.

2001-August 2004, the RNC purged its email accounts every 30 days. After this time, it suspended purges on White House accounts. However, it continued to allow White House officials to delete their emails.

Beginning in 2005, the RNC singled out Karl Rove. His emails were automatically archived and he was no longer allowed to delete them. That he had been doing this is obvious since although he used his RNC email account heavily, he has no emails from the time the RNC suspended its email purges in August 2004 to the beginning of 2005 when it began archiving his emails.

Up to the time of Waxman’s letter in April 2007, White House officials other than Karl Rove retained the use of their RNC accounts and the ability to delete email from them.

To recap, the White House had two email systems, not one. It lost or destroyed many emails from both in deliberate and knowing violation of the Presidential Records Act. As a result, the Congress and the people’s right to know what their government is doing and to hold it to account has been irretrievably damaged.
[Criminality, Incompetence]

111. Georgia Thompson a purchasing agent in Wisconsin was convicted of steering a contract to a company in which 2 executives had contributed the maximum to Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s re-election campaign. Thompson had been a hire of the previous Republican governor and no evidence was produced at trial that she knew of the contributions. Remanded by the Republican judge who heard the case, she served 4 months of an 18 month sentence before an appeals court overturned her conviction after oral arguments where one judge typified the government’s case as “beyond thin” and ordered her freed the same day. The case was brought by Bush appointed US attorney Steven Biskupic during the campaign and was used in Republican campaign ads to accuse Doyle of corruption
[Politicization of DOJ]

112. US attorney for New Jersey and former Bush “Pioneer” Chris Christie issued subpoenas in a corruption probe of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez two months before the Nov. 2006 elections. Menendez was in a tight race with Tom Keane. After Menendez won, the investigation went away.
[Politicization of DOJ]

113. Kay Coles James, dean of Pat Robertson’s Regent's government school, made director of the Office of Personnel Management in 2001. In 2002, John Ashcroft eases qualifications for DOJ hiring. The influx into the DOJ of young, poorly qualified lawyers on a conservative religious mission begins.
[Politicization of DOJ]

114. In a rushed process, Bernard B. Kerik, a Rudy Giuliani protege and former New York City Police Commissioner, was nominated to be Secretary of Homeland Security December 3, 2004. He withdrew his name a week later ostensibly because of his employment of an undocumented immigrant as a nanny. However, it quickly came out that Kerik was also involved in a dubious stock sale of stun gun manufacturer Taser International shortly before a critical report by Amnesty International, a sexual harassment suit, connections to a construction company Interstate Industrial Corporation tied to the Gambino organized crime family, use of an apartment donated for 911 relief as a love nest where he could meet his girlfriends, including Judith Regan, and accepting gifts in contravention of ethics rules (for which he paid a $221,000 fine). Kerik was also the inept Interim Minister of the Interior in Iraq under Paul Bremer’s CPA in 2003. On November 9, 2007, Kerik was indicted on 14 federal counts including certifying that Interstate Industrial Corporation was mob-free in exchange for $255,000 in renovations for his apartment, accepting $200,000 in rent off the books, bribery, tax fraud, theft of honest services, and making false statements to government officials.
[Cronyism, DHS, Iraq]

115. The Bush back story: The time in the TANG, the transfer to the Alabama National Guard, the lost years, the 1976 DUI in Maine, the business bailouts, the governorship: hardline on drug crimes despite his own past history and a fast and loose approach to the death penalty.

In the run up to the Presidential elections, Dan Rather presented a piece on Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard on CBS’ 60 Minutes II on September 8, 2004. The segment noted that Bush had received preferential treatment in being admitted to what was called the Champagne Unit comprised of the scions of well to do Texans wishing to avoid service in Vietnam. He then cited critical memos purportedly written by Bush’s squadron leader Colonel Jerry Killian. The authenticity of these was rapidly brought into question by conservative bloggers and their doubts were quickly echoed in the mainstream media. While controversy continues to this day about whether the memos were real or fakes, their content that Bush performed his duties poorly or not at all remains largely uncontested. On September 20, CBS President for News Andrew Heyward issued an apology and Rather a kind of one. An internal commission was organized headed by two men, one at least with a very definite connection to the Bush family: Richard Thornburgh, Bush I’s Attorney General and Louis Boccardi, former head of the AP. That the fix was in was hardly surprising since Sumner Redstone who headed Viacom CBS’ parent company had declared himself (and Viacom) for Bush Junior. On September 19, 2007, Dan Rather now retired filed a $70 million civil suit against his former employers for scapegoating him. Now what is curious about all this and qualifies it as a scandal is that no major outlet of the mainstream press rushed in before the election or after to investigate the Bush TANG story and verify or debunk its content. The attack on Rather (and his producer Mary Mapes) effectively inoculated Bush against any further charge or investigation on this subject. Quite simply the media didn’t care whether it was true or not. Just as they didn’t care if the swiftboating of John Kerry’s war record was factual or not. This disparate treatment coupled with a studied lack of interest is emblematic of the media’s coverage of the Bush years.

116. As of September 2007, the terrorist watchlist of the National Counterterrorism Center: the bizarrely named Terrorists Identity Datamart Environment (TIDE) has 500,000 names representing 400,000 people. The Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list had 44,000 names on it as of October 2006. 75,000 others are on an extra screening list (CBS). The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) keeps the government’s consolidated master watchlist which it makes available to other government agencies. Its list has grown from 158,374 names in June 2004 to 754,960 names in May 2007, an increase of about 200,000 a year. The size of the lists, that they contain numerous errors, that it is difficult or impossible to remove names or correct errors, the presence of common names, and the ease with which these lists can be subverted by real terrorists raise questions why such large, sloppy lists exist at all.

On August 18, 2008, a federal appeals court of the Ninth Circuit in a 2-1 opinion ruled that passengers could demand a judge and jury decide whether they were rightfully included on the TSA’s no-fly list.
[War on Terror]

117. Insta-declassification in contravention of Bush’s own Executive order 13292 and without consultation with the original classifying agency. Also abusive and indiscriminate classification (secrecy for secrecy’s sake) of government documents. [Law]

118. Vice President Cheney shoots 78 year old lawyer Harry Whittington Feb. 11, 2006 during a quail hunt at the Armstrong ranch in Texas. The shooting is not reported until the next day and then by the ranch owner to a Corpus Christi reporter. Under pressure and despite his disdain for the press, Cheney finally breaks his silence Feb. 15 on Fox News. Any real investigation is smothered by the powerful Armstrong family (who by the way are the ones who set Cheney up in his job at Halliburton) and the story remains incomplete.
[Cronyism, Media]

119. Homeland Security’s Automated Targeting System (ATS) database which makes a terrorist risk assessment on anyone traveling to or from the US by any means and keeps it for 40 years.
[DHS, War on Terror,]

120. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia refuses to recuse himself from Cheney’s appeal of a Sierra Club lawsuit to keep records of his 2001 Energy Task Force secret. Shortly after SCOTUS agreed to take up the case, Scalia flew with Cheney on Jan. 5, 2004 on Air Force Two to Louisiana for a duck hunting trip. Cheney stayed two days and Scalia four. June 24, 2004, SCOTUS decides 7-2 to send the case back to the district court for reconsideration of the government’s separation of powers argument. Scalia and Thomas going further concurred and dissented thinking that the appellate court should have been the one to deny the Sierra Club’s discovery request. May 1, 2005, the DC Court of Appeals dismisses the Sierra Club case holding that Cheney could keep the participation of oil companies in his Energy Task Force secret.
[Law, Political interference]

121. The Election Assistance Commission which was created to do election research after the 2000 election debacle issued a December 2006 report which changed the conclusions of its experts and exaggerated the problem of voter fraud. Previously, the Commission released a report only under Congressional pressure that indicated that voter ID programs suppressed voter turnout among minorities. The EAC also has oversight of voting machines and voting software in which it has failed.
[Elections, Political interference]

122. Bush tried unsuccessfully to kill the confirmation of Mohammed ElBaradei to a third term as head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). ElBaradei and the IAEA had stated in the runup to the Iraq war that the famous aluminum tubes were for rockets not centrifuges, that the Niger documents were fakes, that there was no evidence that Iraq was trying to reconstitute a nuclear program, and that the Iraqis had been cooperative with IAEA inspections. As part of the Bush campaign in 2005 to oust him, the NSA tapped his phones in an unsuccessful attempt to show he was being soft on Iran. John Bolton unsuccessfully lobbied for more aggressive surveillance of him. ElBaradei was reconfirmed and later that same year on October 7, 2005 won the Nobel Peace Prize.
[Iraq, WMD]

123. Alice Fisher named to head the Criminal Division at the DOJ in a recess appointment, later confirmed September 19, 2006 (just before the Nov. 2006 elections). A protegee of Michael Chertoff, she worked under him as deputy head of the Criminal Division but has no experience as a criminal prosecutor. She also worked on the Senate investigation into the Clinton era Whitewater scandal and was a lobbyist of HCA the healthcare company controlled by the family of the recent Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist. She has opposed rescinding the more gratuitous aspects of the Patriot Act, favored its extension unchanged, participated in discussions of abusive interrogation methods at Guantanamo, and reportedly has social ties to Tom Delay’s defense team. Under her leadership, the investigation into Abramoff’s many connections (some of which go back to Delay) has gone nowhere. On April 30, 2008, Alice Fisher announced her resignation effective May 23, 2008. In the waning months of the Bush Adminstration, the rats are leaving the ship.
[Abramoff, Politicization of the DOJ]

124. After being admonished 3 times by the House Ethics Committee in 2004, Tom Delay through Dennis Hastert had the Republican head of the committee replaced and staff fired. Ethics rules were also changed making it easier to kill ethics investigations. An initial provision to allow an indicted member of the House leadership to continue to hold his position was rescinded after negative publicity.

125. Collusion of the media: the NYT, WaPo, Time, Newsweek, cable and network news in the Bush disasters through silence, lack of investigation, and above all accepting uncritically whatever spin came out of the White House on anything. They have dutifully done this for more than 7 years despite this President and his policies being some of the most unpopular in our history.

In a July 25, 2008 interview, former Press Secretary Scott McClellan announced that he had fed White House talking points to various commentators at FoxNews who duly repeated them. In many ways this is unsurprising. Scooter Libby used reporters to disseminate the story about Valerie Plame (entry 3). In the Libby trial, Cathie Martin, who was Cheney’s communications director, noted that Tim Russert’s Meet the Press was their “favorite format” because they could “control message”. This is in keeping with paid for journalists like Armstrong Williams (entry 62) or the military “experts” (entry 344) used by cable and network news. But in addition to the active efforts of the Administration to manipulate the media was the overwhelming willingness of the media to be used and to repeat White House talking points, indeed to speak in them.

126. Failure of the Democratic Party to act as an opposition party for 6 years in the minority and over a year in the majority.

127. A supreme lack of oversight by a rubberstamping Republican Congress over the first 6 years of the Bush Administration.

128. The use of the 2002 AUMF against Iraq to justify the Bush invasion and an ongoing US military presence there. The UN Resolutions it cites, including those sanctioning military force, are from the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The UN never passed a resolution that authorized the use of military force in the Second Gulf War. On June 28, 2004, the US returned sovereignty to the reconstituted state of Iraq and in doing so acknowledged that the Iraq referenced in the AUMF as well as the legal rationale for a US presence in (and occupation of) the country no longer existed.

The AUMF placed Democrats in a political bind. Despite later protestations, they knew it meant war. Knowing this, they were faced with the following calculus. They could vote against the AUMF, but since Bush was going to war anyway they would be portrayed as unpatriotic and not supporting the troops. If the war was quick and successful, regardless of the merits of the case, they would be portrayed as weak and wrong. If they voted for, they might not get credit but they would avoid blame. Still some did vote no.

The AUMF passed in the House October 10, 2002 by a vote of 296-133 with 3 not voting. 81 Democrats voted for the AUMF. 126 voted against it (with 1 not voting). Only 6 Republicans voted against. It passed the Senate the next day with a vote of 77-23. 27 Democrats voted for it. 22 Democrats voted against, including Jeffords (I-VT). Only one Republican Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) voted against. Bush signed the AUMF into law on October 16, 2002.

These are the Democrats who voted for the AUMF:

Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Breaux (D-LA)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Carnahan (D-MO)
Carper (D-DE)
Cleland (D-GA)
Clinton (D-NY)
Daschle (D-SD)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Edwards (D-NC)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hollings (D-SC)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Miller (D-GA)Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)Reid (D-NV)Rockefeller (D-WV)
Schumer (D-NY)
Torricelli (D-NJ)
[Iraq, War on Terror]

129. On December 14, 2004, President Bush awards the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, to General Tommy Franks, George Tenet, and Paul Bremer for their efforts to create the disaster that Iraq has become. Richard Myers the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs 2001-2005 received his for his part in this catastrophe on November 9, 2005 shortly after his retirement.

130. Real ID Act of 2005 mandates essentially a national identity card by forcing states to have nationally compatible driver’s licenses. The program has multiple goals: facilitate surveillance and data mining and make it harder for illegal aliens to get jobs and for the poor to vote. On January 11, 2008, DHS head Michael Chertoff announced a deadline of May 2008 for states to seek a waiver for more time to comply or driver licenses from those states would not be accepted as evidence of identity for the purposes of air travel. The ACLU (for privacy reasons) and 17 states (for cost) have objected to the program.
[Elections, Surveillance]

131. Jose Padilla. This is not about a bad and deluded man, but rather that an American citizen held in the United States could be held for 3 1/2 years (May 8, 2002-January 3, 2006) outside the purview of American courts and tortured. He was transferred to the regular US legal system only because his case challenging Bush’s power to declare him an illegal enemy combatant was wending its way to the Supreme Court. The transfer successfully pre-empted this when the Court declined April 3, 2006 to hear the case. The lack of a Supreme Court determination and passage of the Military Commissions Act mean that any American can still be declared an illegal enemy combatant and held indefinitely without charge, and if the MCA is to be believed (and unlike the Padilla case) without any right to habeas corpus.

On May 14, 2007, Padilla who was initially accused of being a terrorist mastermind behind a plot to detonate a dirty bomb inside the US was put on trial for being a minor member of a conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim outside the US. Among the many dubious and disturbing aspects of this case: the length and nature of detention, his mental fitness to stand trial, the change in jurisdiction from military to civilian, and the major reduction in the scope of the charges and Padilla’s role in them, the government claims it “lost” evidence, specifically a DVD of Padilla’s last interrogation as an enemy combatant from March 2, 2004. Despite virtually no concrete evidence against them, on August 16, 2007, he and his codefendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were found guilty on all counts. On January 22, 2008, Padilla was sentenced to 17 years 4 months, Hassoun to 15 years and 8 months, and Jayyoussi to 12 years 8 months.
[Law, War on Terror]

132. National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act of 2005. This sets up a state by state but nationally compatible data base of prescribed controlled substances available to many agencies. The substances include not only painkillers taken for more than a couple days but also tranquillizers and sleeping pills.
[Health, Intelligence]

133. Jean-Bertrand Aristide the President of Haiti who was certainly no Boy Scout was flown out of the country on February 29, 2004 in the midst of an insurrection that was not exactly opposed by the Bush Administration “willingly” according to American authorities, “kidnapped” according to Aristide.
[Foreign Affairs]

134. Hugo Chavez the controversial President of Venezuela was briefly deposed in a military coup April 11, 2002. The Bush Administration initially recognized the interim government of Pedro Carmona the head of the national business federation and said that Chavez had brought the coup on himself. The coup collapsed and Chavez resumed power two days later on April 13, 2002. Later the Bush Administration condemned the coup. [Foreign Affairs]

135. Bush’s ethanol program will not solve America’s energy problems. It is a boon to corn state farmers and the politicians who represent them but depletes soil that would be better reserved for food production. It also led to an increase in the price of corn, other grains, and food generally, and it set the stage for hedge fund driven speculation in grains which caused a rice panic in early 2008. Ethanol is also a carbon based fuel and contributes to global warming directly through its burning and indirectly through its production.

136. Post the November 2006 elections, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly used the filibuster to obstruct Congressional action. This has happened so far on Iraq resolutions (even some co-sponsored by Republicans), an intelligence bill requiring greater accountability, and a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies. This is especially egregious in light of the last Congress where then Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist repeatedly threatened Democratic Senators contemplating a filibuster with the “nuclear option” of doing away with it by changing Senate rules.

137. The stacking of the federal judiciary with unqualified rightwing hacks. A bipartisan group of Senators known as the Gang of 14 (7 Democrats and 7 Republicans) came together to avoid the nuclear option (the elimination of the Senate filibuster) and pushed through hyper-conservative judicial choices: Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit on May 25, 2005 (55-43), Janice Rogers Brown to the DC Circuit on June 8, 2005 (56-43), and William Pryor to the 11th Circuit on June 9, 2005 (53-45). No agreement could be made on two others: William Myers and Henry Saad. Their names were eventually withdrawn.

The Gang of 14 was also responsible for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh (again to the important DC Circuit) on May 26, 2006 by a vote of 57-36. Kavanaugh was the most inexperienced candidate to the circuit in its more than 100 year history. He had no trial experience but had worked for essentially partisan causes: Kenneth Starr's investigations into Bill Clinton for 5 years, the 2000 Florida recount, and the nomination and confirmation of unqualified, radically conservative candidates rather like himself as Associate Counsel in the Bush White House.

On June 27, 2007, Senator Patrick Leahy sent a letter to Alberto Gonzales referring Kavanaugh to the DOJ for possible prosecution for a false statement he made during his confirmation hearings (still waiting for a response on that one, surprise). In his responding to a question by Senator Durbin (D-IL), Kavanaugh said he had taken no part in developing the Administration’s policy with regard to enemy combatants. A June 25, 2007 article in the Washington Post and an NPR report the following day indicated that he had taken part in at least one meeting on this subject in 2002.

138. Ralph “I need to start humping in corporate accounts” Reed led the Christian Coalition in the 1990s and was an associate of both Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist. Abramoff funneled millions in 1999 and 2000 to Reed in exchange for Reed’s mobilizing evangelicals in support of Abramoff’s various schemes. These included: spiking an Alabama law which would have allowed gaming at dog tracks in competition with Choctaw casinos which were Abramoff clients; similar opposition to an Alabama state lottery; opposition to the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (the rationale, a major stretch, was that it didn’t go far enough) for his client eLottery; opposition to a Tigua casino in Texas to the benefit of his clients the Lousiana Coushatta; and then in 2002 persuading the Tigua that he Abramoff could use his connection to Reed to help them get back their casino. Reed was an indispensable cog in the Abramoff machine.
[Abramoff, Corruption]

139. Aggressive proselytizing by Christian evangelical faculty and cadets at the US Air Force Academy. A report was issued June 2005 but it is not clear if much has changed. The USAF Academy also has a recurrent history of cheating and sexual assault. [Religion]

140. The Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, an idea for those who don’t believe in the separation of church and state or the Establishment Clause in the Constitution (First Amendment). A political and financial sop to rightwing Christians, the program has given no money to non-Christian groups. It is unclear how much money has actually gone through the program. The real problem is that any money should be distributed in this way.

On June 25, 2007, SCOTUS ruled 5-4 in Hein, Director, White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives et al v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. et al that taxpayers do not have standing to contest this spending in violation of the Establishment clause A) because they can not show direct harm and B) because Establishment challenges under Flast v. Cohen are only allowed if a specific Congressional statute is at issue. SCOTUS held that the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives had been created wholly within the Executive Branch and that no specific monies had been appropriated to it by Congressional statute so no challenge could be made. This is fairly squirrely reasoning (increasingly typical of the Roberts Court) because the money didn’t just appear out of nowhere and what money the Congress does appropriate and how it is spent by the Executive must meet Constitutional requirements such as the Establishment Clause. In any case, the bottom line is that in the view of SCOTUS the Congress and/or another President are the ones to change this. Ordinary Americans need not apply.

An October 17, 2008 New York Times story reports that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion in 2007 that the government could use money from programs covered by anti-discrimination laws to fund groups that did, in fact, discriminate in their hiring on religious grounds. The opinion was in reference to a $1.5 million grant for gang prevention to World Vision, a religious group which hires Christians only, but was not limited to this case only.
[Politics, Religion]

141. Military disability ratings: A 30% rating is the cutoff between receiving payments, staying within the military healthcare system, and eligibility for family coverage and is now given out more rarely than before the beginning of the Iraq war, despite the large number of soldiers with severe injuries. Whether disabled veterans are eventually covered by the military or receive some compensation from Social Security or the Department of Veterans Affairs, they usually have to wait 6-9 months for such monies to flow and often face severe financial distress, including homelessness, as a result. In 2006-2007, nearly 20,000 permanently disabled veterans have been so affected. In response, the Army has allowed for such veterans to draw their full paycheck for 90 days after discharge. This policy has not yet been fully implemented as of June 2008 and only partially addresses the time lag before government coverage kicks in.

As of January 2008, the Pentagon is required to follow the more liberal guidelines of the VA in awarding disability claims. In a screwy re-interpretation, the military rather than loosening disability requirements has, in fact, tightened them. In contravention of existing law, the January 2008 “wounded warrior” act, and the intent of Congress, the Pentagon has been limiting benefits to veterans blown up in Iraq, injured avoiding getting blown up in Iraq, or injured in training incidents on how not to get blown up in Iraq, stating, as only the military can, that these are not combat or combat-related injuries.
[Health, Supporting the troops]

142. Earmarks: Special interest funding directed to a specific project by an individual legislator. The most famous example was Republican Senator Ted Stevens’ $223 million for a bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Earmarks exploded in number and expense under the Republicans. In his first 7 years, Bush signed spending bills containing 55,000 earmarks worth more than $100 billion. Bush only decided that there was something bad about them (nearly 6 years into his Presidency) when Democrats won control of the Congress.
[Corruption, Politics]

143. Medicare privatization. This began in 1982 and grew throughout the 1990s with
17.3% of Medicare recipients enrolled in 1999 in private plans when it went into decline. Since the start of Medicare Part D (passed 2003, went into effect January 1, 2006), numbers have begun to rise again. One of the reasons for this increase is that they are being aggressively, and often unscrupulously, marketed to unsuspecting elders. In addition, private plans receive government subsidies to make them competitive with Medicare itself. This is money that could go to reducing Medicare premiums generally but instead goes to higher overhead and profits for private providers.
[Corruption, Health]

144. Signing of a nuclear cooperation deal with India December 18, 2006. This is another example of the Bush Administration and Congress’s selective approach to nuclear non-proliferation. Israel’s nuclear program is ignored. Iraq is, in part, invaded for a mythical program that existed only in the fevered imaginations of Cheney, Feith, Bush, and Rice. At the same time, nuclear moves in North Korea and Iran are opposed. Meanwhile the deal with India will allow it to dedicate some of its facilities completely to nuclear arms production.

On October 1, 2008, the Senate in an 86-13 vote approved the India nuclear deal clearing away the last legislative hurdle to it. It is difficult to see how the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, already much undercut, will survive.
[Foreign Affairs, WMD]

145. Julie MacDonald, who has a degree in civil engineering and no background in the natural sciences, was named the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the Interior Department on May 2004. She altered and reversed conclusions in scientific reports to prevent species from being protected. The Bush Administration to date has listed 58 species (54 as the result of litigation) as endangered as opposed to 512 in the Clinton years and 231 by the first President Bush. MacDonald also hired Todd Willens who worked with the former Republican Representative and anti-environmentalist Richard Pombo. According to a March 2007 Inspector General report, she also passed on internal department documents to the oil industry and land developers in contravention of federal rules and to aid filing of lawsuits against the department. In one instance she pushed to have an endangered species which lived on her farm in California’s Central Valley (the Sacramento splittail fish) delisted. Facing oversight hearings, she resigned April 30, 2007.

The endangered species program has been without a director for a year and, as of July 2007, 30% of its positions are unfilled. On July 20, 2007, H. Dale Hall the current director of the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that 8 decisions made by MacDonald concerning species protection and land use would be reviewed and likely reversed. On November 27, 2007, it was announced that seven of them would be.

On May 21, 2008 in Congressional testimony, a GAO investigator Robin Nazarro stated that the review of MacDonald’s decisions had been too narrow and that 4 other Interior officials had been involved whose roles and decisions should have been examined: Craig Manson, a former Assistant Secretary at Interior, Brian Waidmann, chief of staff to current Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Todd Willens, former Deputy Assistant Secretary, and Randal Bowman, special assistant to the Interior Secretary.

In an August 11, 2008 New York Times story, the Department of Interior is drafting a rule which would reduce mandatory reviews and allow government agencies to ignore how building and industrial projects impacted endangered species or how emissions from these projects affect global warming.

In its rush to finalize this rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service assembled a 15 member team to go through 200,000 public comments and gave them 4 days (32 hours) to do so (from October 21-24). This would require each team member to read on average 7 comments a minute (or one every 8.5 seconds). To say this makes a mockery of the government’s rule making procedures would be an understatement.

On December 15, 2008, Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney released a report revisiting Julie MacDonald’s time at Fish and Wildlife. In the report’s cover letter, Devaney concluded

Overall, however, MacDonald’s zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and to the moral and reputation of the FW [Fish and Wildlife Service], as well as potential harm to individual species. Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure; of the 20 decisions we reviewed, her influence potentially jeopardized 13 ESA decisions. Macdonald’s conduct was backed by the seemingly blind support of former Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Judge Craig Manson. Judge Manson so thoroughly supported MacDonald that even when a known error in a Federal Register notice, which was caused by MacDonald’s calculations, was brought to Manson’s attention, he directed that the notice be published regardless of the error. MacDonald was also ably abetted in her attempts to interfere with the science by Special Assistant Randal Bowman, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, who held the position and authority to advance the unwritten policy to exclude as many areas as practicable from Critical Habitat Determinations, as well as Attorney Thomas Graf, Office of the Solicitor, whose remarkable lack of recollection leaves one to speculate whether he was doing MacDonald’s bidding or was a rogue actor simply emulating her policy style.

The former Chief of Conservation and Classfication for the Endangered Species Program had this to say about MacDonald.

[MacDonald] was an odd choice for that position [Deputy Assistant Secretary] because she had no interest in species conservation. She [said] she didn’t like the outdoors; she never went outdoors. She never went to a national park or wildlife refuge and she never intended to . . . [MacDonald believed] there were other more important goals, like making sur people got water and electricity and developers had the opportunity to make profits.

MacDonald refused to be interviewed for the report stating: “Given the breathtaking arrogance with which you have conducted previous so-called investigations of me, I have no interest in any further discussions with your office.” The report contained no recommendation for action against MacDonald.
[Anti-candidate, Environment]

146. From tales of the revolving door. Darleen Druyun was a principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and management where she negotiated a sweetheart deal worth $23 billion for leasing air tankers from Boeing. She was also negotiating at the same time for an executive position at Boeing. The deal was made. She left the Air Force and took up her new position at Boeing. In a 2004 plea agreement, Druyun pled guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 9 months in a minimum security prison, 7 months of home detention, 150 hours of community service, and required to pay a $5,000 fine.

In addition, Air Force Secretary James Roche and the Air Force’s top acquisition officer, Marvin Sambur resigned at the end of 2004 due to their roles in pushing the tanker deal.
[Corruption, Revolving Door]

147. Luis Posada Carriles is an anti-Castro terrorist who masterminded the October 6, 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner killing 73. He had worked before this with the CIA and after the Cubana bombing during the Reagan Administration helped funnel aid to the Contras. In 1997, he directed a series of bombings in Cuba against the growing tourist industry there. In April 2005, running out of places to hide, he requested asylum in the US but the following month was detained for entering the country illegally. Despite his terrorist past, he was released on bond to home detention on April 19, 2007. On May 8, 2007, a federal judge in Texas dismissed the case against him for lying to immigration authorities. Contrast his treatment to that of terrorists like the “waterboarded” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Apparently it is not what you bomb but who you bomb that counts.

In a somewhat similar case, Vang Pao, a leader of the American Hmong community who led Hmong forces in Laos against Communist troops during the Vietnam War, was arrested on June 4, 2007 for violation of the Neutrality Act and weapons charges as part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government of Laos. Despite the gravity of the allegations against him and the national security aspects, he was nevertheless ordered released on $1.5 million bail on July 12, 2007.
[War on Terror]

148. James Knodell, Director of the Office of Security at the White House, in testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform chaired by Henry Waxman said that no internal White House investigation was ever initiated (contrary to Executive order 12958 requiring one) in the period between July 14, 2003 when Valerie Plame a covert CIA agent was outed in a column by Robert Novak and September 29, 2003 when the Department of Justice asked the FBI to investigate pursuant to a request from the CIA of September 16, 2003.
[Intelligence, Iraq]

149. Robert Cobb, NASA’s tame Inspector General since 2002, tipped off former NASA head Sean O’Keefe to audits he would be performing and search warrants the FBI would be executing. O’Keefe, primarily known for his forceful dealing with the 1991 Tailhook scandal, was an accountant by training without a scientific or engineering background whose tenure at NASA was marked by drift. He got the top NASA job in December 2002 through his connection with Dick Cheney and, while still NASA administrator, campaigned for Bush in 2004 as a “private citizen”. He left in February 2006. The inappropriate contact between NASA administrators and the NASA Inspector General continues as well as its coverup. The NASA General Counsel Mike Wholley illegally destroyed a tape of a meeting (between the current NASA head Michael Griffin and Cobb and his staff) to avoid it ever becoming public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In keeping with the ineffectiveness of the NASA Inspector General, a January 9, 2009 story reports that the GAO found that the NASA IG recovered only 36 cents for every dollar it spent on audits to prevent waste, compared with an average of $9.49 for other IGs. The NASA IG came in second to last among the IGs.
[Incompetence, Inspector General]

150. Evangelos Dimitros Soukas a convicted felon serving 8 years for tax fraud was scheduled to testify on April 12, 2007 before the Senate Finance Committee on identity theft and filing false tax returns. The Department of Justice challenged the right of the Congress to order a prisoner in federal custody to appear before it, even though this has happened numerous times in the past. A federal district judge did not agree with the DOJ and Soukas testified. The DOJ move appeared baffling, an empty assertion of Executive power, but, may have been pre-emptive to prevent more controversial prisoners from testifying in the future.
[Politicization of DOJ]

151. Excessive corporate pay, retirement, and severance packages in the Bush era. Even post-Enron, control over executive compensation still rests largely in the hands of the executives themselves and the compliant boards of directors they often select. Pay is still not coupled to performance and stock options still encourage executives to manipulate stock prices (which is very much not the same thing as performance as the Enron case showed) for their own benefit. Reporting the cost of stock options was not mandated by the SEC until August 2006. The total cost of multi-year options is still not reported fully but treated as a year by year expense making the true cost look smaller. Back dating of options so they could be purchased at a lower price was also fairly common until somebody noticed it constituted fraud. Spring loading, a variant of insider trading, i.e. exercising an option and buying just before news that will drive up the stock price, still occurs.
[Corruption, Economy]

152. Eliot Spitzer the then New York State Attorney General (and not the SEC or the Bush Administration) announced on May 21, 2002 that Merrill Lynch had agreed to sever contacts between its analysis and investment divisions and to pay a $100 million fine. The lack of such separation was behind a lot of the dot com bubble in the 1990s as well as propping up Enron and facilitating its scams. It is a recognition of sorts of a systemic problem, although the fine was a tiny fraction of what investors lost and it is unclear how “objective” analysts are going to be even with the supposed wall to the investment side. [Corruption, Economy]

153. Scott Bloch initially deputy director for the Task Force for Faith Based and Community Initiatives became the head of the Office of Special Counsel (whose function is to protect whistleblowers) on January 5, 2004. Once there he summarily closed hundreds of ongoing cases, decried cases that had a “homosexual agenda”, tried to use the office to protect a non-governmental employee (and so not covered by the office) who was a defender of Intelligent Design, gave 12 of his in-office critics the choice of immediate re-assignment to field offices or be fired, and was the subject of complaints filed with his own office. In April 2007, Bloch announced an investigation into Karl Rove’s political machinations. The real aims of such an investigation probably do not include carrying out a real probe but are more likely an attempt by Bloch to hold on to his job, derail efforts to remove the OSC from the purview of the White House, stymie other investigations into Karl Rove (see 224), conduct a whitewash, and/or run out the clock.

On December 18 and 21, 2006, Bloch had a private service Geeks on Call come in to scrub the drive on his personal office computer. He kept a back up on a thumb drive which he has refused to surrender to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) currently investigating him. On May 6, 2008, the FBI raided Bloch’s home and the OSC.

On October 20, 2008, Bloch announced his resignation to be effective January 5, 2009. On October 23, 2008, Block was fired by the White House.
[Anti-candidate, Corruption, Cronyism, Whistleblowers]

154. Lax security at US nuclear facilities and airports exposed by whistleblowers Richard Levernier and Bogdan Dzakovic for which they were punished.
[War on Terror Whistleblower,]

155. The 120,000 hours of counter terrorism related recordings that the FBI had not translated by September 2004; related to this is the case of Sibel Edmonds. She blew the whistle on the backlog and the dubious skills and allegiances of some of the translators the FBI was employing. For this she was rewarded by being fired.
[War on Terror Whistleblower,]

156. Monica “Loyalty oaths” Goodling comes up again in an investigation of the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into whether she used party affiliation in determining hires of entry level prosecutors. Did she? Given Gonzales’ March 1, 2006 order delegating hiring authority to her and her role in the US attorney hiring and firing scandal, the answer is obvious.

A July 28, 2008 report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility found that Monica Goodling had used political considerations in violation of federal law and departmental policy in hiring decisions in a wide range of non-political career positions including Immigration Judges, Assistant US Attorneys, and detaillees to various offices at main Justice. Kyle Sampson and Goodling’s predecessors as White House liaison Susan Richmond and Jan Williams were also found to have been involved in political selections for non-political positions. The report concluded with the now familiar refrain that although they had broken the law since they were no longer with the DOJ no action could be taken against them but the report’s findings should be used for any future position they might have with the DOJ. On August 12, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey in a speech to the ABA in New York reiterated that there would be no prosecutions for these political hires: “not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime,” especially if you are a Republican.
[Politicization of DOJ]

157. Michael Baroody who was Executive Vice President of the National Association of Manufacturers a powerful K Street lobbying group was nominated by Bush on March 1, 2007 to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission. NAM has sought to limit or even eliminate corporate liability for unsafe products and environmental practices. NAM decided to give Baroody a $150,000 extraordinary payment on his way out the door. It is hard to say whether this is simply a further conflict of interest or just straightforward bribery. On May 23, 2007, Baroody withdrew his nomination, one day before the beginning of hearings.

158. The Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) created February 19, 2002 created a database the Joint Protection Enterprise Network (JPEN) [sorry for the acronym gobbledygook] composed of TALONs Threat and Local Observation Notices. These are basically raw unvalidated reports of threats posed by dangerous civilian groups like the Quakers. The idea of the military spying on civilians is unsettling. The Founding Fathers after all fought a revolution over such abuses and in the 4th Amendment enunciated: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Beyond this, CIFA did not follow its own guidelines in how it managed the material it obtained. The story does not end there. Duke Cunningham swung CIFA work to Mitchell J. Wade’s company MZM in exchange for bribes. He was aided in this by CIFA Director David A. Burtt II and his top deputy Joseph Hefferon. In August 2006, Burtt resigned and Hefferon retired when the Cunningham-MZM connection was made public.

On November 30, 2005, two days after Duke Cunningham enters into a plea agreement, all TALON reports were deleted from the JPEN database. However, the TALON program continues. (These programs never really die.) In keeping with the DOD (Department of Defense) Inspector General’s usual lackluster performance, a report requested by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo in January 2006 and released June 27, 2007 on TALON failed to address who was responsible for violations in following the program’s guidelines or why they occurred. The report also didn’t examine if current safeguards were adequate or if the program should continue. The Department of Defense (DOD) announced that it will close the TALON system on September 17, 2007. Per the press release, the Pentagon “is working to develop a new reporting system to replace Talon, but in the interim, all information concerning force protection threats will go to the FBI’s Guardian reporting system.” It has also been reported that CIFA will keep a copy of record as evidence that the program was properly administered (or if they want to start it up again as some point). As for impropriety, yes, this occurred, but the real problem with the program is that it is and was blatantly unconstitutional. Nor as I pointed out earlier do these programs ever die. So is TALON really gone? No. Names are changed but functions remain and the data are never destroyed.

On April 1, 2008, in response to a FOIA request by the ACLU, the Pentagon released documents that showed that CIFA had used the FBI to get around restrictions on its own use of administrative warrants (National Security Letters or NSLs, see item 98) and that it had not provided any guidance on their use or kept adequate records of them. The next day the New York Times reported that General James R. Clapper Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, was recommending to Secretary Gates that CIFA be closed down and that “some of its operations” be moved to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). In other words, roll up the program but not the function.
[Corruption, Intelligence]

159. Bush’s March 6, 2003 news conference. Less than two weeks before the start of the Iraq War, the “independent” press willingly play-acted spontaneity in what was a heavily scripted propaganda piece promoting the war.
[Iraq, Media]

160. An investigation into Bill Frist former Senate Majority Leader was closed on April 27, 2007. He was not indicted for insider trading in selling his stock in the family’s large healthcare company HCA shortly before a major fall in its stock price. It was all just a coincidence, a very profitable coincidence.

161. Julie Myers was made Assistant Secretary of DHS to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a recess appointment on January 4, 2006 after the Senate failed to vote on her nomination. Bush re-nominated her January 9, 2007. She was confirmed by voice vote on December 19, 2007. Myers is another Bush hire whose lack of experience is overshadowed by who she is related to. She is the niece of former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Richard Myers. She is a protégée of Michael Chertoff and was his chief of staff when he headed the Criminal Division. She is married to John Wood former chief of staff to Chertoff at the Department of Homeland Security and is currently US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri replacing Bradley Schlozman.

At ICE, she has sponsored aggressive, high profile, and controversial raids against illegal immigrants. The irony of someone whose success is based not on hard work but on connection imprisoning those who are hard working but without connection is I suspect lost upon her.
[Cronyism, Immigration, Law]

162. Randall Tobias, US Director of Foreign Assistance and head of US Agency for International Development (USAID) with the rank of Deputy Secretary of State since March 29, 2006. Before this he was our first Global AIDS Coordinator (October 2003) where he criticized condom use, discouraged outreach to sexworkers, and promoted abstinence only programs. As Director of Foreign Assistance, he continued to oversee the Global AIDS program. He resigned April 27, 2007 after it came out that he had been named as using a Washington escort service. I am not a prude about these things but I do see a problem between his personal activities and his public positions.
[Anti-candidate, Corruption]

163. Robert E. Coughlin II was hired in March 2001 at the age of 29 as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs. In May 2002, he became Deputy Director of the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison at the Justice Department until he transferred to US Attorney’s Office for Eastern Virginia in November 2003. During this time, he accepted meals, sports and concert tickets, and a golf outing (in all worth about $6,180) from Kevin Ring, a former aide to Representative John Doolittle (R-CA) who subsequently worked for Jack Abramoff. In return, Coughlin kept Ring and through him Abramoff apprised of deliberations at the DOJ and gave them advice on proceedings there related to their lobbying interests. In one case, he helped them get full funding for a $16.3 million jail construction contract for Abramoff clients the Mississippi Choctaw. On June 25, 2002, the contract was approved, and Ring emailed Coughlin “CHA-CHING!!!!” In another case, Coughlin expedited review for Abramoff’s Jewish Eshkol Academy so that it could admit foreign students. At the same time, Coughlin was providing these services he was engaged in talks for a possible position with Abramoff’s lobbying firm. After his stint in Eastern Virginia, Coughlin became deputy chief of staff of the Criminal Division at the DOJ, a position he resigned on April 6, 2007 when his dealings with Ring first came out. On April 22, 2008, Coughlin pled guilty in a plea agreement to one count of taking actions in his official capacity in which he had a financial interest (i.e. the gifts he received). In exchange, for a sentence of 6-10 months, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

On September 8, 2008, Kevin Ring was indicted on 10 counts of public corruption.
[Abramoff, Corruption, Criminality]

164. Stuart Bowen was Inspector General for the Bremer’s CPA and documented that $8.8 billion had gone missing. He stayed on as Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) chronicling waste, abuse, and fraud. In the 2007 Defense appropriations act an item was snuck in terminating Bowen’s job, because well, he was doing his job. When this became known, funding was restored. In April 2007, Bowen released reports showing that in a sample of what reconstruction projects there were and which were deemed successful, most were not being maintained and were no longer usable for their original functions. Bowen a Republican whose investigations have proved an embarrassment to the Bush Administration is now under investigation himself subject to a complaint by a group of former employees who left his office on less than amicable terms. The complaint has been taken up by the President’s Council on Integrity and Excellence headed by Clay Johnson III, a longtime friend of the President, and by Thomas Davis III the ranking Republican on the House Government Reform Committee. Davis says this is not about retribution although at this point that is exactly what it looks like.
[Contractors, Corruption, Iraq]

165. Continued Republican support of the Iraq war after the November 2006 elections flying in the face of public opinion, the election results, and reality. Republican losses were largely attributable to Iraq but have done little to change the minds of Republican lawmakers. Bush and Republicans demanded that Democrats come up with an Iraq plan. When they proposed withdrawal, they were accused of micromanagement. Yet withdrawal is precisely what Republicans pushed for during the Clinton Administration when they tried to force legislative ends to deployments in both the Balkans and Somalia. War resolutions have been filibustered by Senate Republicans, sometimes and even despite the fact they co-sponsored them. Opposition to Bush’s war policies are portrayed as “fringe” although they are supported by 60%-70% of the American people. They accuse Democrats of not backing the troops and then vote on a near perfect party line basis against a supplemental to fund the troops and applaud the President’s veto of it on May 1, 2007 (the 4th anniversary of Bush’s catastrophically wrong Mission Accomplished speech). They ask for patience and to give the surge a chance even after a record of 4 years of failure, constantly worsening conditions in Iraq, and inaction by the Iraqi government.
[Iraq, Media, Politics,]

166. George Bush signed the “Secure Fence Act” into law on October 26, 2006. Its purpose is to construct a barrier to stem illegal immigration into the country along the Mexican border. How a 700 mile fence along a 2100 mile border would accomplish this or what effect it would have on the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country is unclear. The initial estimate for its cost was $2 billion, and $1.2 billion was budgeted for it. The final cost, however, if it is ever built (which is unlikely), could be between $8 billion and $30 billion. In other words, it is an expensive, pointless gesture to anti-immigrant feeling without addressing what an immigration policy could or should be.

On February 22, 2008, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, the most incompetent man in Washington, accepted a $20 million Boeing built prototype 28 mile “virtual fence” known as Project 28 southwest of Tucson. Less than a week later on February 28, 2008, a GAO report noted that it did not do what it was supposed to do. In particular, the extended time between when motion was detected and an image was transmitted made it of little use to border patrol officials. On April 22, 2008, the project was scrapped.

As Chertoff builds his “fence”, a May 27, 2008 New York Times article reported that smugglers are increasingly finding it simpler to bribe Border Patrol and customs agents. Investigations of the Homeland Security Inspector General have gone up from 31 in 2003 to 79 in 2007. From 2003 to April 2008, there were 125 cases against border guards in California, 45 in Arizona, 14 in New Mexico, and 157 in Texas. Internal affairs units and the FBI also have ongoing investigations.
[Immigration, Politics]

167. Development of a coverup strategy to fight Congressional oversight that involves more than a little Karl Rove and obstruction of justice. In addition to the public relations campaign that there is nothing to see and they have cooperated anyway, we have

1. Threatening witnesses (Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General Michael Elston acting, he says, on Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty’s orders to tell 3 of the 8 fired US attorneys to stay quiet or else)
2. Preventing witnesses from testifying (Condi Rice directing Simon Dodge not to testify about his early identification of the uranium from Niger for Iraq documents as fakes and Rice’s knowledge of this as National Security Advisor)
3. Large but incomplete docudumps that are missing key information (as, for example, the November 15-December 4 email gap around the time that the US attorney firings were being finalized
4. Attempted destruction of evidence and/or Claiming that evidence has been lost (Rove’s deleted emails, Monica Goodling’s instruction to remove older versions of files)
5. Slow response or non-response (the failure of Rice to answer written questions; dragging out the document production process)
6. Claims of executive privilege regardless of merit (to keep Karl Rove and Harriet Miers from testifying under oath or to block production of emails, even those on non-White House servers, and even after the assertion that Bush was not part of the firing process)
7. Coaching of testimony known to be false by the coachers (Karl Rove and Kyle Sampson misleading Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty into giving testimony that attorneys were fired for “performance” reasons, which Rove and Sampson knew to be false)
8. Testifying but with severe amnesia (Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, Lurita Doan)
9. Lying (as evidenced by Gonzales’ numerous stories, Sampson misstating his role in the attorney firings, or Victoria Toensing in defining who is and is not a covert agent)
10. Proposing conditions that are unacceptable (not under oath, behind closed doors, no written transcript, limitations on scope of questions)
11. Refusing to pursue contempt citations (see item 227)

168. When Oregon Senator Gordon Smith was up for re-election in 2002, Dick Cheney working with Sue Ellen Wooldridge (Stephen Griles’ current wife who was deputy chief of staff to Gale Norton at the Interior Department before moving on to Justice) moved to divert more water from the Klamath River for irrigation purposes to help the area’s Republican farmers. In February 2002, Bush and Karl Rove announced their support for the idea. In March after a preliminary report by the National Academy of Sciences requested by Cheney, Interior’s Gale Norton approved the diversion and quashed scientific views to the contrary. As a result, in the following months, water levels dropped resulting in a large die off of salmon but Senator Smith won his election. In March 2006, a federal judge put limits on the draw off in an attempt to protect Northwest fisheries.

On November 13, 2008, the Interior Department signed a non-binding agreement with PacifiCorp to remove 4 dams on the Klamath by 2020. PacifiCorp is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The company would spend up to $200 million for removal and restoration of the river with the state of California covering any overruns. The whole thing would be financed by a $250 million bond issue by the state. The federal government would also kick in another billion for restoration projects. The deal would end water quality hearings by the state and absolve PacifiCorp of any liability. And the utility could back out of the deal as late as 2012. All in all, lots of promises, lots of loopholes, and all taking place as the Bush Administration heads for the exits.

169. Debra Wong Yang the US attorney for Central California (Los Angeles) left office on November 11, 2006 a month ahead of the more well known firings of 8 US attorneys on December 7, 2006. She had been investigating Representative Jerry Lewis. Part of this was an offshoot of USA-San Diego Carol Lam’s investigation into Representative Duke Cunningham and defense contractor and briber Brent Wilkes. I say part because Jerry Lewis has been rated one of the most corrupt members of Congress. And then there are the interesting connections. The Cerberus group, for example, which gave large contributions to Lewis and his organizations, owns IAP the outfit involved in the Walter Reed scandal. As for Debra Yang, after resigning for “personal” reasons, she joined the law firm representing Lewis and received a highly unusual $1.5 million dollar signing bonus.

After Yang’s departure, the Lewis investigation went nowhere for 7 months due to “budget cuts”. Then career prosecutor Michael Emmick was put in charge of the case in June 2007. Emmick is perhaps best known for being Ken Starr’s chief assistant in the Monica Lewinsky affair. He is set, however, to retire in September 2007. An exception could be made if he were working on an important case, but the investigation of one of the most corrupt members of Congress does not apparently meet this threshold. [Corruption, Politicization of the DOJ]

170. Nepotism Cheney-style. Although she had no background in Middle Eastern affairs, in the run up to the Iraq war in 2002, Elizabeth Cheney, Dick Cheney’s daughter, was named to the newly created position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (where she could keep an eye on things for her father at a critical juncture in the fabrication of the case for war). She left in 2003 to work on her father’s re-election campaign but returned after the election in 2005 as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and as such was the second ranking diplomat at State for the Middle East. She was Shaha Riza’s boss when she came to State. She also headed the Iran-Syrian Operations Group (ISOG) with a budget of $80 million. This was a kind of reprise at State of what Douglas Feith’s Office of Strategic Plans had been at the Pentagon. It was aimed at regime change in the two countries, especially Iran. She left State in 2006. She is married to Philip Perry, general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security.
[Cronyism, Iran, Iraq]

171. Dick “I had other priorities in the 60s than military service” Cheney received 5 deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. He did no more than what many did at the time. Still it is a very strange start for one who prides himself on being a superhawk and who views our relations with the rest of the world as a matter of will, and paranoia. As Vice President, he has been the extremist behind the throne, one of the few for whom 911 was a godsend because it furnished him the opportunity to realize his most radical tendencies. Unlike Karl Rove who believes in turning government into an extension of the Republican Party, Cheney believes in making government a direct extension of the President. And if that President is weak and uninvolved, well then all that accumulated power flows quite naturally to the next person in line who is more engaged, the Vice President say. Of course, Cheney will only use this power against our enemies. Unfortunately, he sees enemies everywhere.

Cheney understands that sometimes lies must be used to serve a higher truth and that even after being exposed they still have power, hence the repetition of even the most thoroughly debunked assertions, like the connection between Saddam and al Qaeda or that the Vice Presidency is not part of the Executive Branch. It doesn’t matter that they are untrue. They take up time and energy. They delay, misdirect, and confuse action on issues.

While Cheney has been spectacularly successful in acquiring power, he has been a disaster in using it. The results are a preventive and preventable war in Iraq, domestic spying, welfare for the rich, largesse for Halliburton, a mania for secrecy, and a whittling away of Constitutional rights and safeguards, in other words a country less safe, more unequal, and less free.
[Corruption, Iraq, Law]

172. Johnnie Burton, director of the Minerals Management Service since 2002 resigned May 7, 2007 after an Interior Inspector General report of December 2006. During her tenure, she reduced audits and depended on self-reporting by energy companies resulting in underreporting and underpayment of royalties.

The first auditor Bobby Maxwell who noticed a problem had his job eliminated. Maxwell then entered a False Claims Act lawsuit against one of the offenders Kerr-McGee. In January 2007, a jury in federal court awarded Maxwell and the government $7.5 million (with up to another $15.2 million in penalties) but the trial judge signaled that he would throw out the verdict because he did not think that Maxwell qualified as a whistleblower under the statute. At this point, Maxwell’s attorney tried to get Justice Department backing for the lawsuit, a tactic which would have markedly improved the suit’s chances. The US Attorney for Colorado Troy Eid (see item 380) agreed to join the suit but said that his entry into the case was denied by main Justice for political reasons. Alberto Gonzales was the Attorney General at the time. On March 30, 2007, federal judge Phillip Figa made good on his threat and dismissed the case. However, on September 10, 2008, a federal appeals court re-instated Maxwell’s suit.

Additionally, Burton also failed to review leases. Only 9% have been since 2000. In a particularly egregious case, approximately 1100 bungled oil and gas leases for the Gulf of Mexico dating from 1998-1999 which failed to tie royalties to changes in oil and gas prices were left unexamined for years and then not promptly addressed and renegotiated once they were known. The GAO estimates that $1 billion in royalty payments has been lost on these leases and that another $6.4 billion to $9.8 billion could go uncollected over their lifetime.
[Anti-candidate, Energy]

173. Punishment of defense counsel at Guantanamo for doing their jobs. Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift who won the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case which held that the Executive could not set up military tribunals on its own without approval by the Congress was forced out of the Navy JAG corps as a result. Major Michael Mori who defended Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks got for him a plea deal on March 26, 2007 whereby he was given 7 years all but 9 months of which were suspended and which he could serve in Australia. As a reward, Mori was passed over for promotion, offered remote postings, and rejected as a judge trainee. To date, 4 of 6 military defense attorneys up for promotion have been similarly passed over. Another Lieutenant Commodore Matthew Diaz has been convicted of giving secrets to the benefit of a foreign government for having given a list of Guantanamo detainees to a New York law firm the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2005. On May 18, 2007, he was sentenced to 6 months in the brig and discharge. At the time (before the Military Commissions Act), the Center had won the right in Rasul v. Bush to file habeas briefs on behalf of detainees but the US sought to block these by refusing to turn over the names and so preventing the detainees from getting legal representation. The US had fought such disclosure despite Rasul and even though it is obligated to release this information at least to the Red Cross under the Geneva Conventions and failure to do so is a violation of international law. Lt. Colonel Cobly Vokey chief of Marine defense attorneys for the western US resisted his superiors’ attempts to limit defense efforts in the trials of Guantanamo detainees and Marines accused in the Haditha massacre. He was fired from his position and then re-instated after fellow Marine attorneys protested and he had announced his retirement effective May 1, 2008.
[Guantanamo, Law, War on Terror]

174. Despite backlogs and a 2005 budget that resulted in a $1.3 billion deficit, VA officials received $3.8 million in bonuses. About half a million went to officials who sat on the review boards giving out the bonuses.
[Health, Supporting the Troops]

175. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was recommended by the 911 Commission to make sure that in countering terrorism the privacy rights and civil liberties of Americans were respected. Established by law on December 17, 2004, it first met more than a year later on March 14, 2006. Its first public meeting was on December 5, 2006. Its 5 members currently are chosen by the President although there is currently legislation to make it an independent agency. The Board’s chairwoman is Carol Dinkins a former law partner of Alberto Gonzales. Theodore Olson who argued Bush v. Gore is also a member. In its first report (2007) to Congress, the Administration made over 200 changes even after the final draft had been approved by the committee, resulting in the resignation of the one of the board members the tame Democrat Lanny J. Davis.

The terms of the original board members expired on January 30, 2008. Showing the importance Bush attaches to the board, he allowed the board positions to expire without naming any replacements, effectively eliminating it. I don't think he was too interested in the idea anyway.
[Political Interference, War on Terror]

176. Johnnie Frazier, the Commerce Department’s Inspector General who is supposed to investigate and prevent this kind of thing, was found by the government’s whistleblower agency the Office of Special Counsel to have wrongly demoted his top deputy, Edward Blansitt, and his chief counsel, Allison Lerner, after Blansitt refused to sign off on expenses Frazier incurred during an August 2006 junket to Boston and New York. When Frazier learned of the investigation, he sought to destroy emails concerning his activities. Additionally, Frazier’s Deputy Assistant Inspector General Thomas Phan has filed a civil rights complaint against him charging harassment and has also sought an investigation by the OSC. Frazier is also facing an inquiry by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE). May 25, 2007, a report by the OSC found that Frazier had violated prohibitions against punishing subordinates. June 7, 2007, Frazier resigns.

Before leaving, Frazier did a survey of travel by Commerce personnel. Out of a total of 641 trips from October 2004 to May 2006, a sampling of 63 showed 49 were not properly authorized.
[Corruption, Inspector General]

177. In 2007, Bill Roderick the Acting Inspector General for the EPA tried to cut his staff of 360 by 60. They are tasked with making sure that the EPA enforces its pollution rules. Roderick cited potential budget cuts for the proposed reductions just before he got a $15,000 bonus.
[Anti-candidate, Inspector General]

178. Janet Rehnquist, daughter of the late Chief Justice, was Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services from August 2001 to March 2003. She replaced numerous senior staff including all six of her deputy inspector generals through involuntary retirements and reassignments. She delayed an audit of Florida’s pension fund before the 2002 election in which the President’s brother Jeb Bush was running for re-election. The audit would have shown that the fund had lost $300 million in the Enron collapse.
[Cronyism, Inspector General, Politics]

179. Karla Corcoran was strictly speaking a Clinton appointment having been made the Post Office’s Inspector General in 1997. Nevertheless, she extends into the Bush era and no discussion of Inspector General misconduct would be complete without her. She resigned in August 2003. Her tenure was marked by “rampant waste, cronyism, questionable management and personnel practices, and substandard performance.” Her office was incredibly inefficient in uncovering fraud and waste. On the other hand, she held really good parties bringing her whole staff of 750 to Washington once a year for a week at a cost of $1 million each time.
[Cronyism, Inspector General]

180. Russian scientists in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund set up a meeting to discuss the problem of increased human-polar bear interactions. These have become more frequent and dangerous as the bears are forced out of their usual ranges due to the melting of arctic ice packs. A polar bear expert Craig Perham from the Fish and Wildlife Service was invited along by Margaret Williams of the WWF. Perham was told by the Interior Department in February 2007 that he could not talk about global warming at the meeting because it was not part of the agenda, even though the meeting had no agenda and global warming was the cause of the change in polar bear movements.

On May 14, 2008, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne placed the polar bear on the endangered species list but said that it would be wholly inappropriate to use this as an argument to reduce greenhouse gases or restrict oil and gas exploration and development in areas where they occur.
[Environment, War on Science]

181. The American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund (AVCR) is a fake “voting rights” group created by Republicans to give “non-partisan” testimony on the dangers of that most Republican of obsessions and inexistent of problems, voter fraud. It was registered on March 17, 2005 and was the only voting rights group to testify 4 days later on March 21, 2005 in House hearings held by now convicted Representative Bob Ney on voting problems in Ohio in 2004. The group was put together by Thor Hearne, both national and Missouri counsel for the 2004 Bush campaign, and Missouri’s Republican Senator Kit Bond. Like the Swiftboaters, this is another group with a highly partisan agenda masquerading as an impartial observer.

182. In 2000 the EPA announced plans to phase out over 4 years the gasoline additive MTBE which had been found to be contaminating ground water supplies. These were canceled when Bush took office. As a result, MTBE is still in use but, due to law suits against oil companies, state bans, and lack of Congressional agreement in 2005, its production is half of what it was.
[Energy, Environment]

183. On May 30, 2002 Attorney General John Ashcroft removed restrictions on domestic spying by the FBI in counterterrorism investigations, including political and religious groups without probable cause. Unsurprisingly, the FBI used its new powers (as it admitted on November 23, 2003) to spy on antiwar protesters.

184. On August 23, 2004, the Labor Department changed regulations contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 to raise the minimum salary (from $155 to $455/week) at which executive, administrative, and professional employees must be paid overtime. I expect the idea was that they should be happy to have a job and that there was no reason to go overboard and actually pay them for their work.

185. In a show of rare prescience, on May 6, 2002 George Bush voids the US signature (see item 309) on the treaty (signed by Clinton) establishing an International Criminal Court at the Hague and so set the US and its leaders effectively outside its jurisdiction.

186. On August 9, 2002, the Department of Health and Human Resources changed its medical privacy regulations. While patients were given the right to review and correct their medical records and not have medical information disclosed to their employers without their consent, doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers could do so among themselves and with insurance companies for treatment and billing purposes. Pharmacies were also allowed to enter into agreements with drug companies to promote their brands to patients without disclosing this relationship.

187. The Public Utilities Holding Company Act of 1935 is one of those acts which no one has ever heard of and since its repeal which went into effect on February 8, 2006 in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 it is likely no one ever will. PUHCA kept regulated energy companies from moving into unregulated businesses and so placed limits on their size, activities, and abilities to manipulate markets. You might think that was a good idea after the 2000-2001 electricity debacle in California. The Bush Administration and a Republican Congress more responsive to lobbyists than facts disagreed.

188. May 24, 2007 Bush nominates James Holsinger as the next Surgeon General. Holsinger believes that homosexuality is a lifestyle not an orientation and that it is incompatible with Christian teaching. The Surgeon General is described as the nation’s top health educator.

On July 10, 2007, Richard Carmona Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006 testified that he had been muzzled by Bush political appointees and prevented from discussing stem cell research, emergency contraception, prison healthcare, mental health issues, and the effectiveness of abstinence only programs. He related that a report on the health effects of secondhand tobacco smoke was delayed for years and its conclusions weakened.

A 2006 report on poverty and world health has still not been released as of July 2007 because of the efforts of William R. Steiger the 37 year old head of the Office of Global Health Affairs at Health and Human Services and godson of the elder Bush. Steiger has held the post since 2001 although he has no background in health or medical issues. Steiger criticized inaccuracies and lack of analysis in the report which was pre-read and well received by healthcare professionals. In fact, Steiger’s real gripe was that the report did not promote Bush health policies. This is not the first time that Steiger has engaged in such behavior. In 2004, at the behest of food manufacturers and sugar producers, he sought changes in a health report on obesity.
[Health, Political Interference, Religion, War on Science]

189. On June 8, 2007, Italia Federici agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion and obstructing a Congressional investigation. She was Jack Abramoff’s go between for the Interior Department. She headed the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a fake pro-business anti-environmental group created by Gale Norton (who went on to become Secretary of the Interior 2001-2006) and Grover Norquist. At the time of her Abramoff related activities, she was romantically involved with the Deputy Secretary of the Interior Stephen Griles who has also pled guilty to obstructing a Congressional investigation. Her sentence which could have been ~ 16 months was reduced to two months in a halfway house and 4 years probation because of her cooperation with investigators. On August 4, 2008, the judge in her case suspended the two months in a halfway house pending her good behavior on probation.
[Abramoff, Corruption]

190. Thomas Barnett entered the DOJ’s antitrust division in April 2004 and became its head (assistant attorney general) on February 10, 2006. Barnett sent a memo to state prosecutors in May 2007 urging them to drop an investigation into a complaint by Google that Microsoft’s new Vista operating system slowed Google’s search engine in preference to Microsoft’s own version. The Google complaint has its origins in a consent decree monitoring Microsoft’s antitrust compliance. Before coming to the Justice Department, Barnett was the Vice Chair of the Antitrust and Consumer Protection Practice Group of Covington & Burling, the Washington law firm which had represented Microsoft in the antitrust proceedings. Barnett's efforts seem to have backfired for now, but not for want of trying on his part. On June 19, 2007, Microsoft agreed to modify Vista later this year to allow users to disable the Microsoft version and choose another search engine, thus solving the speed problem.
[Political Interference]

191. The Palestinian civil war. January 2006 the populist and rejectionist Hamas (one of the Islamist organizations that Israel had supported in the past as a counterweight to Fatah) wins Parliamentary elections pushing out of government a corrupt but well entrenched Fatah. Clashes between Fatah and Hamas militants begin almost immediately. Despite Bush’s oft stated support of democracy in the Middle East, the US organizes a boycott of Hamas. The US and the Europeans cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel holds back tax receipts. International banking transactions are blocked preventing aid from other countries. The result is a sharp increase in unemployment, poverty, and radicalism in the Territories, especially Gaza where Hamas is strongest. At the same time, the background pattern of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and counter-attacks continues. In the deepening humanitarian and political crisis, Western governments led by the US seek to do end runs around Hamas funneling aid directly to the Palestinian people bypassing the PA and backing the Fatah Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an alternative to Hamas. In addition to political support, the US supplies Fatah security forces with weapons. A national unity government is finally cobbled together in February 2007 but doesn’t last. In May, 500 Fatah fighters enter Gaza from Egypt with Israeli approval and Bush okays $40 million to train 4,000 troops directly under Abbas’ control. Violence flares in June 2007 and greatly outnumbered and outgunned Fatah fighters are kicked out of Gaza. On June 14, 2007, Abbas dissolves the “national unity” government. A few days later on June 16, Fatah forces effectively expel Hamas from the West Bank. Instead of accepting the results of a democratic election and engaging with its opponents, the Bush Administration fomented a civil war. As has happened so many times before, it didn’t do its homework or the math, and the consequences were once again not those it expected. The Palestinians are even weaker and more divided. Gaza has real potential to become a full blown humanitarian crisis. The situation is more dangerous and peace even further away. [Middle East]

192. Selling the war: Part 1. Iraq the reasons. Some say there was no reason for the war. This is untrue. Many reasons were given for it, just no good one. Here are a dozen of them grace of Bush, Cheney, the neocons from the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), and the 2002 AUMF.

1. WMD
2. Saddam Hussein behind 9/11
3. Saddam Hussein connected with al Qaeda
4. Fighting terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here
5. Spreading democracy
6. Saddam Hussein was a bad man
7. Iraqi violations of UN Resolutions
8. The 1993 assassination attempt against GHW Bush
9. Oil
10. Bases
11. Defending Israel
12. Bad intel

193. Selling the war: Part 2. Iraq the turning points. While enough for a hexadecagon, not enough to make a difference.

1. May 1, 2003 End of major combat operations announced on board the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln: Mission accomplished
2. July 22, 2003 Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusai killed
3. December 13, 2003 Saddam Hussein captured
4. March 8, 2004 Interim Constitution
5. June 28, 2004 Interim government formed/Sovereignty returned
6. November 2004 Second siege of Fallujah
7. January 30, 2005 First elections for transitional assembly
8. May 3, 2005 Transitional government formed

9. October 15, 2005 Vote on constitution

10. December 15, 2005 Elections for permanent assembly

11. April 22, 2006 Nuri al Maliki replaces interim PM Ibrahim Jaafari in forming a permanent government
12. May 20, 2006 Maliki presents permanent government: the key ministries of Defense, Interior, and National Security are left unfilled
13. June 7, 2006 Jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed; June 8, 2006 last ministries filled in permanent government (175 days after the elections)
14. December 30, 2006 Saddam Hussein executed by hanging
15. January 10, 2007 Bush announces his New Way Forward plan, aka the “surge”. Deployment of surge forces completed June 15, 2007. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General David Petraeus claim progress is being made.
16. September 10-11, 2007 General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress and report the “surge” is working

194. Torture and Guantanamo

September 25, 2001, John Yoo at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) writes a memo to then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales in which he opines that in the war on terror the President’s decisions are “for him alone and are unreviewable.”

January 9, 2002, John Yoo together with Robert Delahunty assert in a memo to the Pentagon that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
January 22, 2002, Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General and head of the OLC, communicates this finding to White House counsel Gonzales.

January 25, 2002, Gonzales sends a memo (written by David Addington) to George Bush in which he argues that the war on terror “renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

January 26, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell writes to Gonzales arguing that the Geneva Conventions should be applied to Taliban and al Qaeda whether or not there is a legal duty to do so.

January 27, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declares that Guantanamo detainees are not prisoners of war, i.e. not covered by the Geneva Conventions.

January 29, 2002, Bush agrees with Rumsfeld.

February 1, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft weighs in and agrees with Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, and Bush that the Geneva Conventions to do not apply to Taliban and al Qaeda detainees.

February 2, 2002, agreeing with Colin Powell, the State Department’s top lawyer William Taft IV points out that non-observance of the Geneva Conventions could endanger American troops.
Febraury 7, 2002, Bush signs an executive order that says the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Taliban and al Qaeda detainees and further asserts his authority to suspend compliance with the Conventions in future conflicts.

February 26, 2002, it having been decided that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Taliban and al Qaeda detainees, Jay Bybee further informs the Pentagon that these detainees have no protection against self incrimination since they are outside the purview of US courts.
August 1, 2002, Jay Bybee writes to Gonzales his now infamous memo (drafted by John Yoo with the help of then legal counsel to the VP David Addington and then deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan) in which he asserts that “Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”
October 2002, officers at Guantanamo request permission to use “harsh interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture) on detainees.

November 4, 2002, Major General Geoffrey Miller takes command of the prison at Guantanamo with a mandate to get actionable information from detainees.
November 27, 2002, Rumsfeld signs off on harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo.
January 15, 2003, Rumsfeld looking for greater legal cover both for himself and interrogators rescinds his order and directs Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes II to create a review panel to come up with new interrogation rules. Haynes chooses Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker to head the panel. (Walker’s previous claim to fame was that she had been behind a coverup of sexual abuse scandals at the Air Force Academy.)

March-April 2003, Judge Advocate Generals of the Army, Navy, and Air Force protest the dumping of the Geneva Conventions and the well established doctrine of the UCMJ.

March 13, 2003, Jay Bybee confirmed as federal judge to the 9th circuit (West Coast) Court of Appeals.

March 14, 2003, Yoo delivers a memo to DOD General Counsel Haynes addressing issues before the Walker panel and is taken as the controlling legal opinion for it. On April 1, 2008, a declassified version of this memo was finally released by the new DOD Acting General Counsel Daniel Del’Orto (who replaced Haynes) as a result of an FOIA filing by the ACLU. The memo stated that in time of war the President’s power as Commander in Chief was unlimited and that Congress could not place any limit on it, that unlawful alien combatants were not covered by the Consitution, criminal statute, or treaty obligation and so had no rights and could be treated in any way the government saw fit, i.e. they could be tortured or even killed, and that those who committed such acts against them were justified by reason of necessity and self-defense.

April 4, 2003, the Walker panel accepts the definition of torture outlined in Bybee’s August 2002 memo and okays harsh interrogation techniques.

April 16, 2003, Rumsfeld signs off on some of the recommended harsh interrogation techniques.

Summer 2003, John Yoo leaves the OLC and returns to UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law.

December 2003, things begin to unravel. The new head of the OLC Jack Goldsmith (although he had worked for DOD General Counsel Haynes) informs his former boss that the March 2003 Yoo memo is under review and “should not be relied upon for any purpose.”

July 14, 2004, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the OLC (acting head) Patrick Philbin in Congressional testimony puts the onus back on the Secretary of Defense saying that harsh interrogation techniques must be conducted “in accordance with the limitations and safeguards specified by the Secretary,” and that the President’s Article II powers as Commander in Chief can not be used as a justification.

December 2004, General Craddock head of Southern Command appoints Air Force Lieutenant General Randall Schmidt to investigate FBI allegations of torture at Guantanamo. He finds abuses and recommends that Major General Geoffrey Miller be held accountable and admonished, a recommendation which General Craddock who had been Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant rejects.

February 4, 2005, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the OLC Daniel Levin writes to DOD General Counsel Haynes reminding him again of both Goldsmith’s opinion and Philbin’s testimony. He informs Haynes that the March 2003 Yoo memo has been formally withdrawn.
March 17, 2005, Haynes rescinds the Walker panel report based on the March 2003 Yoo memo and sanctioning harsh interrogation techniques, writing “I determine that the Report of the Working Group on Detainee Interrogations is to be considered a historical document with no standing in policy, practice, or law to guide any activity of the Department of Defense.”

May 10, 2005, the new acting head of the OLC Steven Bradbury produces two secret legal opinions supporting forceful interrogation methods as long as these do not “shock the conscience”. These are supplemented on May 30, 2005 by a third opinion. None have so far been made public.

December 30, 2005, Bush signs into law the 2006 Defense Appropriations bill which contains the McCain Detainee Treatment Act which ostensibly limits harsh interrogation techniques. The act is weakened by the Kyl-Levin amendment which allows evidence gained by torture and restricts habeas corpus rights of detainees to challenge their treatment. Bush completely vitiates the provision by appending a signing statement which states that the President will abide by its limitations, if he feels like it.

October 17, 2006, Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. It immunizes torturers retroactively to November 26, 1997.

July 20, 2007, in accordance with the Military Commissions Act, Bush signs an Executive order allowing the CIA to engage in aggressive interrogation techniques but without specifying what they are claims that these will not amount to torture.

September 14, 2007, it is reported that CIA director Michael Hayden banned the use of waterboarding sometime in 2006.

On April 9, 2008, ABCNews reported that then National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice chaired meetings in 2002 at which Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and CIA Director George Tenet discussed with great specificity what kinds of aggressive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, should be used against the recently captured terrorist Abu Zubaydah. They considered him to be the No. 3 person in al Qaeda. (He was, in fact, a mentally ill minor functionary with no useful information but lots of delusions.) This report puts the promotion of torture squarely in the White House early on and across the board at the very highest levels of the Administration. In a second ABC story on April 11, 2008, Bush confirmed that he knew and approved of these torture discussions.

On April 30, 2008, John P. Elwood, Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) announced in Congressional testimony that the DOJ would share the OLC’s unreleased torture memos but only with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

On July 11, 2008, a New York Times story cited a soon to be published book “The Dark Side” by Jane Mayer detailing a secret 2007 Red Cross report which concluded that the CIA had engaged in torture and that, as a result, the Bush Administration could be held guilty of war crimes. The CIA conveyed this information both to President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.

On October 8, 2008, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and the ACLU released emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act concerning the detentions of two US citizens Yaser Hamdi (item 85) and Jose Padilla (item 274) and one legal resident Ali Saleh al Marri (item 85) . They were held in naval brigs in Virgina and South Carolina but subjected to treatment and interrogation techniques approved for Guantanamo. Naval officers expressed doubts up the chain of command about the treatment of these prisoners as well as their lack of access to legal counsel, but these were ignored by the Pentagon. In 2002, one expressed concern that Hamdi was being driven mad by his treatment. What is important to remember is that these were US citizens or legal resident held on US soil but, according to the Bush Administration, outside US law.

On December 11, 2008, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report which found that George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other high level officials were directly responsible for detainee abuse at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. This is hardly surprising except in so far as it is an official pronouncement. It belies the standard defense that such abuse was the result of a few low ranking “bad apples”. The report’s findings went essentially uncovered in the media, also not a surprise. (This paragraph applies to the following item as well)
[Guantanamo, Law, Torture, War on Terror]

195. Torture and Iraq

March 2003, Stephen Cambone is made Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Summer 2003, Stephen Cambone almost certainly with Rumsfeld’s blessing sends Lt. General William G. (Jerry) Boykin to Guantanamo to see Major General Miller about prisons in Iraq. Boykin a born again Christian gained a reputation for his anti-Islamic remarks. He is currently the Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence at the DOD.

Aug. 31-Sept. 9, 2003, Miller goes to Iraq and Abu Ghraib where he recommends that prisons become part of the intelligence gathering process. Per Brig. General Janis Karpinski commandant of Abu Ghraib, Miller pushes to gitmo-ize the prison. Miller later denies this.

October-December 2003, period of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib.

November 4, 2003, Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi, is murdered during interrogation by the CIA at Abu Ghraib. Navy SEALs led by Lieutenant Andrew Ledford arrested Jamadi and beat him so badly that he suffered multiple rib fractures. The CIA interrogator Mark Swanner then had him hung in a stress position that, with his breathing capacity already diminished by his broken ribs, caused him to asphyxiate. After his death, soldiers take pictures celebrating over his corpse.

January 13, 2004, Army Spec. Joseph M. Darby, an MP with the 800th at Abu Ghraib, leaves a disc with photographs of prisoner abuse on the bed of a military investigator.

February 26, 2004, Major General Antonio Taguba issues a classified report on the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

April 28, 2004, Sixty Minutes II airs the photos after a 2 week delay, setting off an international firestorm.

April 30, 2004, Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib appears online; Major General Geoffrey Miller is picked to replace Janis Karpinski and oversee detainee operations in Iraq.

Early May 2004, the Taguba report is leaked.

May 6, 2004, Taguba meets with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who professes ignorance of his report, asks whether torture occurred, and claims not to have seen the photos from Abu Ghraib although 4 months have passed from the initial report and more than 2 months from the in house release of Taguba’s report.

May 7, 2004, Rumsfeld testifies before the Senate and professes surprise and ignorance of events at Abu Ghraib. He does name Joseph Darby for the first time as the one who notified authorities about the abuse. Darby subsequently received death threats and he and his family had to enter protective military custody.

The aftermath: Despite numerous reports, no attempt was made to investigate up the military chain of command or the civilian political leadership of the Pentagon and the White House. So far, about a dozen enlistees have been convicted of various Abu Ghraib related offenses. One special forces officer Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan is facing charges. Colonel Thomas Pappas who ran the intelligence section where the abuses occurred received a reprimand. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was demoted and some of her underlings were also reprimanded. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez the military commander in Iraq retires without his extra star. And, of course, Major General Antonio Taguba who did his duty in a professional manner was forced to retire as of January 1, 2007, no sir, can’t have people behaving like that in this Administration.
[Iraq, Law, Torture]

196. Vice President Cheney’s bizarre assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not part of the Executive Branch. (If it isn't, where does it fit in our Constitutional system, or does it?) As a result, since 2003, he has unilaterally exempted his office from compliance with Executive Order 12958 which requires information about its classification and declassification activities be provided to the National Archives so that national security materials can be safeguarded. In 2004, the OVP blocked an on-site inspection by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) part of the National Archives. In mid 2006, the ISOO wrote to Cheney’s Chief of Staff David Addington twice on the subject but received no answer. In January 2007, the ISOO asked Alberto Gonzales and the DOJ to resolve the matter. Cheney’s response was to seek to abolish the ISOO and eliminate the National Archives’ ability to refer disputes to the DOJ.

Additionally, in 2001 the OVP refused to tell the GAO as part of its oversight function who had participated in Cheney’s Energy Task Force. This was a governmental request and is different from the Sierra Club lawsuit. (The GAO sued but the case was dismissed by a compliant conservative judge John D. Bates on the grounds that the GAO lacked standing and that the matter fell outside the purview of the court.) Cheney has also refused to disclose travel paid for by special interests as required by law. Since 2004, he has denied requests to name the political appointees on his staff. He has asserted control over Secret Service documents which detail visitors to his residence and exempted these from Freedom of Information requests. Finally, per Executive Order 13233 of November 2001, the Vice President is given authority to prevent public release of his (the OVP’s) papers after he leaves office.

197. Another wrinkle on the US attorney scandal. On June 22, 2007, Bill Mercer Acting Associate Attorney General (from September 2006) withdrew his nomination for the permanent No. 3 position at the DOJ 4 days before his confirmation hearings. Mercer has been US attorney for Montana since April 20, 2001. In June 2005, he was given a second position as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General in Washington. On October 20, 2005, US District Chief Judge Donald Molloy of Billings informed Attorney General Gonzales that Mercer was in violation of federal law since he no longer lived in the district. On November 10, 2005, Gonzales wrote back to the judge stating that Mercer still had a domicile there, returned on a regular basis, and would return permanently as soon as his “temporary” assignment was finished. The same day at Mercer’s request, Brett Tolman (who had snuck in the interim US attorney language into the Patriot Act extension) inserted a second provision which allowed US attorneys to live outside their districts and hold other jobs. Mercer’s confirmation hearing would have raised embarrassing questions about his role as an absentee US attorney and changing the language in the Patriot Act. His name also appeared in emails concerning the US attorney firings. He has stated his intention to return to his US attorney position in Montana.
[Politicization of DOJ]

198. On June 19, 2007, John Rizzo testified in confirmation hearings for the position of CIA General Counsel. Rizzo has been Acting Counsel for the last 3 years and is a 30 year veteran of the agency. He has also served as Senior Deputy General Counsel and as Deputy General Counsel for Operations. This means that he was part of or headed the CIA legal team that gave guidance to CIA personnel at the time that the CIA was engaged in running black prisons, conducting kidnappings and renditions to countries that practiced torture, and using interrogation methods that amounted to torture. In this last regard, there is the question of an unreleased August 2002 memo (not the Bybee one) from Justice to the CIA listing approved interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, hypothermia, refusal of pain medication for injuries, sleep deprivation, light and sound bombardment, and forced positions for prolonged periods of time. At his hearings, Rizzo described the CIA’s interrogation program based on the 2002 memo as humane. He also didn’t deny that the CIA could kidnap an American citizen overseas, saying only that it would be “extremely problematic”. In other words, Rizzo is a classic enabler of policy no matter how dubious or illegal that policy is. As of August 2007, a hold placed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) on his confirmation remains in effect. In September 2007, the Senate intelligence committee requested that Rizzo’s nomination be withdrawn and the nomination was withdrawn September 25, 2007.
[Intelligence, Torture]

199. The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) is another obscure governmental body that has no reason to exist. Created in 2000, its nine members (actually still two short at seven) were not appointed until 2004, and it was not funded until 2005. Meant to cut down on unnecessary classification, it has to date made no recommendation to declassify anything. Most recently, a Senate attempt to declassify the Intelligence Committee’s report on pre-Iraq war assessments of WMD, including Ahmed Chalabi’s input into them hit a brick wall when members sought to go through the PIDB. The PIDB noted that it could only consider a request to declassify if it originated with the President. This is a classic Catch-22. If a President classified something and wanted it kept classified, he/she would not make such a request. If the President wanted something declassified, it is unclear why he/she would bother going through the PIDB. So why does the PIDB exist?
[Intelligence, WMD]

200. On June 28, 2007, the Supreme Court 5-4 in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1 eliminated the use of racial classification to avoid racial segregation in public schools. Its version of color blindness is to ignore the effects of past discrimination. The ruling is another indication that the two Bush appointees Roberts and Alito have no intention of honoring stare decisis (respect for precedent) which they swore to uphold at their confirmation hearings. It effectively undermines the 1954 landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka by leaving school districts few or no options to address and prevent segregation or re-segregation in their educational systems.

The pattern of the Roberts court with respect to precedent is becoming clear. Using a majority of 5 conservative judges: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy, the court has embarked on a course to overturn hallmark decisions like Roe and Brown, not by direct reversal but by dismantling them piece by piece until all the meaning in them is gone. It has also sought to roll back other laws and time elsewhere as well. In doing so, its reasoning has been remarkable for its inconsistency. This is Bush’s court and with Iraq it may well be his most enduring and pernicious legacy.
[Education, Law]

201. On May 29, 2007, SCOTUS decided 5-4 in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc. that Ledbetter had only 180 days to file an EOCC complaint of salary discrimination based on sex and that although the discrimination had been going on for years, the court would consider only wage discrimination that had occurred within 180 days of her filing.

It further stipulated the unrealistic and onerous condition that “Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory employment decision was made and communicated to her.” This was an example of the Court ignoring how the world actually functions. Corporations often prohibit employees from discussing their remuneration and make doing so grounds for dismissal. Employees may not come to know that they are being discriminated against for some time, what means are available to challenge such discrimination, if it is worth their while to contest it, and if they have the courage to do so. The decision greatly reduces the scope of discrimination claims and effectively gives corporations a Get Out of Jail Free card for patterns of long term discrimination.
[Labor, Law]

202. On June 25, 2007, SCOTUS decided 5-4 in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. that corporations could use their general funds to run “issue” oriented ads, even those naming candidates, within 30 days of a federal primary election or 60 days of a federal general election in contradiction of requirements of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. This is a continuation of the infamous dictum that money equals free speech. Apparently SCOTUS thinks there isn’t sufficient money in our political system or that it is not sufficiently bought. Another interesting aspect of the case is that the specific timeframe in question occurred during the 2004 election cycle and had long been rendered moot. Nevertheless, it was resurrected by invoking the notion that the controversy was capable of repetition, yet evading review. In other words, the Court will, if it wants to and regardless of the facts, look at a case long over (as here), take a very restricted view of time limits as in Ledbetter, or declare it moot as in Padilla. [Elections, Law]

203. On June 25, 2007, SCOTUS decided 5-4 in Morse et al v. Frederick that a school principal acted appropriately in confiscating a banner from a student which read Bong Hits 4 Jesus because it appeared to advocate drug use in violation of school policy. The decision confirmed the view that SCOTUS has a solid majority of prigs who were never teenagers and were born with their sense of humor and proportion permanently disconnected. SCOTUS did not have to take up this case but, having done so, it did not need to be so mindlessly Victorian about it. Curiously, while the Court was eager to rush to protect children’s Fourteenth Amendment rights in the Seattle/Louisville case, it showed little regard for their First Amendment rights in Morse v. Frederick. Go figure. [Law]

204. On June 28, 2007, SCOTUS decided 5-4 in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., DBA Kay’s Kloset . . . Kay’s Shoes that a manufacturer/distributor can fix the minimum price at which its goods can be sold by a retailer. The theory championed by Robert Bork among others is that by giving a manufacturer/distributor more control of its brand (including its price) it can better protect its brand. Putting it another way, by reducing competition within a brand, competition can be encouraged between brands. Such an approach may have some validity in high end niche markets for limited periods of time, but the key here is that it only may have a beneficial effect (albeit a highly restricted one) not that it will have one. Under such circumstances, is a potential, ephemeral advantage really worth undermining the Sherman Anti-Trust Act with its well understood and well accepted ban on price fixing? The current hyper-conservative (and extremely activist) Court thinks so. Once again, so much for stare decisis.

205. A no bid Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contract to the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton beginning in May 2003 ballooned over 4 years from $2 million to $124 million. This is part of the saga of the privatizing of intelligence services and the ongoing mismanagement and incompetence at DHS. It was presided over by Cheney crony and Booz Allen Vice President James Woolsey. When the contract (now split into 5 parts) was finally put up for bid by DHS, Booz Allen won them all. You have to wonder what message DHS was trying to send by rewarding those who had effectively screwed them over.
[Contractors, Cronyism, DHS]

206. April 28, 2006, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson stated in a speech that he cancelled a contract with a minority advertising firm because the contractor had said he did not support Bush. Later, Jackson in the face of mounting criticism said he made the story up. However, his chief of staff testified (as part of an Inspector General’s investigation) that Jackson had intervened in the contracting process when contractors had known Democratic ties. In keeping with the pattern of tame IGs who permeate the Bush bureaucracy, the HUD IG downplayed the issue by saying, “there were some limited instances where political affiliation may have been a factor in contract issues involving Jackson.” Even if limited, such instances violate department policies and more importantly violate the law by establishing a political test, something that neither Jackson nor his IG seem to have any problems with.

Jackson is also currently being investigated by the FBI and the HUD IG for swinging a contract to a friend and golfing partner William Hairston. Through Jackson, Hairston got a job in January 2006 at NKA Contractors which ran the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) which HUD had taken into receivership. Although NKA Contractors got good marks for its work, Hairston did not get along with its management, and shortly thereafter the company, not Hairston, was let go. Hairston received $93,755 from NKA from January to April 2006 and $392,000 from HANO from July 2006 to June 2007.

In February 2006, Jackson helped swing a direct contract to another friend Michael Hollis a prominent Atlanta lawyer and businessman to serve as the executive administrator of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority (which had been under HUD receivership since 2003). Despite a lack of experience in the field, Hollis was paid $450,000 (4 times as much as his predecessor) in 2006, including a $124,000 a year expense account.

It’s good to have friends.

On March 31, 2008, Jackson announced his resignation effective April 18, 2008. Heading a department that is called Housing and Urban Development, he very notably did nothing to prevent the housing crisis or deal with its aftermath. Taken together with his cronyism outlined above, Jackson, like so many members of the Bush Cabinet, was just awful. I have to wonder if the timing of his departure might not result from a desire to leave before an indictment.

A May 18, 2008 Washington Post article found other Republican friendly deals at HUD under Jackson’s leadership. A Fort Worth, Texas firm Harrington, Moran and Barksdale landed a $71 million HUD contract in 2004 to manage and sell hundreds of foreclosed homes. At the time, the company consisted of 3 employees, 2 of whom were Reagan era officials at HUD. Before this, it had done no more than manage a few apartments and had not done any government work. After this, it won some $282 million in HUD contracts despite questions concerning its qualifications. The contract specialist who raised the questions was reassigned and she subsequently retired. Another firm National Housing Group of Miami whose employees contributed to Republican candidates did $50 million in business with HUD since 2003, $41 million of which involved no-bid contracts. When another contract analyst investigated an $8 million charge by the company and found the company in fact owed the government $250,000, he too was reassigned and afterwards retired. A third firm Drayton, Drayton,& Lamar received $35 million in contracts since 2003 despite performing poorly. Its president was a friend of a Jackson associate.
[Anti-candidate, Corruption, Cronyism, Inspector General]

207. Donald Rumsfeld Defense Secretary from 2001-2006, master of Shock and Awe and Abu Ghraib, famously said on December 8, 2004, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” This was in response to a question about raiding garbage dumps to cobble together armor for flimsily protected Humvees. The problem was that this was over two years from when the buildup to the Iraq invasion began and over a year and a half after Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech declared major hostilities over. At the same time, Pentagon spokesmen defended Rumsfeld saying that he was not involved on a day to day basis with Iraq due to his work on the Pentagon’s quadrennial review. In other words, he was too busy with the Army he wished to have as opposed to the one he had or the one he needed for Iraq. This was all supposed to result in “force transformation” of the military into small, light but lethal units for future wars, again the very opposite of the no frills but numerous boots on the ground that General Shinseki had correctly predicted were needed for Iraq. Rumsfeld’s treatment of Shinseki sent a clear message to the uniformed military that they could agree with Rumsfeld and his minions or else. This was a sure guarantee for compliant generals and bad military advice.

Rumsfeld also took on the Pentagon’s arcane and antiquated procurement process. Under his leadership, he made a bloated and inefficient system even more so. Examples can be found here. (An excellent resource for waste in government and in the Pentagon in particular.)

Rumsfeld ran the gamut from arrogantly dismissive to insincerely reflective. He told us that he not only knew that Saddam had WMD but he knew where they were. On March 30, 2003, he assured us, “They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” When massive, uncontrolled looting broke out in Baghdad, his response on April 11, 2003 was “Stuff happens” and “freedom is untidy.” Yet in his October 16, 2003 memo to General Myers, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and General Peter Pace, victory which he continued to believe in to the end had already become “a long, hard slog.” Such an admission might have been expected to lead to a certain belated humility or at least a change in policy, but in the event it resulted in neither.

Rumsfeld could be unintentionally revealing, “illustrative” he would call it, as when he opined, “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.” While comically convoluted, in the end he missed the point. It was not all the knowns that were the problem. It was what he thought he knew and didn’t that was. Long after the insurgency got started Rumsfeld was still talking about “deadenders”. By the time Rumsfeld got around to admitting the insurgency’s existence, Iraq was already well on its way to civil war. Rumsfeld couldn’t see past his preconceptions. He punished those who disagreed with them. The result was he was constantly behind the curve addressing issues that had moved on.

In his list of accomplishments which he left at the Pentagon before leaving, Rumsfeld cites the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the training and equipping of 131,000 Iraqi Ministry of Defense and 180,000 Iraqi Ministry of Interior forces as number one and two. Guantanamo is number four. Can anything be more telling? One country in civil war, another trending that way, a shell army, a cover for militias and death squads, and an international human rights controversy, these are what Rumsfeld without irony points to as his monuments.
[Incompetence, Iraq, Torture, War on Terror]

208. January 10, 2003, the Bush administration issues guidelines that would exempt up to twenty million acres of “isolated” wetlands and seasonal streams from protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA). This went to court and in Rapanos v. United States June 19, 2006, Kennedy’s opinion was controlling but his definition of what constituted wetlands was unclear. He defined them as those that “alone or in combination with similarly situated lands in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of the navigable waters covered by the CWA. However, land adjacent to non-navigable tributaries must be decided on a case by case basis. This was a recipe for regulatory mayhem. In September 2006, draft guidelines prepared by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers to address the issues raised by SCOTUS were pulled at the urging of big coal, developers, and cattle ranchers. They were reworked by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality and re-issued in June 2007 to track more closely with commercial concerns.

209. As with wetlands, a goal of the Bush Administration has been to open up all federally held lands and resources to commercial exploitation, no matter how short term, no matter now destructive. A case in point is the Roadless Rule.

January 12, 2001, in the last days of Bill Clinton’s Presidency, the Roadless Rule is published in the Federal Register. It prohibits roadbuilding in 58.5 million acres of roadless wilderness. This accounts for about 1/3 of the nation’s forests.

February 5, 2001, Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman suspends the Roadless Rule.

December 12, 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the Roadless Rule overturning an Idaho challenge to it.

December 23, 2002, the Bush Administration announces plans to give governors the right to seek exemptions to the Roadless Rule.

June 9, 2003, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Mark Rey repeats the Administration’s intention to change the Roadless Rule to grant governors waivers to it.

December 23, 2002, the 17 million acres (about 4% of which is old growth) of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the planet’s largest temperate rainforest, is exempted from the Roadless Rule.

July 12, 2004, Ann Veneman proposes a new rule which would give governors an 18 month window in which to petition the US Forest Service to open up “roadless” areas to roadbuilding to facilitate logging and drilling for gas and oil.

May 13, 2005, Bush issues the new rule allowing state petitions.

August 5, 2005, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocks the Tongass National Forest management plan and bars roadbuilding pending revision of it.

August 28, 2005, several states and environmental groups sue and the case is assigned to federal District Judge for Northern California Elizabeth Laporte

September 20, 2006, Judge Laporte reinstates the Roadless Rule nationwide with the exception of the Tongass National Forest.

February 6, 2007, Judge Laporte enjoins roadbuilding in conjunction with drilling permits and leases issued since May 2005.

April 9, 2007, the Forest Service with the timber industry appeal Judge Laporte’s decision to the 9th Circuit.

January 25, 2008, Bush opens up roadless Tongass to logging. The government is not expected to make any money on the deal since the cost of building roads will offset the profits from timber sales.

After 6 years, the Administration has neither given up on nor cut back on its plans. It goes to show how singleminded and persistent the Bush Administration is. The Roadless Rule is popular and supported by most Americans. We would like to see some of our national patrimony preserved both for ourselves and future generations. This has not caused the Administration to hesitate for a second in its attempts to overturn it. Only the efforts of states and environmental groups in the courts have kept them so far from succeeding.

210. The invocation of national security can be used to cover so many faults. On March 6, 2006, there was a leak of 35 liters of highly enriched uranium at the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin, Tennessee. If this material had pooled anywhere to a depth of a few inches, a nuclear reaction would have ensued with subsequent release of radiation and potential for (non-nuclear) explosion and fire. As it was, the plant was closed for 7 months. Neither the public nor the Congress was informed until an annual report 13 months later in April 2007. As a result of the accident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) modified the facility’s license in a confirmatory order dated February 21, 2007. By law, such a change requires a period of public comment but the notice for public comment was itself stamped Official Use Only and not made public. This was pursuant to a memo of August 24, 2004 in which all correspondence whether sensitive or not (including the memo stating this policy) was to be kept out of public view. After talks with staff from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the NRC agreed to re-release its order for public comment.

211. How it gets done. Back in the 1990s, the state of Utah challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s grant of interim protection from mining, drilling, and logging on 2.6 million acres of the San Rafael Swell pending a Congressional decision on whether it would receive wilderness status. In 1998, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Utah on all but one count of its complaint and the suit became moribund. That should have been the end of it. But in 2003, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton came to an agreement. In March 2003, Utah amended its complaint re-opening the suit and on April 11, 2003, the Bush Administration settled it on Utah’s terms. It did this by capping wilderness areas at the 22 million acres already so designated, effectively excluding the San Rafael Swell and opening it up to commercial exploitation. On August 11, 2003, Bush nominated Leavitt for the post of Administrator at the EPA. Leavitt had no experience in the field but he had helped out in the Utah deal and favored in general the Bush policy on the environment of voluntary controls and weakened oversight. He was confirmed October 28, 2003 and served 2 years before replacing Tommy Thompson at Health and Human Services.
[Cronyism, Environment]

212. That compassionate conservative thing. December 19, 2002 the White House's Office of Management and Budget instructs EPA to value the lives of senior citizens at 63 percent that of younger Americans when calculating the costs and benefits of air pollution regulations. A figure of $3.7 million was used for those under 70, and $2.3 million for those over 70.

On May 8, 2003, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman under fire declared, “It has been discontinued. E.P.A. will not, I repeat, not, use an age-adjusted analysis in decision making.” However, this is not the whole story. The EPA had in the past used a standard figure of $6.1 million per human life. So in effect the cost of human life versus pollution was devalued across the board before the age inequality was factored in. The result decreases, of course, the benefits side of the equation and weakens the case for regulation. Also it was not clear how absolute Whitman’s statement actually was. John Graham administrator for information and regulatory affairs at OMB who championed the method said too it was not for policy making but to provide extra guidance, as if there was a difference between the two.

213. A June 27, 2007 report by the Department of Defense Inspector General detailed two companies Force Protection and Armor Holdings awarded single source contracts worth $2 billion dollars to deliver armor kits for Humvees and other vehicles used in Iraq. The armor was not adequately tested, delivered late, and often contained unusable or missing parts. The contract was let despite the fact that other suppliers were available and could have competed for the work.
[Contractors, Supporting the Troops]

214. A whiff of hypocrisy. July 9, 2007, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) releases a statement admitting to using the DC Madam’s (Deborah Palfrey) Escort Service. Vitter is a “family values” social conservative against abortion and gay marriage and for abstinence only programs. Vitter’s admission came after the release of telephone records and an investigation funded by Hustler’s Larry Flynt which showed that Vitter had used the escort service at least 5 times between 1999 and 2001. He refuses to resign. (see also 238).
[Corruption, Sex]

215. On July 12, 2007, the GAO released a follow up to a 2003 report. It found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing procedures for radioactive materials remained ineffective. GAO investigators incorporated a bogus company, got a post office box in West Virginia (one of 16 states which does not handle such applications), submitted an application for a radioactive materials license directly to the NRC, received it within 28 days, modified it, and were able to successfully approach two companies which sold road testing equipment containing americium-241 and cesium-137. The exercise was to see how easy it would be to get materials for a “dirty bomb.” The NRC downplayed the threat but changed its procedures. It now requires face to face visits with applicants from unfamiliar companies (a recommendation from the 2003 report). The GAO also recommended in 2006 that the NRC take steps to prevent counterfeiting and modification of licenses. It is unclear what is being done on this front.
[War on Terror, WMD]

216. Hedge funds buy companies, make some changes, and then sell them or their parts off at a vast profit. Their managers receive enormous compensations (hundreds of millions) for this which are not taxed as income but at the much lower rates of capital gains (max 15%). That is not the end of it. One hedge fund Blackstone recently went public to the tune of $4.75 billion for its managers. On this, they paid $553 million in taxes, most of it at the 15% rate. It does not end here. Managers maintain that their going public represented a sale of $3.7 billion worth of the company’s brand identity (called its “good will”) and are currently claiming deductions based on the depreciation of the Blackstone brand (for going public), not at the 15% capital gains rate but at the much higher 35% income tax rate. Over 15 years, this deduction will result in a return of $750 million to them or $197 million more than what they originally paid in taxes. We will end up paying them for taking their company public and for the huge profit they made doing so. The rich are not like us, and neither are the laws that cover them. [Economy]

217. More how it gets done. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) is the 9th largest defense contractor and is an integral part of the military-industrial complex. Its board and upper ranks are filled with heavy hitters from the military and intelligence communities who use the revolving door to cycle back and forth between the company and government. It is a convenient arrangement. Not only does the company have easy access to contracts with either little or no bidding but it has inbuilt protection against its failures and misdeeds. The result is no matter how badly a job is bungled penalties vary from minimal to non-existent. The costs to the nation’s security as a result of such boondoggles are large but unquantifiable. A few examples:

The NSA needed a computer system to process and manage the huge number of communications it monitors. SAIC got a $280 million contract and 26 months to develop the system called Trailblazer. 4 years and a billion dollars later with no program in sight, the NSA finally pulled the plug it. But since it still needed the system, the NSA relet the contract which was again won by SAIC this time for $361 million.

SAIC was also behind the FBI’s disastrous program to computerize its case and filing system into a single integrated database. The contract was worth $124 million. After 3 years the Virtual Case File as it was called didn’t work and was abandoned. It’s final cost was $170 million. (Note: This system was replaced by Sentinel built by Lockheed Martin. It was even more expensive but also has had significant problems. It was to cost $425 million and be finished December 2009. As of December 2008, it was scheduled to cost $451 million and be completed in June 2010.)

From 1993 to 2002, David Kay was at SAIC where he became director of its Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis. He was a major promoter of the idea that Iraq had large WMD programs and championed the case for the Second Gulf War. In 2003-2004, he ran the hunt for WMD in Iraq. When none were found, he said on January 28, 2004 that “it turns out that we were all wrong.” But it really wasn’t “we”, but those like Kay who had pressed the case so hard by ignoring what evidence there was and relying instead on highly dubious sources produced by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi. When Bush appointed a commission to investigate what had happened, three of those on the commission had ties to SAIC. Naturally no fingers were pointed SAIC’s or Kay’s way and no conflict of interest concerns were raised.

The SAIC story emblematic of so many companies represents the problems and dangers of outsourcing essential services to private contractors. The results are sweetheart deals, cost overruns, delays, systems that don’t work, and very, very little accountability. Companies that do this kind of work and those that run them wrap themselves in a patriotic flag even as they loot the nation’s treasury and weaken its security with shoddy products that don’t work.
[Contractors, Intelligence, Revolving Door]

218. The MRAP case. As early as December 2003, a need was seen for heavier vehicles than the Humvee in Iraq (MRAPs) that could withstand and deflect IED blasts. Rumsfeld’s emphasis on force transformation and lighter, faster vehicles; his punitive and dictatorial management style; the Pentagon’s institutional slowness; the usual pitfalls with contracting, generals unwilling to risk their careers by disagreeing with Rumsfeld; the Pentagon’s year in year out insistence that troop levels would soon be reduced, all these things delayed MRAPs being made a priority for 3 1/2 years (until May 2007 when Secretary Gates made it one). It is estimated that since December 2003 when the need was first noted about 30% of US combat deaths in Iraq have come from the lack of such vehicles.

A January 22, 2008 study by Franz Gayl, a civilian Marine Corps adviser who sought whistleblower protection in 2007, reinforced the points made above and noted that hundreds of combat deaths could have been avoided in Iraq if MRAPs had been made a higher priority and shipped to Iraq earlier. He cited cost, bureaucratic bungling, and a mindset that assigned greater importance to Rumsfeld’s goal of force transformation to lighter, faster vehicles than to what would save lives in Iraq. Gayl’s report became public on February 15. On February 20, the Marine Corps asked the DOD’s tame Inspector General to look into the matter, and on February 26, the Corps told Gayl to stop working on his report. There is nothing like rewarding a job well done, now is there?
[Supporting the Troops, Whistleblower]

219. Another emasculation of oversight. The Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) is a civilian intelligence oversight panel created in 1976 with the purpose of notifying the President and the Attorney General of intelligence activities which it deems to be illegal. During the first two years of the Bush Administration, the board was vacant. During the first 5 1/2 years (2001-2006), the board made no notifications --this was while the FBI was playing fast and loose with NSLs, the CIA was engaged in torture and black prisons, and the NSA was conducting massive warrantless wiretapping.

In a February 29, 2008 Executive Order the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) of which the IOB is a special committee was renamed the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB). The independent function of the IOB was gutted. It is still tasked with reporting illegal activities to the President but its ability to find such activities has been effectively removed. It can no longer mount its own investigations but is dependent on information supplied to it by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Gone too is its power to inform the Attorney General directly of wrongdoing. This also must pass through the DNI. It no longer has the task of monitoring the effectiveness of Inspector Generals in spotting illegal activities (This may be a consequence from when the CIA IG looked into CIA torture and got the wrath of CIA Director Michael Hayden visited upon him. See item 261.) and of the agencies’ internal procedures for doing so. The overall result seems to be to take away what few functions a defanged IOB had and vest them with the DNI. The current DNI is, of course, the truth averse Bush henchman Mike McConnell if that makes you feel any better.

220. These are the people protecting you. The Department of Homeland Security outsources many security duties to private contractors like the Wackenhut Corporation. This included the DHS headquarters in Washington at least until numerous security breaches were reported there. The worst and wackiest of these involved an anthrax scare where Wackenhut officials took what was called a suspicious white powder into Secretary Chertoff’s office and disposed of it by dumping it out the window. [Contractors, DHS, Incompetence]

221. In the ongoing saga of Rove inspired Hatch Act violations, before the November 2006 elections drug czar John Walters and his deputies traveled at government expense to some 20 political events for at risk Republican candidates where federal grants and actions benefiting their districts were announced. The violation is that government funds are not to be spent for political purposes, and, as a natural extension of this, (un-elected) government officials acting in their official capacities are not to engage in partisan activities.

222. President Bush has promised to veto an extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This program afforded some medical coverage to 6.9 million children in 2006. Its purpose is to cover children from families making more than the cutoff for Medicaid eligibility but not enough to afford private insurance. The proposal which has provoked the veto threat would increase the limit from 200% to 300% of the Medicaid cutoff and cover an additional 3.3 million children. It would be paid for by increasing the cigarette tax to $1 per pack. Over 5 years, program costs would increase from $35 billion to $60 billion (in other words ~$12 billion/year or about what is being spent for a single month of the Iraq war in 2007). Bush contends that this would cause the poor to shift from (expensive) private plans to the more affordable SCHIP program, showing that Bush is more interested in the health of insurance companies than in that of the nation’s children.

On October 3, 2007, Bush vetoed the SCHIP bill. On October 18, 2007, the House failed to override Bush’s veto (2/3 needed). The vote was 273-156 with 154 Republicans siding with the President.

On October 25, 2007, an SCHIP modified to remove some adults from its coverage passed the House 265-142 and the Senate 64-30 on November 11. 2007. Bush vetoed this bill (his 7th) as well on December 12, 2007. On January 23, 2008, the House failed to override this second veto 260-152.

On August 17, 2007, the Bush Administration quietly announced rules changes in SCHIP that would limit eligibility of children from middle class families and place punitive deductibles on them in order to force them into more expensive private plans. In a move made public on December 20, 2007, the Bush Administration extended the new restrictions on SCHIP to the Medicaid program. On April 18, 2008, attorneys from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) announced in a formal legal opinion that the Administration had in effect issued new rules and that these must by law be submitted to Congress for review, something which the Administration had not done. The changes were therefore unenforceable. This decision gives ammunition to 22 states suing the government over the changes and makes unlikely these rules coming into effect before Bush leaves office. This is important because a rule that has not gone into effect is much easier to change than one that has.

This is compassionate conservatism? To favor greedy but inefficient and uncompetitive insurance companies over a widely popular government program which covers the health needs of more children and at less cost. Good to know.

223. How it is done up North. In December 2006, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) bought a $300,000 property along the Kenai River from a major campaign contributor Bob Penney for $179,400. After the story refused to go away, Murkowski announced in July 2007 that she would sell back the property at the original price.

Meanwhile in 2000 Senator Ted “Slow Toobz” Stevens had renovations to his house doubling its size paid for by Veco Corporation, a privately held Alaskan oil services company. On July 30, 2007, the FBI and IRS raided the Stevens home. Stevens also steered $558,000 to a former aide Trevor McCabe for the purchase of property near one of his pet projects, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. This sale is under investigation by the FBI and the Interior Department. McCabe is also a business partner of Stevens’ son Ben a former state senator who is himself under investigation for how federal grants to the seafood industry were distributed .

On July 29, 2008, Stevens was indicted on 7 counts of making false statements from 1999 to 2006 in regard to $250,000 worth of goods and services from Veco and its CEO Bill Allen in exchange for legislative favors:

(a) funding requests and other assistance with certain international VECO projects and partnerships, including those in Pakistan and Russia; (b) requests for multiple federal grants and contracts to benefit VECO, its subsidiaries, and its business partners, including grants from the National Science Foundation to a VECO subsidiary; and (c) assistance on both federal and state issues in connection with the effort to construct a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope Region.

On October 27, 2008, Stevens was found guilty on all 7 counts.

Finally, Representative Don Young agreed to return only part of $5,500 in illegal campaign contributions, the part on which the statute of limitations had not run out. Also Young is being investigated for a yearly pork roast hosted for 10 years by Veco CEO Bill Allen which was used to funnel money to Young in exchange for contracts. Allen recently pled guilty to federal bribery and conspiracy charges. In one of Young’s more interesting schemes, he added an earmark for a $10 million interchange in Florida in exchange for a fundraiser that netted his campaign $40,000. This in itself was not unusual. As chairman of the House transportation committee, he was used to getting campaign contributions in states that would benefit from the road funds he controlled. What set this earmark apart from thousands of others is that Young substantially changed the wording of the earmark after the bill had already been passed the Congress. That’s chutzpah.

224. In an effort led by Republicans, 44 former state Attorney Generals signed a petition of July 13, 2007 addressed to the Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees asking for a full review of the investigation, prosecution, sentencing, and detention of former Democratic Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Siegelman was convicted of re-appointing healthcare executive Richard Scrushy to a hospital board in exchange for a $500,000 donation to a lottery campaign. The government sought 30 years but, on conviction, he was sentenced to 7 years 4 months. Despite not being a flight risk and having substantial grounds for appeal, he was immediately remanded into custody by Judge Mark Fuller a former member of the Alabama’s GOP Executive Committee (who did not recuse himself despite the fact that he publicly claimed Siegleman had a grudge against him).

There is more than a hint that the prosecution was politically motivated. Although two career prosecutors decided that the Siegelman case did not warrant being pursued, it was due to pressure from higher level political appointees. The government coached its star witness Nick Bailey (a con currently doing time), allowed him to testify to matters it knew to be false, and improperly kept from the defense Bailey’s notes which proved this.

In addition, a lawyer Dana Jill Simpson working on Republican Bob Riley’s gubernatorial campaign submitted an affidavit describing a 2002 conference call in which a top GOP strategist Bill Canary who ran the Riley campaign said Karl Rove had promised him that the Department of Justice would go after Siegelman. In the event, an investigation was begun by US Attorney Leura Canary, Bill Canary’s wife. She recused herself only after objections were raised by Siegelman’s attorneys. The case was taken over by Acting US Attorney Louis V. Franklin who claimed he decided “independently” to pursue an investigation which had already been going on for months.

The conservative 11th Circuit Court of Appeals demanded in September and again in November 2007 that Judge Fuller give a more detailed explanation why Siegelman was not freed on bond pending appeal. To date Fuller has essentially blown them off insisting, despite the Circuit Court’s pretty evident telegraphing to the contrary, that an appeal would be unlikely to succeed. On March 27, 2008, the 11th Circuit did indeed order Siegelman freed pending appeal. On the same day, the House Judiciary Committee announced its intention to call Siegelman to testify on his case.

A May 11, 2008 Washington Post story reported that the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel opened an investigation into a possible political motivation for the Siegelman prosecution but that it was closed down on October 11, 2007 by the OSC’s controversial head Scott Bloch.

On May 22, 2008, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Rove for a July 10, 2008 appearance to discuss his involvement in the Siegelman case. At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee released a May 5, 2008 letter from the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) which stated that it too was looking into political motivations for the Siegelman and other prosecutions.

A November 14, 2008 Time story reports that documents furnished by a whistleblower who worked in the Montgomery, Alabama office, Tamarah Grimes, show that the original prosecutor Leura Canary who recused herself because of her husband’s political connections continued to monitor the case on a day to day basis and gave the Siegelman prosecutors advice in emails which they, in fact, followed. In addition, Grimes alleged that some of the jurors sent messages (including some from a juror who apparently had a crush on one of the prosecutors) to the prosecution team through US Marshals. A subsequent report by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility dismissed this claim even though its investigators never contacted any of the jurors or US Marshals reportedly involved.

I never thought that any case could top Moussaoui’s (item 274) in its epic bungling by both the judge and prosecution but I have to say the Siegelman case has them beat. I can not conceive of a more gratuitously political prosecution conducted by a bigger bunch of political hacks and criminal incompetents presided over by a judge who could hardly have been less effective if he had been in a coma. This is a travesty of justice that even a Banana Republics would not lay claim to.
[Criminality, Incompetence, Politicization of the DOJ, Whistleblower]

225. Another heckuva job. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, FEMA purchased 120,000-145,000 house trailers in no bid contracts to house evacuees. Many were not used, in those that were, occupants soon began to complain of noxious odors and respiratory problems. The culprit was formaldehyde used as a wood preservative. It is also a carcinogen. Despite the complaints, FEMA refused to test the trailers. In a June 16, 2006 email, FEMA lawyers stated that such testing “would imply FEMA's ownership of the issue.” In the summer of 2006, the Sierra Club tested 32 trailers and found formaldehyde levels high enough in 83% of them that they would have required federal workers to wear respirators if exposed all day to them. Nevertheless, the formaldehyde story did not break in a big way until a year later. On August 2, 2007, FEMA announced it would stop selling or donating the trailers. Although some 65,000 trailers were still in use, as of October 2007, FEMA had not tested any of them.

Before its announcement between July 2006 and July 2007, FEMA through the GSA sold off 10,800 trailers to whoever wanted them for 40 cents on the dollar. FEMA also sold another 864 directly to evacuees. On January 17, 2008, the government announced, due to concerns about formaldehyde, it would buy back these trailers at their original cost. As of this date, 40,000 trailers were still being used by evacuees.

On July 9, 2008, Jim Shea, chairman of Gulf Stram Coach, which sold 50,000 trailers to FEMA testified before Congress that his firm knew of high levels of formaldehyde in its trailers but deemed it “irrelevant information” because FEMA was already aware of the problem and had decided against further testing. You could call this the FEMA-industry version of a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
[Incompetence, Katrina]

226. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a memorandum of July 10, 2007 declaring that Harriet Miers had been absolutely immunized by the White House from responding to a subpoena to appear and testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The basis of the opinion goes to the sloppy and disdainful way in which the Bush Administration responds to legal challenges. The Attorney General delegates authority to the Assistant Attorney General of the OLC to issue these kinds of opinions to agencies within the Executive branch. The Assistant Attorney General (AAG) of the OLC may in turn delegate this authority but must supervise the delegated work. As it is, Gonzales has recused himself from matters pertaining to the US Attorney firings. So the opinion should have been given by the AAG of the OLC, but here’s the catch.

The opinion was signed by Steven Bradbury. Bradbury was made acting AAG and nominated twice to be made permanent AAG. However, the Senate returned his nomination to the President more than 210 days before the issuance of the memo. (They did so by the way because of Bradbury’s role in justifying the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. The quashed OPR probe mentioned in item 92 also involved possible wrongdoing by Bradbury and the OLC.)

Pursuant to Title 5 of the US Code 3346(b)(2)(B): “if a second nomination for the office is submitted to the Senate after the rejection, withdrawal, or return of the first nomination, the person serving as the acting officer may continue to serve . . . for no more than 210 days after the second nomination is rejected, withdrawn, or returned.” So Bradbury was no longer acting AAG of the OLC and had no authority to issue the opinion. What this means is that the White House has asserted a vast and absolute Executive privilege based on a legal rationale that has as much legal force as if you, me, or your neighbor’s dog had written it. Bradbury was nominated on June 23, 2005 and again on January 25, 2006. He was nominated a third time on January 9, 2007 and again on January 23, 2008. It is the nomination that will not die.
[Incompetence, Law]

227. The House and Senate can vote a statutory contempt citation if the conditions of a subpoena are not met. By law, the contempt citation is then referred to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action." With regard to citations in response to claims of Executive privilege in the US Attorney firings scandal, unnamed Administration officials have asserted that the Congress has no power to force the Department of Justice through the US Attorney for DC to convene a grand jury and pursue charges of contempt. They are basing this position on an untested May 30, 1984 opinion by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) Theodore Olson. Olson argued that since the Executive executes the laws in specific cases, it is an infringement of the separation of powers that Congress should substitute its judgment for the Executive’s and direct it to apply a law against any specific individual. He then seeks to marry this concept to the situation of an individual receiving a contempt citation from the Congress in an Executive privilege case. According to Olson, prosecutorial discretion allows the Executive to decline to pursue such a case.

What Olson is really arguing, however, is not separation of powers but that the Executive is an independent power and preeminent.

“The Executive’s exclusive authority to prosecute violations of the law gives rise to the corollary that neither the Judicial nor the Legislative Branches may directly interfere with the prosecutorial discretion of the Executive by directing the Executive Branch to prosecute particular individuals.” p.115

As such, the Executive is unaccountable to anyone in how the laws are executed, except in the broadest terms I suppose of election, funding, and impeachment. Olson’s argument also assumes the duties of US Attorneys are identical with the interests of the Executive, which in practice are those of the sitting President. If this view were to be accepted, US Attorneys would cease to be agents of the law and become agents of a particular President and his/her agenda. In other words, they would become political not legal officers. It was precisely the Administration’s attempts to erase this difference which produced the Attorney firings scandal in the first place.
[Politicization of the DOJ, Law]

228. Political appointees serve at most until a change in Administrations. Civil service employees are forever. Matthew McKeown, a protege of current Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, was appointed to the Solicitor’s Office at Interior in 2001. McKeown was also an associate of the now convicted Stephen Griles and his wife Sue Ellen Wooldridge. In 2005, he followed Wooldridge to the DOJ and its environmental division where he remained until July 2007. McKeown has backed Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative (see item 72) and in 2004, he called the Endangered Species Act hospice care at a convention of the Property Rights Foundation. On July 23, 2007, he was hired into the career civil service position of deputy associate solicitor at Interior meaning he and his ideas will be there long after Bush is gone.

229. On October 24, 2006, the night before John Brownlee the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia completed a plea bargain with Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, he received a phone call from Michael Elston Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty who urged him to go slow. Elston was acting on behalf of a Purdue Pharma executive and was contacted by Mary Jo White a former US Attorney representing Purdue Pharma. It is unlikely that Elston acted without McNulty’s knowledge.

The Oxycontin case had been brought because Purdue Pharma had downplayed the dangers and addictive nature of the painkiller. Between 2000 and 2001, it was blamed for 146 deaths and may have been responsible for as many as 318 others. Despite Elston’s call, Brownlee went through with the plea deal which included the company pleading guilty to one felony and being fined $635 million. Three former executives also pled guilty to misdemeanors. This was actually a fairly light punishment seeing as the company had made billions off Oxycontin and none of the executives pled to felonies. 8 days after the settlement, Brownlee’s name appeared on a list kept by Elston of US Attorneys to be fired. In the event, Brownlee kept his job.
[Political Interference]

230. According to a GAO report of July 31, 2007 up to December 2005 there was no centralized system of records to track equipment transfers to Iraqi security forces. While the commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command- Iraq (MNSTC-I ) in 2004-2005 a certain David Petraeus reported that “about 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 items of body armor, and 140,000 helmets were issued to Iraqi security forces as of September 2005,” “the MNSTC-I property books contain records for only about 75,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 80,000 items of body armor, and 25,000 helmets.” This results in a discrepancy of “about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005.” Petraeus called it a clerical error but it is likely that much of this equipment ended up in the hands of militias, making Petraeus, not Iran, the biggest illicit arms supplier in Iraq. The government also doesn’t think it was just a clerical error and has launched numerous criminal investigations into this and related projects to equip Iraqi forces.

In July 2007, American Logistics Services, later Lee Dynamics International, was suspended from doing further business amid accusations that it had paid bribes to Army contracting officers. Additionally, in 2004-2005, an Iraqi businessman Kassim al Saffar ran a arms market out of one of its warehouses through which many of the untracked weapons passed and disappeared, all this with the knowledge and apparent approval of American government and company officials.
[Contractors, Incompetence, Iraq]

231. Another upside-down nomination. David Palmer a DOJ careerist was nominated by Bush on September 15, 2006 to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Palmer is chief of the Employment Litigation section in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. 8 of his colleagues wrote a letter to the Senate committee overseeing his nomination in which they noted that Palmer was not much of a lawyer, did not understand the principles of Title VII and constitutional law which served as the basis of the section’s activities, and was himself the subject of a complaint of employee abuse. When he became section head, he treated people badly and morale and productivity plummeted. After 11 months, Palmer withdrew his nomination over the weekend of August 4-5, 2007.

232. And another. Peter Kirsanow an arch-conservative opponent of affirmative action was named on December 6, 2001 by direct appointment to a 6 year term on the Civil Rights Commission by President Bush. The appointment was contested but ultimately confirmed by the DC Court of Appeals in May 2002. On July 19, 2002, Kirsanow said that if there were another terrorist attack, “you can forget civil rights in this country” and that if it came from a certain ethnic community “I think we will have a return to Korematsu.” (Korematsu was the Supreme Court decision validating the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II). As a Civil Rights Commissioner, he had a report critical of Bush’s civil rights record removed from the commission’s site and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Supreme Court nominations of both John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

On November 16, 2005 and again on February 10, 2006, he was nominated to the National Labor Relations Board. He was given a recess appointment on January 4, 2006 by Bush. Kirsanow’s labor background is that of an anti-union attorney opposed to the minimum wage.
[Anti-candidate, Labor]

233. In the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 which Bush signed into law on March 9, 2006, death penalty advocates included language which stripped federal judges from determining if states in death penalty cases had provided defendants with adequate legal counsel. The act gave this power instead to the Attorney General. In Texas, Alberto Gonzales then Governor Bush’s general counsel from 1994-1997 was known for his skimpy, biased clemency recommendations in capital cases. DOJ regulations on this issue are due to take effect in late summer 2007.

234. The “Petraeus” report. After vetoing the Democratic version on May 1, 2007, Bush signed the Iraq supplemental into law on May 25, 2007. One of its provisions was for a report to be delivered by September 15 on conditions in Iraq. Bush repeatedly sought to delay and deflect criticism of the lack of progress in Iraq by saying he wanted to wait until General Petraeus (and Ambassador Crocker) delivered their report. The spin on this was that Petraeus as a military man would give an objective and impartial report. This was never in the cards. Petraeus was chosen to lead the surge because he was its biggest supporter and as its leader had an obvious conflict of interest in assessing it.

Nevertheless, the White House sought to limit public access of Petraeus and Crocker. Beginning in early July the White House began floating the idea to members of Congress that Petraeus and Crocker should testify to Congress in closed session out of the public eye. When this came out on August 16, the White House denied that this had ever been their intention. In what the White House calls coincidence, Petraeus is currently scheduled to testify on the anniversary of 9/11.

It gets worse. The Petraeus report will, in fact, be written not by Petraeus but by the White House. So the Petraeus report will not really be the Petraeus report. Nor will Congress have a chance to question Petraeus on what will be the non-Petraeus report (that they and we have been asked to wait for for months) since the general will testify 4 days before its release. This whole situation is made all the more incomprehensible because the actual content of the report from whomever it emanates in this Administration has been known from the beginning: The situation is complicated, some progress is being made, we should keep the surge going as long as we can, bad things will happen if we leave.
[Iraq, Politics]

235. Despite his nomination being returned twice by the Senate to the White House and opposed by the United Mine Workers union, Richard Stickler was recess appointed Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor and head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.on October 16, 2006. His background was in engineering, not health. He worked for the mining industry for 30 years and managed some of the most dangerous and frequently cited mines in the country. He is an opponent of greater mine safety regulation.
[Anti-candidate, Labor]

236. Daniel Pipes was recess appointed to the board of directors of the US Institute of Peace from April 2003 to January 2005. The USIP is a prestigious Establishment foreign policy organization promoting peaceful solutions to world conflicts and is perhaps best known for its hosting of the Iraq Study Group. Pipes on the other hand is best known for being an opponent of academic freedom and being virulently anti-Moslem. He has also defended the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

237. Pettifogging frogmarchery and other lunacy. Nicole Nason who became head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in May 2006 has instituted a policy forbidding staffers from making on the record statements. When New York Times reporter Christopher Jensen sought information for a story from an NHTSA expert, he was directed instead to Nason who is a not an expert in the field but a lawyer. When he expressed an interest in discussing her no attribution policy, she became suddenly unavailable. So now you can only get information from the NHTSA if it has been politically vetted, except, of course, on the no attribution policy itself which apparently even Nason is too embarrassed to defend.
[Anti-candidate, Media]

238. Sex, power, and hypocrisy. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), an anti-homosexual, anti- gay rights politician, was arrested on June 11, 2007 at the Minneapolis airport for lewd behavior in a men’s restroom (i.e. soliciting a sex act from a male undercover officer). Choosing to represent himself, he later pled guilty on August 8 to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, a charge of gross interference of privacy was dismissed, and a 10-day jail sentence was suspended. Additionally, Craig was fined $500 and placed on unsupervised probation for one year. Because the arrest did not occur in Idaho or the capital, it fell off the map until August 27, 2007 when it was picked up by Roll Call. The following day Craig announced he had done nothing wrong, that he wasn’t gay, and that he should have contested the charges. He refused to resign. In other words, Craig was telling the public not to believe their lying eyes.

An added aspect of this is that unlike Senator Vitter’s (R-LA) heterosexual and illegal escapades, Senate Republicans are backing an investigation into Senator Craig’s homosexual and illegal ones. Because of this pressure from fellow Republicans, on September 1, 2007, Craig announced his resignation effective September 30. He then backed off this date as he tried to withdraw his guilty plea, a move rejected by the court judge on October 4, 2007. He then announced he would serve out the rest of his term. This may have less to do with serving the people of Idaho and more with an attempt to avoid a subpoena in the Brent Wilkes (think Cunningham) trial.
[Corruption, Sex]

239. Bunnatine Greenhouse was a chief contracting officer for the Army Corps of Engineers who criticized contracts given to Halliburton subsidiary KBR in the runup to the Iraq war, in particular an “emergency” (to avoid regular bidding procedures) $7 billion Restore Iraq Oil no bid contract to last up to 5 years. The obvious problem here is that an emergency contract should be used to address immediate needs. While the KBR contract could have been let on an emergency basis to cover those initial needs, there was no reason to continue it for any length of time and certainly not for 5 years on a no bid basis. In other words, it should have been allowed to run for no more than a year without opening it up for bidding, especially since other companies existed which could do the work. A Pentagon audit independent of Greenhouse but validating her concerns found that KBR had overcharged the government by $61 million for fuel deliveries under the contract. Greenhouse’s superiors, however, granted KBR a waiver and quashed the audit. In October 2004, Greenhouse was informed she would be demoted. [Contractors]

240. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ran a massive data mining program called ADVISE (Analy­sis, Dissemina­tion, Visu­ali­zation, Insight and Semantic Enhance­ment) from 2004 to mid 2006. It was one of 12 and run out of the Directorate for Science and Technology. ADVISE sifted through personal information on ordinary Americans derived from 50 DHS and 100 other databases. Aside from being expensive and ineffective, it moved from the trial stage to operation without a required privacy review or business case why it should be used. Because of the lack of a privacy review, three pilot programs run off of ADVISE were quietly suspended in March 2007. There is talk of canceling ADVISE but as I have said before these programs seldom die and their information is almost never destroyed.
[DHS, Intelligence]

241. Invocation of state secrets by the government to prevent suits (usually involving 4th Amendment violations) from going forward. The Bush Administration has used this argument 39 times in the last 6 years as compared to its use 59 times in the previous 24 years. In many cases it has been used not to protect national security but as a shield to hide illegality.

242. When greed and special interests gang up against very small children . . . In early 2004, the International Formula Council (IFC), the lobbying organization for the infant formula industry, successfully changed an ad campaign (begun in 2003 and lasting to 2005) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which promoted breastfeeding. The IFC figures leading the effort against the ads were Clayton Yeutter who had been Secretary of Agriculture 1998-1991 and chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) 1991-1992 and Joseph Levitt who had just used the revolving door to leave the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition which regulates infant formula to become an industry lobbyist.

The goal of the campaign was to raise the visibility of breastfeeding in reducing childhood obesity and asthma. The IFC, however, found the ad campaign too effective negative. As Yeutter wrote to then HHS head Tommy Thompson, “Negative political ads are effective too, but neither you nor I like them!” Images of insulin syringes and inhalers were replaced with pictures of dandelions and ice cream. Unsurprisingly, the diluted ad campaign did not work. Soon after birth breastfeeding rates fell from 70% in 2002 to 63.6% in 2006 and at 6 months (the WHO recommended period) from 33.2% in 2002 to 30% in 2006.

Additionally, HHS press officer Rebecca Ayer effectively smothered an epidemiological meta-study put together by the HHS Agency on Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The study showed that breastfeeding was associated with a reduction in ear and intestinal infections, as well as rates of diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Ayer not only refused to issue a press release on it but forbade the AHRQ from doing so and told the study’s author Suzanne Haynes not to talk to the press about it.

The take home lesson here clearly is that it is the babies' fault. They should be better and more informed consumers.
[Health, Political Interference]

243. Another gutted agency. Bush appointed Harold Stratton in 2002 (left July 2006) to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission. As a former New Mexico attorney general and a conservative libertarian, Stratton had a history of opposition to consumer protection cases. As chairman, he resisted recalls of defective products and backed the Bush mantra of voluntary standards and self-regulation. He also hired John Mullan an attorney for the ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) industry as general counsel. Despite the fact that in 2004, 150 children died in ATV accidents and 44,000 were injured and despite his own personal conflict of interest, Mullan successfully torpedoed a ban on ATV sales for use by minors, saying that voluntary standards were working. The CPSC was initially whacked by Reagan who cut its size by half but Bush has continued the process of undermining its mandate. It is down to 420 employees and a budget of $62 million. Many of its experts have left. Compliance investigations are down 45% since 2002. It conducts investigations into only 10%-15% of incidents resulting in injury or death and now seldom checks products entering into the United States. This FEMA-tization of the CPSC has come at a cost as the numerous recent cases of defective products, especially toys, from China have shown.

In late October 2007, acting chairwoman of the CPSC and former official at the US Chamber of Commerce Nancy Nord announced her opposition to Congressional efforts to double the commission’s budget to $141 million over 7 years, increase staff by 20%, raise maximum fines from $1.8 million to $100 million, protect whistleblowers, assign laboratories to test and certify products, allow state prosecutors to enforce consumer safety law, make it easier to issue reports on defective products and go after the executives who knowingly violate the law, and ban lead in toys. In other words, anything that would make the CPSC more effective. (see also 157)

244. A crony’s chronicle. Steven Law was Senator Mitch McConnell’s 1990 campaign manager and later became his chief of staff. When McConnell was named chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1996, he chose Law as its executive director. In 2001, Elaine Chao (McConnell’s wife) and the new Secretary of Labor made him her chief of staff. In 2004, he became the Deputy Secretary of Labor. While in this position, he did his best to weaken unions and undermine overtime regulations. From the Labor Department he moved on to become chief legal officer and general counsel of the US Chamber of Commerce. Why am I not surprised?
[Anti-candidate, Cronyism, Labor]

245. A leaked draft of a GAO assessment of progress in Iraq reported on August 30, 2007 found that Iraq had met only 3 of 18 benchmarks. Despite a requirement for an up or down assessment, the draft fudged on its mandate and noted some progress had been made on 2 others. It was widely assumed that the report was leaked in anticipation of last minute attempts to doctor it. This is, in fact, what happened when the Pentagon called the report too harsh in its judgments. The final report (Congressional testimony September 4; released September 5) found 3 benchmarks were met and continued the fudge by declaring 4 others partially met. On this basis, the media reported failure in 11 of the 18 benchmarks. While this is hardly a sterling recommendation, GAO’s own self-censorship and the DOD’s lobbying, nevertheless, produced a result far better than the bottomline 3 of 18 benchmarks met. And what were the 3?

1. Ensuring the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.
2. Establishing joint security stations in Baghdad neighborhoods.
3. Setting up committees to support the Baghdad security plan.

While minority political parties may have rights, they do not have power, and any protections they may enjoy do not extend outside the parliament building. Joint security stations may have been set up, but how trustworthy and dependable the Iraqi personnel manning them are is open to serious question. Finally, setting up committees is easy. Actually producing results and increasing security in Baghdad, not so much. A more honest evaluation of real change in Iraq would have given a score of 0 of 18. But that is, of course, not how things are done in the Bush Administration nor how to sell a “surge”. [Iraq]

246. Peter Keisler is another top DOJ official who is leaving, kind of. He was Assistant Attorney General and head of the DOJ’s Civil Division. In this position, Keisler fought the habeas corpus petitions of a group of ethnic Uighurs held at Guantanamo. Most of them had already been determined to be “no longer enemy combatants” (NLEC) by Bush’s own CSRTs (Combat Status Review Tribunals) but continued to be held anyway. The Uighurs are a repressed minority in northwest China and their continued detention may be a result of a deal with the Chinese. Like most detainees currently held at Guantanamo, the government itself does not suspect them of having any ties to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Keisler was one of the DOJ officials who interfered in the Department’s case against Big Tobacco in June 2005.

Keisler a cofounder of the Federalist Society has been nominated repeatedly to fill John Roberts’ seat on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals so far without success. He was first nominated on June 29, 2006, but this nomination was returned on September 29, 2006. He was renominated November 15, 2006 but the session ended without any action taken. Bush nominated him yet again on January 9, 2007. The nomination remains in limbo and is likely to remain so.

Keisler’s resignation from the DOJ was to become effective September 21, 2007. But on September 17, 2007, Bush in announcing Michael Mukasey’s nomination as Attorney General named Keisler acting Attorney General.
[Guantanamo, Law, Political Interference]

247. In a massive security breach, on August 30, 2007, six nuclear tipped cruise missiles were loaded by mistake on to the wing pylons of a B-52 bomber in Minot, North Dakota, flown for 3 1/2 hours over 6 states to Barksdale, Louisiana., and left sitting for 10 hours on a runway. You could probably write a book on how many security protocols this violated. How our military controls its nuclear weapons is not supposed to look like an episode of the Keystone Kops. It is indicative of a systemic failure and is as serious as serious gets. Yet the Air Force appears reluctant to mount a thoroughgoing investigation of, and change in, its security procedures to guarantee the integrity of its nuclear arsenal.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 12, 2008, retired Air Force General Larry Welch chairman of a Defense Science Board task force investigating the incident stated that since the end of the Cold War nuclear weapons security has undergone a precipitous decline. Safeguarding the nation’s nuclear arsenal is seen as a deadend career. Where once flag officers (generals, admirals) oversaw these devastating weapons, responsibility for them has now devolved to mid-level officers and officials. In other words, Minot was an accident waiting to happen.

Along similar lines, it came out in March 2008 that in fall 2006 the Air Force had mistakenly sent four electronic triggers for Minuteman MK-12 warheads to Taiwan instead of the helicopter batteries the Taiwanese had requested. The error was not discovered for a year and a half and then only by the Taiwanese who alerted the Pentagon. On June 5, 2008, citing this incident and the Minot affair, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accepted the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley. On June 18, 2008, Admiral Kirkland Donald who investigated these matters on Secretary Gates’ behalf informed Congress that more than 1,000 components for nuclear weapons could not be accounted for.
[Incompetence, WMD]

248. More revolving door. Marion Blakey previously at NTSB headed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from September 13, 2002-September 13, 2007. She will become CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) an industry trade group on November 12, 2007. The FAA regulates and gives out contracts to member companies of the AIA. Blakey recused herself from matters related to the AIA and its companies only when she began negotiations with them in late June 2007 (2 1/2 months before her departure from the FAA). Her current salary is $168,000. The departing head of the AIA makes over a half million. As they say, do the math.
[Revolving Door]

249. On September 11, 2007, the DOJ announced it would not pursue charges against 3 former corporate officers of Chiquita Banana, its CEO Cyrus Freidheim, general counsel Robert Olson, and board member Roderick Hills for paying $1.7 million in bribes to a Columbian paramilitary group the AUC from 1997 to 2004. The AUC is a rightwing death squad responsible for thousands of murders and is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. The three said they had sought legal advice from then Assistant Attorney General and head of the Criminal Division Michael Chertoff but had received no reply and so had continued the payments. It is unclear what part of bribing a terrorist death squad for 7 years they had difficulty understanding was illegal. The company pled guilty in March 2007 and agreed to pay a $25 million dollar fine and create a corporate integrity program. So to recap, 3 American corporate executives helped fund a terrorist organization for years and the Bush Department of Justice just told them they have no problem with that. Do you think the result would have been the same if these guys had been running a Moslem charity sending money to Hamas?
[War on Terror]

250. Alexis Debat was an ABC counterterrorism consultant from 2001 to June 2007 and for a year and half to September 2007 the director of the terrorism and national security program at the Nixon Center. He was also a fraud. On September 7, 2007, a French correspondent Pascal Riché reported that Debat had published a fake interview in the journal Politique Internationale with Barack Obama in which the candidate purportedly declared that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” which had “wasted thousands of lives”. It soon came out that Debat had published similarly fictitious interviews in the same periodical with a whole host of public figures: Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Gates, Kofi Annan, Michael Bloomberg, and Alan Greenspan. His claim of a PhD from the Sorbonne was likewise fiction.

Debat used his trumped up résumé and the positions he gained from it to push a neocon agenda on terror and war with Iran. He was behind an April 2007 story alleging that Pakistan was supporting a Baluchi group conducting raids inside Iran and another in the London Times on September 2, 2007 which (at a time when Cheney was pushing for action against Iran) detailed a proposed massive 3 day US bombing campaign against that country. There was also a June 2007 story on large numbers of suicide bombers infiltrating the US and Europe.

This episode raises many questions. How many stories in which Debat was involved are tainted? Will ABC conduct a thorough investigation? Why did no one at ABC or the Nixon Center bother to check his credentials? To what extent was he a back channel conduit for the Administration’s views? The Debat affair is an example of an increasingly common and disturbing triad: a complicit and complacent media, a conniving Administration, and a corrupt punditocracy that is willing to sell itself out to both.
[Iran, Media, War on Terror]

251. Another Inspector General in name only. Howard Krongard was confirmed as the State Department’s IG in May 2005. A letter of September 18, 2007 from Henry Waxman outlining his concerns noted, “One consistent element in these allegations is that you believe your foremost mission is to support the Bush Administration” and “your strong affinity with State Department leadership and your partisan political ties have led you to halt investigations, censor reports, and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.” Krongard’s abrasive style and bad management have led to the resignations of his Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits, and the Counsel to the Inspector General. Of 27 investigator positions, only 7 are filled.

Despite State having spent $3.6 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan (two countries where corruption is endemic), Krongard refused to send any investigators to look into allegations of waste and fraud there and no investigation into the contracts themselves has been completed. He also torpedoed cooperation with the DOJ into First Kuwaiti the firm that has been hired (for $600 million) to build the new US embassy in Baghdad. First Kuwaiti has been accused of incomplete and shoddy work. When the electricity was turned on in the guard camp for the embassy, substandard wires melted. A subcontractor failed to certify that the construction site was free of mines or that underground tunnels were secure. First Kuwaiti has also been accused of forced labor in transferring Filipinos (who thought they were going to work in Dubai) to Baghdad, then confiscating their passports so they couldn’t leave, and subjecting them to physical and verbal abuse and poor living conditions.

Krongard prevented investigators from seizing evidence of procurement fraud (counterfeit computers with pirated software for a police academy) against a contractor in Afghanistan and hindered an investigation into weapons smuggling in Iraq by a private security contractor Blackwater.

He inappropriately passed on to Kenneth Tomlinson (item 107), head of the board of governors for the Voice of America, a letter from members of Congress requesting an investigation into Tomlinson’s conduct. Among other things, Tomlinson was accused of double billing for work done at the CPB and the VOA and billing for work not done for the VOA. What made Krongard’s action especially egregious was that the information he sent included the confidential complaints of a former Board employee. In House hearings on November 14, 2007, Krongard showed to what lengths he would go to parse the truth. He denied initially ever having contacted Tomlinson and only later under further questioning admitted sending the letter not to Tomlinson but to Tomlinson’s executive director.

Krongard censored reports and withheld from Congress information about security problems at American embassies because he did not want the Department (and those who ran it) to look bad. And he did the same with regard to audits until material critical of the Department was excised.

Krongard’s brother joined security contractor Blackwater’s advisory board in July 2007. Blackwater was the subject of a State Department investigation as recently as the September 16, 2007 shootings of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad , but Krongard professed ignorance of his brother’s connection to the company at the same November 14, 2007 House hearings. The brother resigned his position with Blackwater on November 16, 2007.

On December 7, 2007, Krongard announced his resignation as IG to become effective around January 15, 2008.
[Afghanistan, Contractors, Cronyism, Inspector General, Iraq,]

252. Friends in high places. Two of the telecoms current big issues are to scuttle Net Neutrality and to receive immunity retro-actively for their cooperation with the NSA in its warrantless wiretapping program. It just so happens that the new Counselor to the President and Karl Rove replacement (since June 13, 2007) is Ed Gillespie whose lobbying firm was hired last year by the US Telecom Association (including AT&T) to oppose Net Neutrality. And then on September 6, 2007, in an unusual move, the DOJ weighed in on an FCC request for comments with an anti-Net Neutrality filing. Its essentially rubberstamping Antitrust Division opined, “The FCC should be highly skeptical of calls to substitute special economic regulation of the Internet for free and open competition enforced by the antitrust laws.” In other words, it is OK to sacrifice the public interest in a free, open, and “small d” democratic internet as long as the telecoms can increase their profits.

Meanwhile on September 17, 2007 Peter Keisler head of the DOJ’s Civil Division was named Acting Attorney General. He has been connected to AT&T for a long time. On October 13, 1998 (decided January 25, 1999), before he came to the DOJ, Keisler argued successfully AT&T v. Iowa Utilities Board before the Supreme Court in a case based on the 1996 Telecommunications Act challenging states’ rights to grant monopolies to local carriers. Later as head of the Civil Division at the DOJ, Keisler argued on June 23, 2006 before Judge Vaughn Walker in the US District Court for Northern California for dismissal on the basis of the State Secrets Privilege of a class action lawsuit (Hepting v. AT&T) brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of the telecom’s customers who were subjected to warrantless wiretapping through the telecom’s cooperation with the NSA. AT&T’s counsel in the proceedings was Bradford Berenson who was an Associate White House counsel from 2001-2003 during Alberto Gonzales’ tenure there. He described AT&T as an innocent bystander. The judge did not buy their arguments. Parenthetically, both Keisler and Berenson have worked to limit the rights of Guantanamo detainees.

(The program in question involved a secret room at an AT&T facility in San Francisco into which traffic from AT&T’s major fiber optic routers was split off. Only technicians with NSA clearance had access to the room. The room and program were “discovered” by a then AT&T technician Mark Klein who made a statement concerning this on April 6, 2006. Documents he obtained showed that the design for the room was completed by December 2002 and that construction on it began in early 2003. Its designation indicated that the NSA had other such rooms. The room contained equipment that could strip out and analyze network and customer usage information. It also had peer linking cut ins from February 2003 which connected it to the electronic feeds for virtually the entire internet. Where did all this information go? It’s hard to say although DARPA’s Total Information Awareness program (TIA) is run out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia.)

(On March 6, 2008, Babak Pasdar a former Verizon employee reported that in September 2003 he came across a high speed connection called the Quantico Circuit which pumped Verizon’s communications to Quantico, Virginia, the location of the FBI’s center for electronic surveillance.)

Finally, DNI Mike McConnell continues to lobby Congress on the retro-active immunity issue for telecoms. The telecoms have also mounted a behind the scenes congressional lobbying campaign led by James Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president and deputy chief of staff to GHW Bush, and William Barr, Verizon general counsel and Attorney General under the elder Bush.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell where the government ends and corporations like AT&T begin.
[Criminality, Intelligence, Law, Surveillance,]

253. As reported September 2007, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the NSA is planning to expand a murky and problem plagued internet security program Turbulence. Its ostensible purpose is to protect the nation’s electronic infrastructure from attack by terrorists and hackers. However, as an unnamed government official said, “If you're going to do cybersecurity, you have to spy on Americans to secure Americans.”

The program has the hallmarks of a pet project of someone highly placed in the NSA, or the White House. It has an annual budget of $500 million, and both the budget and program were hidden from the Congress for over a year by means of a complicated shell game of creative accounting and splitting up its components (so it would be harder to identify and track not from our enemies but from our Congress). That takes considerable pull. Still the strategy is a simple one, get a program up and running before it can be quashed. Once up, as I have noted before, programs like Turbulence are virtually impossible to kill. In this light, the hookup with DHS is not about inter-agency cooperation but about extending the program’s political constituency and improving its chances for survival.

Turbulence is by its nature highly intrusive and ripe for abuse. Yet from its origins, it has been designed to avoid to the maximum possible any oversight. It is another case of the Bush Administration which has a record of repeatedly abusing the public trust saying, “Trust us,” again.

On January 8, 2008, Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 giving the program an even solider political foundation. It gives the direction of the program to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The NSA will do its thing. The DHS will seek to protect government computer systems from attack, and the Pentagon will have responsibility for any counterattacks. Questions of privacy aside, without a unified response team, this is a plan made in bureaucratic hog heaven and will likely be both intrusive and ineffective.
[DHS, Intelligence, Surveillance]

254. Charles Riechers while awaiting White House confirmation to the post of principal deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition was provided a job for two months through a defense contractor for which he was paid $26,788 and for which he admits he did no work (although he did attend the Christmas party). The defense contractor which so obligingly hired Riechers is Commonwealth Research Institute (CRI) which (ironically on at least a couple of levels) is registered along with its parent company Concurrent Technologies with the IRS as a tax-exempt charity. So let’s see, we have fraud, misappropriation of funds, violation of hiring guidelines, and sweetheart relationships with dubious actors, just what we need in a procurement officer overseeing $30 billion in Air Force contracts. On October 15, 2007 Riechers was found dead an apparent suicide.
[Contractors, Cronyism]

255. Karl Zinsmeister has been Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy since June 2006, replacing the disgraced Claude Allen (item 60). Zinsmeister sees the breakdown of the family as being the primary cause for poverty and crime. His solution is, of course, marriage counseling. Why is the family breaking down? It’s about sex. It drives people crazy apparently. Zinsmeister thinks a lot about sex (nothing unusual there) but, unlike most of us, sees it at the root of most of society’s problems. In other words, Karl Zinsmeister is a kook, one of many in this Administration. He should not be let near sharp objects, let alone something serious like domestic policy.
[Politics, Sex]

256. Blackwater is the largest private security contractor working in Iraq. It was first hired by Paul Bremer’s CPA in 2003 in a $21 million no bid contract. This was followed by another no bid contract in June 2004 to provide security for State Department (DOS) personnel in Iraq. The no bid contract was let as a matter of urgency but if this was the case, it is unclear why Marines or Special Forces were not used, or why, despite the urgency, there was still time to do a comparative cost analysis of various security contractors before awarding the contract to Blackwater. The no bid contract was eventually shifted to a “competitive” one in May 2006 (actually 3 security contractors were each awarded $1.2 billion). DOS has paid the company $832 million for services in Iraq from 2004 to 2006. In all Blackwater has received over a billion dollars in federal contracts going from $737,000 in 2001 to $593 million in 2006.

It costs 6 times as much to use a Blackwater operative as it does for a US serviceperson or about $445,000 a year. Many of Blackwater’s contractors received their training in the US military.

The DOS has a detailed guide of how Blackwater is supposed to act in potentially threatening situations and how force is to be escalated, but in practice with convoys barreling down roads often the wrong way, these are routinely ignored and maximum force is used first not last. Between January 2005 and April 2007, Blackwater personnel were in 168 incidents involving firearms. In 143 or 85% of them, Blackwater employees fired first. The situation is complicated by the fact that private security contractors are responsible to no one. Just before leaving Iraq in June 2004, Paul Bremer signed Order 17 which placed all contractors outside Iraqi law. As civilians, contractors do not appear to fall under the military’s UCMJ, and federal investigation from the US is difficult and has not been rigorously pursued.

Blackwater first came to national attention on March 31, 2004 when 4 of its contractors were caught in Falluja in unarmored vehicles and killed. Their burned bodies were hung from a bridge. This incident sparked the first siege of Falluja and eventually the destruction of that city later that year.

On June 25, 2005 in al Hillah, Blackwater employees initially tried to cover up the shooting of an innocent bystander, a father of six. In a DOS effort to hush up the incident, the victim’s family was paid $5,000

On November 28, 2005 in Baghdad, a Blackwater commander directed his convoy to randomly collide with 18 vehicles “for no apparent reason”.

In an incident in 2006 in the Green Zone a Blackwater vehicle collided with a military Humvee. The Blackwater employees drew their weapons, disarmed the American soldiers, and holding them at gunpoint made them lie down in the dirt until the Blackwater vehicle could be cleared.

On Christmas Eve 2006 in the Green Zone, a drunk Blackwater employee shot and killed a bodyguard of Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mehdi. The DOS helped spirit him out of the country within 36 hours of the shooting. His punishment was that he was fired by Blackwater. The DOS also talked down a settlement to the victim’s family from $250,000 to $15,000 arguing that they did not want to set a precedent.

On September 16, 2007, Blackwater employees securing a square in western Baghdad for a second convoy escorting USAID officials (evacuated from a meeting because of a bomb) fired a single shot at a car (for no discernible reason) in a line of traffic some distance from their position. Although the driver had been killed, the car continued to roll forward and Blackwater employees opened up on it and the surrounding area with indiscriminate fire that killed 17 and wounded 24.

Blackwater was also involved in post-Katrina security and was criticized for its heavyhandedness. Prince originally sent 180 of his men into New Orleans on his own with no contract from anyone (think vigilantes) although shortly thereafter a very profitable one appeared.

The distinction between private contractor and employee is not an empty one. The private contractor designation has allowed Blackwater to avoid paying up to $49 million in Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes. However, according to an 2005 IRS finding, they are employees.

The company is owned by Erik Prince a well connected Republican and former Navy Seal. In addition to Prince’s own political ties, Joseph Schmitz COO and general counsel of Blackwater’s parent company the Prince Group is Jeb Bush’s brother-in-law.

Our country spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined yet essential government security services are being contracted out (at inflated rates) to private armies made up of cowboys and mercenaries. This is not only expensive in monetary terms, but the lack of accountability of these armed and dangerous actors seriously undercuts America’s already precarious position in Iraq. It rings hollow to talk about law and order to Iraqis when high profile security contractors show on a daily basis that they have no use for either.

One reason that contractors have had so little accountability is Lawrence Peter who was a consultant to the Pentagon's Defense Reconstruction Support Office which administers contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time that he was director of the trade group representing private security contractors, the Private Security Company Association of Iraq. Some might find this a conflict of interest but not the Pentagon.

On October 24, 2007, assistant Secretary of State for diplomatic security Richard Griffin announced his resignation. He oversaw private security contractors hired through State and stonewalled in his Congressional testimony before Henry Waxman’s committee on October 2, 2007. At the same time that Condoleezza Rice accepted Griffin’s resignation, she promoted two senior staffers who also were supposed to have overseen private security contracts, Justine Sincavage head of the Overseas Protection Operation and Kevin Barry who previously had held this post. Barry and Sincavage were also to receive bonuses for their work to be awarded December 20, 2007. However, Barry appears to have retired November 30, having no doubt accomplished all that he could.

The September 16 shootings are being investigated by the FBI. Its task was complicated by being brought in a few weeks after the event and by “Garrity” immunity grants (statements for internal purposes only) which State officials gave to Blackwater employees. On being made aware of the immunity grant, the DOJ sealed the employee statements and shifted the direction of the FBI’s investigation from its Criminal Division to the National Security Division.

On April 4, 2008, the State Department said it would renew Blackwater’s license for its security work in Iraq pending the FBI investigation which it knew largely through its own bungling was going nowhere.

On December 8, 2008, 5 Blackwater guards Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten, and Paul Slough were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter, and the use of a machine gun in a violent crime as a result of their actions in the September 16, 2007 Nisoor Square shootings. A sixth Blackwater employee Jeremy Ridgeway pled guilty in a plea bargain to manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, and aiding and abetting.
[Contractors, Criminality, Cronyism, Iraq]

257. The runup to the Iraq war. For nostalgia buffs:

Colin Powell:

May 15, 2001 in congressional testimony: “It [Iraq] has been contained. And even though we have no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear -- I think the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly successful.”

February 5, 2003 in his now infamous, reputation killing presentation to the UN Security Council on Iraq’s WMD: “The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world.”

Condoleeza Rice:

July 29, 2001 on CNN: “We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.”

September 8, 2002 on CNN: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Dick Cheney:

April 15, 1994 at the American Enterprise Institute: “Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it -- eastern Iraq -- the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.”

May 14, 2007 on Fox News: “Al Qaeda has based its entire strategy on the proposition that they can break the will of the American people, that if they kill enough that eventually the U.S. Government will withdraw. They believe that . . . Al Qaeda has said Iraq is the central front in their war on the United States. You do not want to withdraw and give them a victory in Iraq.”

The charitable explanation is that 9/11 addled their brains.
[Iraq, WMD]

258. After al Qaeda attacks on two US embassies on August 7, 1998 and on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000 and the Taliban’s brutality and fanaticism, its oppression of women, and its destruction of a world cultural icon the Buddhas of Bamyam on March 21, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a grant of $43 million on May 17, 2001 to the Taliban government for its efforts to eradicate opium production. This was only 4 months before 9/11 and is emblematic of the Administration’s lack of emphasis on counterterrorism in the period before 9/11.
[Afghanistan, War on Terror]

259. Citing difficult qualification rules, the DOJ has not as of October 2007 dispersed any of $8 million budgeted in 2006 to states for DNA testing which might potentially exonerate convicted individuals. At the same time, it has had no problems in spending $214 million to collect DNA samples from convicts and improve crime labs. You could call it a question of priorities.

260. In August 2007, the head of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced a new rule to curb illegal immigration. The Social Security Administration (SSA) would send letters to employers of discrepancies in employees’ SSA records. If the discrepancies were not rectified by the employees within 90 days, employers would be required to fire them. The idea was that illegal immigrants often use false Social Security documents. The reality is that the SSA database is not very reliable and produces a lot of false positives. A December 2006 report by the Inspector General for the SSA estimated that of the agency’s 435 million records 17.8 million have errors that would generate a discrepancy notification. 12.7 million of these are in the files of American citizens. On October 10, 2007, federal judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California issued a stay on the grounds that the DHS had not made a required analysis of the rule’s impact on businesses. The DHS under Chertoff’s leadership continues to combine vast intrusiveness with even vaster incompetence.
[DHS, Immigration, Incompetence]

261. In a blatant conflict of interest compromising the integrity and independence of the office of the CIA Inspector General, having a chilling effect upon it, and operating outside usual governmental guidelines, CIA Director Michael Hayden ordered (circa October 2007) an internal inquiry headed by a close aide Robert Dietz into John Helgerson the CIA Inspector General. Helgerson has been criticized by those involved in the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation programs for looking a little too closely at their activities. Apparently torturers have feelings too. Who knew?

On December 23, 2007, it was announced that what a CIA spokesman called a “management review” into Helgerson’s leadership had been “largely” completed. Helgerson has agreed to about a dozen different changes to allow CIA personnel greater latitude to defend themselves in his reports. Having trampled upon the independence of the Inspector General, an unnamed senior CIA official said, “We have no interest in trampling upon the independence of the I.G.” Of course not, the interest was to protect those at the CIA who engaged in or approved of illegal activities. Trampling upon the independence of the agency’s IG was just gravy.
[Inspector General, Intelligence]

262. Joseph Schmitz (see end of item 256) member of the cult-like Opus Dei was Inspector General at the Department of Defense from March 21, 2002-September 9, 2005 before going on to become COO and general counsel at Blackwater’s parent company the Prince Group. As DOD IG, Schmitz hired L. Jean Lewis as his chief of staff. The IG’s office is supposed to be nonpartisan. Lewis on the other hand was about as partisan as they come. She was a Republican activist who as a nondescript investigator of the Resolution Trust Corporation (which dealt with the S&L mess) made a criminal referral to the US Attorney in Little Rock listing Bill and Hillary Clinton as possible witnesses on September 2, 1992 (2 months before the 1992 Presidential election). She then contacted the USA’s office numerous times in the run up to the election to check on and push the investigation. Later she testified under oath that she had only discussed the matter after the election. She also lied to Congress in 1995 about secretly taping an RTC lawyer. During her testimony she broke down and was briefly hospitalized. She was saved by Ken Starr who intervened, suspended the investigation against her, and then started investigating those at the RTC who had spoken out against her.

In 2002, Alan White, a protégé of Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and director of Investigative Operations at the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) violated the Hatch Act by running for a partisan post on a school board. The IG received an anonymous tip about this and 3 upper echelon members of the IG office began an investigation. Schmitz in turn was tipped off to their investigation by Grassley. Schmitz sent out investigators of his own who seemed mainly interested in finding out who the anonymous tipster was. As for the 3 looking into the matter, they were fired a month later.

As has been seen in many department and agencies during the Bush Administration, Schmitz ran a service that hired and protected partisan hacks. Competence was punished and loyalty was rewarded. Is it any wonder that the IG’s oversight of defense contracts, especially those related to Iraq was so poor? [Contractors, Cronyism, Incompetence, Inspector General, Revolving Door]

263. As part of Julie Myers’ reconfirmation as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it came out that ICE agents from October 2006 to April 2007 used chemical restraint on 33 deportees because of “combative” behavior. They were basically zapped with the powerful anti-psychotic Haldol which put them into a drug induced stupor. It is not legal to use unless prescribed by a physician. The ICE agents were not physicians nor acting under the orders of one. In addition, non-emergency medication of a patient without their consent even by a physician is battery. Finally, use of psychotropics by a government for non-medical reasons without consent is a textbook definition of torture. I would ask what the ICE agents were thinking but they clearly weren’t. (see also items 54 and 161)

An investigative report by the Washington Post of May 14, 2008 found that during the 2007 fiscal year 53 deportees without any psychiatric history or history of violence were given psychiatric drugs to sedate them. After the cases of Raymond Soeoth, a Christian minister from Indonesia seeking asylum, and Amadou Diouf, a student who married an American, were publicized by the ACLU, ICE changed its policy in a June 21, 2007 memo (shortly before it settled with Soeoth and Diouf) to require a court order for the involuntary administration of these drugs. However in August 2007 Maher Ayoub was drugged involuntarily without court order and sent back to Egypt.
[Immigration, Torture]

264. The Downing Street memo written by Richard Dearlove then head of MI6 describes a meeting on July 23, 2002 between Bush and British officials in which Bush expressed the view that war with Iraq was inevitable and outlined the case for war. Several of the British officials found the President’s rationale weak. They were assured, non-specifically, that intelligence was being mustered to strengthen this case. The memo was published on May 1, 2005 in the British press and got heavy coverage, appearing just before a general election. In this country, it was virtually ignored by the traditional media until it was pushed by the blogosphere.

The importance of the memo is twofold. First, it showed that 8 months before the commencement of hostilities the decision for war had already been made and that Bush was not interested in a diplomatic solution. Simply put, Bush had lied. Second, the reaction to the memo or lack thereof demonstrated how co-opted and incurious the American news media had become. They hesitated to pick up the story or see its significance. Nor did they use it to launch any thoroughgoing or serious investigation into the justifications for the war. They had become the dog that did not bark. [Intelligence, Iraq, Media]

265. On September 17, 2007, Bush nominated Michael Mukasey, a very conservative federal judge retired just days before (September 9, 2007) from the Southern District of New York, to be Attorney General. Mukasey presided over the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair who were involved in the first WTC bombing in 1993 but were convicted of conspiracy to blow up New York City landmarks. He also heard part of the Padilla case where he ruled that Padilla could be held as an enemy combatant though he could through a habeas petition challenge that designation. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) initially demanded the White House deliver documents and witnesses it had been stonewalling on in exchange for bringing up Mukasey’s nomination, but quickly caved on this in part because another Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was a sponsor of Mukasey.

Confirmation hearings were held October 17-18, 2007. They were reminiscent of those of Chief Justice John Roberts. Mukasey gave smooth non-answers which avoided any specifics. Nevertheless, his positions could not be completely hidden. He backs Bush’s right to torture as long as it is not called torture. He believes in indefinite detention and suspension of habeas corpus for “enemy combatants”. He supports the sham Combat Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and thinks they are doing a good job. He would like to close Guantanamo but said nothing about when and how he would do this or what would become of the detainees held there. He accepts that Bush’s Global War on Terror (GWOT) is a war in the legal sense without giving any legal rationale for this opinion. He suggested that Presidents see the War Powers Act as an unconstitutional infringement on their Article II powers as Commander in Chief. While saying that he would not like to see a confrontation between the Legislative and the Executive branches over this, he sympathized with the President’s position. Along these same lines, he decried a unilateral Executive but supported it in certain circumstances. One of these was surveillance conducted outside of (the increasingly gutted and irrelevant) FISA.

He pledged to depoliticize the Department of Justice and cooperate on Congressional oversight but again refused any specifics. Disingenuously, he asserted that private meetings not under oath without a transcript for some current and former White House officials, as offered by Bush, would be more effective than public hearings under oath with a transcript since these would foster “franker” exchanges. He promised to review Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions (used to justify most of Bush’s unconstitutional actions) and change those he disagreed with. He did not say he would share them with the SJC or other committees and subject them to Congressional oversight.

In short, aside from the more blatant politicization of the DOJ under Gonzales, Mukasey is on board with the Administration on most issues. His chief qualifications to date appear to be A) a willingness to take the job of Attorney General for 15 months, B) a pulse, and C) that he is not Alberto Gonzales.

On October 23, 2007, Democratic members of the SJC submitted the following written question to Mukasey: “Is the use of waterboarding, or inducing the misperception of drowning, as an interrogation technique illegal under U.S. law, including treaty obligations?” They suggested that their vote would depend on his response. On October 30, 2007, he gave a 4 page reply in which he didn’t answer the question, called it a hypothetical, and then went on at length about the legal reasoning that he would use to answer it if he ever had to. Since he referenced the “shocks the conscience” standard of the Bradbury memo (which essentially allowed waterboarding and reflected the views of Dick Cheney and David Addington), it is clear that Mukasey would never hold that this form of torture was illegal.

On November 2, 2007, two Democratic Senators from the pro-torture wing of the party Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that they would vote for Mukasey in committee, assuring a floor vote and likely confirmation. On November 6, 2007, the SJC approved Mukasey’s nomination 11-8 with all Republicans and the 2 Democratic Senators voting for torture and the unilateral Executive. On November 8, 2007, Mukasey was confirmed on an up or down vote engineered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid 53-40.

On December 14, 2007, Mukasey said he would not name a Special Prosecutor to look into the CIA’s destruction of torture tapes although the DOJ abetted the CIA in its torture activities by giving legal cover for them. (see item 194) Thus despite a glaring conflict of interest at the DOJ, he called the suggestion made by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) for a Special Prosecutor an attempt to exercise “political influence” over the DOJ. Talk about Orwellian use of language.

On February 7, 2008, Mukasey in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee defended the Administration’s illegalities:

I think what I said was that we could not investigate or prosecute somebody for acting in reliance on a Justice Department opinion.

Since the DOJ in the Bush Administration is an extension of the White House, this means as Richard Nixon so succinctly put it in his interview with David Frost on May 19, 1977:

Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal

This is in essence the American version of the Nuremberg defense. Those who do what the President says (torture, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, warrantless wiretapping of Americans) were just following his orders and his orders are by definition lawful as the White House and its lickspittle Judge Mukasey will attest.
[Guantanamo, Intelligence, Politicization of the DOJ, Torture]

266. In a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) study, airport screeners at Chicago’s O’Hare missed 60% of fake bombs hidden in clothes and carry-ons in tests conducted in 2006. The failure rate at LAX was 75%. Meanwhile NASA withheld the results of an $8.5 million airline safety study which showed that runway traffic problems and near collisions occurred much more often than previously thought. It went so far as to order the contractor which conducted the study to purge all trace of the study’s data from its computer system. The rationale was that NASA did not want to scare anyone. It is currently rethinking its decision. Feel safer?

On November 15, 2007, the GAO released a report on airport security. It was a follow up to a March 2006 study. Investigators were still able to pass through comercially available components for improvised explosive and incendiary devices at 19 US airports even when screeners were following standard security procedures.

A GAO report dated November 20, 2007 but released December 5, 2007 noted that the FAA has made some progress in runway and ramp safety at US airports. 70% of US commercial airports were found to be substantially in compliance, up from 55% in 2000. Incursions (aircraft potentially colliding on the ground) had not, however, decreased in the last 5 years. The FAA is supposed to update its safety plan every 2-3 years but had not done so since 2002 resulting in a lack of coordination among airports on safety issues. The FAA did not keep adequate data on planes overruning runway and ramp areas or on rampway injuries. Finally, its alerting systems did not always work. [War on Terror]

267. Dyncorp is another private security company in Iraq which has received over $1 billion in contracts from the State Department since 2004 to train the Iraqi police. We all know how well that turned out. Dyncorp’s contracts have been handled by a single official at State for more than 10 years and, despite this or more likely because of it, no one at State can find the contract file on Dyncorp’s billion dollar contract. All in all, it’s like the Keystone Kops, only more expensive.
[Contractors, Iraq]

268. Abdallah Higazy was an Egyptian staying in New York on 9/11. His hotel was evacuated and hotel employees found in his room a radio capable of communicating with airline pilots. Higazy was subsequently arrested. He denied knowing anything about the radio. Nevertheless, an FBI agent Michael Templeton was able to coerce a confession out of Higazy by threatening retaliation against his family in Egypt (a country which tortures). In a bail hearing on January 11, 2002, the government used Higazy’s varying accounts of the radio to argue that he could not be trusted and should not be granted bail. Then, his case took an unexpected turn. An airline pilot returned to the hotel where Higazy had been staying and asked if they had seen his radio. As a result of this, Higazy was freed but sued the hotel and the FBI agent. On October 18, 2007, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the FBI agent had violated Higazy’s Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. The opinion was originally posted on line then withdrawn and reposted the next day with the part about Templeton’s threats removed. [Torture, War on Terror]

269. On October 24, 2007, Leslie Southwick was confirmed by a vote of 59-38 to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a conservative judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, Southwick ruled, in defiance of an employee’s appeals board decision backed by state law, to reinstate a state employee who had referred to a colleague as a “good ole n*gger.” In another case, he joined with the majority opinion that a lesbian mother should be denied custody of her 8 year old child noting in part her homosexuality and moral fitness: “the mother may view her decision to participate in a homosexual relationship as an exertion of her perceived right to do so. However, her choice is of significant consequence, as described before in the discussion of our State's policies, in that her rights to custody of her child may be significantly impacted.” Despite his racial insensitivity and homophobia, Southwick was confirmed through the critical support of conservative Democrats (the Gang of 14) and the lack of opposition by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. On August 2, 2007, Southwick was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee to the full Senate with a favorable report 10-9 with Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) voting with the committee’s Republicans. Ben Nelson (D-NE) then helped drum up support for the nomination on the floor and on October 24, 2007, cloture on the nomination passed 62-35 paving for the final vote 59-38 later the same day.

270. On October 22, 2007, a federal judge in Dallas declared a mistrial in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), an American Islamic charity. This was the Bush Administration’s signature effort to deny funding to terrorist organizations. Some HLF members had ties to Hamas and some of its activities were anti-semitic. On December 4, 2001, Bush declared the HLF a “specially designated global terrorist” giving aid to Hamas, and its assets were seized. The criminal trial began in Dallas on July 23, 2007. The HLF and 5 of its chief officers faced 197 charges of supporting terrorism by giving $12.4 million from 1995-2001 to zakat (Islamic charity) committees to build hospitals and to help the poor in the Occupied Territories. This was not so much a tough as an impossible sell. One defendant was acquitted on all but one charge. No defendant was convicted on any charge. This is another example of the Bush Administration’s attempt to use the specter of terrorism to scare a jury into a conviction instead of convincing them with oh say, evidence and a pertinent legal theory.

On November 24, 2008, members of the HLF were convicted in a second trial on all 108 counts. Apparently helping the poor and dispossessed is a crime.
[Law, War on Terror]

271. The State Department has not one but two anti-corruption units in Iraq, the Anti-corruption Working Group and the Office of Accountability and Transparency. The one boycotts the other’s meetings and the OAT has had 4 directors in 10 months (2007), the most recent being a paralegal with no background in anti-corruption work. This would only be a concern if Iraq was one of the most corrupt countries on the planet. Oh wait. [Corruption, Incompetence, Iraq]

272. On September 25, 2007, Logistics Health, a medical services company, won a 5 year contract worth up to $790 million dollars to provide immunizations, physicals, and dental exams to members of the Reserves and the National Guard despite criticisms of work done by Logistics in the past and the fact that two other companies had lower bids. The President of Logistics is Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from December 3, 2004 to January 26, 2005. Another notable name at Logistics is William Winkenwerder Jr. who joined the company on May 31, 2007. He had been Assistant Secretary of Defense for health affairs from 2001 until his resignation on April 16, 2007 and oversaw the program in question. As with all tales of the revolving door, we are expected to believe that this is all innocent coincidence.
[Corruption, Revolving Door]

273. Showing that it can now be trusted, FEMA deputy director Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson staged a fake news conference on October 23, 2007 about the agency’s response to the Southern California wildfires. The press was given only 15 minutes notice. This made it impossible to attend, but reporters were given the option to listen but not ask questions by phone. FEMA staffers posing as reporters then lobbed softball questions which Johnson proceeded to swat out of the park. Unfortunately, some of the real reporters recognized the voices of the staffers over the phone, and the truth came out. For an agency whose credibility was blown to smithereens by its fumbling during Katrina, this was not the way to restore it.

As a result of blowback from this story, on October 29, 2007, it was announced that FEMA’s press chief Pat Philbin would not be taking over a similar position for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. Aside from getting caught, I would think this episode would have made him the perfect choice for the truth challenged McConnell.

274. Like Jose Padilla, Zacarias Moussaoui is another sad, bad man, only sadder and a lot loopier. He did have ties to al Qaeda but his connection to 9/11 remains unclear. He was in the country to learn to become a pilot, but he wasn’t very good at it and succeeded only in making himself look suspicious. This resulted in his arrest on August 16, 2001 in Minnesota on an immigration violation. Local FBI wanted to search his laptop and apartment but were vetoed by their superiors. This represented a major blown opportunity since evidence from these might have led to members of the 9/11 network through Moussaoui’s personal and financial contacts with them.

His trial was a circus. Much of this was the result of Moussaoui’s own unpredictable behavior, outbursts, and apparent mental instability, but the prosecution and government officials and witnesses added considerably to it. On the one hand, there was a defendant, seemingly oblivious to his legal jeopardy, who was often at war with everyone in the courtroom and frequently undercut his case. On the other, there was a prosecution determined to seek the death penalty for a connection to 9/11 that was largely unproven.

The trial began on January 2, 2002 with Moussaoui refusing to enter a plea. Federal district judge Leonie Brinkema for Eastern Virginia entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. On April 22, 2002, he fired his attorneys. On June 13, 2002, he began defending himself with defense counsel standing by. In July 2002, he indicated that he wished to plead guilty to 4 of the charges. Judge Brinkema gave him a week to think about it and then withdrew the plea because of her doubts concerning his understanding of what he was doing. Then in a brilliant bit of legal theater Moussaoui asked to call other terrorists in US custody. This occupied the court from October 2002 to March 2005. The prosecution opposed the request. Brinkema took the death sentence off the table in retaliation. She was overturned. The defense took the witness request to the Supreme Court which denied certiorari, and returned the case to Brinkema. In the meantime on November 14, 2003, after various harangues and disruptions by Moussaoui, Brinkema rescinded his right to represent himself. Then on April 22, 2005, Moussaoui dropped another bombshell by pleading guilty to all 6 charges while still denying any connection to 9/11. Despite Moussaoui’s obviously dysfunctional relationship with reality, Brinkema this time accepted his plea.

The trial entered the penalty phase with Moussaoui continuing to act erratically. On February 14, 2006, prosecutors informed Brinkema that 3 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials had chosen not to speak with defense lawyers, even though none of them knew they had been asked and one said that he would have been willing to do so. Then on March 13, 2006, the prosecution informed Brinkema of witness tampering by TSA attorney Carla Martin and other improprieties. In emails to TSA officials, Martin acknowledged that the government’s case was weak and coached witnesses on how to punch up their testimony. She made available to two of them transcripts of witnesses who had already testified and she advised another not to talk to defense lawyers. Prosecutors also admitted that 2 witnesses had watched television coverage of the trial because the prosecution had failed to inform them of the judge’s order not to. Finally, one of the prosecutors David Novak had spoken to 2 of the witnesses on the phone at the same time. He stated that it was for scheduling purposes only and no content of the trial was discussed.

Despite the government’s malfeasance and misfeasance, Brinkema allowed the trial to go forward but without the TSA witnesses. This seriously weakened the government’s case (which was by no means that strong to begin with) since its strategy had been to show what the FBI and the TSA might have done to prevent 9/11 if Moussaoui had told investigators what he knew at the time of his arrest (ignoring the FBI’s failure to pursue its investigation after his arrest). In other words, prosecutors were arguing that Moussaoui should be put to death on the basis of a hypothetical half of whose premise had just gone up in smoke and the other half of which depended on the jury overlooking the government’s own inaction. On May 3, 2006, the jury failed to approve the death penalty, and Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison.

The Moussaoui case represents a series of “might have beens”: What might have happened if the Bush White House had not de-emphasized terrorism pre-9/11, if it had sent out an alert throughout the government after the August 6, 2001 PDB: Bin Laden determined to attack in US, if it had paid attention to CIA Director George Tenet’s warnings, or if it had paid heed to what FBI agents in Minnesota and elsewhere were trying to tell it. What might have happened post-9/11 if Moussaoui’s defense counsel had been allowed to mount an adequate defense without being sabotaged by a disturbed client, a permissive judge, and governmental misconduct. And no, I am not saying that Moussaoui should have been found innocent, only that his trial was start to finish an awful avoidable mess.
[Law, War on Terror]

275. Seven years after 9/11, the Department of Energy has failed to secure from terrorist attack bomb grade fissile material at 5 of 11 nuclear facilities either by reducing the number of sites holding such material or by hardening them. Instead it has sought to weaken the security guidelines. Two sites one in Idaho and the other in Oak Ridge, Tennessee are not expected to be in compliance with 2005 standards until 2013 and 2015, respectively.
[War on Terror, WMD]

276. On October 26, 2007, it was announced that DNI Mike McConnell will no longer release summaries of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). The ostensible reason is that they give information to our enemies. If you have ever read one of these summaries and the oracular language they are written in, you know that they mostly state the obvious. Their importance lies in at what point the intelligence community is willing to put into writing what is mostly common sense for an Administration that doesn’t want to hear it. Besides another step in McConnell’s descent into paranoia and obsession with keeping us uniformed, the speculation is that Dick Cheney was unhappy about the most recent NIE’s failure to beat the drums of war on Iran.
[Intelligence, Iran]

277. Donald Vance was an American working for an Iraqi private security firm. He suspected that the company was involved in supplying arms to militias and death squads associated with the Shia dominated Interior Ministry. On a trip to Chicago in October 2005 he met with and agreed to be an informer for the FBI. On April 15, 2007, feeling unsafe, he phoned the US embassy and a military rescue team was sent to extract him. He told the team of two large weapons caches and was taken to the embassy where he was interviewed by embassy personnel. Later that night he and another American Nathan Ertel were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to Camp Cropper where for the next 97 days, Vance was interrogated, sleep deprived, and denied access to an attorney. In a truly Kafkaesque twist, Vance was being held for knowledge of the activities that he was informing on to the FBI. Ertel was designated as “innocent” on May 7 although it took 18 more days for him to be released. For his part, Vance was held until July 20, 2007 although the military knew of his FBI connection within the first 3 weeks of his detention. On December 18, 2006, Vance filed suit against the US government and Donald Rumsfeld for violation of his Constitutional rights. This is that rare combination of brutal and clueless that distills in a single episode why the Bush Administration should not be allowed expansive Executive powers, why the Iraq adventure was doomed from the get go, and why whistleblowers should be given combat pay.
[Iraq, Whistleblower]

278. Sami al Haj was a cameraman for al Jazeera arrested in Pakistan on December 15, 2001. He was transported to Guantanamo where he has been held ever since without charge. al Jazeera has often been critical of this country’s Middle East policies. Almost all of al Haj’s interrogations have centered on establishing a putative connection between al Jazeera and al Qaeda. On May 1, 2008, al Jazeera announced that al Haj had been released from Guantanamo and was being flown to his home country Sudan.

Bilal Hussein a photographer for the AP in Iraq who won part of a 2005 Pulitzer was arrested in April 2006 although the arrest was not acknowledged until September 17, 2006. He is being held in Iraq by the US outside Iraqi jurisdiction despite the protestations of the AP. On April 7, 2008, an Iraqi judicial committee made up of a 4 judge panel ordered Hussein released as part of an amnesty program.

These two cases show to what extent the US military is willing to go after journalists who do not toe its propaganda line and bring into question the Pentagon’s story that the missile strike on April 8, 2003 on the Baghdad offices of al Jazeera in which a reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed was an accident.
[Iraq, Law, Media, War on Terror]

279. Evisceration of the US Commission on Civil Rights. By law, no more than half of the commission’s 8 members can belong to any one party. A December 6, 2004 DOJ memo to then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales opined that party affiliation meant only the nominee’s party registration at the time of their appointment. The next day Bush selected two Republicans who re-registered as independents for places on the commission, giving Republicans an effective 6-2 majority. As a result, the commission’s practice of holding fact finding hearings 3 times a year was done away with. Projects looking at civil rights enforcement and undercounting of minorities by the Census Bureau were cancelled. In their place, the commission issued reports on how integration in primary and secondary schools did not improve education, questioning how minorities were selected for top law schools, and recommending doing away with set asides for minority contractors. (see also 232)

Via TPMmuckraker, on July 28, 2008, Hans van Spakovsky (item 101), the Administration’s fearless crusader against non-existent voter fraud, whose nomination to the Federal Elections Commission was tragically derailed, was hired as a temporary full time employee at the Commission on Civil Rights to monitor the 2008 elections, proving yet again that cronyism, like irony, is not dead.
[Anti-candidate, Cronyism]

280. A case for war with Iran began early in the Bush Administration. In January 29, 2002 State of the Union, Iran was added into Bush’s new Axis of Evil as something of an afterthought:

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [WMD] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

The argument waxed and waned over the years, often in reaction to developments real or perceived in Iran’s nuclear program but also to other events. In July-August 2006, Iran was blamed for its support of Hezbollah during Israel’s bombing of Lebanon and then in 2007 for its much more tangential backing of Hamas against Fatah in the Palestinian civil war. In this country in 2007, the Iran blame game developed 3 well defined prongs: in the White House, the Congress, and the media.

Bush at an October 17, 2007 news conference on the nuclear aspect:

I believe that the Iranian -- if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace. But this -- we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

And Cheney before Washington Institute for Near East Peace (WINEP) on October 21, 2007:

The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Then there was the Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) story of Iranians supplying Shia militias with especially lethal IEDs which the military and intelligence community pitched to credulous journalists. On February 10, 2007, Michael Gordon came out with the first of several pieces at the New York Times which were notable for their anonymous sourcing and unsubstantiated claims. These articles were heavily criticized in the blogosphere but it didn’t stop Gordon from revisiting the subject on March 27, 2007 and August 8, 2007 and recycling many of the previous charges.

In Gordon’s original piece the accusation was made that the smuggling of EFPs into Iraq was “approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force.” This claim quickly fell apart but it did not stop Bush without any additional evidence from asserting in a February 14, 2007 Valentine’s Day presser:

I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated I.E.D.’s that have harmed our troops . . . And I’d like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of the government. But my point is, what’s worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and its happening?

Blaming the Iranians for American deaths in Iraq provided a useful excuse for Bush’s failures there and helped gin up the case for a future conflict with Iran.

Bush’s bellicosity toward Iran worried some in Congress. Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) on January 16, 2007 sponsored a resolution (H. Con. Res. 33) calling for an explicit Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) before any attack on Iran. The Democratic leadership essentially killed it by referring it to committee. Walter Jones (R-NC) had done proposed something similar (H.J. Res 14) on January 12, 2007. His effort met a similar fate. Both came just days after Bush officially announced his plan for the “surge” on January 10, 2007.

On March 12, 2007, Pelosi stripped out similar language requiring Congressional authorization for an attack on Iran from the Iraq supplemental bill (HR 2206). The next day she addressed AIPAC’s annual conference. A coincidence I’m sure.

On May 16, 2007, Defazio brought up the issue of an AUMF again in H. Amdt. 187, an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill HR 1585. It was defeated 136-288.

On June 20, 2007, H. Con. Res. 21 a resolution sponsored by Steven Rothman (D-NJ) called for the UN to take action against Iran for its nuclear program and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for violating the UN Convention on Genocide for his remarks (which Middle East expert Juan Cole said were mistranslated and misconstrued) calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. It passed 411-2.

On July 11, 2007, the Senate passed a resolution (S. Amdt. 2073) introduced by Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) 97-0. It repeated most of the charges made in the press against Iran but actually only required reports on Iran’s activities.

Back in the House HR1400 the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 sponsored by Tom Lantos (D-CA) passed 397-16 on September 25, 2007. It increased nuclear and financial sanctions and sought to “place the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRG] on the list of specially designated global terrorists, and place the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of weapons of mass destruction proliferators and their supporters.”

The next day on September 26, 2007, the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman (S.Amdt. 3017 as modified) 76-22. Like the Lantos bill, the original text asked that the IRG be put on the list of specially designated global terrorists but contained two more disturbing paragraphs:

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies

The Congressional actions should be seen as a continuum moving from a demand for an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) as was done with Iraq, to a laundry list of charges against Iran, to sanctions, and finally to a call for military action. The final text of Kyl-Lieberman took a step back allowing military action against Iran but only in Iraq:

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to stop inside Iraq the violent activities and destabilizing influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies.
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States National power inside Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments in support of the policy with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.

The resolutions keep coming. On May 22, 2008, Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) introduced H. Con. Res. 362. As of July 2008, it had 220 cosponsors. It calls for sanctions and

declares that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means, is vital to the national security interests of the United States and must be dealt with urgently

And ends with the injunction to “make clear to the Government of Iran that the United States will protect America's vital national security interests in the Middle East.” On June 2, 2008, Evan Bayh (D-IN) introduced a very similar resolution Sen Res. 580. It currently has 32 sponsors. It adds one caveat which the House version lacks:

asserts that nothing in this resolution shall be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran

Good luck with that. It is unclear if there will be a conflict with Iran. Cheney and the neocons want it. The media are complicit, and the Democrats complacent. The costs and repercussions, however, would be great and not easily controlled. Such a conflict would be far worse than Iraq, and that is what is so troubling. Bush’s Iran policy is deeply reminiscent of the stumbling, ill-considered lurch that took us into Iraq. We seem to have learned nothing.

On December 3, 2007, the summary of the November 2007 NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) was released (despite DNI Mike McConnell saying he wasn’t going to do this anymore). It stated that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in Fall 2003 (blowing the Cheney backed case for war to pieces and raising questions why it was pushed for as long as it was). It further stated that even if Iran revived its program it was unlikely to have sufficient enriched uranium for a bomb by 2009, that it might have the capability to build a bomb in the 2010-2015 time range but that it probably would be after 2013 and possibly after 2015.

The Administration sat on this NIE for a year due to its content (November 2006). The original push for a change came from notes obtained in the summer of 2006 exchanged among Iranian officials complaining about the shutting down of the nuclear weapons program. In the subsequent months, the case only became stronger with the defection of a Revolutionary Guard General Ali Reza Asghari to Turkey in February 2007 and old communication intercepts the government came across in July 2007.

After months of disagreements with the Bush-Cheney warmongering on Iran, Admiral William Fallon who became CENTCOM commander overseeing operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq on March 16, 2007 announced his resignation and retirement on March 11, 2008 to become effective March 31. Fallon was reported to have told a source at the time of his confirmation in February 2007 that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.” With his departure, the chances of a US (or a US sanctioned Israeli) attack on Iran have greatly increased.
[Iran, Iraq, War on Terror, WMD]

281. Donald Kerr, a former SAIC executive and current No. 2 to DNI Mike McConnell, in remarks on October 23, 2007 concerning the opening of the National Intelligence Coordination Center (NIC-C) a project to share intelligence collected across federal agencies stated that

“Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture. The Long Ranger wore a mask but Tonto didn’t seem to need one even though he did the dirty work for free. You’d think he would probably need one even more. But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.”

Looking past the crude racism, Kerr’s view is that if we have a Facebook page or use a credit card online, we should have no objection to the government collecting information on us without our consent or knowledge and without a warrant. What is it about the 4th Amendment that these people do not understand or can’t remember?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I suppose the Constitution like the Geneva Conventions has become “quaint” and if we uphold the Constitution, the terrorists win.
[Intelligence, Law, Revolving Door]

282. One of the most egregious violations of Constitutional rights during the Bush Administration has been the establishment of the extremely inaptly named “free speech” zones. The Secret Service has worked with local police to create areas out of sight of and up to a half mile away from Bush appearances for anyone deemed a protester. If anyone refuses to be removed to these locations, they are arrested. Only anti-Bush demonstrators are restricted to the zones. Bush supporters are left alone.

When Bush went to Pittsburgh on Labor Day (September 2) 2002, a retired steel worker Bill Neel refused to go to a free speech zone and was arrested. His crime? He was carrying a sign which read: “Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.” Neel famously commented, “As far as I’m concerned, the whole country is a free speech zone.” In throwing out the disorderly conduct charge against him, state district court judge Shirley Rowe Trkula wondered, “I believe this is America. Whatever happened to “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it?”

Anti-free speech procedures were codified in a Presidential Advance Manual of October 2002 written by a White House staffer Gregory Jenkins. The manual recommends: 1) using the Secret Service to work with local police to “designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or mortorcade route”; 2) ticketing as a means of “deterring potential protestors from attending events”; 3) the formation of “rally squads” made up of but “not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities” whose job is to use “signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform” and “lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors”; 4) and finally, “As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site.”

Also in October 2002, Brett Bursey a veteran protestor was arrested in Columbia, South Carolina for holding a “No war for oil” sign. Bursey was standing in a crowd of people with pro-Bush signs but he was the only one directed to go to a “free speech” zone half a mile away. On asking, he was told that the reason he was being removed was because of the content of his sign. A local charge of trespass was dropped since Bursey was standing on public property, which is not a crime in South Carolina. At this point, US Attorney Strom Thurmond, Jr. charged Bursey with violation of an exclusion zone around the President. It is not clear where this exclusion zone was nor why Bursey was the only one in the crowd so charged. A US Magistrate Bristow Marchant denied Bursey a jury trial, found him guilty, and ordered him to pay a $500 fine. Bursey appealed and lost.

On July 4, 2004, Jeffery and Nicole Rank were arrested in Charleston, West Virginia for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts with Bush’s name with a circle around it and a line drawn through it. The back of one bore the message “Love America, Hate Bush" and the other "Regime Change Starts At Home.” They refused to cover the t-shirts or leave and were removed in handcuffs. Nicole Rank was also temporarily suspended from her job at FEMA. Charges of trespass were later dismissed and the city of Charleston extended an apology. The ACLU took up their case suing the Secret Service and Gregory Jenkins. On August 16, 2007, the Secret Service settled with the Ranks for $80,000 but did not admit fault.

On March 21, 2005, three Denver residents were ejected from a taxpayer funded townhall meeting for arriving in a car that had a bumper sticker “No more blood for oil”. A Republican volunteer Michael Casper in a sworn deposition (as part of an ACLU suit) said he was directed to remove the group by Steven Atkiss, then Deputy Director of White House Advance, and the lead advance staffer for the event James O’Keefe. The White House had for 2 years refused to say who was involved in the incident.

In June 2006 at the Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, Steven Howards approached Vice President Dick Cheney, called the Administration’s policies in Iraq disgusting, patted the VP on the shoulder, and left. 10 minutes later he was arrested and told he would be charged with assault. In fact, he was charged with misdemeanor harassment, a charge which the county district attorney dropped because the government did not wish to pursue the matter. In late 2006, Howards filed a civil suit. 5 Secret Service agents involved to various degrees either as witnesses or in the arrest were deposed. Their accounts were widely variant and some of them stated that there was an effort to harmonize the assault story for the purposes of engaging in a coverup of the incident.

These are only a few of many similar incidents. The Secret Service seems to make no distinction between protecting the President from physical harm and shielding him from political embarrassment and accountability. As for the First Amendment with its guarantees of free speech and peaceful assembly, the White House and Secret Service would not know it if it bit them.

283. On November 13, 2007 at 7:30 in the evening in an email, the White House released an Executive Order creating a system of Performance Improvement Officers to monitor that “Agencies shall apply taxpayer resources efficiently in a manner that maximizes the effectiveness of Government programs in serving the American people.” This may sound like a “good government” initiative, but is rather another backhanded attempt to politicize the bureaucracy. Performance Improvement Officers (think political commissars) are to “advise the head of the agency, with respect to a program administered in whole or in part by the agency” and “assist the head of the agency in the development and use within the agency of performance measures in personnel performance appraisals, and, as appropriate, other agency personnel and planning processes.”

There are several aspects of the order which raise red flags. First, this is one of the most corrupt, incompetent, and crony filled Administrations in the history of the Republic. Second, real oversight has always been anathema to Bush and the Republicans. Third, there is already a system of Inspector Generals whose business it is to see that agencies do the jobs they have been tasked with. True, this system has been greatly weakened by the Bush predilection for filling these positions with cronies, but that should not cause anyone to think that Performance Improvement Officers will be any different. Fourth, this Administration has had 7 years to increase efficiency in agencies. If “performance improvement” had ever been a priority, you might think it would have been addressed by now. Fifth, the Executive Order does an end run around Congress. If this were a legitimate proposal, why an Executive Order instead of an enacted law? The answer is because an act of Congress would invite outside oversight. That is not the object of the exercise. Instead, this is a last ditch effort to stack the federal bureaucracy with political hacks and influence agency policies long after the Bush Administration is gone.

284. On November 28, 2007, Al Hubbard a top Bush economic advisor and chairman of the National Economic Council announced his resignation to be effective by the end of the year. Hubbard joined the Council at the beginning of Bush’s second term and leaves in the midst of the subprime fiasco, an ongoing crisis in credit markets, a correction in the stock market, and skyhigh oil prices. On all this, he opined, “We obviously have problems in the housing sector and we have problems in the financial sector, but . . . real America is doing just fine.” “Real” in this context I take to mean “wealthy”. Hubbard backed the Administration’s benighted stance on global warming, its push to privatize Social Security, its opposition to the SCHIP bill (see item 222), and its desire to tax healthcare benefits as income. In other words, Hubbard is a near archetypal example of the Bush advisor. They screw everything up. They get everything wrong, and do so from positions of great responsibility. Then they leave.
[Economy, Incompetence]

285. In the waning months of the Bush Presidency, industry lobbyists are pushing for rule changes at federal departments and agencies. Once finalized these rules can not be easily rescinded or modified by an incoming Administration. The National Association of Manufacturers wants to restrict a Labor Department regulation requiring businesses of 50 or more employees to give their workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for a child birth or personal or family medical problem. Coal companies want the Interior Department to grant them the right to dump the results of their mountaintop mining operations into surrounding valleys and creeks. Some coal powered electric plant operators want the EPA to grant them a waiver on installing anti-pollution equipment. Poultry producer groups want to be able to dump ammonia laden waste from their chickens on the ground. Car manufacturers want the Transportation Department to weaken car roof standards to withstand rollover accidents. Trucking companies also want the department to increase the maximum number of hours truckers can drive. Hopefully, lawsuits will delay many of these until the next Administration but the rush is on.

On May 9, 2008, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten issued a memorandum giving agencies a deadline of June 1, 2008 to submit new rules. While in principle such a move could be a good thing since it avoids dumping last minute rule changes on a new Administration. In practice, the Bush Administration has already made its push for new regulations meant to tie the hands of the next Administration. The decision also would give a further rationale for agencies like the EPA to stall urgently needed regulations on the environment and global warming which the Bush Administration opposes.

Other last minute rules changes would allow uranium mining within 3 miles of the Grand Canyon and mountain top removal mining, i.e. dumping the rubble from strip mining into surrounding vallies with all the destruction of environment and fouling of water that entails.
[Anti-candidate, Environment]

286. In November 2007 in a British appeals court, a lawyer representing the US Alun Jones QC responded to a query that the US has the right to kidnap British citizens if they are wanted under US law. This applies not just to terrorism cases but any offense. It also is applicable to a citizen of any country regardless of whether or not the US has an extradition treaty with it. The case in the UK revolves around members of the Tollman family who are fighting extradition to the US for bank fraud and tax evasion. In 2005, US officials tried to have Gavin Tollman arrested in Canada and driven to the US border where he was to be turned over to US authorities. A Canadian judge ordered his release citing the failure of US officials to follow normal extradition procedures.
[War on Terror]

287. Much as he could scarcely remember Ken Lay after the collapse of Enron (see item 88), in January 2006 Bush said of Abramoff, “I don't know him. I've never sat down with him and had a discussion with the guy.” The White House has so far admitted 7 visits by Abramoff, 6 early in 2001 and one in 2004. Judicial Watch, a conservative group (yes, I know something of a surprise), has sought in a suit all White House records concerning Abramoff’s visits. The White House has countered with yet another State Secrets argument, that release of Secret Service logs would result in the release of Sensitive Security Records and information about how the Secret Service protects the President. At the same time the Bush Administration rationalizes its increasingly intrusive and widespread surveillance of Americans without warrant and in contravention of the 4th Amendment, it hides even its most mundane activities behind stonewalls, stalls, classification, and specious State Secret arguments.
[Abramoff, Corruption]

288. One of the unexpected turns in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see item 274) came in October 2002 when he sought testimony from other terrorists in US custody. Based on a CIA declaration of May 9, 2003, the government made the following disclosure to the defense:

Question: Whether the interrogations of (redacted) are being recorded in any format?
Answer: No.

On April 22, 2005, Moussaoui decided to plead guilty on all charges while denying any role in the 9/11 attacks, something of a logical contradiction. On November 14, 2005, in anticipation of the penalty phase of the trial, a CIA executive declared again:

“U.S. government does not have any video or audio tapes of the interrogations of (redacted)”

In a letter dated October 25, 2007 to US District Judge Brinkema who presided over the Moussaoui trial, US attorneys stated that the CIA notified them on September 13, 2007 that a videotape of an interrogation had turned up. A further search was made which uncovered a second videotape and a short audio tape. Prosecutors maintained that none of these made reference to Moussaoui or to 9/11 and that therefore these errors “do not prejudice the defendant in light of his guilty plea, extensive admissions in the penalty phase, and the jury’s decision not to impose a death sentence.” In other words, no harm no foul.

However as a result of this development in the Moussaoui case, on December 6, 2007, the story dribbled out that the CIA had made tapes of harsh interrogations, i.e. torture but had subsequently ordered them destroyed. Obviously, as the prosecutors’ letter to Brinkema showed, they did not get them all. In an attempt at damage control, current CIA director General Michael Hayden released a letter to CIA employees in which he said taping of interrogations was stopped in 2002 and that the destruction of the tapes was in order to protect CIA officials and their families from retaliation by terrorists. This fairy tale quickly became inoperative as other CIA officials admitted it was also to avoid legal jeopardy since the tapes showed what the world, with the exception of the Bush Administration, would consider torture. The destruction brought on its own legal questions however: destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. The tapes made in 2002 covered two individuals. Because of the link to the Moussaoui trial, the first of these was soon identified as Abu Zubaydah whose testimony Moussaoui had sought. The second was later confirmed to be Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.

From here the story went in two directions. First, it came out that Jose Rodriguez then director of the CIA’s clandestine service ordered destruction of the tapes in November 2005 in or around Judge Brinkema’s second query about tapes. He supposedly did this “on his own” after consulting with two in house attorneys Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger. Second, quite a few people in Washington knew about and had discussed the fate of the tapes between when they were made in 2002 and destroyed in 2005. These included in the intelligence community then DNI John Negroponte, then CIA Director Porter Goss, CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, at the White House Alberto Gonzales the President’s counsel, Harriet Miers who succeeded Gonzales in that position in 2005 after his move to Attorney General, John Bellinger senior attorney at the National Security Council, and David Addington then counsel to the Vice President, and in Congress various members of the Gang of Four: Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Representatives Jane Harman (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Porter Goss (R-FL). It appears that it was only among some of the White House lawyers, i.e. David Addington that there was any sentiment for the tapes’ destruction.

The idea that Rodriguez 3 years on, with talks going high above his pay grade, would suddenly decide on his own to destroy the tapes is as incredible as Hayden’s initial offering on the subject. The two questions about Rodriguez are who got to him and why someone did so at the end of 2005. Was it related to Judge Brinkema’s query or was is something else? Having destroyed what it thought was all the tapes allowed the CIA to reply to Brinkema that it had no tapes of interrogations (of Zubaydah). As the letter of the prosecutors to Judge Brinkema indicates, however, the CIA overlooked others, probably contractors, who made copies of some interrogations.

On December 12, 2007, the House Intelligence Committee announced an inquiry into the “torture tapes”. On December 14, 2007, Attorney General Michael Mukasey tried to shut it down by refusing to let the CIA cooperate with it. The Intel Committee threatened subpoenas on December 19 and the following day Mukasey announced that he would release documents to the committee.

As a parenthesis, Hayden’s contention that videotaping of interrogation sessions ended in 2002 appears to be at variance with the government’s own admission that it “lost” the videotape of Jose Padilla’s last interrogation of March 2, 2004 (before his transfer to civilian custody on January 3, 2006). The judge in the Padilla case was Michael Mukasey.

On January 2, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey named John Durham Deputy US Attorney for Connecticut as Acting US Attorney for Eastern Virginia for the purposes of investigating this matter. However, Durham will not be a special prosecutor. He will report to the Deputy Attorney General and through him to Mukasey and his investigation and any prosecutions that might stem from it must be approved by them. His investigation will be limited to the destruction of the two sets of tapes of the Zubaydah and al Nashiri interrogations and will not address the larger issue of other tapings (such as Padilla’s) and their destruction. Nor will there be any final report to inform the public about what happened. In other words, this is a carefully calibrated exercise in damage control and political kabuki.

At Jane Harman’s request, the CIA released on January 3, 2008, a declassified copy of a February 2003 letter she sent warning against destroying the torture tapes. This was in response to then CIA General Counsel Scott Muller indication that the tapes were slated for destruction. The tapes also figured in an investigation by CIA IG John Helgerson which concluded in May 2004 that the techniques shown might violate international law.

On February 6, 2008, it came out that Robert Spencer the prosecutor in the Moussaoui case had been told by a prosecutor working on a different project about the destruction of the tapes in February or early March 2006. Apparently suffering from the same memory afflictions as the previous Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Spencer says he does not remember being told. That it took another 18 months and the finding of further tapes tells me that Spencer was not terribly energetic in searching for the information that Brinkema had asked for in May 2003 and again in November 2005 or interested in informing her of what he knew.
[Criminality, Law, Torture]

289. Approximately 2.5 million Americans apply for Social Security disability each year. About 2/3 of these are rejected at the state level. Of these, about 575,000 appeal this initial decision and 2/3 of these (~380,000) eventually win a reversal. As a result of underfunding by the Bush Administration and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, a backlog in 2000 of 311,000 cases has grown to 755,000 and the waiting time for an appeals hearing has increased from 258 days to more than 500. Reducing the backlog would cost an extra $100 million a year. Bush would prefer to spend the money on his wars. It's important to have priorities.

290. On December 15, 2007, it came out that the Bush Administration is circulating proposed new rules that would place the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of each service under the control the politically appointed general counsel of that service and give these general counsels power over the promotions of JAG officers. This would effectively politicize military justice and shows that the attempts to politicize the Department of Justice exemplified by the US Attorneys scandal (see item 2) were not an isolated event but part of an ongoing and more general program. It was announced on December 19, 2007 that the DOD’s General Counsel William Haynes who had pushed the idea decided to shelve it “in light of the feedback”. Sometimes shining a bright light in a dark corner has an effect.
[Law, Politics]

291. The unseen costs of Bush’s war. In January 2009, the military reported 7 confirmed suicides with 17 others under investigation. For 2008, 128 suicides were reported with 15 other deaths still under investigation. 108 active duty military personnel committed suicide in 2007. There were 102 suicides in 2006. 52 in 2001. This does not tell the whole story. There is no national tracking of suicides among veterans. A CBS investigation using data from states for 2005 into this aspect showed that veterans in general commit suicide at a rate roughly twice that of non-veterans (18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000 versus 8.9 per 100,000). However, among young veterans ages 20 to 24 who served during the war on terror (data from 2004-2005), the suicide rate was 2 1/2 to nearly 4 times as high as for the general population (22.9 to 31.9 per 100,000 versus 8.3 per 100,000)

In the period 2001-2007, the military discharged 22,500 service people from the armed forces for a “pre-existing” personality disorder. Those who were so discharged lost healthcare and disability benefits and in some cases were forced to repay re-enlistment bonuses. In fact, many of them were suffering from problems they acquired during their service, such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

A study* in the November 14, 2007 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) compared a health questionnaire given to service people immediately after leaving Iraq and again at a median of 6 months later. 88,235 Army soldiers were found to have responded to both questionnaires in the time period between June 1, 2005 and December 31, 2006. The cohort obtained contained both active duty and National Guard and Reserve. Marines were not included because few had completed both questionnaires. Both active duty and reserve soldiers reported similar rates of traumatic combat experiences (69.6% vs 66.5%). Based on the two questionnaires, clinicians identified 20.3% of active duty and 42.4% of reserve/National Guard who required mental health treatment. Increasing problems between the two questionnaires included:

Intrapersonal conflicts: active duty 3.5% to 14.0% and reserves 4.2% to 21.1%
PTSD: active duty 11.8% to 16.7% and reserves 12.7% to 24.5%
Depression: active duty 4.7% to 10.3% and reserves 3.8% to 13.0%
Overall mental health risk: active duty 17.0% to 27.1% and reserves 17.5% to 35.5%

Of those who reported a high rate of PTSD symptoms on the first questionnaire 59.2% of active duty and 49.4% of reserves reported improvement by the second questionnaire. However, twice as many new cases of PTSD showed up on the second questionnaire.

While the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans recite endlessly the mantra of supporting the troops, the reality is that beyond using them in their wars they have no interest in them.

As a March 2007 story in Salon relates, women in the military in Iraq also faced physical and psychological injury from rape and sexual assault by fellow soldiers.

A March 2008 Army study based on 2,295 anonymous surveys completed in October/November 2007 of NCOs (sergeants also known as the backbone of the Army) on their third and fourth tours in Iraq found that 27.2% of them reported mental health problems. 11.9% reported such problems after a first deployment and 18.5% after a second one. Soldiers also reported significant problems with relationships, morale, and effectiveness.

A RAND study “Invisible Wounds of War” released April 17, 2008 estimated that 300,000 of the 1.64 million US military personnel who have served tours in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Based on a survey of 1,965 of these from 24 communities, only 53% had sought medical help in the last year. About half of those that did received minimally adequate care. This represents a grossly underserved population and a costly long term public health problem. Additionally, the report found 320,000 troops have experienced a probable traumatic brain injury during their deployments with as yet unknown health consequences.

An April 21, 2008 CBS story uncovered a February 13, 2008 email by Dr. Ira Katz the VA’s head of mental health entitled “Not for the CBS News Interview Request.” It read “Shhh! Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?” Katz wrote his email a few days after the VA had given CBS data showing that there had only been 790 suicide attempts in all of 2007. Katz had previously criticized a November 2007 CBS story (see above) which had suggested that the VA faced an epidemic of suicide. In the story, CBS estimated some 6,200 suicides in 2005. Yet in a December 13, 2007 email Katz stated that the VA was seeing 18 suicides a day in its facilities or 6,570 a year, in keeping with the CBS numbers. The VA appears more interested in avoiding its own embarrassment than in seriously addressing what is an acute healthcare problem

A March 2008 study by the Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team based on anonymous questionnaires (so likely underreporting the numbers) found 12% of combat troops in Iraq and 17% in Afghanistan were on either an anti-depressant or a sleeping pill. The split was about 50-50 between the two medications.

In a March 20, 2008 email obtained through a FOIA request by CREW and VoteVets.org and released May 15, 2008, Norma Perez, a psychologist in a PTSD program at the VA hospital in Temple, Texas wrote

Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder, R/O [Rule out] PTSD.

Additionally, we really don’t or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.

Also, there have been some incidence where the veteran has a C & P [Compensation and Pension exam], is not given a diagnosis of PTSD, then the veteran comes here and we give the diagnosis, and the veteran appeals his case based on our assessment.

This is just a suggestion for the reasons listed above.

In testimony on June 3, 2008 before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Perez said her “suggestion” was meant “unequivocally to improve the quality of care our veterans received.” As the email makes clear, however, Perez’s concern was not with care (which the email does not address) but with reducing the number of PTSD diagnoses and compensation claims associated with them.

*Milliken, Charles, Auchterlonie, Jennifer, and Hoge, Charles. Longitudinal assessment of mental health problems among active and reserve component soldiers returning from the Iraq War. JAMA. (November 14, 2007) pp. 2141-2148.

[Health, Supporting the Troops]

292. In a civil complaint, Jamie Leigh Jones alleged that at the age of 19 while working for Halliburton/KBR in Houston, Texas, she was forced into a sexual relationship with her supervisor Eric Iler. She was able to obtain a transfer to another department Overseas Administrative Services (OAS) and a posting to Iraq. Iler made efforts to gain a supervisory position over her there. When this did not happen he filed a bad recommendation in her file. Jones arrived at Camp Hope in the Green Zone in Baghdad on July 25, 2005 and was quartered in essentially a male barracks. On July 28, 2007, she was drugged and brutally gang raped by KBR employees working as firefighters, including Charles Boartz named in the complaint. She informed a KBR official of the rape and was seen by KBR medical personnel. State Department officials were also notified and a rape kit was administered when she was seen at the Army hospital. The rape kit was turned over to KBR employees and subsequently disappeared. Jones was then held in a trailer against her will without food, water, or means of communication until she was able to persuade a guard to lend her his cell phone. She was able to get through to her father in Texas who contacted their Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX). Jones was then given the choice of either getting over it or returning to Texas with no assurance of a job. She filed suit in Texas against Halliburton, KBR, named and unnamed defendants, and the US government on May 16, 2007. Halliburton has sought to be removed from the suit because it has since divested itself of KBR. KBR has sought to enforce a provision of Jones’ contract for binding arbitration, where it has usually been successful. This would also keep the file sealed. Jones’ husband also being a plaintiff, however, is not so constrained. On December 19, 2007, Jones testified before Congress.

In some ways, this was inevitable. Bremer’s Order 17 placed contractors outside Iraqi law and US officials at State and Defense made no attempt to place them under American jurisdiction. Even after her rape no US government entity made a serious attempt to investigate the rape. Nor did Halliburton, KBR, and OAS exercise any meaningful guidance over their employees. The result was that contractors operated essentially outside any law, and they behaved accordingly. Shooting Iraqis or raping a young woman, the attitude of impunity is the same. They do it because they know they can.

Along these lines, in mid-December 2007, the Departments of Justice, State, and Defense all missed deadlines to respond to Congressional queries into the status of any of their investigations. Justice refused to send a spokesperson to Jones’ appearance before Congress on December 19. The DOD Inspector General Claude Kicklighter indicated that he would not investigate and defer to the Justice Department investigation but would look into other matters such as what happened to the rape kit.

Jones’ case is by no means an aberration. A Nation article recounts a similar brutal rape that occurred in January 2008 involving contractors and at least one serviceman. A KBR supervisor told her to keep it quiet and when she received an email from her attorney about the matter her computer was seized as “evidence”. It is not clear how much of an investigation the Army’s CID is conducting. One Houston law firm alone is handling 15 cases of sexual assault, harassment, and retaliation for reporting these involving KBR and related companies. KBR continues to force these cases into binding arbitration where they can be hushed up. By February 2008, 38 women who had worked for contractors had contacted Jones.
[Contractors, Criminality, Inspector General, Iraq]

293. Yet another database because all the other ones, you know, have proved so effective. The FBI is planning on spending a billion dollars over 10 years to create the world’s largest biometric database Next Generation Identification (NGI) containing an individual’s iris patterns, fingerprints, facial information, and scars. Eventually, it could include other parameters such as how people walk and talk. The idea is that the government could use this system to catch the bad guys. The reality is that it can be used against anyone the government wishes to identify and follow. It would be available to authorized users which would include some 900,000 state, federal, and local law enforcement officials. It would be connected to the Terrorist Screening Center (see item 116) as well as the FBI’s own National Crime Information Center. Like a lot of these programs, it has its gee whiz selling points: being able to capture iris patterns at 15 feet or identifying a face at 200 yards. Getting such features to actually work, however, often doesn’t happen but can be incredibly expensive and lead to vast cost overruns, something this program seems almost designed to do. It also overlooks how laughably antiquated most of the FBI’s current computer systems are. But there is a more fundamental question which all these databases raise.

Will they catch terrorists? The answer is a few perhaps. The NGI is essentially a confirmatory system. Technical problems aside, it works if you already know who you are looking for and that person has been scanned and conveniently walks before another scanner for you. It also works if you have someone already in custody and you query the system and get lucky. But it won’t identify high level targets because Osama bin Laden is unlikely to oblige the FBI by walking through an American airport. Nor will it identify those involved in another terrorist attack on this country because they will be chosen from those who have not been scanned or whose links to terrorism are unknown. As it is, the system is far more likely to be used as an expensive adjunct to current fingerprint records in criminal cases in this country.
[Surveillance, War on Terror]

294. From November 2002 to September 2003, Eric Andell was deputy undersecretary for safe and drug-free schools at the Department of Education. He authorized $8,659 of official travel for himself. This amounted to 14 trips, one to New York to see a Broadway show. Others included taking paid sick leave while he, in fact, was working as a visiting judge in Texas in order to qualify for a judicial pension. On April 29, 2005, he pled guilty to one count of conflict of interest. He was sentenced on August 25, 2005 to one year of probation, 100 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine, and restitution of the money used. The amount of money involved was small as these things go but that is rather the point. It is the sheer venality of it all and from a judge no less.

295. Lester Crawford was confirmed as the head of the FDA on July 18, 2005 and resigned two months later on September 23, 2005. His confirmation had been held up until he promised to act on the application to make the Plan B contraceptive over the counter but once in he reneged on the deal and postponed a decision. His sudden resignation, however, stemmed from a series of false statements and conflicts of interest. He failed to disclose $28,000 in stock options from a poultry biotechnology company Embrex on whose board he had sat. He stated falsely in a 2004 filing that he had divested his holdings in the food services giant Sysco and Kimberly-Clark (which makes Kleenex). In a clear conflict of interest, he chaired the FDA’s Obesity Working Group while at the same time holding stock in Sysco and Pepsico. On October 17, 2006, he pled guilty to two misdemeanors. He was sentenced on February 27, 2007 to 3 years probation and a $90,000 fine.
[Corruption, Health]

296. Carl Truscott, a 22 year veteran of the Secret Service, became head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on April 18, 2004. He announced his resignation on August 4, 2006, six months into an investigation by the DOJ’s Inspector General. Truscott it seems was more interested in spending $300,000 to decorate his office at the ATF’s new headquarters (at a time of budget cuts) than he was in actually running the agency. Then there was the use of ATF staff to put together a video report for a young relative’s school project. This illustrates the essential paradox of an Administration that in public obsesses about terrorism and demands the power to strip away Constitutional protections but which chooses to have its war on terror run by the ineffectual, the clueless, and the incompetent.
[Incompetence, War on Terror]

297. Both John Korsmo, chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board (an independent regulatory agency) and his wife Michelle Korsmo, deputy chief of staff at Labor, resigned in 2004 as the result of an investigation into an October 2002 fundraising event for North Dakota Republican congressional candidate Rick Clayburgh (He lost). John Krosmo was listed as the “Special Guest” on invitations which were sent to the presidents of the 12 banks the Federal Housing Finance Board regulates. In April 2005, John Korsmo pled guilty to making false statements to a Senate committee and the agency’s Inspector General about his and wife’s role in the event. In July 2005, he was sentenced to 18 months probation and a $5,000 fine.

298. Bush job creation. Looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusted numbers for nonfarm jobs (defined as those not involving farm work, general government, private households, or nonprofit organizations serving individuals), in its 8 years (from January 2001 to January 2009 (est.)), the Bush Administration created 2,111,000 jobs or 21,990/month. 150,000 to 200,000 per month would be expected to accompany an economic expansion or, in other words, 14.4 million to 19.2 million over the course of an 8 year Presidency. Under Bush, the economy also lost 4,401,000 manufacturing jobs. These are jobs that traditionally had good wages and benefits and at the end of the Bush Administration accounted for only 12.71 million of the nation’s 134.6 million nonfarm jobs (or 9.4% of them). Bush lost twice as many of these good paying manufacturing jobs during his time in office as he has created jobs of all other kinds. In all, the US lost 25.7% of its manufacturing jobs under Bush.

By contrast in the 8 years of the Clinton Administration (from January 1993 to January 2001), 22,744,000 nonfarm jobs were created or ~237,000/month. Bush’s job creation rate was only 9.3% of the Clinton rate. At the same time, manufacturing jobs in the Clinton years showed a modest increase of 323,000.

The high point for Bush job growth came in December 2007 just as, according to the NBER, the economy went into recession. At that point, Bush had created 5,609,000 or a quarter of those created by Clinton. From then to the end of his term, the economy shed 3,572,000 jobs (2,473,000 in the last 5 months of his term alone).

Despite his protestations to the contrary, these numbers paint a truly dismal picture of job growth during the Bush years.

299. Chris Christie the US Attorney for New Jersey and former Bush Pioneer (see item 112) steered no bid contracts to monitor legal settlements to former Bush and state Republican officials. In the business friendly Bush Administration settlements have been favored over indicting corporations involved in wrongdoing. Christie gave one 18 month contract to former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft’s consulting firm worth between $28 and $52 million. The company concerned was Zimmer Holdings which had been accused of paying kickbacks to doctors using its knee and hip implants. Information on the contract came out in October 2007 in filings of Zimmer Holdings to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). Others given such contracts were David Kelley, a respected prosecutor, Democrat, and former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) under Bush, Debra Wong Yang (see item 169) former US Attorney for Central California (Los Angeles) also under Bush, and David Samson, former New Jersey Republican Attorney General. Democratic politicians raised the issue of favoritism and Christie referred the matter to the DOJ where an internal inquiry through the Criminal Division was begun. New guidelines but no charges are expected.

As of April 2008, the DOJ has entered into some 50 deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) with major corporations such as Monsanto, American Express, Merrill Lynch, the Bank of New York, AmSouth Bank, and KPMG. The criticism of these agreements is that they do not deter criminal activity by corporations but give them a less expensive way of dealing with its consequences.
[Cronyism, Politicization of the DOJ]

300. On January 10, 2008, the Justice Department released an Inspector General’s report showing that the FBI was incredibly sloppy in paying its bills on wiretaps. In a sampling of 990 payments from 5 field offices, over half were not paid on time. The study went on to note, “We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence including an instance where delivery of intercept information required by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order was halted due to untimely payment.” One field office was behind $66,000 in its payments to a single carrier. The reason for this is that the FBI has no clear accounting system to process, track, and make payments. This allowed one FBI employee to steal $25,000 in such funds. She pled guilty in June 2006. This case raises two issues. The first is how much to trust an organization often engaged in secret and intrusive investigations that can’t even pay its phone bills. The second is just how “patriotic” are the telecoms for whom immunity is being sought with regard to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program when they are willing to cut off a wiretap for nonpayment of service.
[Incompetence, War on Terror]

301. On January 11, 2008, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a suit by 4 British Moslems formerly held at Guantanamo: Shafiq Rasul (yes, that Rasul), Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Jamal al Harith. They had sued in part under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but the court found that they were not “persons” under the act since they were aliens who had been held outside the United States. They also alleged torture to which the court responded, “It was foreseeable that conduct that would ordinarily be indisputably ‘seriously criminal’ would be implemented by military officials responsible for detaining and interrogating suspected enemy combatants.” The finding under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a dodge but in its denial of legal rights to non US citizens it leads directly to the admission that seriously criminal conduct against non US citizens, i.e. torture is acceptable to the point of being foreseeable as far as the US judicial system is concerned. This is extraordinary, frightening, and desperately disappointing.
[Guantanamo, Law, Torture, War on Terror]

302. On December 13, 2003, George Bush signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 (HSPD-7) that directed the federal government to come up with a National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) within one year (December 2004) to “identify, prioritize, and coordinate the protection of critical infrastructure and key resources.” This included a National Asset Data Base (NADB) or terror target list in conjunction with the states. By the time of a June 2006 Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, the plan still wasn’t ready.

A lack of clear guidelines and general disorganization so typical of the DHS led to the terrorist target list expanding form 160 to 77,069. This was mostly do to two separate and uncoordinated calls to the states for their input. Only about 14% (11,018) of the potential targets named were determined to be of national significance. Some of the terrorist targets listed in the first call to the states included Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, Bean Fest, Nix’s Check Cashing, the American Society of Young Musicians , 4 Cs Fuel and Lube, DPW Landfill, [state] Right to Life Committee, Sweetwater Flea Market, Amish Country Popcorn, Mule Day Parade, and Beach at End of [a] Street. There were also 1,305 casinos, 25 golf courses, 34 Coca Cola bottlers, 718 mortuaries, and 127 gas stations on the list. Indiana led all states with security assets (8,591) almost as many as New York (5,687) and California (3,212) combined. In other words, the terrorist target list was an unholy mess. Yet it was being used to help make decisions about DHS funding.

Pork, bureaucratic mismanagement, and incompetence have been hallmarks of the DHS. The list and the problems that plague the department explain why in 2005 Wyoming ($27.80) received almost twice as much per capita as New York ($15.54), why in 2006 Dillingham, Alaska (pop. 2,400) which didn’t have a single streetlight got DHS funds to purchase 80 security cameras, and why on May 31, 2006 (days before the Inspector General’s report came out), the DHS decided to cut funding to New York City and Washington, D.C. the two cities attacked on 9/11 by 40%. What can I say but heckuva job.
[Incompetence, War on Terror]

303. On January 11, 2008, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Nelson v. NASA ruled that a group of contract employees in low risk jobs (i.e. not involving classified materials) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory did not have to undergo intrusive background checks or face losing their jobs while their case went forward in district court. The issue in question principally concerns the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPB-12) issued August 27, 2004 which established “a mandatory, Government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification issued by the Federal Government to its employees and contractors” for the purposes of “gaining physical access to Federally controlled facilities and logical access to Federally controlled information systems.”

The problem is that the questionnaire used (Form 42) goes far beyond any information needed for identification. It requires employees sign an Authorization for the Release of Information that “authorizes the government to collect ‘any information relating to [his or her] activities from schools, residential management agents, employers, criminal justice agencies, retail business establishments, or other sources of information.’” Any and all of these could expect to receive open-ended questions about the employee’s criminal history, financial matters, mental and emotional stability, general conduct, and drug and alcohol abuse. The court agreed that under the circumstances this kind of background check was overly broad and likely violated the employees’ right to informational privacy.

The other grounds that the government put forward, protection of information systems under FISMA (the Federal Information Security Management Act) and security screening under the Space Act, the court found not to be relevant since these were by definition low risk jobs without access to secure information. What this comes down to is the government wants the right to conduct security screening even when security is not an issue, but I suppose that is to be expected from a government that believes in secrecy but not privacy and that demands information but doesn’t know how to use it.
[Law, War on Terror]

304. The Coast Guard is in the process of building 8 cutters as part of a fleet expansion program called Deepwater which is overbudget and behind schedule. The cost of the first vessel the 418 foot Bertholf has doubled to $640 million and is 8 months late. It has hundreds of problems with its communications system (supplied by Lockheed Martin) which will prevent it from dealing with classified information. It also has design flaws (Northrop Grumman is the builder) that could lead to premature cracks due to metal fatigue reducing the ship’s projected 30 year life span. The Coast Guard, nevertheless, was willing to accept receipt of the ship and repair these defects despite it being the contractor’s responsibility.

On September 25, 2007, a whistleblower Anthony D’Amiento passed on sensitive but unclassified documents showing that the Coast Guard was aware of these problems. On October 1, 2007, D’Amiento was put on leave and instructed to cooperate with Coast Guard investigators, which he did. On October 29, 2007, he was told that he could pick up his home and office computers being held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General. When he arrived, he was met by Paul Weare an investigator for the DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner who tried to question D’Amiento without his lawyer being present. D’Amiento refused at which point 3 security guards appeared. One of them pointed a gun at D’Amiento’s chest and he was told he would be arrested if he ever came back. His computers were not returned. This kind of brutish, clownish behavior all in the effort to cover up a service that can’t get its radios to work or its ships to float is exactly what you would expect of Michael Chertoff’s DHS. It is also another example of how the government goes after whistleblowers rather than the greedy, incompetent, and corrupt they expose.

Nor was this the first problem the Coast Guard had since it let its Deepwater contract to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin in 2002. There was an initial plan to add 13 foot extensions to all 49 of its 110 foot Island class cutters at a cost of $11 million a piece. In 2004, one of these the Matagorda fleeing Hurricane Ivan was subsequently found to have a 6 inch crack in its deck and buckling in the structural members of its hull beneath its main engine. Shaft alignment problems were also found. Following a lengthy study, on November 30, 2006, the 8 ships which had undergone the hull extension at a cost of $88 million were pulled from service.

The Coast Guard and its contractors next went for a 140 foot Fast Response Cutter made out of composite materials, instead of steel. Except that none of them knew much about composite materials and after $26.7 million, they still didn’t have a viable design. The take home message here is that, despite repeated failures, the defense contractors involved are doing fine. I just hope that Coast Guard personnel know how to swim.
[Incompetence, Whistleblower]

305. More revolving door. Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (March 7, 2003-December 31, 2006), part of the chain that led to Abu Ghraib, a major promoter of Rumsfeld’s transformation policy was hired by a British defense research company QinetiQ (pronounced “kinetic”) less than a year after his departure from the Pentagon as their vice president for strategy. Two months later, in January 2008, QinetiQ was awarded a $30 million 5 years contract with CIFA (see item 158) which Cambone oversaw during his time at the Pentagon. QinetiQ has an interesting history. It was spun off by the British government in 2001 although its Ministry of Defense continues to have a 2/3 ownership interest. In 2003, the Carlyle Group purchased the remaining third and in an agreement gained effective control. It sold out in February 2007. In 2005, QinetiQ bought Apogen a company that Cambone had dealings with as Undersecretary. In January 2007, it acquired Analex which it renamed QinetiQ North America or QNA. In 2006, QNA was the 11th largest intelligence contractor with revenues of $1.5 billion. It is this segment that got the CIFA contract. Cambone’s Pentagon intelligence connections and insider knowledge promise to serve him and QinetiQ well. The rest of us? Not so much.
[Revolving Door]

306. In the largest breach of its kind in history, on May 3, 2006, a laptop was stolen from the home of a VA analyst in Aspen Hill, Maryland. It contained personal information, such as names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers, on 26.5 million veterans going back to 1975. Included were 1.1 million active duty personnel, 430,000 National Guard, and 645,000 reservists. The theft was not made public until 19 days later on May 22, 2006. Both the theft and the delay in announcing it left millions at risk of identity theft. James Nicholson the head of the VA (2005-2007) and former chairman of the Republican Party (1997-2000) stated initially, “a data analyst, took home a considerable amount of electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do.” In fact, the analyst was authorized to take a laptop home and access veterans’ data. The question is why? The answer is the VA’s sloppy approach to security.

Following the posting of a $50,000 reward by Montgomery County, the laptop was recovered on June 28, 2006. Apparently, it had been resold on the street and when the new owner compared serial numbers and found out about the reward, it was quickly returned. On August 5, 2006, two 19 year olds were arrested for the theft. They said they did not know it contained the VA data until they read about it in the newspapers.

The cost of the theft? Various lawsuits by veterans. $25 million for the VA to set up a call center and send alerts to veterans about the theft and its potential risks. A request by Bush for an extra $160.5 million for free credit monitoring for veterans. And the cost to avoid this mess? Nothing but a little common sense.

Oh and then it happened again. On August 3, 2006, a VA contractor Unisys reported a computer had gone missing from its offices in Reston, Virginia. It contained information on up to 38,000 veterans treated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. According to the VA, the information included patients’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurance carriers and billing information, dates of military service, and claims data that may include some medical information.

On August 14, 2006, VA head James Nicholson announced that all VA computers would receive encryption upgrades effective immediately.

You would think they would learn. On February 23, 2008 a laptop from the National Institutes of Health was stolen. It contained 7 years of clinical trial data on 2,500 patients, including names, birthdates, and medical reports. The data were not encrypted as they should have been. Acting responsibly, the appropriate review board was quickly notified on February 29, 2008 and it was immediately put on the agenda of the next meeting scheduled for March 4, 2008. Working at breakneck speed, the review board had a draft letter to patients ready by March 18. It took only two more days for board members to give it their final approval, nearly a month after the original theft. This is not so much closing the barndoor after the horse has bolted but more like doing it after the horse has died of old age. Government officials simply do not take the private information of American citizens seriously.
[Health, Incompetence, Supporting the Troops]

307. The strength of a currency relative to others is a measure of an economy’s health. The strength and stability of the dollar are especially important because of its prominent role in world trade. That crude oil is still mainly priced in dollars is of great benefit to us since the Federal Reserve can in part pay for our oil addiction simply by printing more money. During the Bush years, however, the political and economic strength of the dollar has deteriorated putting its privileged position in jeopardy. A cheaper dollar allows us to export more but this advantage is more than offset by our insatiable appetite for imports be it crude oil or goods from Asia, especially China.

As a result, between January 19, 2001 and January 18, 2008, the dollar has fallen against most major currencies:

Euro -36%
Canadian dollar -32%
British pound -25%
Chinese yuan -12.5%
Japanese yen -9%

The smaller decrease of the dollar against the yuan may seem odd at first but it is the result of a very deliberate policy of the Chinese government to encourage its export sector by keeping its currency artificially low against the dollar (and so making its goods cheaper). Even against a sluggish Japanese economy the dollar fell. As in so many other instances, Bush has taken a strength and turned it into a weakness.

308. On January 19, 2001 as Bush was taking office, the spot price for a barrel of Cushing West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for domestically produced oil, was $32.12. Seven years later on January 18, 2008, it was $90.55 a 182% increase, and this as with the following examples was after a period of price declines.

A more general measure of US crude oil is a weighted US spot price which takes into account oil imports.
For the week of January 19, 2001, this price was $23.59/barrel.
For that of January 18, 2008, it was $85.36, a 262% increase.

As for gasoline, conventional regular retailed:
For the week of January 22, 2001 at $1.46 a gallon.
For the week of January 21, 2008 at $2.99, a 105% increase.

Many parts of the country use reformulated regulars which contain anti-pollution additives.
For the week of January 22, 2001, this price was $1.51 a gallon.
For the week of January 21, 2008, it was $3.07, a 104% increase.

There are several reasons for these price increases: a bumbling, warmongering foreign policy, a weak dollar, the lack of any real energy policy, hedge fund driven speculation, and various machinations by the oil companies. Curiously, the imminence of peak oil and demand outstripping supply has only played a minor role in price run ups as of early 2008.
[Economy, Energy]

309. John Bolton is often seen as that crazy guy with the funny moustache who was our UN Ambassador for a while. He was a lot more. Before his tenure as UN Ambassador from August 1, 2005 to December 9, 2006 in a recess appointment, he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from May 11, 2001 to August 1, 2005.

Bolton has cycled through most of the think tanks of Right wingnuttia and has been the protégé of many of the luminaries of that world, including Jesse Helms, Edwin Meese, Jim Baker III, and Dick Cheney.

In 1986-1987, as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs, he stonewalled investigations into drug smuggling and arms running by the Contras. In a February 3, 1994 speech, he opined that the UN could lose its top 10 stories without any problem (see item 35). He was a signer of the January 26, 1998 Project for the New American Century letter to Bill Clinton which stated the neocon agenda which served as a blueprint for the Bush Administration:

“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy”

From 1999-2001, he was a senior vice president at the bastion of neoconservatism the American Enterprise Institute. He participated in the Republican push to stop the 2000 Florida recount under Jim Baker’s direction.

In 2001, he was made Undersecretary for Arms Control over Colin Powell’s objection and at Dick Cheney’s behest.

In 2001, Bolton, a member of the NRA, announced at the U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons that the US would oppose any regulation in this trade that has caused so much death in the Third World because it would “abrogate the constitutional right to bear arms.”

After the anthrax scare which followed 9/11, he spiked UN efforts for a treaty on bioweapons.

In May 2002, Bolton claimed without any evidence that Cuba not only had a biowarfare capacity but was selling it.

On May 6, 2002, Bolton asked for and received the privilege of communicating to UN Secretary Kofi Annan that the US was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. (Clinton had given preliminary approval on December 31, 2000 at the very end of his term to the Treaty of Rome which created the court.)

In 2002 and 2003, Bolton accused Libya of aggressively pursuing WMD. Libya had begun talks with Britain and the US in March 2003 as the Iraq war began to eliminate its WMD programs (which, in the event and contrary to Bolton’s charges, were not very advanced). His activities nearly derailed the talks and it was only after Britain requested his removal from them that they were successfully concluded in December 2003.

In June 2003, he enunciated a “rollback” strategy on WMD aimed not just at preventing their spread but eliminating them from “rogue” states which already possessed them, such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Libya, etc.

On July 31, 2003, he again jeopardized arms control negotiations when he gave an unauthorized speech in Seoul. In it, he lambasted Kim Jung Il’s human rights record barely a month before the first round of six party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was to begin on August 27, 2003. While such criticisms were justified, they were seen as an attempt to sabotage the arms talks and it took some fast foot work to limit the damage he created.

Also in July 2003, Bolton had to postpone an appearance before Congress in the face of a revolt by intelligence analysts over his exaggeration of Syrian chemical and biological weapons programs which he characterized as destabilizing the Middle East. In June, he had already testified that Syria had much more of a nuclear program than it in fact had. (To date, Syria’s nuclear program has been fairly minimal in nature.)

And there was his treatment of nuclear materials in Russia (see item 91).

In 2005, Bolton led an unsuccessful push to oust Mohammed ElBaradei the head of the UN’s IAEA (see item 122) because he had been right about Iraqi WMD and skeptical of claims that Iran had a nuclear arms program.

You may be beginning to detect a pattern here. Bolton’s job was arms control but his manner and demands were so extreme and his views so wrong that he posed an existential threat to any arms control negotiations he got near. He combined great aggressiveness with equally great ineffectiveness.

Nor was it just that he was a loose cannon. He was a loose cannon with an agenda. He withheld information from his superiors, and it became the job of Colin Powell’s deputy Richard Armitage to muzzle Bolton (as much as that was possible) and encourage those who reported to Bolton to communicate directly with him.

Bolton was consistent about one thing. He was vindictive toward anyone who disagreed with him. In an effort to spy on and embarrass his superiors and coworkers, he requested raw NSA transcripts 10 times (4 times in 2003, 3 times in 2004, and 3 times in 2005, in all containing the names of 18 American individuals). (NSA transcripts are required to have the names of Americans redacted. It says something about Bolton’s pull that he was able to get a hold of the raw transcripts containing the unredacted names. On the other hand, it later came out that the release of unredacted transcripts was much more common than previously thought and that the NSA had released up to 10,000 names to various departments of government.) Bolton was less restrained with subordinates. In these cases, he would go directly to their immediate superiors and seek to have them punished or fired. A former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Carl Ford said succinctly of Bolton that he was “a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.”

Although he was more visible and well known as UN Ambassador, his power was greatly diminished in this role. It was limited further by the time constraints of the recess appointment. This was as it was no doubt meant to be. Being Cheney’s man meant he could not be fired, but he could be promoted out of the way, and this is what happened. John Bolton is a stellar example of the Bush/Cheney flair for choosing the absolutely worst person for a job. He did a great deal of damage but could have done much more if he had not alienated everyone around him.
[Anti-candidate, Crony, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, WMD]

310. NRDC v. Winter (Donald Winter, Secretary of the Navy). The Navy planned 14 training exercises using mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar off the coast of California from February 2007 to January 2009 (6 of which took place). Although its own studies predicted over the two year period 170,000 exposures of marine mammals to sound levels between 170-195 decibels, 8,000 cases of temporary sensory damage, and 466 cases of permanent injury, the Navy maintained there would be no significant impact on the environment and consequently prepared no Environmental Impact Statement in conformance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Using a similar rationale, it submitted a pro forma notification to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) as required by the Coastal Zone Management Act which mandates federal cooperation with states in the management of coastal resources.

Environmental groups led by the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) filed suit on March 22, 2007 in federal court for the Central District of California Florence-Marie Cooper presiding. They sought a temporary injunction until the Navy instituted measures to mitigate the effects of its MFA sonar on marine mammals. This could not have come as a surprise to the Navy since it had entered into an agreement with these groups in different exercises off Hawaii only 9 months before.

In August 2007 a preliminary injunction was granted but stayed on appeal by the 9th Circuit. On November 13, 2007, the case was remanded to district court. The Navy was to be permitted to hold its exercises but with proper mitigation measures in place. The government and environmental groups could not agree on these so based on presentations made to it, the court steered a middle course and issued an order on January 3, 2008 requiring a 12 nautical mile exclusion zone along the coast, better monitoring of whales, and establishment of larger safe zones around them. The order was revised for clarity on January 10, 2008. The government filed its appeal on the 11th and the court denied it a stay pending appeal on the 14th.

On January 15, 2008, President Bush exempted the Navy from compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). In a written memo, he cited the act’s triggering language for an exemption asserting that the naval exercises were in the “paramount interest of the United States (Title 16 Ch. 33, Sec 1456 (c)(1)(B).

On the same day, the White House Council for Environmental Quality headed by the horrendous Jim Connaughton (see item 23) cited Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations Sec. 1506.11 which gave it authority to grant an exemption to environmental regulations in cases of emergency and approved “alternative arrangements” for the Navy which amounted essentially to the proposals the Navy had made to the court and which the court had found unacceptable.

With the Bush memo and CEQ statement in hand and still on the 15th, the government appealed to the 9th Circuit to vacate the district court order. The following day, the 9th Circuit again remanded the issue to the district court for consideration.

Judge Cooper issued her opinion on February 4, 2008. In it, she found that the CEQ’s “emergency” exemption to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) was without merit because there was no emergency and so her order stood.

What made this something other than another Bush attack on the environment was the Constitutional issue it raised which Judge Cooper discussed but did not use in her ruling. The Bush Administration had not sought relief through the appeals process which was its right but had through its Presidential memo and CEQ opinion attempted to nullify the order of a federal court by means of administrative fiat. This was a violation of the separation of powers since Congress can not vest the Executive with the right to review the decision of a federal court. In the case of the CEQ, the violation of this principle was clear. As for the CZMA, it was more nuanced. Per its language, the President was required to wait until a federal court had weighed in before issuing an exemption. This he had done. The question was whether such an action obligated the court in any way to vacate its injunction. If Bush had granted an exemption due to a deficiency in the underlying law, he might have had a point. As it was, he wished to change a legal result he didn’t like. Under separation of powers, his recourse was and is to appeal the decision in the courts, not unilaterally change it on his own. This case is important because it illustrates the Bush Administration’s Constitutional overreach, its disregard for the environment, and its refusal to accept a fair and duly arrived at compromise.

On June 23, 2008, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case. On November 12, 2008, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision written by Roberts and with Breyer voting vague vacated the lower court’s stay which limited the Navy’s use of sonar and accused the lower court of abusing its discretion. Roberts pointedly declared that his opinion wasn’t addressing the merits of the NRDC’s case but in the mendacious and convoluted writing that marks his opinions he made it clear that if the Navy wanted it that was good enough for him, and no one had shown that sea mammals were being irreparably harmed anyway, and even if they were, he didn’t care. The usual klatch of arch-conservatives on the Court endorsed this view.
[Environment, Law]

311. The Federal Protective Service (FPS), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is tasked with providing security and law enforcement services to some 8,800 facilities owned or leased by the Government Services Administration (GSA) at which some 1 million people work. In 2007, it had a work force of 1100 (down from 1400 in 2004). Of these, 756 were inspectors or police officers. It also employs some 15,000 contract guards who are used primarily in fixed post and gate positions. Most have no anti-terrorism training and do not have the authority to arrest or detain anyone. It is FPS policy to move to an all contract work force supervised by a few inspectors. Already at most locations, the FPS has no means of forestalling or preventing a crime and can only respond to one after it has occurred. Hours of operation have been reduced. Security equipment has not been maintained. There is no oversight of contract workers or means to address poor performance by them. In one instance a homeless person was found incidentally in a FPS protected building 3 months after dying. In another a $500,000 surveillance trailer was stolen. The theft was caught on security cameras while guards were on duty but was not reported until 3 days later and only after the agency which owned the trailer had begun making inquiries.

FPS says that it is increasingly relying on local police departments to perform its functions but has not completed any agreement with a department to that effect. Many local departments don’t know this because the FPS has never told them. Some when informed of the FPS’ intentions said that they would refuse to take on the extra responsibility. How this would work is unclear. Questions of local versus federal jurisdiction have been left hanging.

Additionally, the FPS has been chronically underfunded since its move from GSA to DHS in 2003. To make up for the shortfalls, staff and training have been reduced. This has led to poor morale, a high attrition rate in FPS personnel, and a loss of institutional memory.

Privatization of security, generalized disorganization, underfunding, ineffectiveness, and incompetence, all of which put federal facilities at risk, it is classic Michael Chertoff and another of his DHS follies.
[DHS, Incompetence, War on Terror]

312. In the summer of 2005, the RAND Corporation, the think tank to the military-industrial complex submitted a report entitled “Rebuilding Iraq” commissioned by the Army. It was critical of both civilian and military leadership and planning following the initial combat phase in Iraq. As was usual with such reports an unclassified version was prepared but, unlike other reports, was not released to the public. Apparently the Army brass did not want to piss off the redoubtable and vengeful then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld whose nuanced views of post-war Iraq planning were encapsulated in the dictums “Stuff happens!” and “freedom’s untidy”. Or as a Pentagon spokesman responded to why the report still had not been released by early 2008, “analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army.” Translation: the report’s authors had committed the twin sins of (1) anchoring their findings in the context of the other foul-ups happening at the time and thereby (2) telling the Army (and this Administration) what they didn’t want to hear. And if they didn’t want to hear it, you better believe they weren’t going to let us hear it either.

The report was finally released on June 30, 2008.

313. A report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry detailing public health concerns in the Great Lakes region due to industrial pollution has been suppressed since the summer of 2007. Its principal author Chris de Rosa director of the ATSDR’s division of toxicology and environmental medicine since 1992 was subsequently demoted and re-assigned to a non-supervisory “special assistant” position. As often happens in these cases, unnamed higher ups had “significant questions” about the work product. Translation: The report was politically embarrassing.
[Environment, War on Science, Whistleblower]

314. In April 2007, a report into the extent to which American intelligence has been outsourced to private contractors was buried because its contents were deemed too explosive. The US intelligence budget (the 16 spy agencies overseen by the DNI, including the NSA, CIA, FBI, DIA, etc.) is classified but in 2007 was generally considered to be around $44 billion. At least half of this went directly to private contractors.

The privatizing of intelligence began under the Clinton Administration but really took off under Bush. Some of the largest intelligence contractors are Booz Allen, SAIC, CACI International, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The current DNI Mike McConnell used to work at Booz Allen (see item 12). This one outfit alone has 10,000+ employees with TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Intelligence) the highest kind. Waste, cronyism, conflicts of interest, the revolving door abound (see item 217), and, like so many things associated with the Bush Presidency, you have to wonder if this is healthy for, or compatible with, a democracy.
[Contractors, Intelligence]

315. In his first run for the House in 2002 Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ) received on two occasions $121,000 in corporate checks for his campaign from his real estate partner James Sandlin. He also transferred $400,000 from the premiums account of the ironically named Patriot Insurance Agency of Sonoita, Arizona which he owned. He passed this money through various accounts and on to his campaign. In 2003, he sold his interest in the real estate company to Sandlin for $1 million ($200,000 in cash plus an $800,000 note).

In 2005, the Resolution Copper company wished to acquire the surface rights to federal land near Superior, Arizona for which it owned the mineral rights. To do so, it proposed a land swap of private land for the land it wanted. This required Congressional legislation and approval by the National Resources Committee on which Rick Renzi sat. The scam worked like this. Renzi needed money. Life in Washington was expensive and he had to pay back the “loan” from his insurance company. Sandlin still owed him some $700,000 from the sale of the real estate company. So Renzi agreed to support the Resolution Copper bid if in return Resolution Copper agreed to purchase a 480 acre alfalfa field owned by Sandlin. Sandlin would get a hefty payment from Resolution Copper, and Renzi would get his money from Sandlin plus a little something extra. However, on April 12, 2005, Resolution Copper not knowing of all the shenanigans going on but probably beginning to smell a rat refused to buy the alfalfa field. On April 16, 2005, just 4 days later, Renzi undeterred proposed a similar land swap involving the alfalfa field to the Petrified Forest Group on an unrelated matter. This time he was successful and Sandlin got $4.6 million for it. On May 5, 2005, Sandlin received a first payment of $1 million from Petrified Forest and on the same day he wrote a check for $200,000 to a Renzi owned winery. On May 20, 2005, Renzi deposited the $200,000 into a Patriot Insurance account. On September 30, 2005, he got the remainder $533,000. On January 10, 2006, he transferred $325,000 of this to Patriot Insurance and back out again on February 10, 2006 to pay back taxes for 2001. In his financial disclosure statement for 2005 to Congress, he did not report either Sandlin’s debt or its repayment as required by law.

An investigation into Renzi’s deals was begun in June 2005 and was taken up by then US Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton in September 2006. The Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales, however, did what it could to delay the investigation until after the November 2006 elections by drawing out the granting of search warrants and subpoenas. A wiretap was eventually approved in October 2006 but was rendered largely ineffective when the AP broke the story of the investigation on October 24, 2006. At this time, an aide to Renzi Brian Murray inappropriately contacted Charlton to find out more about the case. The upshot of all this was that Charlton became one of the 8 US Attorneys fired on December 7, 2006. (see item 3)

On April 19, 2007, the FBI raided Patriot Insurance.

On August 23, 2007, Renzi announced that he would not seek re-election. On February 22, 2008, a 35 count indictment was unsealed charging Renzi with conspiracy, wire fraud, insurance fraud, money laundering, and extortion. Renzi is not a solitary figure in the Republican culture of corruption. He is just one more example of why the current Republican Party has come to resemble a criminal enterprise more than a political party.
[Corruption, Politicization of the DOJ]

316. Helluva job, Condi. On January 23, 2008 in Congressional testimony, John Naland president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) which represents State’s 11,500 career diplomats noted that a September 2007 Center for Strategic and International Studies’ report indicated that the US Foreign Service was staffed at only 85% of its needs. It was short 1,015 personnel for domestic and foreign assignments and 1,079 for training, transit, and temporary requirements. An August 2006 GAO study found that 29% of positions abroad requiring language proficiency were filled by staff who lacked such proficiency. Many senior Foreign Service members went to their posts without being properly briefed about them. Only 15% of Foreign Service members had received training in a diplomat’s bread and butter: negotiation. And while the demand to administer and run programs has increased, few Foreign Service employees have received training in program management. Incredibly, Foreign Service officers take a 21% cut in their base pay to serve abroad and end up being paid less than they would be in the US at 183 of 268 overseas posts (i.e. those with a 20% hardship differential or less).

I don’t think anyone has accused Condi Rice of being a hands on administrator and it shows. At the same time that Iraq and Afghanistan have put increased demands on the State Department, it has fewer and less well trained personnel to meet them. Given this Administration’s contempt for diplomacy and its general incompetence at managing anything, the disarray at State should come as a surprise to no one, but, as has happened so frequently in this Administration, it represents a hollowing out of yet another of our basic institutions of government.
[Foreign Affairs, Incompetence]

317. In 2003, US Park Police Teresa Chambers made the mistake of telling the Washington Post that, in light of its new post-9/11 mission to protect national monuments like the Washington Monument from terrorist attack, her service was understaffed and underfunded. In retaliation the Deputy Director of the Park Service Don Murphy put Chambers under a gag order and placed her on administrative leave. She was subsequently fired in July 2004 and replaced by Dwight Pettiford. As a February 2008 Interior Department inspector general’s report noted, staffing and funding problems have only gotten worse. 6 of the service’s top 13 positions are unfilled and the number of officers has fallen to a 20 year low, down to 576, fewer than the 620 when Chambers made her remarks about understaffing. The departure of senior officials represents a loss of trainers, supervisors, and institutional memory further compromising the service’s effectiveness.

Worse, Pettiford has proven to be an abrasive micromanager. The service’s police union has called for his resignation, and in a 2007 survey 98% of members expressed no confidence in his leadership. Promotion exams have not been held in 5 years, and scheduled raises have been so delayed by the ongoing disorganization at the agency that the union has filed a grievance. The service also has to deal with old and poor equipment. When the dispatch system broke down, it was out for 2 weeks, and dispatchers could not access crime and vehicle databases. Its radios too are unreliable, and the service has lacked an armorer to keep and maintain equipment for two years.

All of this has become so common and too typical, the Administration talks tough about risks and threats but it doesn’t pay for what is needed to address them and is completely incapable of managing anything, even an agency as small (but important) as this one.
[Incompetence, War on Terror, Whistleblower]

318. On February 25, 2008, William Haynes announced his resignation effective the following month. Haynes had been the Pentagon’s chief civilian legal officer, its General Counsel, since May 24, 2001. During this time, Haynes participated in the Administration’s assaults on habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions. Indefinite detention, the sham Guantanamo tribunals (item 10), torture (item 194), and most recently a belated attempt to politicize the JAG corps (item 290) are his dubious legacy. Haynes also backed the use of evidence gained by torture in Guantanamo trials. In an August 2005 meeting, Guantanamo chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis related Haynes’ reaction to a judicial process that might result in acquittals: “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.” When Morris learned in October 2007 that his office would be placed under Haynes’ general control, he resigned. On September 5, 2006, Haynes was nominated by Bush to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals but, in the run up to the November 2006 elections, his nomination was successfully filibustered by Democrats. Though Haynes will be remembered, he will not be missed. On June 17, 2008, Haynes appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to testify about torture and displayed a Gonzales-like fit of amnesia about his actions and decisions.
[Guantanamo, Law, Torture, War on Terror]

319. Emasculating oversight. One way to spike this is to dismantle regulatory boards by either stacking them with members opposed to their mission or failing that to leave them without a quorum of members to make decisions. At the end of February 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (dangerous products from China), the Federal Elections Committee (campaign finance shenanigans, including the dubious McCain loan), the Council of Economic Advisors (the tanking US economy), the National Labor Relations Board (ditto), the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (the Georgia refinery fire), the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (perennial problems in mine safety), and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (spying on Americans) all lacked sufficient members to function or to function effectively.

320. Home of the free. According to a February 28, 2008 study by the Pew Center for the States, 1% of the US adult population was behind bars. This comes to 2,319,258 Americans as of January 1, 2008. Of these, 1,596,127 were in prison. The federal system contained 198,989 inmates. State systems held another 1,397,138. 723,131 were in local jails. Those incarcerated did not reflect the American population as a whole. Based on 2006 midyear numbers from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate for Hispanic men (18 and older) was one in 36; for African-American men (18 and older), it was one in 15. For younger African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34, it was one in 9.

The United States incarcerates its citizens more than any other country in the world. To put this all in perspective, the number 2 country in the world in terms of prison population is China. It has a penal population of 1.5 million, in other words 800,000 fewer than the US but with 4 times the population. The US prison population is so large because of the greater tendency for offenders to be sent to jail and kept there for longer periods than in other countries. The size of the US prison population is a national disgrace. While the Bush Administration wishes to give “Get out of jail free” cards to telecoms or minions like Scooter Libby, ordinary Americans, especially minority Americans, are not so fortunate. As so often happens in this Administration, policies are carried out without any regard for their consequences as long as those consequences are borne by others.
[Law, Politics]

321. Under the anti-leadership of Administrator Stephen Johnson, the EPA has moved to torpedo any move to address global warming or curb polluters. These efforts take many forms. For example, after complaints from an industry lobbying group the American Chemistry Council, in August 2007 the EPA removed the comments of an award winning former EPA researcher and expert on neurotoxins Deborah Rice from a February 2007 external review panel report on the family of flame retardants (used primarily in electronics) known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Two of these, penta and octa, had been banned in 2004. Another deca (deca bromo diphenyl ether) is still in wide use. The ACC in a May 3, 2007 letter charged that Rice the review panel’s chair was biased and had a conflict of interest because she had previously testified before the Maine legislature on behalf of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention where she worked and advocated a phase out of the use of deca in televisions, electronics, mattresses and furniture. The group was also critical of a 2003 Swedish study (Viberg) which linked deca to problems in neuro development in mice. (Metabolites of deca are thought to have DDT like persistence in the environment with concomitant potential for concentration in the food chain.) In other words, from the ACC’s point of view, precisely because Rice was expert enough on the subject of deca to take an official position on it in her capacity as a toxicologist at Maine’s CDC, this disqualified her from the EPA’s expert panel. The EPA bought the industry lobbyists’ argument, despite the fact that the Environmental Working Group found in a review of 7 EPA panels from 2007 seventeen panelists who were employed by the chemical industry or had made pro-industry statements on the safety of chemicals they were evaluating. Needless to say, they were not removed or their comments and input redacted from their reports.

A report released April 23, 2008 by the Union of Concerned Scientists found many instances of political interference in the work of EPA scientists. The study consisted of a questionnaire sent to 5,419 EPA scientists which genereated 1,586 responses. Of these, 889 (56%) reported such interference at least once in the last 5 years. 394 (25%) said they had experienced occasional to frequent instances of EPA officials misrepresenting their findings. 285 (18%) had seen selective or incomplete use of data to justify a particular regulatory outcome. 224 (14%) said they had been directed to exclude or alter technical data. Of 969 EPA scientists with more than 10 years of experience, 409 (43%) said political interference has increased in the last 5 years in comparison with the previous 5 years. 43 (4%) said it was less frequent. 492 (31%) said they could not express their views openly within the EPA; 382 (24%) said they felt they could not do so even outside the agency. Scientists who worked on regulations and on environmental risk assessments reported the most political interference, with the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) being the most frequently named offender.

An April 29, 2008 GAO report found numerous problems in the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System which does assessments of the health risks of some 540 chemicals (for example, what risk of cancer do they pose, and at what level of exposure?). At the same time that other offices in the EPA, as well as state and local authorities have asked for assessments on hundreds of other chemicals, IRIS’s production of these assessments as virtually ground to a halt. In 2003, the EPA estimated it needed to do 50 risk assessments a year to keep up with demand. However, in 2005 it finished 4. In 2006, it completed 2.

In 2007, the primary focus of the GAO report, the EPA had 77 IRIS studies in process. On December 31 of that year, 70 were ongoing, 5 had been suspended by the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which demanded further studies. As in 2006 only 2 IRIS assessments were completed. Of the 70 which had not been completed, 48 had been in process for more than 5 years, and 12 of the 48 for more than 9 years. In particular, the GAO noted the case of trichloroethylene (TCE) an industrial degreasing agent and the most frequently reported organic contaminant in drinking water. It has been linked to cancer and other health hazards. Yet peer review questions about its cancer risk caused the EPA to pull its IRIS assessment in 1989. The EPA did not begin a new assessment until 1998 and this is not expected to be completed before 2010 at the earliest, a lag of 21 years at least.

The problems with IRIS aren’t just confined to the glacial pace at which it comes up with risk assessments for new chemicals but extends to those already in the system. As far back as 2003, the EPA thought that the data on 287 of the 540 chemicals in IRIS were out of date and that their risk assessments needed to be reviewed. In the intervening years, this number can only have grown.

There are several reasons why IRIS has not been able to keep up: funding, staff, the increasing complexity of doing the assessments, etc. but the real culprit is once again Bush’s OMB. It conducts not one but two reviews of the assessments. It seeks input from departments and agencies (such as DOD, DOE, and NASA) that might be affected by the assessments and that have an interest in watering them down and delaying them. The OMB reviews are not transparent. The input is treated as internal Executive Branch communications and is not made public. All of this happens before the assessment is let out for peer review. Worse the current leadership at the EPA wants to formalize this interference and give other agencies and departments even greater control over IRIS. With millions of chemicals in use in our society, it would be nice to know what the best guess health risks are of a handful of the more important ones, but as always happens in the Bush Administration anything that smacks of regulation is seen as something to be minimized, neutralized, or eliminated.

In fact, on April 10, 2008 EPA released its new guidelines for IRIS effective immediately. A GAO report of May 21, 2008 estimates that the EPA’s “streamlined” process will take 6-8 years to complete for each chemical and be out of date by the time it is finished.

On October 3, 2008, the EPA announced it would not set a standard for perchlorate in water because it did not pose a health risk as defined under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Perchlorate interferes with the uptake of iodine by the thyroid and has been linked to health problems in pregnant women and newborns. The Pentagon has resisted regulation of perchlorate because it is used in solid rocket fuels. The chemical occurs in the drinking water of about 16 million Americans.
[Environment, Health, Political Interference, War on Science]

322. On the morning of February 29, 2008, blogger Nancy Nall posted that Timothy Goeglein special assistant to the President and deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison since 2001 had an article published in his hometown newspaper the Fort Wayne IN News-Sentinel on the 28th which had been plagiarized from a 1998 article by Jeffrey Hart in the goofily conservative Dartmouth Review. Caught, Goeglein apologized. However, during the course of the day more instances of his unattributed appropriations came to light, and by the end of the day he was gone, resigned. Goeglein was the White House’s emissary to the religious right and conservatives. In this capacity, he worked closely with Karl Rove. The White House resignation announcement credited Goeglein with helping to establish the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative, promoting the President’s plan for AIDS relief with its emphasis on abstinence, and ushering through the nominations of the two hyper-conservative Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito. I suspect he will transition painlessly into the echo chamber of wingnut welfare where intellectual bankruptcy is expected and the theft of ideas is not so much tolerated as required.
[Corruption, Religion]

323. Jeff Kenner and Tamra Elshaug filed a whistleblower lawsuit in 2006 under the False Claims Act against Sioux Manufacturing Corporation (SMC) alleging that from 1994 to 2006 the company had routinely underwoven Kevlar used to make combat helmets for the US military. Kenner and Elshaug not only had inspection records but recordings from 6 managers and employees worrying about the violations being discovered. Both were fired after protesting SMC’s violations. On December 18, 2007, the North Dakota US Attorney Drew Wrigley announced a settlement with SMC in which the company admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay $1,935,000. This was a small fraction of the $159 million that plaintiffs had sought. The Pentagon punished SMC as it usually does by giving the company a $74 million contract to replace the old helmets. That’ll teach’em.
[Contractors, Supporting the Troops, Whistleblower]

324. In 2004-2005 Gary Aguirre led a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into insider trading involving hedge funds and investment banks. Basically, the investment banks made large profits from commissions from hedge funds and in return tipped off these funds ahead of ordinary investors on lucrative deals about to be announced to the markets. Specifically, Aguirre was looking into Pequot Capital Management run by Arthur Samberg which made $18 million in one such deal in 2001 when it received information that General Electric Capital Corporation intended to buy Heller Financial. In mid-June 2005, Aguirre sought to subpoena John Mack, chief investment executive at Morgan Stanley, an investor in Pequot, and friend of Samberg, together with emails exchanged between the two. In this he was initially backed by his boss Robert Hanson but Hanson soon backtracked warning that Mack had powerful political connections. He wasn’t kidding. Mack was a 2004 Bush Ranger, an elite group of political fundraisers who collected $200,000 or more in bundled donations. Enter at this point Mary Jo White a corporate fixer at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton (see item 229) representing Morgan Stanley. She went over Aguirre’s head directly to the Enforcement Director at the SEC Linda Thomsen and the subpoenas that Aguirre had sought were blocked. Aguirre protested, announced his intention to resign, but then withdrew it. Meanwhile his supervisors had decided to fire him and orchestrated a special negative evaluation to justify their action. On September 1, 2005, Aguirre was fired at the end of his one year probationary period. On his last day, he wrote a letter to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox outlining the preferential treatment John Mack had been given.

On June 28, 2006, Aguirre testified to Congress about these events and in August 2007 the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees issued a 711 page report on it. The report noted that shortly after Aguirre was hired (September 2004) by the SEC and the Pequot investigation began (October/November 2004) in January/February 2005, an attorney for Pequot Audrey Strauss met the then Enforcement Director Stephen Cutler. As a result of that meeting, the investigation into Pequot was narrowed making it more difficult to establish a pattern of illegality. The report also found that the associate director of enforcement Paul Berger who was a supervisor of Aguirre and in his reporting chain of command had not recused himself from the Pequot investigation until early 2006 although an email from a colleague of Berger just days after Aguirre’s firing showed that Berger had already expressed an interest in working at Debevoise at that point. And, in fact, Berger did end up accepting a partnership there in June 2006.

An investigation by the SEC’s lackadaisical Inspector General Walter Stachnik initiated by a complaint from Aguirre was also criticized. According to the Senate report, Stachnik “failed to conduct a serious, credible investigation of Aguirre’s claims. The OIG did not attempt to contact Aguirre. It merely interviewed his supervisors informally on the telephone, accepted their statements at face-value, and closed the case without obtaining key evidence.”

As for John Mack, it came out that Samberg gave him preferential investment opportunities in April and May 2001. Mack at the time of the GE-Heller deal had just left Morgan Stanley and was about to take up the position of CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston. Both companies were involved in setting up the Heller deal. Mack contacted Samberg on June 29, 2001, and on July 2, 2001 Pequot began buying large amounts of Heller stock and shorting GE. On July 30, the GE-Heller deal was announced and Pequot and Samberg made a killing. Mack was eventually called in to testify before the SEC in June 2006, a year after Aguirre’s attempt and just days after the statute of limitations had run out on him. Mark Kreitman, an assistant director of enforcement and Hanson’s immediate superior, assigned a staff attorney with 2 days notice to take Mack’s testimony. Kreitman told the attorney, “You don’t need to prepare that much for it.” On November 30, 2006, the SEC closed the joke that was its investigation into Pequot.

In all this, the SEC proved itself to be not the watchdog of Big Money but its lapdog. Taking this into account, is it really any surprise that they “overlooked” the subprime debacle until it hit?

An October 6, 2008 New York Times story reports that the current SEC Inspector General David Kotz issued a follow up report which substantiated Gary Aguirre’s account of events and recommended disciplinary action against his superiors Linda Thomsen, Robert Hanson and Mark Kreitman. The Pequot investigation remains closed.

On May 27, 2009, Pequot announced it was closing due to the re-opening of the inside trader investigation.
[Criminality, Cronyism, Inspector General, Politcal Interference, Whistleblower]

325. Edgar Domenech is the 23 year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) who blew the whistle on the incompetent former ATF Director Carl Truscott (see item 296). As a reward, he was demoted from his Number 2 position in the agency, denied a bonus he was due, and received a lower job evaluation (which he successfully contested) by Michael Sullivan the current acting director. Sullivan explained Domenech’s demotion as a move to allow new people in. For his part, Domenech had first expressed his concerns in December 2005 to Bill Mercer (see item 197) the then acting Number 3 official in the Justice Department but was told that nothing could be done because Truscott’s appointment had come directly from the White House. Truscott resigned in August 2006 and a DOJ Inspector General’s report in October of that year backed up Domenech’s charges of mismanagement. On March 3, 2008, Domenech filed a complaint with the DOJ’s Office of Special Counsel over his treatment.

326. On February 28, 2008, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) issued a report on the Inspector Generals. It found that 60% of IGs appointed under Bush had prior political experience but only 20% had previous experience in auditing. This is the reverse of the situation under Clinton where 60% of IGs had experience in auditing and less than 25% had previous political experience. Civilian IGs come in two flavors, those appointed by the President and approved by Congress and those appointed by agency heads. Both types are overseen by the Deputy Director of the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) currently Clay Johnson III. Johnson’s philosophy is that “Surprises are to be avoided” and that IGs are expected to work with their agencies. The problem is, of course, that IGs are supposed to be independent monitors of them. Aside from Johnson’s input into the situation, the goal of IG independence seldom happens for various reasons. First, those IGs who are appointed by agency heads aren’t independent by definition. Second, even IGs who are Presidentially appointed may have their independence curbed by budget constraints as has happened at the State Department over and above the antics of Cookie Krongard (see item 251) or by a lack of its own attorney as is the case with the Pentagon’s IG which uses a deputy to the DOD’s in house General Counsel. Third, some IGs like NASA’s Robert Cobb (see item 149) identify so strongly with their agencies that they have abdicated any real oversight or independence. The result is that the IG system does not work, but then this Administration was never into oversight into what it was doing anyway.
[Inspector General]

327. The Bush Administration continues its efforts to tie the next President’s hands and ensure that American troops will remain in the quagmire of Iraq well into the future. It is doing so by negotiating status of forces and strategic framework agreements with Iraq that it says will not have to be ratified by the Congress. Commitment of US forces to a war zone without such approval is unprecedented, unconstitutional, and illegal but this has never stopped Bush before. The current rationale is that the two AUMFs, the post-9/11one signed into law September 18, 2001 and the Iraq AUMF signed October 16, 2002 constitute sufficient authorization for Bush’s actions. This is, of course, ludicrous. Even if the wording of these AUMFs could be so construed as to give Bush the power to negotiate a treaty, that treaty would still have to approved by the Congress. Simply not calling it a treaty doesn’t mean it isn’t one. This is all reminiscent of the Administration’s defense of torture on the grounds that as long as they did not call it torture it somehow wasn’t torture. Finally, if anyone went back and read the AUMF against Iraq (item 128), it is clear that with the return of sovereignty to a US approved state on June 28, 2004 its conditions were fulfilled and it ceased to have effect. The Founders were incredibly wise in vesting the sole power to declare war with the Congress. The use of the AUMFs to justify extra-Consitutional power grabs and construct a unilateral Executive shows what pernicious instruments they truly are.
[Iraq, War on Terror]

328. You know because we so need another one of these. The Justice Department is setting up a national data network called the National Data Exchange or N-DEx developed by Raytheon for $85 million. It will allow federal intelligence and counterterrorism officials to search and datamine millions of records from some 15,000 local and state law enforcement agencies. In return, some 200,000 local and state law enforcement officials will also have access to the system, all of whose information (much of which concerns Americans who have broken no laws) will be available with just “a few clicks of a computer mouse.” Naturally, the system will not be abused, but you might want to think twice before planning that trip to see the pyramids in Egypt if you had a flat tire near a nuclear plant and had a policeman stop to help you.
[Intelligence, War on Terror]

329. Call it irony. From 1995, Christopher Ward who promoted the Swift Boaters in the 2004 election worked at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) whose job is to elect Republicans to the House. He was its treasurer from 2003 to July 2007, submitted the NRCC’s yearly audits to the FEC from 2002 through 2006, and remained on as a consultant, at least until he was fired on January 28, 2008. You see there was this one tiny problem. Ward had been faking the yearly audits down to forging the letterhead on them. Things were going swimmingly until Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX) who headed the NRCC’s audit committee and was a CPA, asked to meet with the NRCC’s auditors. Apparently no one at the NRCC had bothered to do this for the previous 4 years. Ward’s scam quickly began to unravel. On February 1, 2008, the NRCC contacted the FBI and arranged for its own audits. So far it has found that it is out some $990,000 in cash on hand for 2006 and $740,000 for 2007 plus another $200,000 on a line of credit. According to the Washington Post, Ward also served as treasurer on 83 individual committees of Republican candidates. Who knows what all went on with those. The sad lesson in all this is that there really is no honor among thieves.
[Corruption, Criminality, Elections, Politics]

330. On March 12, 2008, the Pentagon announced it had canceled plans to release a press release announcing the release of a report by the Iraqi Perspectives Project entitled “Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents”. Upon examination of some 600,000 such documents, the report concluded that it “found no ‘smoking gun’ (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda” and continued that while Saddam had been involved in terrorism it was mostly against his own people. It says something that it took 5 years for the Pentagon to discover what so many knew at the time and in the run up to the Iraq war to be a preposterous claim. Equally telling is the clumsy way the Pentagon handled all this: canceling the press release, requiring interested reporters to have to ask for the report specifically, and then sending them CD copies of it through the US mail rather than just emailing it or putting it up on the web. It is hard to imagine a more self-defeating and ineffectual method of smothering something. The report made it out to the net anyway at places like this and the hamfisted approach of the Pentagon not only created more interest in the original story but became a story in its own right.
[Iraq, War on Terror]

331. Despite a December 14, 2005 Executive Order requiring that “agencies shall process requests under the FOIA in an efficient and appropriate manner and achieve tangible, measurable improvements in FOIA processing,” the March 2008 Knight Open Government Survey of the National Security Archive found that the backlog in FOIA requests in the subsequent two years to the end of 2007 was only cut from 217,000 to 212,000. A July 2007 report by the group had found that the oldest unprocessed FOIA requests dated back 20 years to 1987. In the most recent study, Michael Chertoff’s Department of Homeland Security had set a goal of eliminating its backlog of 82,544 requests by the end of 2007 but instead saw the backlog increase to 83,661. Why am I not surprised? For its part, the Treasury Department had developed the strategy of sitting on FOIA requests then sending out letters demanding a response within 15 days. If no response was received the request was cancelled out. Researchers found that even when they responded on time, Treasury would send out a second letter playing the same game. For cases over 10 years in the works, the department claimed the materials had been transferred to the National Archives and that a new FOIA request would have to be submitted there. What this says is that the government which is supposed to be accessible and responsive to its citizens is not.
[DHS, Incompetence]

332. US Attorney for the Central District of California (LA) Thomas O’Brien was confirmed on October 4, 2007 as the permanent replacement for Debra Wong Yang (see item 169). In March 2008, O’Brien disbanded the office’s 17 member public integrity unit that was involved in the ongoing investigation of Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA). In defense of the decision, office spokesman Thom Mrozek made the bizarre claim that closing the unit would actually have a beneficial impact on prosecutions of this type. This is the kind of reasoning that would tell you that the best way to get a college education would be to close all colleges. To top it off, O’Brien was so proud of his decision that he threatened attorneys if they talked to the press about it. The politicization of the Department of Justice under Bush and now Mukasey continues.
[Corruption, Politicization of the DOJ]

333. A June 2007 report of the House Committee on Oversight (Waxman Committee) found that discretionary spending had grown from $614.8 billion in 2000 to $1 trillion in 2006. Of this, spending on procurement rose from $203.1 billion in 2000 to $412.1 billion in 2006, representing an average annual increase of 12.6% as compared to 2.4% a year for inflation.

Among departments, Pentagon spending on procurement increased from $133.5 billion in 2000 to $297.7 billion in 2006 representing 72% of the total federal procurement budget. At the Department of Homeland Security, procurement spending went up from $3.5 billion in 2003 when the DHS was created to $15.1 billion in 2006 with $5.1 billion of that occurring between 2005 and 2006 alone.

Among contractors the top 6 were Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Halliburton. Together, they received $99.9 billion in 2006 or 24% of all federal procurement spending in that year. The largest federal contractor was Lockheed Martin with 14,016 contracts worth $31.5 billion, or more than the gross domestic product of 109 countries. Interestingly, Halliburton which Vice President Cheney once headed has been the fastest growing federal contractor. It went from 28th place in 2000 with $763 million in contracts to 6th place with $6 billion in 2006, a 700% increase. It’s good to be the king, as Mel Brooks once said.

As for the contracts, $67.5 billion were let in 2000 without full and open competition. By 2006, this had increased to $206.9 billion, an increase of 206%. Of this last number, no-bid contracts comprised $103 billion, up form $46.6 billion in 2000. Limited competition contracts (where only a small pre-selected group is allowed to bid) amounted to $62.6 billion in 2006. In $10 billion of these, there was in fact only one bidder. Among contracts listed as available to full and open competition in 2006, some $47.7 billion also had a single bid up from $11.7 billion in 2000 (a 308% rise)

The report also found significant waste, fraud, and abuse in 187 ongoing contracts worth $1.1 trillion. The principal reason for this has been a failure in oversight. While procurement contracts have exploded in size and number under the Bush Administration, competition has shriveled, more abuse prone cost-plus contracts have been awarded, and the number of personnel to oversee them has remained static. It is all a recipe to loot the government by the powerful. It is welfare for the wealthy and the well connected.
[Contractors, Corruption, Cronyism, DHS, Incompetence]

334. On January 26, 2006, the Pentagon let a contract to AEY for around $300 million to supply the Afghan army and police with ammunition for its war on the Taliban and al Qaeda. AEY is run by 22 year old Efraim Diveroli out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach and had until recently as its vice president David Packouz 25, a licensed masseur. Much of the ammunition AEY sold to Pentagon came from Albania through a shady Swiss arms dealer, and these sales likely involved kickbacks to Albanian officials. The Albanian ammunition came from stocks 90% of which were more than 40 years old and had not been tested for efficacy or accuracy. Much of it was in decaying condition. On top of this, since most of it had been produced in China (instead of Hungary as AEY asserted), its resale to the US government was a violation of law. For this reason on March 26, 2008, the Pentagon suspended AEY from future contracts. The suspension did not affect $155 million worth of crappy AEY supplied ammunition in the pipeline. Really you can’t make this stuff up. The Pentagon signs a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars without a clue as to who they are dealing with or what they are buying. And even when they find out, they don’t cancel the contract but allow the contractor to finish supplying the garbage for which they took action in the first place. On June 19, 2008, Diveroli was arrested and charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act.

On June 23, 2008, Henry Waxman’s House Oversight Committee released a memo by Army Major Larry Harrison describing a November 19, 2007 meeting in which embassy personnel including the American Ambassador to Albania John Withers discussed with Albanian officials how to repackage Chinese made ammunition so as to hide its country of origin. The State Department originally reported that it had had little to do with the matter.

In other developments, it turned out that the Pentagon could have gotten a lot this ammo for free from Eastern European former Warsaw Pack members eager to get rid of their old stocks. Apparently AEY had been under investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2005 for violations of the Arms Export Control Act and fraud. As a result, as early as April 2006 but certainly by December 2006, the State Department put AEY on its Arms Trafficking Watchlist. Nevertheless, both State and Defense continued to do business with the company.
[Afghanistan, Contractors, Corruption, Criminality, Incompetence, War on Terror]

335. On March 28, 2008, the resignation of Felipe Sixto, a special assistant to the President for intergovernmental affairs, was announced by the White House. He had been promoted to the post on March 1, 2008 and had worked in the office since July 2007. His job had been to liaise with state lawmakers, Native Americans, and Hispanics in areas concerning Cuba, Puerto Rico, and domestic issues. Sixto’s resignation came after the Center for A Free Cuba, his previous employer, came across evidence of his misuse of undisclosed amounts of USAID grant money. The matter was turned over to the USAID Inspector General who is investigating.

On November 21, 2008, Sixto was charged with theft via a criminal information as part of a plea bargain.
[Corruption, Criminality, Inspector General]

336. The Justice Department Inspector General is investigating whether Monica “Loyalty Oaths” Goodling kept a DOJ attorney Leslie Hagen from being re-appointed to a post in Washington because she was a lesbian. Hagen was a protégée of Tom Heffelfinger (see item 109) who while US Attorney for Minnesota headed the subcommittee on Native American issues (NAIS) and who was one of the US Attorneys forced out although not fired as part of US Attorney firing scandal (see item 2). On his recommendation, Hagen was named the DOJ liaison to NAIS. Despite receiving outstanding job evaluations and her supervisors wanting to keep her on, in October 2006, she was told her contract would not be renewed. The rationale given was her post was for one year only and meant to be rotated. There were two problems with this. Two other people in Hagen’s office did have their “yearly” contracts renewed, and her position remained vacant for months after she left. Goodling was aware of Hagen because a few months before the contract determination was made Goodling inexplicably removed Hagen from dealing with issues of child exploitation and abuse. Back channeling also indicated that Goodling had a problem with Hagen’s sexual orientation. This is just another example of how the Justice Department has been gutted under Bush, an inevitable consequence of when stupid, dim-witted know nothing bigots are allowed to hang topnotch lawyers out to dry.
[Incompetence, Politicization of the DOJ, Sex]

337. A report of the Department of Transportation Inspector General of April 3, 2008 found that Southwest Airlines had not followed an FAA directive to periodically inspect the fuselages of Boeing 737s (after part of one on an Aloha Airlines 737 blew off in flight in 1988 killing one) and that FAA personnel were aware of and complicit in this non-compliance.

As it was Southwest flew 46 of its 737s without inspections for up to 9 months representing some 60,000 flights transporting 6 million passengers. On March 14, 2007, Southwest reported its violation to an FAA Principal Maintenance Inspector (PMI). The PMI did not ground the planes as he was obliged to do but advised Southwest to make a formal voluntary disclosure so as to avoid paying a penalty. Southwest did not make its official self-disclosure until March 19 and continued to fly the planes until March 23 when it reported having completed inspections of the planes and finding cracks in the fuselage of 5 of them. As a result, Southwest flew the planes for a further 9 days during which time 145,000 passengers were carried in 1,451 flights. The FAA has proposed a $10.2 million fine against Southwest for its activities.

This was not the first time that Southwest had not followed a safety directive. The Inspector General found that it had violated 4 different directives a total of 8 times since December of 2006, including 5 in 2008. The announcement by the FAA that it would conduct an industry wide audit of compliance with its safety directives quickly caused Delta and American to ground scores of planes because of possible missed inspections. United too grounded seven 747s for possible altimeter problems.

All of this is an outgrowth of the Bush Administration’s push for greater self-regulation of industries. At the same time, it is compounded by cozy relationships that develop between what regulators there are and the industries they regulate. Finally, whistleblowers who speak up about problems like those at Southwest continue to be punished. On April 3, 2008, three FAA inspectors testified before Congress about their efforts to call attention to this case. One was removed from his position as an office manager. Another was told to transfer. The third was temporarily removed from overseeing Southwest. The simple fact is that in most cases self-regulation doesn’t work. There is an incentive to maximize profits by not obeying rules and cutting corners. The downside is a catastrophic accident or the public embarrassment of getting caught, but as the current case shows these possibilities do not cause companies to comply in advance but only after one or the other occurs. And then we are left to ask, for how long?

In a related development, on April 8, 2008, American Airlines canceled 430 flights in order to inspect wire bundles in the wheel wells of 300 of its MD-80s. The next day it canceled 1,000 flights and cancellations spread to other airlines. The FAA review of airline safety begun by the allegations against Southwest caused airlines to scramble to make up for lax voluntary adherence to safety guidelines in the past. The result was predictably chaos.
[Inspector General, Whistleblower]

338. A March 31, 2008 GAO report found continued and worsening problems in the Pentagon’s acquisition programs. In 2000 the Department of Defense (DOD) had 75 systems in its acquisition program representing a commitment of $790 billion. In 2007, this had increased to 95 systems worth $1.6 trillion. In 2000, the difference between the total acquisition cost and the initial estimate was 6% ($42 billion). By 2007, it was 26% ($295 billion). Of current programs, 14% are more than 4 years late. 15% are 2-4 years behind schedule. 38% are up to 2 years late, and 33% are on schedule. The average delay is 21 months.

The report looked at 72 individual programs including the largest in greater detail. It found that none of them had proceeded through system development adhering to best practices standards. 88% began without having critical technologies ready and developed for them. 96% still did not have them or a stable design later when they moved into the demonstration phase. And no program as it entered into production had good controls for monitoring the manufacturing process, and most were not even collecting the data necessary to do so.

There were other problems. 63% had changes in requirements after development began causing cost increases of 72%. Programs that did not experience such changes had cost grow by an average of 11%. There was also significant turnover in program managers so that the average time on the job was 17 months, less than half what the Pentagon’s own policy prescribes. As elsewhere, the DOD relies heavily on contractors (48% of acquisitions staff) to do the work that government employees used to do with all the blurring of management and control that this represents. Finally, in about half the projects using software there was an increase of more than 25% in the lines of expected code, an important indicator of cost and scheduling problems.

For 2008, the top 10 (out of 95) defense acquisition programs accounted for $39.1 billion out of a budget of $72.3 billion or 54% of it. What were these programs? The biggest at $8.9 billion is Bush’s ballistic missile defense shield, you know the one that doesn’t work (see item 73). Then there are the Joint Strike Fighter ($6.7 billion) and the F-22A ($4.4 billion). The Navy has even more goodies: the Virginia Class Submarine ($2.9 billion), another aircraft carrier ($3.1 billion), the DDG 1000 destroyer ($3.5 billion), an F/A-18 upgrade ($2.1 billion), and the P-8A an anti-submarine plane ($0.9 billion). The Marines continue to get funding for the V-22 Osprey, a plane that crashes a lot ($3 billion). The US Army which has been doing most of the heavy lifting in Iraq for the last 5 years really gets the short end of the stick in this military industrial lovefest but does have a suite of programs called Future Combat Systems ($3.6 billion).

In short, the Pentagon continues to spend huge amounts of money on acquisition of new weapons systems and manages to waste most of it. It does so by having no clear idea what it wants and then adding on capabilities later when it is much more expensive to do so. It does so by having no one in charge who knows the program or by passing these functions on to outside contractors who have little or no interest in containing costs. It does so by fostering inter-service rivalries which lead to individual services defending systems that contribute more to the nation’s deficit than to its defense. It does so by tying individual careers to the continuance of programs and so creates vested interests that will protect them for reasons that are more personal than professional. It does so by spreading program spending around to many states and Congressional districts so that there will be built in political support for a program even if it is overbudget, behind schedule, and works poorly or not at all.

Looking at the 10 biggest programs, we should ask ourselves if these programs really represent the military we need. Most of them are gold-plated anachronisms left over from the Cold War. Our biggest military operations during the Bush years have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet almost all these systems are irrelevant to such engagements. Indeed while we have been in these countries several years, our experiences in them are not reflected at all in the acquisition budget, a likely legacy of Donald Rumsfeld.

Finally, the 2008 US defense budget is estimated to be $623 billion. This is substantially more than the rest of the world combined. China is second at $65 billion, and Russia third at $50 billion. Whom are we defending ourselves from, and how? Yes, we need an adequate defense both for ourselves and to help defend our allies, but do we truly need to spend 10 times more than our nearest rival and to spend it so poorly? And what are the costs here at home? How many roads and schools are not being built? How much healthcare isn’t being purchased? How much science and technology are not being funded? How much of what makes this country worth defending is being passed over?
[Contractors, Foreign Affairs, Incompetence]

339. An April 9, 2008, GAO report on the government’s SmartPay card program (meant to reduce bureaucracy and streamline government purchasing procedures) found widespread abuse. In a sampling of purchases from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006, the GAO found 41% failed to meet either of 2 basic internal controls: 1) proper authorization and 2) receipt and signature for goods or services by someone other than the cardholder. In another sample of purchases over the micropurchase limit of $2,500, the report found 48% did not meet one or both of these criteria. While such purchases represented only 3% of the total number of purchases, they accounted for 44% of the dollars spent.

Use of the SmartPay cards has increased from $3 billion in fiscal year 1996 to $17.7 billion in 2006. At the same time the number of cardholders has decreased from 670,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2006. For 2006, this comes to some $59,000 per cardholder.

The report noted several cases of abuse and poor book keeping. The Army, for example, could not account for 16 server configurations made up of 256 items which it had purchased for more than $1.5 million. It sent the GAO photos of one server configuration but did not supply proof that this was even one of the configurations in question.

An employee at the Department of Agriculture used the card account to write some 180 checks on the Forest Service’s fire suppression budget to a live-in boyfriend with whom the cardholder shared a bank account. This came to $642,000 and occurred over the course of 6 years (October 2000 to September 2006). The theft only came to light through the actions of a whistleblower. As a result, the cardholder was sentenced to 21 months for embezzlement and tax fraud, 36 months supervised release, and restitution of the money stolen.

Four cardholders at the Pentagon spent $77,000 on civilian clothing and accessories for service personnel from Brooks Brothers among others. This was far in excess of applicable clothing allowances.

An Interior employee took over 100 cash advances from July 2005 to September 2006 worth more than $24,000. The employee resigned rather than face disciplinary proceedings but was still liable for repayment of the money taken.

The US Post Office was hit with a $13,500 restaurant bill for 81 attendees of a conference in Orlando, Florida. This came to $160 per person and included some $3,000 in alcohol purchased over a 5 hour period.

A postmaster subscribed to two online dating services over 15 months (April 2004 to October 2006) using his government purchase card. Although these were the only charges on the card, they were all approved by the Post Office. In the end, the postmaster paid $1,100 in restitution, but no further disciplinary action was taken.

A NASA employee purchased two iPods ostensibly for data storage. Most of the data in question involved songs and music videos.

A cardholder at State purchased $360 in women’s underwear and lingerie from Seduccion Boutique for trainees participating in a jungle training drug enforcement program in Ecuador.

In an Administration where the looting of government is not the exception but the norm and the amounts in question are huge, this kind of pilferage is petty in comparison. At the same time, much of it could be eliminated by simple controls, reminders of agency guidelines, and common sense. If someone can’t see the potential problems with using public funds to buy underwear for jungle warfare from Seduccion Boutique, they don’t deserve to be in government.

340. The Future Combat Systems (FCS) is the program to turn the Army into a lighter, more agile fighting force. Don’t ask me why the Pentagon is so enamored of the word “agile” but it is. Conceptually, the FCS is a group of weapons systems whose actions are integrated through a state of the art information network. Anyway the FCS was Donald Rumsfeld’s baby, and right there that should tell you what a bad idea it was likely to be.

The FCS has been plagued by development problems. An April 10, 2008 GAO report noted that it would be difficult for the Army to show for a 2009 go/no-go review that it had firm requirements and mature technologies for the program, elements which should have been in place back in 2003 when the FCS first entered its development phase. Only 2 of 44 critical technologies for the FCS are currently considered mature by best practice standards. Putting the cart before the horse, requests for funds for production of core systems are scheduled for February 2010 within months of the go/no-go review but before the program’s critical design review. Cost estimates of $160.9 billion for the FCS remain about the same this year as last year but this was accomplished by reducing the number of FCS components from 18 to 14. The information network the core of the FCS is years away from demonstration. Software code (an indicator of cost containment) has increased to 95.1 million lines, triple what was envisioned in 2003. As a result, delays and costs cascade through the program. Contractors are unable to finalize designs because they are unsure what the final requirements will be. Consequently, changes and fixes will have to be made later in the process when it will cost a great deal more to make them.

Rumsfeld (see item 207) said, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Well, this is that army for a later time. What is its purpose? What is it designed to do? A fast, light force is good for going in and shooting a place up. A few observations can be made about this. First, we already have such a force. It is called the Marines. Second, such a force would not be good at holding territory or combating an insurgency that can melt into the civilian population. As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, these require larger and heavier forces. Third, most of the advantages of a highly mobile force would be lost in a conflict with North Korea where the battle space is confined. The same could be said for a conflict involving Taiwan. Fourth, ground wars against nuclear weapons states like China, Russia, or Pakistan are likely to be avoided by all concerned because of their foreseeable and catastrophic consequences. Fifth, FCS forces or even current army forces could be used against Iran, but it is too large a country to occupy and as said above even limited areas would be difficult to hold in the face of a hostile population.

There are only two uses I can see for the FCS. One would be in international peacekeeping in places like Darfur. Somehow I don’t think this is what Rumsfeld had in mind. The other is to defend oil fields of allied states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE against outside threats. It should be pointed out that this is what we have been doing with our conventional forces for the last few decades in any case.

So foul-ups and cost overruns aside, it looks like we are building another army superfluous at best and ill-suited at worst for the military challenges we are likely to face in the future. In that sense, the FCS is a very Bushian creation indeed.
[Foreign Affairs, Incompetence]

341. The Supreme Court decision in the death penalty case Baze et al v. Rees, Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Corrections, et al decided April 16, 2008 on a 7-2 vote is not just a bad decision but an impossibly bad one. At issue was whether execution by lethal injection of a 3 drug cocktail of sodium thiopental (to induce unconsciousness), pancuronium bromide (to produce skeletal muscle paralysis), and potassium chloride (to induce cardiac arrhythmia leading to cardiac arrest) constituted an 8th Amendment violation of the prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.” This execution method has been approved for use by some 30 states and the Federal Government. So what’s the problem? Death by lethal injection is by the nature of its purpose a significant medical procedure. Yet it is not carried out by medical professionals nor monitored by a physician. The reason for this is simple. Such activities on their part would violate their professional oaths.

As in the “partial birth abortion”, i.e. intact dilation and extraction case Gonzales v. Carhart (item 26), the Supreme Court has once again set itself up as a medical authority and once again shown that it has none. The Court notes that Kentucky mandates that the insertion of the two sets of IVs needed for the execution be performed by “qualified personnel having at least one year’s professional experience.” While this may seem sufficient, the reality is that one year’s experience in the medical profession (physician, nurse, EMT) gives you just enough knowledge and confidence to be dangerous. You see it isn’t just about putting a needle into a vein but knowing what to do if there is a problem (the line becomes clogged, the vein occludes, the vein is perforated, etc.) at some point in the process.

The Court is also dodgy on preparation of the syringes for the lethal injection. At one point, it states that this is left to unnamed “others” raising the suspicion that it is in fact being done by medical personnel in violation of professional ethics. On the other hand, Justices Roberts, Kennedy, and Alito relied on the state court’s finding that “there would be minimal risk of improper mixing if the manufacturers’ thiopental package insert instructions were followed.” I suppose the same argument could be made if you gave a copy of surgical procedures to a nurse and asked him/her to remove your appendix. Or say if after Roberts’ seizure on July 30, 2007 his anti-convulsant therapy was overseen by the hospital administrator because he/she could read the label as well as anyone.

The Court leaves to the warden and deputy warden the determination of whether the prisoner is unconscious within 60 seconds of the injection of sodium thiopental and if not “a new dose will be given at a secondary injection site before the second and third drugs are administered.” In other words, the Court leaves to non-medical personnel a medical assessment and determination. Can these people really determine or know how to determine if the prisoner is stuporous, lightly comatose, or deeply comatose?

This brings up the use of the second drug pancuronium bromide. If the prisoner is indeed completely unconscious, what need is there for the use of a muscle relaxant to produce a flaccid paralysis? This is especially important because injection of the third drug in a conscious if paralyzed patient would be accompanied by extreme burning in the injected vein. Additionally, the paralytic action of the second drug could cause a smothering sensation as well.

The legal arguments fare no better. There is a Twilight Zone quality about them. Roberts, Kennedy, and Alito affirm that “To constitute cruel and unusual punishment, an execution method must present a “substantial” or “objectively intolerable” risk of serious harm.” Being killed is not harm, good to know.

Justice Stevens argues “Moreover, although experience demonstrates that imposing that penalty constitutes the pointless and needless extinction of life with only negligible social or public returns, this conclusion does not justify a refusal to respect this Court’s precedents upholding the death penalty and establishing a framework for evaluating the constitutionality of particular execution methods.” So although he thinks the death penalty is idiotic, Stevens supports it because of the Court’s long history of supporting idiocy.

Thomas and Scalia cite Wilkerson v. Utah to argue that an 8th Amendment violation can only come about if the execution is “deliberately designed to inflict pain,” that is incidental pain even if it is excruciating is OK.

The seventh justice Breyer takes a more Pontius Pilate approach. He has concerns about the method of execution and about the death penalty in general but not enough to vote no.

Supreme Court decisions on the death penalty have not, let us say, been felicitous, which makes some of the key decisions cited even more bizarre. Wilkerson v. Utah (1878) the first death penalty case the Court heard sanctioned death by firing squad because it did not inflict “pain for the sake of pain.” Wilkerson was duly shot but apparently did not die immediately. So there was something lingering, indeed “something inhuman and barbarous” and “more than the mere extinguishment of life” about his death. Similarly, in Kemmler the first execution by electric chair, the Court upheld death by electrocution because it was created “in the effort to devise a more humane method of reaching the result.” It was in fact a sales gimmick by Thomas Edison to promote electricity (of the direct current kind). Kemmler (1890) was fried for 17 seconds. The smell was so bad that some of the witnesses had to leave. He was pronounced dead until someone noticed he was still breathing, at which point electricity was again applied. Louisiana Ex Rel. Francis v. Resweber (1947) is another case cited where the electric chair did not kill the prisoner. The execution was stopped and the case was appealed in part on 8th Amendment grounds. The Court held that mishaps don’t count and Francis was executed a second time. It came out later that the executioners at the first execution were drunk.

You would think that this kind of judicial record would engender a certain humility, but you would be as wrong as this Supreme Court has been. What is at the heart of the current case Baze v. Rees is capital punishment involving a medical procedure performed by non-medical personnel with all the irreconcilable conflicts and questions that entails. The Court’s solution was not to confront this issue but to play doctor instead.

342. According to a GAO report released April 17, 2008, since 2002 the US embassy has had no comprehensive plan to address the issue of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) which lie across Afghanistan’s eastern border. To date, efforts have been uncoordinated and disorganized. From 2002 through 2007, the US has given some $10.5 billion dollars in assistance. $5.56 billion has gone to reimburse Pakistani forces operating in the Tribal Areas. Much of this has been pilfered or diverted. Despite this largesse, Pakistani forces in the FATA are often poorly trained and poorly armed, especially in comparison to the tribal forces they face. In addition, $1.98 billion has gone to developmental assistance. Another $1.6 billion has been spent to support basic government operations. $1.22 billion has been used to purchase military equipment, $9 million for international military training, and $202 million to improve border security.

The lack of a comprehensive plan is despite calls for such in Bush’s 2003 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the 2004 9/11 Commission Report, the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act which created the National Counter Terrorism Center precisely to come up with such plans, and the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 which, with the Democratic takeover of the Congress, finally got around to enacting the 9/11 Commission recommendations. As the GAO report notes, there have been consequences for this lack of attention.

However, we found broad agreement, as documented in the unclassified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), State and embassy documents, as well as among Defense, State, and other officials, including those operating in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA.

In particular the 2007 NIE “Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland” concluded that al Qaeda had successfully replaced its senior operational planners and had “regenerated the core operational capabilities needed to conduct attacks against the United States.” It described its safe havens in the FATA as “the most serious terrorist threat to the United States.” The FATA situation is just part of the larger problem created by Bush’s leaving before the job was done in Afghanistan for his disastrously misguided war with Iraq.
[Afghanistan, Incompetence, War on Terror]

343. Material acquired by the ACLU through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request and released April 16, 2008 show that torture occurred at a detention center in Gardez, Afghanistan run by Special Forces. Previously, personnel had admitted using techniques derived from the military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program which seeks to prepare trainees for brutal treatment they might face if captured. This included open handed slapping.

The FOIA documents show that much more went on than this. They cover a criminal investigation undertaken in 2004 concerning the treatment of 8 prisoners in March 2003. They relate how these prisoners were doused with cold water, made to kneel outside in freezing conditions, and kicked and punched in the kidneys, nose, and knees if they moved. One of them, Jamal Nasser died. The military concluded his death occurred due to a “stomach ailment” although no autopsy was performed. The documents also indicate that unnamed prisoners were sodomized. Despite this, a 2006 military review found that allegations of torture were unsupported although there was evidence of “misconduct that warrants further action.”

What this episode says is that the culture of torture and mistreatment of detainees was already well established 7 months before the events at Abu Ghraib began.
[Afghanistan, Torture, War on Terror]

344. Prior to 9/11, Torie Clarke, a former public relations executive and then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, began recruiting military “analysts” who provided commentary on the air and in print for the nation’s media. These analysts were retired officers (generals, colonels, etc.) whose expertise was supposed to provide depth to the media’s coverage of the Global War on Terror, Guantanamo, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead they propagated the Pentagon’s propaganda and spin, even when they disagreed with them. They promoted the need for war with Iraq and later defended the Pentagon’s failures and mistakes there. They glossed over abuses at Guantanamo. They hyped the threat of Iran. Their motives were various and mixed. Some did it for the access, others in hopes of gaining contracts for businesses with which they were associated, still others out of misplaced loyalty to the military to which they had devoted a great part of their lives. A few may have even believed what they were saying. In any case, they misinformed the public for years and were allowed to do so because the media turned a blind eye to their many and obvious conflicts of interest.

With the Bush Administration in its last days on January 16, 2009, the Pentagon’s Inspector General released a report which found nothing improper in the Department’s pundits for hire program. The report illustrates once again how most Inspector Generals lack independence. (As noted in item 326, the Pentagon’s IG does not even have its own attorney but uses one from the department’s General Counsel’s office, a clear conflict of interest.) The Pentagon uses one of its own lawyer to investigate itself. Unsurprisingly, punches are pulled, and the result as here is a whitewash.
[Afghanistan, Inspector General, Iraq, Media, War on Terror]

345. On April 28, 2008, SCOTUS decided 6-3 in Crawford et al v. Marion County Election Board et al that Indiana’s law requiring government issued photo ID for voting was valid. Even by the standards of this Court, the reasoning in its opinion can only be qualified as stupid, contradictory, and partisan. They look upon the IDs as “‘even handed restrictions’ protecting the ‘integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself.’” They are in fact nothing of the kind. While free in theory such IDs place disproportionate burdens on the poor, minorities, the disabled, and the elderly, groups that are least able to bear them and just happen to often vote Democratic. Costs of acquiring the needed documentation for the photo ID such as a birth certificate and of transportation to and from state offices are blown off by the Court. As for the “electoral process”, the Court admits “the record contains no evidence that the fraud SEA 483 [the Indiana law] addresses –in-person voter impersonation at polling places—has actually occurred in Indiana.” In other words, the Court has accepted a remedy which is selectively burdensome for a problem that doesn’t exist. Could anything be more stupid? Well yes, the Court also accepts the state’s argument that its failure to keep its voting rolls up to date is a reason not for it to do a better job with regard to them but to pass the onus for its failure on to certain groups of voters, even though as mentioned above the state has never prosecuted anyone for voter fraud. Finally, there is this central dishonesty in the majority opinion that “minority” is mentioned only once and that in passing without further reference. This omission is deliberate since addressing the effects of the Indiana law on minorities would raise voting rights questions that the Court for all its legal gymnastics could not duck. What the Court is engaged in here is the promotion of a voter suppression scheme (see item 101), one whose effects if they had been primarily on Republicans the Court would never have signed off on. This is the state of law and the courts in 2008.
[Elections, Law]

346. Reading First is a centerpiece of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and $6 billion has been spent on it. Its purpose was to increase children’s understanding of what they read in grades 1-3.

A June 22, 2006 report of the Education Department’s Inspector General found rampant mismanagement and conflicts of interest. 16 panels had been set up to review applications for funding by states. These were supposed to be balanced with members from 4 designated groups (the Department of Education being but one of these). However, 15 of the 16 panels had majorities drawn from Department of Education nominees. 7 of them were made up only of them. It just happened that these panels favored one commercial product McGraw-Hill’s Direct Instruction/Reading Mastery. It also just happened that members of these panels and the Reading First program had business and academic ties to Direct Instruction.

Before coming to Reading First, then Director Chris Doherty had been responsible for bringing Direct Instruction to Baltimore schools in 1996. As Director, he was asked about stacking the review panels, he replied, “Stack the panel?’...I have never *heard* of such a thing....” In an email discussing another product, Doherty wrote, “They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them.” He also referred to them as “dirtbags”.

Despite its problems, Reading First was touted as a good program which improved the comprehension of young readers. Until now. An Institute of Education Sciences report released May 1, 2008 found “Reading First did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3.” I’m guessing that while Reading First didn’t help anyone, the $6 billion it cost did.
[Corruption, Cronyism, Education]

347. There are only about 300 North Atlantic right whales left. The principal cause of death for these marine mammals is collisions with ships. At least 19 have been killed this way since 1986 and very likely more. Because the right whale’s migration pattern takes it down the East Coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a rule to put speed limits on commercial shipping near East Coast ports. It initiated this process 4 years ago on June 1, 2004. After an extended period left open for public comment, the NMFS proposed its rule in June 2006 and formally submitted it to Susan Dudley (see item 105) who heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the OMB. As of May 2008, nearly a year later, Dudley had still not completed her review of the rule. In an April 30, 2008 letter from Henry Waxman, Chairman of House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to Dudley, Waxman noted that “Under Executive Order 12866, you are supposed to complete your review of the final rule within 90 days and can extend the review period by no more than 30 days.”

The delay came in part from objections raised by White House officials but also from the Vice President’s Office concerning data and analysis of the NMFS but also NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration). In essence, the objections were dismissive of the science but lacked any scientific merit of their own. This is hardly surprising. This Administration hates regulation, just as it hates any constraint on its power. That is what makes Dick Cheney’s involvement so interesting and telling. As so much in the last 7 years has shown, Cheney is not a man to let facts, or the right whale, get in the way of his ideology.

On August 25, 2008, under pressure from Cheney, NOAA released a final environmental impact statement that proposed reducing maritime speed limits of 10 knots/hour around major seaports from 30 to 20 nautical miles and added a 5 year sunset to the rule. With the comments period to end September 29, a rule to be finalized, published, and enter into force 60 days later, the rule could take effect (barring legal challenge) within a couple of weeks of the Administration’s end.
[Environment, War on Science]

348. On May 1, 2008, Mary Gade EPA administrator for the Great Lakes region resigned. Two aides to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson had told her she had been placed on administrative leave and that if she did not resign by June 1 she would be fired. Gade, a lawyer who made her name defending corporations from environmental regulators, was appointed to the EPA position by George Bush in September 2006. Gade’s problems began when she sought to force Dow Chemical to clean up dioxin contaminated areas stretching 50 miles from its plant in Midland, Michigan to Lake Huron. Dioxin is a long lived, highly toxic byproduct in the production of some kinds of herbicides. It is best known for the health problems associated with the Vietnam era Agent Orange and for the evacuations of Love Canal in New York and Times Beach in Missouri. Dow had been getting rid of it by dumping it into Michigan streams into the 1980s. In mid-2007, Gade invoked emergency powers and demanded that Dow clean up 3 dioxin “hotspots” near the Midland plant. In November, she ordered more work to be done when the highest concentration of dioxin ever recorded in this country was found in a Saginaw park. Dow tried to cut a deal with Gade in January 2008 to get out from under its liability but when this fell through it lobbied Washington. The result was Gade’s dismissal. This Administration has few standards but a regulator who regulates is something it will not stand for.
[Environment, Health]

349. On April 28, 2008, the normally tame NASA Inspector General (see entry 149) issued a report on the Standing Review Board for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle Project which is building the craft to be used in a return to the moon. It found that 6 of the 19 board members, including the Chair, were employees of companies working on the project and that 4 of them held stock in those companies. The Chair Ed Gibson and Neil Hutchison (a former NASA flight director) are both vice presidents at SAIC (see entry 217). Another board member Jack Garman who had a long career at NASA is also technical director for NASA services at Lockheed Martin the project’s prime contractor. The report recommended suspending the six until the legality of their membership was determined. The report strongly suggested that it wasn’t.

Associate NASA Administrator Scott Pace responded that it wasn’t necessary to suspend these members because he was in the process of rewriting the rules to make it OK for them to stay. The IG found this to be “nonresponsive”. The report also noted that up to the present time the “independent” status of the board members was based solely on self-assessments. This is yet another example of the revolving door and the blurring between business and government until it is no longer clear which is which.
[Contractors, Inspector General, Revolving Door]

350. In April 2008 in an exercise, a government team posing as terrorists gained access to Lawrence Livermore National Lab located east of San Francisco and succeeded in their goal of seizing simulated nuclear materials. Livermore is home to a ton of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, enough for several hundred nuclear weapons. Homes and schools are located nearby and some 7 million people live within a 50 mile radius of it. During the exercise, Special Response Teams and SWAT were not deployed effectively. A truck mounted Gatling gun was unable to fire because its hydraulics failed. No one has ever studied what the effects would be if in a fire fight some of its 4000 rounds a minute ended up in the surrounding community. No one has modeled either attacks where, oh say, someone flew a plane into Building 332 where the real nuclear material is stored or if suicide bombers blew up nuclear material in situ. The question remains why poorly secured nuclear material is stored so close to a major metropolitan area.
[War on Terror]

351. Radhi Hamza al Radhi was Iraq’s former chief anti-corruption officer and headed its Commission of Public Integrity. He documented $18 billion worth of corruption by the American supported government of Nouri al Maliki that crippled reconstruction efforts in the country. After 31 of his employees were killed and having survived assassination attempts, he fled to the United States, but he has not been granted asylum. Why? A senior State Department official, i.e. Condoleezza Rice or a subordinate at her behest, angered by al Radhi’s embarrassing revelations ordered State Department employees not to give al Radhi references or to contact him. The result is that al Radhi can not work or support himself. In hearings on this on May 12, 2008, Senate Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said it best, “This is about betrayal.”
[Corruption, Iraq]

352. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to finalize a rule on October 27, 2008 which, at the behest of drug companies, would drop US adherence to the Declaration of Helsinki. The Declaration outlines how drug trials should be conducted internationally. Increasingly these trials are being conducted in Third World countries. The Declaration requires informed consent be given by study participants, that there be an independent review board, that the well being of participants be monitored, that they be assured of treatment in accord with the best practices identified in the trials, and that the countries from which participants are drawn have some likelihood of benefiting from the results of the trial. Instead the FDA advises only that good clinical practices be used and monitored by a local review board. Such boards in poor countries have been notoriously easy to manipulate and pressure by wealthy drug companies. Most egregiously, the new FDA rules would permit participants to receive placebos in place of the current best treatment. In other words, instead of comparing a new drug against the current best medication, the FDA is sanctioning studies where something will be compared against nothing. This is reminiscent of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment where a cohort of African American males was purposely left untreated although they could and should have been.
[Corruption, Health]

353. On May 9, 2008, the Bush White House issued a memorandum to regularize within 5 years the treatment of information related to the country’s “national interests” which is not classified but which is not for public release. The new designation is to be called Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) and would replace the current hodgepodge of rules covered under the rubrique of Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU). In theory, this looks like an effort to streamline and harmonize procedures across government. And while it states CUI is not meant

to (i) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; (ii) prevent embarrassment to the Federal Government or any Federal official, any organization, or agency; (iii) improperly or unlawfully interfere with competition in the private sector; or (iv) prevent or delay the release of information that does not require such protection

the determination of what CUI covers is very vague

Such determination should be based on mission requirements, business prudence, legal privilege, the protection of personal or commercial rights, safety, or security

For instance, since the mission of the Department of Homeland Security is homeland security and the Defense Department, the nation’s defense, virtually anything related to what these departments do could fall under the CUI designation. In addition, CUI could make disclosures under FOIA easier to deny.

CUI markings may inform but do not control the decision of whether to disclose or release the information to the public, such as in response to a request made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

This is a good news bad news story. The bad news is that this has been the most secretive and least transparent Administration in the country’s history and this looks like another effort to hide from the public whatever it wants whenever it wants. The good news is that most of this will not be implemented until a new Administration takes office. This seems rather to be another last minute attempt, like that of naming political commissars to government departments (see item 283), to influence the conduct of the next Administration or at least lay down booby traps for it.
[War on Terror]

354. The National Agricultural Statistics Service, an agency within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced in May 2008 that it could no longer afford to spend $8 million a year to track pesticide use in agriculture. Since this information is only used by farmers, consumer groups, environmental groups, the EPA, and the pesticide companies themselves I can see why the NASS would think that such tracking is not cost effective.
[Environment, Health]

355. A May 22, 2008 Department of Defense Inspector General’s audit examined 183,486 commercial and miscellaneous payments totaling $10.7 billion from April 2001 to June 2006 (98.8% of these were paid out after January 2003) made from Army disbursement centers in Kuwait ($7.6 billion), Iraq ($3.1 billion), and Egypt ($21.1 million). The audit took a statistical sample of 789 payments worth $3.5 billion.

702 of the 789 in the sample involved commercial payments, and of these only 40 contained no errors. In other words, the audit found problems in 94% of the commercial payments it looked at. On this basis, it estimated that out of some $8.3 billion in payments “the Army made $1.4 billion in commercial payments that lacked the minimum documentation for a valid payment” and that another $6.3 billion did not fully comply with regulations.

The audit also found 53 payments of $1.8 billion in seized Iraqi assets made by Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which were not “adequately accounted for and auditable.” In the most egregious case, the only information in a voucher for $320.8 million dated July 22, 2003 is “Iraqi Salary Payment,” a quantity 1000 (apparently referring to the number of employees), and the unit price $328,000 (the highly dubious amount each was supposed to be paid).

And it found 22 vouchers worth $134.8 million paid to Coalition partners out of the Commander’s Emergency Program (CERP). None contained documentation that the funds were spent for their intended purpose.

In other audits, the DOD IG found that in a sampling of $2.7 billion of $5.7 billion in construction and equipment transfers to Iraqi Security Forces that some $2 billion (or 74%) could not adequately be accounted for.

Now to be fair some of the money for which there is little or no paperwork may have been spent, if not wisely, at least for its intended purpose but a sizeable fraction was not and how much money was stolen or wasted we will never know precisely because the accounting system, if that is what you could call it, was so bad.
[Corruption, Criminality, Incompetence, Inspector General, Iraq]

356. According to a May 22, 2008 Project on Government Oversight article, a September 2006 Army memo accused a major aeronautics composite material manufacturer Airtech International Inc from 1997 to 2005 of fraud in supplying products which did not conform to contract specifications, of routinely changing the composition of these products without informing customers, and of paying bribes and kickbacks to defense contractors to use its products. Airtech customers include most of the aircraft building companies in the world, including Pentagon contractors Boeing, Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin, and Bell Helicopter and its composite materials are used in commercial planes like the 747 and military craft like the C-17, F-18, and Joint Strike Fighter. The Army investigator who authored the memo wrote, “In my career investigating allegations of fraudulent acts against the DoD, seldom have I come across a company with such brazen disregard for the safety of soldiers and civilians as well as for the sanctity of laws, regulations and rules.” The memo was forwarded to the Air Force but up to the time of the POGO article in May 2008, it had still not taken any action with regard to Airtech and the company was still allowed to sell its products to defense manufacturers. In 2006 the FAA did an investigation of its own into Airtech. In the typical industry friendly way for which it has become known, the FAA informed Airtech in advance of its investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing, lent undue credence to what Airtech told it, and concluded that Airtech had nothing to answer for. Even so the FAA passed the matter on to the Department of Transportation Inspector General.
[Contractors, Corruption, Criminality, Inspector General]

357. A March 2008 report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General found that in fiscal year 2007 $152 billion (48%) of $316 billion in expenditures on weapons acquisitions had not received sufficient audit scrutiny. It noted its auditors are overwhelmed. In 1997 each Inspector General auditor oversaw $642 million in contracts and that had increased by 2007 to $2.3 billion. The report also found that while complaints of reprisals against whistleblowers had increased over the last ten years by 62% from 315 to 528 a year the number of investigators had actually decreased from 22 to 19.
[Incompetence, Inspector General]

358. On January 2, 2008, Green Beret Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in a shower on a US base in Iraq because a water pump was improperly grounded and electrified the water pipes. The Army initially reported to his mother that Maseth had taken an electrical appliance into the shower with him and that this had caused his electrocution. The contractor KBR had inspected the premises 11 months before and had noted serious electrical problems, including some involving “improper grounding of electrical devices” but it had done nothing because its contract did not cover “fixing potential hazards” but only authorized repairs after something broke. KBR did, in fact, fix the electrical problem after Ryan Maseth’s death. KBR’s explanation was to be blunt horse manure. Given the latitude that contractors have to operate in Iraq, KBR could have and should have fixed what it knew to be serious and dangerous problems. But also given how sloppy contractors are in Iraq, it simply didn’t bother and an American soldier died. At least 12 US troops have died by electrocution since the war began. As incidents like this one demonstrate, private contractors in Iraq are not there to be patriotic but to make a buck. When something goes wrong, it is not KBR but American troops who pay the price.

It has since come out that two soldiers were nearly killed two weeks before in an electrical fire in a nearby building to that Maseth was electrocuted in. Other reports have also come to light. One Army study found that in a single 6 month period from August 2006 to January 2007, there were some 283 electrical fires in Iraq which destroyed or damaged buildings, including the Army’s largest mess hall in the country. A February 2007 survey listed electrical problems as the single most important non-combat hazard in Iraq. Put simply, politically connected contractors like KBR put the lives of American soldiers in danger, escape blame or close scrutiny, and continue to be paid and win new contracts despite a long and deplorable history of shoddy work.[Contractors, Incompetence, Supporting the Troops]

359. On January 23, 2008, the Center for Public Integrity published a study that found that Administration officials had made 935 false statements about Iraq and WMD or Iraq and al Qaeda in the two years following the 9/11 attacks. Bush was responsible for 260 false statements, i.e. lies, followed by Colin Powell with 254, Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld both with 109, Paul Wolfowitz with 85, Condoleezza Rice with 56, Dick Cheney with 48, and Scott McClellan with 14. While this is an important report, the shame of it is that it could have been done and should have been done years ago by what passes for our news media but was not.

The New York Times did publish an apology for its part in hyping the case for WMD in the run up to the war. It did so on May 26, 2004 more than a year after the war began. It concentrated on 6 articles: 2 of which were written by Judith Miller and 2 she co-wrote with Michael Gordon. Yet this fact is never mentioned. Judith Miller’s name does not appear at all, and Michael Gordon is cited only once and that approvingly as a further source opining on the complexity of the aluminum tubes debate. Somehow this complexity went unappreciated by the IAEA which saw almost immediately that the aluminum tubes story was bogus. Judith Miller was let go by the Times but not for her role in lying the nation into an expensive, unnecessary, and endless war but for the far worse sin of embarrassing the paper in the Valerie Plame case. Gordon remains at the Times where he continues his career shilling for the Pentagon.

Even though by the time of its apology it was clear there were no WMD in Iraq, the Times was still not willing to give up on them entirely: “It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq.” The apology is rife with weasely phrases. “These accounts have never been independently verified.” Note the use of the passive. Translation: “We never verified them.” Or “we, along with the administration, were taken in.” Translation: “We didn’t verify this either, but it’s not our fault.”

The only bright spot in the Times apology is that it took the Washington Post even longer to come up with one. The Post published its apology on August 12, 2004. Bob Woodward’s laughably illogical take was “We did our job, but we didn’t do enough.” Translation: “We did our job, except for the part about doing our job, which we did not do.”

Along these lines, on May 28, 2008, former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan (July 17, 2003 - April 26, 2006) of all people wrote a more accurate and scathing assessment of the press than any it was willing to make itself:

And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it. ... [T]he media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. [Page 125]

If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. ... In this case, the "liberal media" didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served. [Pages 156-157]

On June 5, 2008, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released what has come to be known as its Phase II report on intelligence and the run up to the Iraq war. It is actually two reports. The first of these compares what Bush and others said to what they knew as evidenced by the intelligence assessments at the time. In keeping with the Public Integrity report, it finds many discrepancies (lies) where the Administration overstated the case (lied) or made erroneous statements (more lies). Phase I came out on July 7, 2004. Phase II was stalled first by the Republicans while they were in the majority and then by weak kneed, conservative leaning Democrats like Jay Rockefeller the Committee Chair. While the report contains many interesting tidbits, the delay in its writing, measured in years, vitiates most of its findings (which was rather the point of the delay). Yes, Bush and Cheney lied the country into a war. Yes, this is an impeachable offense, a high crime if ever there was one, but the Democrats have done and will do nothing about it.

Overall the report is very badly written. It does not look at why the October 2002 NIE after considerable White House prodding made a more robust (although still highly conditioned) case for Iraq as a threat. It does not connect the dots. The intelligence community, for instance, concluded that even under optimum conditions if Iraq had somehow reconstituted its nuclear program, it would still take it 5-7 years to produce a nuclear device. This is important because it takes away the argument of Iraq as an imminent threat and turns a justified pre-emptive war into a preventive war, which is a war crime. Nor does it look at the likelihood that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear program. Nuclear weapons are not something that are thrown together in one’s garage. They require a vast industrial undertaking which can not be hidden. It is also a multi-phased process: uranium ore must be acquired, enriched, processed, and machined; there must be a design; a device must be made and tested; then it must be miniaturized to fit on a vehicle (in this case a missile); finally the missile must be built and tested. When you consider how much of Iraq’s nuclear infrastructure was dismantled and destroyed in the inspections following the First Gulf War, the idea that Saddam could reconstitute a fully functioning nuclear weapons program on the sly is in the realm of pure paranoid fantasy. Now most Americans were not aware of this at the time but the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, and members of defense and intelligence committees in the Congress certainly were.

The run up to war, how it was treated then and later, is the paradigm for the Bush years. The White House committed acts which it knew to be illegal and then lied to us about them. Congressional Republicans covered for the Administration by blocking investigations when they were in the majority and belittling them when they went into the minority. Congressional Democrats (with few exceptions) did nothing to stop what was happening. The media (also with few exceptions) gave up their role as investigator for that of cheerleader. Now years later, we are at last beginning to see some investigation. Yet for the most part, it is too little, too late. Actual accountability remains as far off as ever.
[Intelligence, Iraq, Media]

360. Charles Smith a civilian headed the Field Support Contracting Division of the US Army. At the end of 2003, he was informed by the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) that some $1 billion in costs from defense contractor KBR for work in Iraq could not be justified. KBR at the time was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the corporation that Vice President Cheney formerly headed. When Smith raised his concerns, Tina Ballard Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army began pressuring him to quickly smooth the matter over. Smith didn’t and in August 2004 warned KBR in writing that if it couldn’t justify its expenses, he would not set up review boards to pass on 2 percent bonuses for the company and that he would begin withholding 15% on future payment claims until the matter was resolved. The day after this warning was transmitted, Smith’s military boss Brigadier General Jerome Johnson told him to rescind it and the day after that Smith found he had been moved to a different job. Jeffrey P. Parsons, executive director of the Army Contracting Command stated that “This issue was not decided overnight.” This is very likely true. It was probably discussed over two nights. Subsequently, the Army hired an outside auditing firm RCI Holding to examine the KBR account. Ignoring the DCAA audit and based on only sketchy information from KBR, RCI gave KBR a clean bill of health. This cleared the way for KBR in early 2008 to receive part of a $150 billion 10 year contract for work in Iraq and for Serco, RCI’s parent company, to be KBR’s auditor for that contract. Nope, no conflicts of interest there, nope, none at all, just good old fashioned arm twisting, string pulling, and back scratching. What could be more American and patriotic than that?
[Contractors, Corruption, Iraq]

361. On June 18, 2008, Physicians for Human Rights released a report on 11 detainees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo never charged whom they examined and concluded had been tortured. Antonio Taguba (see 195) wrote the preface. Taguba underlined the top down nature of America’s torture policy and the human costs of that policy.

“…the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.


After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
[Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Iraq, Torture]

362. KBR allowed around 250 soldiers guarding the Qarmat Ali water treatment in Iraq to be exposed to sodium dichromate, a powerful carcinogen. Soldiers also presented acutely with nosebleeds, spitting of blood, cough, shortness of breath, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Dichromate at the site was used in anti-rust coating for water pipes used in oil field production. It was left strewn on the ground after the plant was looted following the 2003 US invasion. KBR knew about the dichromate but initially described it as only a “mild irritant”. Early testing by the military showed that soldiers did not have high levels of chromium but it is unclear if the right test was used and performed within the proper timeframes. In addition, cancers related to a past exposure can take years to develop. KBR said it did nothing wrong. Apparently it views putting the lives and health of US service men and women as a normal cost of doing business.
[Contractors, Health, Iraq, Supporting the Troops]

363. The Justice Department (DOJ) administers an Honors and Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP). The idea behind these is to encourage participants to take up careers at the DOJ. Indeed the Honors Program is the only avenue for hiring candidates straight out of law school. Traditionally, selection to these programs was made by career Justice attorneys and on the applicants’ merits. In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft transferred final selection to political appointees within the DOJ. The result was that candidates were chosen for their political leanings and not their legal and educational qualifications.

On April 9, 2007, DOJ lawyers wrote a letter to Patrick Leahy and John Conyers, the Chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees respectively complaining that their recommendations had been passed to the Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty’s office where they had been dramatically cut. On December 5, 2006, supervisors met with Michael Elston, McNulty’s Chief of Staff (see item 2). Elston told them they had not “done their jobs” and that he had to have a “screening panel” to go over and “research” the candidates. Later, comparing those accepted to those who were not, the letter writers noted, the “one common denominator appeared repeatedly.” Rejected applicants, some who were summa cum laude at Harvard and Yale, had Democratic and liberal associations.

On June 24, 2008, the DOJ Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) issued a report on this matter. It found that for the Honors Program in 2002 of 911 recommendations 307 were deselected; in 2003, of 635 only 6 were deselected; in 2004 of 572 only 13 were deselected. In 2005, rejections began to increase. Of 624, there were 46 deselections.

Finally, in 2006 (the year to which the Congressional letterwriters referred), of 602 candidates recommended, 186 were rejected. The report found that applicants with liberal affiliations (83 out of 150) were rejected at 3 times the rate of conservative ones (5 out of 28): 55% to 18%.

With regard to SLIP, in 2006, of 451 recommended candidates 202 were rejected. As with the Honors Program, rejections in the previous 3 years were low and ranged between 10 and 23. Similarly, the only other year with a high rejection rate was 2002 where 185 out of 498 were deselected. 82% of those with liberal affiliations (56 of 68) were rejected. 13% of those with conservative ones (2 of 16) were deselected.

In 2006, the “screening committee” was chaired by Michael Elston and had two members: Daniel Fridman, a career prosecutor and Assistant USA for the Southern District of Florida detailed to McNulty’s office and Esther Slater McDonald, Counsel to the Acting Associate Attorney General Bill Mercer (see item 197). Fridman was found to have acted appropriately and to have communicated his concerns in a professional way. The report found that McDonald who was “at the Department less than a month when she received this assignment and was only 3 years out of law school” had

inappropriately evaluated candidates based on the candidates’ political or ideological affiliations. McDonald wrote that she voted against candidates because their essays used “leftist commentary and buzz words” such as “environmental justice,” “social justice,” “making policy,” or “anything else that involves legislating rather than enforcing.” She also expressed disapproval of candidates’ affiliations with liberal organizations such as the American Constitution Society, the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, Greenpeace, and Greenaction.

It concluded that

McDonald committed misconduct and violated Department policies and civil service law by considering political or ideological affiliations in assessing Honors Program and SLIP candidates.

The report reserves most of its criticism for Elston and concludes that he too “violated federal law and Department policy by deselecting candidates based on their liberal affiliations.” However, the report goes on to note that since both Elston and McDonald have resigned their positions, “they are no longer subject to discipline by the Department.” The report finally says that Louis DeFalaise, director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment Management (who in years past was the one to sign off on selections) and Bill Mercer had not provided sufficient oversight to the process. Left out of the report is why Mercer ever put someone so junior unsupervised in charge of anything.

In April 2007 shortly after the letter to Congress, control of the selection process for the Honors Program and SLIP was returned to career DOJ personnel. This episode is just another example of what lengths Bush officials went to not only politicize the Department of Justice but stack its career positions with Bush ideologues.

As a postscript, Monica Goodling (see items 2, 156, and 336) who has also been involved in political motivated hirings and firings was reported by Elston to have argued for keeping the political screening committees. Goodling for her part declined to be interviewed by investigators on her role in this affair.
[Criminality, Politicization of the DOJ]

364. On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in District of Columbia et al v. Heller ruled in the majority opinion written by Antonin Scalia that the 2nd Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
The 2nd Amendment reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Scalia dismissed the first part of the Amendment: “The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause.” This is poppycock. As an “originalist,” Scalia knows that the Founders did not include reference to a “militia” on a whim. The holding of arms by citizens was meant as a check, not of those citizens, but of the states in which they lived against an oppressive federal government or social insurrection, hence the use of “militia” in the text. This question was resolved nearly 150 years ago in something called the Civil War. Now the Founders, if they had wished to recognize an individual right to possess weapons, could easily have done so, but they did not. It is only by reading out the first part of the amendment or misreading it, both of which Scalia does, that he arrives at his conclusion.

Scalia does not end there. He can not. Having done away with the restriction contained in the amendment’s initial phrase, he is left with a now unfettered, absolute freedom in its second. So if your neighbor kept a nuke in his or her backyard, or, worse from Justice Scalia’s point of view, it was one of his neighbors, you and he would have no recourse. This makes even him uncomfortable and he immediately backtracks.

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

Justice Scalia is a lucky man that not only does he know what the Founders meant but that they always agree with him --even when history and a plain reading of the text would suggest the opposite. What Scalia along with the other conservative justices has done here is simply to substitute a Second Amendment that they would like to see in the Constitution for the one that is actually there. It is a radical, even “activist”, thing they have done. Roberts and Alito, in particular, swore up and down at their confirmation hearings their adherence to the principle of stare decisis (respect for precedent). Their vote in this case, if further evidence were needed, shows they lied.

What is important too to remember is that even if there were no Second Amendment, this would not mean that guns and other weapons would be automatically banned. It would just mean that there could be restrictions on their use and ownership, much as there are for cars, tobacco, and alcohol. The question, as in this case, is where to draw those lines, and for that you do not need a Supreme Court intervening with its creative writing approach to the Constitution.

365. When George Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 2001 the NYMEX near futures crude oil contract was $32.19/bbl (see also item 308). On September 10, 2001 (markets closed for 3 days because of 9/11), the price had declined to $27.63. In succeeding weeks, due to international cooperation and support, the futures price actually fell hitting a low of $17.72 on November 19, 2001.

During the first half of 2002, prices gradually rose returning to pre-9/11 levels and then continued to rise to inauguration levels in the runup to the Iraq War peaking at $37.78 on March 7, 2003 and then fell back and traded at the $30 +/- $2 through most of the rest of the year.

In 2004, prices rose steadily as insurgency and civil war took hold in Iraq and instability increased. The abuses at Abu Ghraib came out and the first and second battles of Fallujah took place. There was also the weather. In September, Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast and the following month prices spiked to $52-$55 in response. The futures price on the last day of trading for the year on December 29, 2003 was $32.52. On December 30, 2004, the last day of trading for 2004, the price was $43.45. 2004 is noteworthy because prices increased 33%, broke through the levels of the previous 3 years, and never returned to them.

In 2005, prices continued their rise and tested the $60 barrier in June before the price spikes in late August (to $69.81 on August 30, 2005, the day after Katrina made landfall) and late September (to $66.80 on September 21, 2005, 3 days before Rita came ashore). The contract ended the year at $61.04 (a 40% increase) on December 30.

In 2006, saber rattling against Iran by Bush sent prices over $70 in April. This was followed by the Palestinian civil war in June when Hamas threw Fatah backed security forces out of Gaza (item 191) and then Israel’s massive bombing campaign against Lebanon from July 12 to August 14. The peak for this period was $77.03 and occurred on July 14. After the ceasefire in Lebanon, prices began to fall and ended the year at $61.05 on December 29 almost exactly where they began the year. However for nearly 5 months during 2006 due to mostly avoidable events in the Middle East oil futures were trading at $10-$15 higher.

2007 was another critical year. It began with price manipulation of gasoline with refineries taken offline for accidents and maintenance forcing gas prices up. Early on crude oil futures actually declined which is what you would expect in the face of a downstream bottleneck creating a glut. Unfortunately, this was soon reversed as the Administration ratcheted up tensions with Iran on the basis of poorly substantiated charges that Iran was supplying Shia militias with a particularly lethal IED, the EFP (explosively formed projectile). Matters were not helped when a group of British Marines on a maritime patrol were seized by the Iranians. Yet even as these crises faded and gasoline prices eased, speculative pressure surged. In early 2007, some of the first mortgage lending companies went bankrupt as the subprime bubble prepared to burst. Even as the happy talk on Wall Street continued, the crude oil futures market was telling a very different story. This market had been jittery from March through May but in early June prices took off. The last time prices closed below $65 was on June 8. This spike in the crude futures market began a month before the two Bear Stearns funds went bust in July and two months before the subprime bubble officially blew up on August 9 when the French bank BNP Paribas froze withdrawals on 3 of its funds and created a worldwide financial panic (item 87). 2007 closed with the near futures contract at $95.98, a 57% rise for the year.

By mid June 2008, the futures price was at the $140 level, a 46% increase from the beginning of the year.

There are several things to say at this point.

Excess speculation results in price rises that can not be accounted for from the market fundamentals of supply and demand alone. As we saw above, a political crisis, a war, or a hurricane can threaten or cause supply disruptions, and temporary increases in futures prices result. But crises fade, wars end or fail to affect supply, weather related damage is repaired and, as concerns ease, prices should revert to at or near their previous levels.

Now there are some things which can raise the overall price as for example demand outstripping supply, but in the period 2004-2006 stocks of crude oil in the US were at record highs. So this wasn’t it. Inflation could do it but inflation has only become a concern in 2008 and that largely due to interest rate cuts in response to the subprime crisis. Devaluation of the dollar against other currencies could also be responsible. The dollar has fallen in value against many currencies, most notably the euro (item 307). Now if we were to assess the overall effect of devaluation, we would have to take into account not just the euro, the most extreme case, but a basket of the major currencies against which the dollar has lost less. But for the sake of argument, let’s not. Even if we said the dollar has lost 50% of its value since Bush took office and we increased future contract prices 50% accordingly, this would be $32 (the price at the time of Bush’s first inauguration) plus an extra $16 (the 50% markup). We would therefore expect the price to be around ~$50. To put it mildly, it’s not.

Looking back to when prices rose over and above their underlying costs and the factors of supply and demand, we can say excess speculation in the crude oil futures market began in 2004. Despite the accelerated rate of price increase and the sheer absolute size of it since the subprime fiasco hit in 2007, many in the media, the government, and the public remain in denial about the role of excess speculation. Even if speculation is admitted, a smaller and briefer impact is ascribed to it. The usual suspects are also blamed. It’s the oil companies’ fault or that of oil producers. While neither of these groups are “the good guys”, excess speculation is very much a creature of the financial markets and the major players in them: hedge funds, investment banks, index funds, and sovereign wealth funds.

How did they do it?

1) Low margins. The amount you need to put down on a futures contract is only 5%-7% of its face value. This means that for every dollar invested, $15 to $20 of futures contract could be purchased.

2) Paper demand. Most excess speculators never take possession of a single teaspoon of oil. They simply make a bet that the price of oil will rise. They are buying a contract, a financial instrument, not the oil itself. When it comes time to settle up, they sell the contract and pocket the profit or flip it and buy a new contract. Because no oil actually changes hands, these are called “paper” barrels. Oil futures market, however, have no way of distinguishing the demand represented by these paper barrels from that of real consumers of oil, such as refiners. Thus in addition to real demand, this paper demand adds pressure to prices as if it were real.

3) The Enron exception. Through its political pull with politicians like then Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), Enron was able to insert language into the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 exempting energy trading companies from oversight by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the government watchdog agency, in the over-the-counter (OTC) market for “futures-like” instruments.

4) London-Dubai loophole. In January 2006, the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) with the blessing of the CFTC (via no-action letters) began allowing American traders to trade futures contracts on oil produced and consumed in this country on foreign terminals in the UK thus circumventing reporting requirements to the CFTC regarding large trader activity and speculation caps. (ICE also has an OTC component.) NYMEX joined with the Dubai Mercantile Exchange to launch a similar venture in May 2007.

5) Swaps dealer loophole. Under a 1993 CFTC rule, swaps dealers, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, were given the same status as traditional futures traders like oil companies and airlines as long as they were considered to be hedging a “legitimate” risk. This allowed large financial funds to enter into swaps contracts with investment banks. A swap contract is essentially an agreement between two parties in which the first party agrees to pay the second a fixed rate of interest on an agreed upon amount, and the second party agrees to pay the first a variable rate on the same amount. The actual principals offset each other so it’s really a mechanism to convert a fixed rate into a variable rate. The trick is that the investment banks use the money they receive to buy something that has a variable value, in this case crude oil futures which they have access to and the funds do not. This has been yet another way for large amounts of outside capital to enter into and distort the operation of the futures market in crude.

6) An ineffectual CFTC. This agency is supposed to regulate futures markets, but in this most anti-regulatory of Administrations, it has given away so much of its authority that it has no idea what is going on in the “dark markets” created by ICE and the Enron exception and no real interest in doing anything about it.

7) Political inaction. On June 27, 2006 (while Republicans were still in the majority), the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued a report investigating excess speculation in energy futures markets. Legislation for better reporting to the CFTC was proposed but died and disappeared. It bears repeating most of this problem and the reasons for it were known more than 2 years before it came to the attention of most of the public in 2008, and nothing was done by either Congress or the Administration during that whole time. If action had been taken in 2006, most of the current damage to the economy and pain to individual Americans could have been avoided.

8) Injected liquidity. When the subprime bubble burst, the Fed and central banks around the world made hundreds of billions of dollars of liquidity available to financial markets to shore them up. Essentially none of this liquidity was used to help out homeowners with subprime mortgages, those with near subprime mortgages, those who had been encouraged to borrow against the inflated value of their houses only to see that value drop, and those few home buyers who were still out there. Instead cheap money was made available to financial markets which used it to facilitate excessive speculation in among other things, crude oil futures. It is we through our governments who are financing the speculation which is hurting us so.

In addition, the Fed repeatedly cut interest rates which also made money cheaper to borrow for those who could. These cuts fed into the speculative craze as investment moved back and forth between crude oil and the dollar. When the dollar weakened, the action moved into crude oil. When it strengthened, the action moved the other way. Speculators were able to profit from both ends.

As with the subprime bubble before it, the current bubble in crude oil and crude oil futures was as foreseeable as it was avoidable. Those who had the responsibility to know and act, knew but did not act. They continue not to act, and now they pretend not to know.

In an August 21, 2008 story in the Washington Post, the CFTC found in an audit of one privately held Swiss company Vitol that at one point in July this company alone held 11% of all NYMEX crude futures contracts. On this basis, the CFTC that has resisted the whole notion of excessive speculation estimated that 81% of futures contracts were held by speculators, and that this number could increase as more information came in from other large traders. It is almost impossible to overstate the effects of excessive speculation on everything from the economy, to global terrorism, to a resurgent Russia driven by the greed of a relatively small number of financial houses and an ideologically clueless CFTC.
[Economy, Energy, Incompetence]

366. On September 18, 2001, letters containing anthrax were sent from Trenton, New Jersey to some 5 news organizations and on October 9, 2001 to two Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). In all, these attacks resulted in 5 deaths and 17 others infected who survived. In early 2002, Steven J. Hatfill became the FBI’s prime suspect. Per a suit filed against John Ashcroft then Attorney General, the DOJ, and FBI on August 26, 2003, Hatfill came to the FBI’s attention through a theory developed by Barbara Rosenberg, a professor at SUNY Purchase. Rosenberg met with Daschle and Leahy’s staffs on June 18, 2002 and Hatfill’s apartment was searched by the FBI one week later on June 25. Hatfill was a civilian researcher in the Army’s biological warfare unit at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Ashcroft famously called him a “person of interest.” He was basically tried and convicted in the media on the basis of government leaks. His phone was tapped. He lost his job and was followed by the FBI everywhere he went. On June 27, 2008, seven years after it began its investigation, the Justice Department settled with Steven Hatfill for $4.6 million. This included a cash payout of $2.825 million and the purchase of a $150,000 annuity for 20 years. In return, the DOJ admitted no wrongdoing. Suits by Hatfill against various reporters and their news organizations remain at a variety of points from dismissed, to in process, to settled. These represent another instance of reporters being sued over their sources. The anthrax attacks remain unsolved, and the FBI has been criticized for the poor quality of their investigation and their early acceptance of the Rosenberg theory to the exclusion of all others.

Shortly after Steven Hatfill’s exoneration, on July 29, 2008, another researcher at the Fort Detrick facility Bruce Ivins committed suicide. Ivins had worked at the facility for 36 years and had been involved in research on a vaccine against multiple strains of anthrax. Initial reports suggested he had become the FBI’s prime suspect in the anthrax case after the bureau’s long investigation/persecution of Hatfill. His home was searched twice. He began attending group therapy. On July 9, 2008, he was escorted from his work and committed for psychiatric evaluation after a social worker Jean Duley who ran the group sessions alleged Ivins stated he was about to be charged with 5 capital murders and had discussed plans to kill his co-workers. A psychiatrist described Ivins as “homicidal, sociopathic with clear intentions”. Despite this, he was released but refused access to his lab. On July 24, Duley sought a restraining order against him (at the suggestion of the FBI) citing threatening phone calls, and a history of threatening behavior going back to his graduate school days (although he had no criminal record). On July 27 Ivins was found at his home unresponsive having apparently taken a large number of Tylenol with codeine. He died two days later.

It all seemed so open and shut. The FBI had finally gotten the right man. Seeing the forces of the law closing in on him, the guilty man killed himself. Except there were questions. If Ivins had a history of threats going back decades, why had he been given clearances and allowed to work in such a dangerous area? If Ivins could become the government’s prime suspect so quickly after it dropped its investigation of Steven Hatfill, why had he not been more thoroughly investigated anytime in the previous 7 years? And while a guilty man might commit suicide so might a hounded one, especially with the spectacle of Steven Hatfill’s ordeal very much on his mind. Also how much weight was to be given to the statements of Jean Duley the “therapist” who it turned out had little training and no credentials but who did have an interesting rap sheet? Then there was the FBI’s case. Ivins certainly considered himself to be a target of its investigation. It is Department of Justice policy to inform a witness to a Grand Jury if he/she is a “target” of investigation, and Ivins had appeared before one. But not only did the FBI not arrest Ivins a suspected terrorist with access to deadly pathogens it made no attempt to have him removed from his lab. Finally, in an August 4, 2008 New York Times story published nearly a week after his death, it came out that the Grand Jury had not progressed very far in its investigation, that several more weeks (so nothing imminent as first reported) of testimony had been planned, that the case against Ivins was, as in the case of Hatfill, mostly circumstantial, and that there was no evidence showing that he had traveled to New Jersey at the time the anthrax letters were posted in 2001.

What is important to remember here is that the FBI has blown two investigations into the anthrax letters. What, if any, part Bruce Ivins had in them is and likely will remain unknown.

There are two other aspects of the anthrax attacks that should be mentioned. Because of its geographic location, the nature of its research, and the kind of anthrax it had access to and which was used in the letters, it has been understood from early on that Fort Detrick (not al Qaeda or Iraq) was the source of the anthrax used. Nor was Hatfill the first anthrax suspect who had worked at Fort Detrick.

An anonymous letter postmarked September 21, 2001, three days after the first anthrax letters were posted and twelve days before the first anthrax case was diagnosed, is sent to the FBI claiming that a former Fort Detrick researcher Ayaad Assaad might be planning a biological attack. Assaad was a naturalized Egyptian-American who had worked at Fort Detrick from 1989-1997. During that time he had been subjected to scurrilous racist attacks by some of his co-workers, most notably Lieutenant Colonel Philip Zack and Doctor Marian Rippy. Both were reprimanded. Zack left Fort Detrick in December 1991. Rippy left shortly thereafter in February 1992. The FBI unconditionally cleared Assaad but the timing of the informant letter and the early connection to Fort Detrick are disturbing to say the least.

At the same time, the Bush Administration was quick to draw a relationship between the anthrax attacks and Iraq. Government scientists at Fort Detrick leaked to ABCNews investigative reporter Brian Ross that a particular preparatory material bentonite had been found in the anthrax samples recovered. Yes, the place that was the source of the anthrax was originally the same place that was tasked with investigating it. The claim was made that only Iraq used bentonite indicating clear Iraqi involvement in the attacks. Coming so quickly on the heels of 9/11, it suggested that the Iraqis might be involved in that as well. The problem was it wasn’t true. Yet as of August 2008 despite calls following the death of Bruce Ivins, Brian Ross has never given up the names of the “sources” who lied to him, had clear conflicts of interest in shifting attention away from Fort Detrick, and who helped generate a false argument for war with Iraq.
[Incompetence, Law, Media, War on Terror]

367. In 1971, Iraq nationalized its oil industry. It replaced the Iraq Petroleum Company which was made up of the precursors to BP, Total, Shell and a consortium of American oil companies including what was to become Exxon Mobil and folded their assets into the Iraq National Oil Company. On June 30, 2008, the successor companies were allowed back into Iraq receiving no bid contracts to modernize production in Iraq’s oil fields. The contracts were structured to circumvent the absence of a Petroleum Law, much sought after by the Bush Administration but stymied by conflicts between the central government and the regions, most notably the Kurds. The oil companies would be paid for their work in oil, currently a rapidly appreciating commodity. They would also get a chance to match the bid of any other companies on future contracts. The Bush Administration has said that it did not influence the award of the contracts although officials from the Departments of State, Commerce, Energy, and Interior work in Iraq’s Oil Ministry. USAID also has a contract with Management Systems International to advise the Ministry. Clients of MSI’s parent company Coffrey International include BP and Shell, so no conflict of interest there. Bush has said his invasion of Iraq was never about oil. But does anyone seriously think that Iraq would have been a target if it’s major export had been oranges?
[Contractors, Energy, Iraq]

368. Per a July 5, 2008 story in the New York Times, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) is preparing in the waning days of the Bush Administration to dilute regulations meant to protect American investors. It wishes to let American corporations switch to international accounting rules which would permit them to inflate their earnings reports and hide bad loans and their exposure in derivatives markets. It would roll back the prohibition on corporations hiring accounting firms to perform external audits at the same time they are being paid consulting fees, a clear conflict of interest. Think Enron’s relations with the accounting firm Arthur Andersen and how well that turned out for both of them. It wants to permit foreign brokers regulated by foreign governments, in place of the SEC, direct access to American investors. Finally, it would accept foreign certification, again in place of its own, of some 800 foreign auditors of foreign companies. After the dot com and housing bubbles, in the midst of the commodities bubble, after the collapse of companies like Enron, Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM), and Bear Stearns, the SEC has learned nothing. Despite all of these very expensive debacles, the SEC’s response is to reduce oversight and encourage reckless behavior. As Einstein is supposed to have remarked insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is what the SEC is doing now. Madness.

369. On July 9, 2008, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) accused Major General Jerome Johnson (see item 360) of lying to Congress. Johnson who was head of the Army Field Support Command from June 2004 to July 2007 testified in April 2007 that there were no widespread problems with water not for drinking but for hygienic purposes supplied by the contractor KBR to troops in Iraq when, in fact, a March 31, 2007 letter informed Pentagon officials the Inspector General had found that there were. The DOD IG has also opened an investigation into the general’s remarks.
[Contractors, Iraq, Supporting the Troops]

370. A July 13, 2008 investigative report in the British Sunday Times related that Stephen Payne, lobbyist, Bush fundraiser, member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, whom Bush has known for 20 years was offering to sell meetings with Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, and John Negroponte for between $600,000 and $750,000. The scam deal was that Payne would contribute a third to Bush’s Presidential Library with the other 2/3 going to his lobbying company Worldwide Strategic Partners. Such “donations” do not have to be reported even if made by foreigners, and there is no limit on their size. In the Clinton Administration, Republicans were aghast that he was renting out the Lincoln bedroom. Somehow I do not expect them to register the same outrage about renting out Bush officials. Call it a wild guess.

As reported on July 15, 2008, Payne was asked to resign from his DHS advisory position.
[Corruption, Cronyism]

371. In a July 31, 2008 article in the Washington Post, the Department of Health and Human Resources is developing a rule which would allow healthcare personnel to refuse to dispense care which they found morally or religiously objectionable. The goal is to provide legal underpinning to those institutions and persons who receive federal funds but wish to refuse to perform abortions or give out contraception deemed tantamount to abortion. Thus a woman who had been raped or pregnant as the result of either rape or incest might be denied treatment and have her trauma added to by having to go from hospital to hospital or from healthcare giver to healthcare giver until she found one willing to treat her. It is difficult to see how such a moral and religious exception could not be used as legal cover to deny treatment to other groups, such as gays, minorities, or the poor. The rule’s definition of abortion is sweeping:

any of the various procedures -- including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action -- that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.

It also slips in the controversial notion that from the moment of fertilization onward the embryo is a human being, and one would assume with the same Constitutional rights and protections as other citizens. The problem, one among many, is that this is a profoundly anti-scientific view. Many fertilized eggs spontaneously abort due to lethal genetic combinations or they fail to implant. How does the HHS intend to address the legal rights and health concerns of these “human beings”? Why is equal protection for embryos placed ahead of equal protection of women? What will the HHS do with the supernumerary embryos/human beings of in vitro fertilization? How will it resolve the contradiction between a “human being in utero” and conception which does not occur in utero. What does “natural birth” mean anyway? Does it preclude Caesarean delivery? This is the kind of chaos that results when simple solutions are applied to complex problems.

372. One of the criticisms of US law enforcement in the run up to 9/11 was that it failed to connect the dots. Part of this was because information was not passed up the chain of command or pursued. Part was that information was not shared between agencies. One of the ways this second issue was addressed was by the creation of fusion centers. To date, fusion centers seem better at producing dots than in connecting them.

As described in a November 2007 ACLU report and a July 2008 update, fusion centers were cooperative efforts to share information that grew up haphazardly beginning around 2003 among local, state, and federal authorities. Almost every state has or is planning to have one. Since state and local laws vary, each fusion center is different. Mixed jurisdictions and chains of command within and between fusion centers and with no overarching regulation have led to an uncontrolled growth in mission. The goal has moved from counterterrorism to more general law enforcement to even broader information gathering on ordinary Americans. Military (in violation of posse comitatus) and private actors have also become involved.

In this, the centers can be seen as the next iteration in a long line of domestic surveillance programs from the old Red squads to the infamous FBI’s COINTELPRO which targeted Americans like Martin Luther King to the Total Information Awareness/Terrorist Information Awareness program which Congress defunded in 2003 just as fusion centers were taking off. By the end of 2006, the Department of Homeland Security had spent $380 million on them.

Like its predecessors, the system is ripe for abuse. It mixes criminal, public, and private information into profiles of large numbers of Americans and is perfect for data mining. It allows users to “policy shop” and acquire information from another jurisdiction which is against the law in one’s home state or locality. It includes reports on perfectly legal activities, such as using binoculars, taking notes, and espousing “extremist” views. Some of these extremist views include being Muslim, a peace activist, or against the death penalty. While these reports supposedly do not contain names, they do contain enough information for identification using other sources. They are also in violation of Title 28 Part 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations which states that law enforcement “shall collect information concerning an individual only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.” In 2006, the DHS and Justice Department came up with guidelines for fusion centers which ignored this regulation completely and suggested the following as an incomplete list of possible information sources:

• Private sector entities such as food/water production facilities, grocery stores
and supermarkets, and restaurants.
• Banks, investment firms, credit companies and government-related financial
• Preschools, day care centers, universities, primary & secondary schools and
other educational entities providing information on suspicious activity.
• Fire and emergency medical services in both the public and private sector such
as hospitals and private EMS services.
• Utilities, electricity, and oil companies, Department of Energy.
• Private physicians, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians.
• The gaming industry, sports authority, sporting facilities, amusement parks,
cruise lines, hotels, motels, resorts and convention centers.
• Internet service and e-mail providers, the FCC, telecom companies, computer
and software companies, and related government agencies.
• Defense contractors and military entities.
• The U.S. Postal service and private shipping companies.
• Apartment facilities, facility management companies, housing authorities.
• Malls, retail stores and shopping centers.
• State and child welfare entities.
• Governmental, public, and private transport entities such as airlines and
shipping companies.

This is breathtaking in its scope. The result is that some 800, 000 of the nation’s law enforcement officials have in effect become intelligence agents, and not very good ones, of the government. It is not an exaggeration to say that what this is about is Big Brother and the creation of a surveillance state. Fusion centers operate in the dark with no oversight. They have shown no ability in their original counterterrorism mission and in their current form violate the First and Fourth Amendments massively and repeatedly. They are antithetical to American values of privacy and democracy.

On July 31, 2008, the Justice Department posted proposed rule changes in light of “the new, post-9/11 information sharing environment” that would legalize the illegal activities under Title 28 Part 23 the fusion centers have been engaged in for the last few years. It would also increase the length of time information could be held by such centers without any updating from 5 years to 10 years. This is another example of a government department seeking to institutionalize Administration power grabs and legitimize lawless behavior before Bush leaves office. The rules changes are set to go into effect on October 1, 2008.
[DHS, Intelligence, Surveillance, War on Terror]

373. A GAO study released on August 12, 2008 found in a statistical sampling 71.7% of foreign corporations with subsidiaries or units operating in the US did not pay any tax in at least one year during the period 1998 to 2005 as compared to 54.9% of US corporations. At the same time, 45.1% of US companies paid taxes in every year of the 8 year period while only 28.3% of foreign ones did --this despite the fact that foreign corporate units tended to be larger with average gross receipts of $43 million as compared to $5 million for their American counterparts. This was also true among the subclass of large corporations where foreign companies averaged gross receipts of $663 million to $447 million for US corporations. The expectation would be that corporations of similar size, age, and type would have similar tax burdens. But even if there are differences in these parameters (foreign corporations tend to be newer and concentrated more in manufacturing and wholesaling), the data are strongly suggestive that transfer pricing is going on. This is a practice whereby a foreign parent company charges inflated prices to its US subsidiary reducing the subsidiary’s profit (and US tax liability) and effectively transferring that money abroad (where lower tax rates may be in force). Ironically, Bush corporate tax policies favor foreign companies over domestic ones, and both to the detriment of ordinary taxpaying Americans.

374. In an August 29, 2006 speech, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Tyler Duvall laid out the rationale to privatize the country’s infrastructure, especially its roads:

The reasons are obvious: infrastructure (in transportation, we are talking about highways, airports, seaports, railroads and pipelines, primarily) as an asset class, particularly in the U.S., offers very stable long-run returns at medium risk.

The idea is if you want to play (or drive), you have to pay.

USDOT is increasingly attracted to the potential benefits offered by the growing move to a direct user fee model in which a willing private sector can bear large amounts of financing and system management risk.

To this end, he has written model laws for states to create private toll roads and got Congress to approve $15 billion in tax exempt bonds for them.

Duvall is another Bush free market ideologue with no background in transportation. He got his first job at Transportation in 2002 as he describes it as “It was a friend of a friend of a friend sort of thing.” He has been aided by the Department’s General Counsel D.J. Gribbin who got his job through his father’s connections to Dick Cheney and Halliburton and his own to Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition. A GAO study reported that private toll roads charge more than their public counterparts because they have to generate profits for investors. The nation’s infrastructure should be something more than an “asset class.” This is what happened to crude oil and we saw how well that turned out.
[Anti-candidate, Cronyism]

375. On December 14, 2003, London’s Sunday Telegraph ran a story about the discovery by Iraqis working under Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of a memo in two parts dated July 1, 2001 written by Iraq’s head of intelligence Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti to Saddam Hussein. The first part describes how the operational leader of the 9/11 attacks Mohammed Atta spent 3 days in the summer of 2001 training in Baghdad with the Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Nidal. The second reports on a “Niger Shipment”, an apparent reference to uranium, and its transport to Iraq through Libya and Syria. The authenticity of the memo was vouched for by Iyad Allawi, an American ally who became Interim Prime Minister the following year. As subsequent events have shown the memo was a forgery.

An August 4, 2008 article in the Politico on a soon to be published book by Ron Suskind “The Way of the World” alleges that the White House ordered the CIA to create the memo to link Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks and so justify Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The order was transmitted by the DCI George Tenet to Robert Richer, then deputy director of clandestine operations, and Robert Maquire, then head of the Iraq Operations Group. All involved issued non-denail denials. The problem was that Suskind had Richer on tape and released a transcript of their discussion of the memo:

Rob: To characterize it right, I would say, right: it came to us, George had a raised eyebrow, and basically we passed it on–it was to–and passed this on into the organization. You know, it was: ‘Okay, we gotta do this, but make it go away.’ … It was: ‘This is unbelievable. This is just like all the other garbage we get about … I mean Mohammad Atta and links to al Qaeda. ‘Rob,’ you know, ‘do something with this.’ I think it was more like that than: ‘Get this done.’ […]

Rob: What I remember is George saying, ‘we got this from’–basically, from what George said was ‘downtown.’

Ron: Which is the White House?

Rob: Yes.

It is illegal to use the CIA to deceive the American people. But with this Administration what is one more criminal offense? Who will hold them to account? Besides they lie to us for our own good because just like Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men they feel that we can’t handle the truth.
[Criminality, Intelligence, Iraq, War on Terror]

376. Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security $100 million ($50 million each) to provide security for the Democratic and Republican national conventions. At the Democratic convention in Denver, political dissent and protest were marginalized. Protesters were confined to free speech zones, also known as “freedom cages”. This is a tactic that was perfected by the Bush Administration (see item 282). At the Republican convention in St. Paul, this went even further into outright suppression of dissent. Earlier in 2008, local law enforcement coordinated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (see also item 372 on fusion centers) began infiltrating Twin City groups with no history of violence, like vegans, in anticipation of the convention.

Then just days before the convention opening, the FBI and local law enforcement, especially of diehard Republican loyalist Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, initiated a series of punitive raids over the weekend against various groups. The first occurred at a central clearinghouse for protestors known as the “Welcoming Committee”. Those there were handcuffed, computers were seized, but no arrests were made. Sheriff Fletcher released a statement in which he described the “Welcoming Committee” as a “criminal enterprise made up of 35 self- described anarchists who are intent on committing criminal acts.” If such were the case, it is surprising no arrests were made. The following day raids were also carried out against other “dangerous” groups, such as Legalwatch and Food not Bombs. In one case, building inspectors arrived after a raid and gave owners until 6:30 the next morning to fix the door the police had kicked in or have the premises boarded up.

In the later raids, some 6 individuals were arrested but none charged. Instead they were kept on probable cause holds. Such a hold allows police to hold someone up to 36 hours, weekends not counting, without charge. Effectively, this permits law officers like Sheriff Fletcher to mete out 4-5 day jail sentences to anyone he doesn’t like, in other words, punishment without charge, conviction, or crime. Similar strong arm tactics by the New York police at the Republican convention in 2004 led to settlements in the millions. But with the federal government underwriting security costs this is not much of a disincentive.

On September 1, 2008, the police using pepper spray, tear gas, and “less lethal” projectiles fought numerous battles with demonstrators most of whom were peaceful. By the end of the first day, official figures listed 163 arrests, unofficial numbers 256.

This pattern of infiltration, fearmongering, high profile raids, large shows of military style force, aggressive indiscriminate treatment of demonstrators, and mass arrests has come to be known as the “Miami model” from its use against protesters to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations in Miami in November 2003.

In the early phases, police actions were largely ignored by the mainstream media and most of the reporting came from bloggers and independent media sources. As violence increased, the mainstream media did pick up the story but even they noted that most protesters were peaceful.

It is important to remember that the real object of these raids, seizures, and arrests is not to stop crime but dissent. They are meant to send a message, that if you protest, even legally, even peacefully, you risk arbitrary detention, seizure of your property, punishment, and humiliation by the powers that be. Dissent in this country has become for many un-American. Worse it is seen as a kind of terrorism. This is all the more bizarre and disheartening because our country was itself founded on dissent. Pilgrims, Quakers, believers and non-believers of all sorts, came to these shores precisely because they did not agree with the powers of their day. The Founding Fathers were dissenters and started a revolution and a country over their dissent. The Framers understood this and enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution the right to dissent in both the guarantees of freedom of speech and of peaceful assembly. Yet in the Age of Terror, dissent is no longer seen as a living, breathing expression of our democracy but as suspicious, probably criminal, certainly unpatriotic, a thing to be suppressed, especially so that the greater good, in this case the photo-ops of the national party conventions can proceed unquestioned, unchallenged, and unhindered.
[DHS, Elections, Law, Media, Politics, Surveillance, War on Terror]

377. A September 2, 2008 report of the DOJ Inspector General motivated by an August 10, 2007 referral from the National Security Division headed by then Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein found that Alberto Gonzales had mishandled documents classified at the highest level of Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI). Such materials are supposed to remain under the direct personal control of an individual with authorization for them in specially designated rooms or stored in specially designated safes. The documents in question dealt with two of the Administration’s most sensitive and controversial programs: NSA’s warrantless wiretapping and detainee interrogations. They included his notes of a briefing to Congressional leaders on the NSA program and 17 other documents marked TS/SCI: among them draft and final Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions concerning both the intelligence and interrogation programs, and Congressional correspondence to the Director of the CIA.

During the investigation, Gonzales’ bad memory was much in evidence. He said he could not remember receiving a briefing on security procedures in 2001 and again in 2005 when he became Attorney General (although he had signed forms acknowledging that he had). He could not remember that a safe that had been installed in his residence when he was White House Counsel was kept on after he became Attorney General. He could not remember ever having used the safe or if it was approved for SCI materials. He could not remember an instance in March 2005 when an assistant tried to find out the combination from security managers because the Attorney General did not know it. He could not remember that he had forgotten the combination.

With regard to his notes describing the March 10, 2004 briefing (the same day as the famous Ashcroft hospital visit, see item 12) of Congressional leaders discussing Acting Attorney General James Comey’s objections to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, Gonzales could not remember the security level of the materials used or if their security level had been marked even though he knew the program was “very, very limited access” and described it in December 2005 has “one of the most highly protected in the United States government.” An NSA official at the meeting confirmed that briefing materials were marked TS/SCI. NSA officials also confirmed that portions of Gonzales’ notes contained TS/SCI information.

When Gonzales was sworn in on February 3, 2005, he took the notes from the White House in his briefcase but could not remember what he did with them afterwards. He said he might have taken them home with him and left them in his briefcase which he did not always lock. He did not put them in his safe because he did not remember that he had a safe at home, and as described above the following month could not remember the combination to it anyway. He described his removal of the notes from the White House as “instinctive”. At some point Gonzales could not recollect, he put both the notes and the other materials in question in a non-SCI approved safe at the Justice Department which both he and his assistants had access to. While his notes carried no security markings but contained TS/SCI information, the remaining documents were clearly marked TS/SCI.

Gonzales did remember looking for the notes in May or June 2007 after Comey testified before Congress and finding them in the safe just outside his office. At that time, he made a copy of them for Fred Fielding the White House Counsel. Two White House Counsel Office lawyers who had been read into the NSA program and recognized the classified nature of the notes asked Gonzales in a July 25, 2007 meeting about his security arrangements for the notes. Gonzales said that they were the only documents he had taken from the White House and that he kept them in a safe. He did not know but thought it was SCI approved. Their notes also state, “he thinks he may have taken them home to look at and probably kept in safe at home”. But of course, as he told the Inspector General investigators he could not really remember. After the White House lawyers began asking questions, Gonzales turned over the notes to Steven Bradbury the Acting head of the OLC. Shortly thereafter, Gonzales announced his resignation on August 27, 2007 to become effective on September 17, 2007. On September 14, Gonzales turned over to Bradbury the remaining documents which made up the subject of the IG’s inquiry.

The IG report concluded that Gonzales had “violated basic Department regulations and procedures governing the proper handling of such classified materials.” The IG turned over its findings to the Justice Department’s National Security Division which, unsurprisingly in this Administration which protects its own, declined prosecution of Gonzales.
[Incompetence, Inspector General, Intelligence]

378. 13 Nepalis were recruited by a company Moonlight and charged substantial amounts for them to work abroad. Most were told they would be working at a luxury hotel in Jordan or at an American camp which they took to be in the US. They were told they would be paid $500/month. In Jordan, they were turned over to Daoud and Partners which contracted with KBR to provide workers in Iraq. Daoud took their passports, charged them extra fees, and told them that they would be working in Iraq for 3/4 the promised wages. On August 19, 2004, they were forced to travel into Iraq in an unprotected convoy along a dangerous highway. Twelve of the 13 were kidnapped en route by Iraqi insurgents and subsequently executed. Of the 13, Buddi Prasad Gurung alone made it to the Al Asad base where he was turned over to KBR. He told his KBR managers that he “was very scared for his safety and wanted to leave to return to Nepal” but was told he could not leave until his contract was completed. During his stay he was repeatedly exposed to mortar fire but never afforded a protective vest such as his KBR managers wore. After 15 months and the completion of his contract, he was allowed to return to Nepal. KBR supervisors were told by Gurung and other employees that they had been trafficked to Iraq but KBR took no action.

In spring 2008, an administrative law judge in the Labor Department ordered Daoud to pay $1 million to the families of 11 of the 12 slain Nepalis.

On August 27, 2008, a civil suit on behalf of Gurung and the families of the deceased workers was filed in the federal district court for Central California against Daoud and KBR alleging trafficking, racketeering, extortion, peonage, involuntary servitude, forced labor, vicarious violation of RICO, and negligence. The suit claimed US jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Claims Act and contended:

Defendants’ actions as set forth above constitute the torts of trafficking in persons, involuntary servitude, forced labor, and slavery.
161. Trafficking in persons in [sic] a modern day form of slavery, and along with
involuntary servitude and forced labor constitutes a tort in violation of the law of nations and/or in violation of treaties of the United States.
162. Defendants’ actions as set forth above constitute the torts of prolonged detention, and/or false imprisonment, which also constitute torts in violation of the law of nation and/or in violation of the treaties of the United States.

KBR was spun off from Halliburton, the company that Dick Cheney used to run. Its government services contracts have exploded under the Bush Administration, despite providing expensive, shoddy services for our troops. Its two main goals are to make as much money as possible anyway possible and in furtherance of this to avoid taking responsibility for any of its truly reprehensible actions.
[Contractors, Iraq, Law]

379. In September 2008, the General Services Administration (GSA) came out against safety requirements for tall building construction adopted the previous year by the most commonly used building code, that of the International Code Council. The changes to the code were the result of a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in response to the 9/11 attacks. They include a third stairwell for buildings over 420 feet (40 stories) to make it easier for occupants to evacuate and improved fireproofing to give them more time to do so. For building taller than 75 feet, the code calls for glow in the dark markings in stairwells in case the electricity goes as often happens in fires. While the GSA is exempt from following these requirements, it usually adheres to local codes.

The requirements are also opposed by real estate developers and building owners who say they will increase building costs and decrease revenues by reducing the amount of space available for rent. In other words, in this post-9/11 world we keep hearing about, they are willing to put the lives of the occupants of the buildings they construct and own at risk to maximize their profits. And in this most anti-regulatory of Administrations, the government is perfectly willing to let them do so.

However, neither the GSA nor the building and landlord groups are the last word on this. The 2009 version of the code will be voted by building code officials from around the country in mid-September 2008.

380. On August 24, 2008, the day before the Democratic National Convention began in Denver, Colorado, police arrested a white supremacist and meth head Tharin Gartrell after a traffic stop. In his truck, authorities found two rifles, one with a scope, walkie-talkies, a bulletproof vest, and fake IDs. This quickly led to the arrest of Shawn Adolf and Nathan Johnson. The three had been doing meth in the Denver Hyatt with two women, one the underage girlfriend of Johnson. According to this girlfriend, the men had been discussing ways to kill Barack Obama, the soon to be nominated Democratic Presidential candidate, whom they thought would also be staying in the Hyatt. (He wasn’t) The men then considered smuggling a gun in a camera into Obama’s acceptance speech in INVESCO Field. According to federal records, Adolf said, “It would not matter if he killed Senator Obama because police would simply add a murder charge to his pending charges.” When asked if there were a plot, Nathan Johnson is reported as saying, “Looking back at it, I don't want to say yes, but I don't want to say no.” Robert Sawyer who led the FBI investigation recommended that the men be charged with conspiracy to kill Obama. Despite this, the US Attorney for Colorado Troy Eid, a Rove footsoldier who had done unreported lobbying for Jack Abramoff, refused to do so and declared, “The law recognizes a difference between a true threat — one that can be carried out — and the reported racist rantings of a drug addict,” and described the plot as “more aspirational, perhaps, than operational.” The men will be held on drug, weapons, and other outstanding warrants.

Eid’s actions, or rather lack thereof, raise two interesting questions. Would he have done the same if these men had been discussing the assassination of a Republican, like George Bush or John McCain? And would he have declined to press conspiracy charges if the men had had Middle Eastern sounding names instead of being homegrown domestic terrorists?
[Abramoff, Criminality, Politicization of the DOJ, War on Terror]

381. Using a skewed and highly restrictive interpretation of the whistleblower protection provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), Elaine Chao’s Department of Labor (see item 63) has decided that it does not apply to the subsidiaries of publicly traded companies. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Department has ruled in favor of whistleblowers in only 17 of 1,273 complaints since SOX was enacted. Many of another 841 complaints were dismissed using the subsidiary loophole. Sarbanes-Oxley was written to demand greater corporate accountability and prevent abusive practices involving shell companies, spinoffs, and subsidiaries which led to the collapse of Enron. The provision in question Chapter 18 of the US code, Section 1514A states that no publicly traded company “or any officer, employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent of such company” can retaliate against an employee who reports fraudulent activity.

In response to the WSJ article, the authors of the whistleblower protection clause of SOX, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), wrote a letter dated September 9, 2008 to Secretary Chao pointing out that both the language of the statute and their intention were clearly for subsidiaries to be covered under the whistleblower protection and that “there is simply no basis” for the Labor Department’s interpretation. They demanded an explanation of the Department’s actions.

But it is clear what Bush’s Labor Department and its Secretary Elaine Chao were doing. They were running interference for corporate malefactors and hanging out to dry those who would expose their wrongdoing, in other words business as usual.
[Anti-candidate, Labor, Law, Whistleblower]

382. During the 2008 election, Republicans pushed oil drilling in offshore deepwater areas and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Such drilling would do little to alleviate our country’s long term energy needs. Oil companies already hold millions of acres under lease which they have not developed. Nor are there oil rigs available or pipelines built to exploit these new areas. There are also technical questions about the feasibility of some deepwater drilling, and financial ones as well as oil prices declined in the latter part of 2008. Even if action were taken in late 2008, the best guess timeframe for beginning to pump from them is 10 years. Opening up new areas to leasing is, in fact, a giveaway of US resources and control of US territory to oil companies, a parting gift of Bush and Republicans to the oil industry.

Tied in with this is the scandalous way the government is compensated for these leases (see also item 172). Since 1982, the government has allowed the oil industry to make royalty payments through the Mineral Management Service (MMS) under its Royalty in Kind (RIK) program. Rather than paying cash, oil companies pay royalties in the form of crude oil and natural gas which the RIK then sells. This is not a small enterprise. The RIK handles around 150,000/bbls of crude oil and 800 million cubic feet of natural gas a day and does about $4 billion in business a year. It is also totally corrupt.

On September 10, 2008, the Department of Interior Inspector General released 3 reports online which detailed activities within the RIK program. These were based on investigations that took nearly two years and cost $5.3 million. One describes how three senior officials who had been with the RIK since its creation under Reagan colluded together to award two of them post-retirement six figure consulting salaries. Lucy Denett was associate director of the Minerals Revenue Management which was a subsection of the MMS which oversaw the RIK. She retired during the investigation on January 31, 2008. Jimmy Mayberry was a special assistant to Denett from 2000 to his retirement on January 3, 2003. On his retirement, he formed a consulting company Federal Business Solutions (FBS). Milton Dial was the assistant program director for the RIK 2001-October 2003 and retired September 2004. Basically, what happened was that Denett asked Mayberry (with Dial’s help) to write up a work proposal which both Denett and Dial knew FBS would bid on after Mayberry’s retirement. Dial then helped steer the contract to FBS, and Denett approved the deal. On his own retirement, Dial went to work for FBS and got his own big salary consulting for the RIK through the FBS contract. In August 2008, Mayberry pled guilty to criminal conflict of interest and was awaiting sentencing. Denett’s case was referred to the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department but this being the Bush Administration, they declined to prosecute.

The second report concerned Gregory Smith who was deputy program director for the RIK 2001-2004, its director from 2005 until he was detailed out in January 2007. He retired in May 2007 during the course of the Inspector General’s investigation. Smith got approval for paid outside consulting work on technical issues. This was a misrepresentation because what he was really doing was pitching the company for which he was consulting to companies he was doing business with in the RIK. MMS resources and employees were used in furtherance of these aims. Smith also received gifts from these companies in excess of government limits. In addition, he had sex with two of his subordinates, one of whom was his secretary from whom he bought cocaine 4-5 times a year. This was sometimes delivered to him at his office. It came out as well that Smith had lied to OIG investigators previously and that he had instructed other RIK employees to do so. The Inspector General referred his case too to the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section and they declined to prosecute this one as well.

The third report looked at other employees of the MMS. It noted that the MMS was based in Denver but was not overseen by the local director but by an inattentive Denett back in Washington. This led to what the Inspector General called a “culture of ethical failure.” Those who worked at the RIK thought the normal rules did not apply to them. Nearly 1/3 of them socialized with or accepted gifts from oil industry representatives in contravention of government rules and, as the report relates, “When confronted by our investigators, none of the employees involved displayed remorse.” Two RIK marketers liked to party so much with industry reps that they were given the name the “MMS chicks”. They got so drunk at one event that they had to be put up at a company lodge rather than being allowed to drive back to their hotel. One had a sex toy shop as a sideline for which she passed out cards. Both used other drugs and had sexual encounters with oil company personnel. Government employees are supposed to keep their contacts with private industry at arms length but as the report somewhat archly notes, “Sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length.” It says a lot about the mindset of those at the RIK that one of the marketers responded to this that she did not consider a one night stand to be a relationship.

Although employees at the RIK often stated that they did not think they had done anything wrong, they did sometimes try to hide or downplay the nature and extent of their socializing with oil industry representatives. At one point in 2006, they even discussed forming a group to write up special ethical rules which would legitimize their activities. The Inspector General left to the Secretary of the Interior what actions and sanctions were to be taken against those still employed in the MMS but indicated that firing would be appropriate for some.

Lack of oversight and the overly business friendly stance of the Bush Administration promoted an atmosphere of corruption, cronyism, and criminality at the RIK/MMS. This was facilitated by industry representatives who should have known what the legal limits were even if their government contacts did not but had no problem involving themselves and their companies in a “pay to play” scheme that was little more than bribery.

A Washington Post story dated September 19, 2008 reported that the Interior Department had pulled some of its investigators from a probe conducted with the Justice Department into the Abramoff scandals in protest of Justice’s refusal to prosecute the cases referred to it by Interior’s Inspector General.

On February 4, 2009, Milton Dial received a minimum sentence of probation and a $2,000 fine for violating conflict of interest laws. The judge actually apologized to Dial saying that “high executives” in our government go unpunished although they break this law all the time. Apparently the judge’s argument is that the small time thieves in the Bush Administration deserve our sympathy because they didn’t steal as much as others. This is accountability we can not believe in.
[Contractors, Corruption, Criminality, Cronyism, Energy]

383. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibited the use of military forces for law enforcement duties within the boundaries of the United States in the absence of a declaration of martial law. British soldiers exercising such functions in the colonies was one of the proximate causes for the Revolutionary War. It has been a foundational principle ever since that our military is not to be used against its own citizens except in times of crisis. In the 1807 Insurrection Act, this was taken to mean “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” In the 2007 Defense Authorization bill, a section was slipped in written by John Warner (R-VA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) which expanded the situations covered by the 1807 act to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition.” It is this “other condition” which is the problem since this can mean anything and gives the President a blank check to use federal troops for any purpose within the borders of the United States. In the 2008 Authorization Defense bill, the language was refined to permit the use of federal troops in instances of threats to Constitutional rights. This is still vague and in any case Bush in a signing statement rejected even this limitation.

This is not a theoretical discussion. A September 8, 2008 article in the Army Times reports that beginning October 1 an active duty Army combat brigade will be assigned for use within the US. Among its missions are “civil unrest and crowd control.” It is described as the “first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded” and will be equipped with bean bag bullets, tasers, spike strips, shields, and batons. What is important to realize is that this is both a reaction to the gutting of the National Guard (item 48) and a means to suppress legitimate dissent in contravention of First Amendment guarantees.
[Politics/Domestic, War on Terror]

384. On October 7, 2008, the National Research Council released a report solicited by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation on the government’s datamining programs. It found that they compromised privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment with no gain in national security and called for a re-evaluation of them.
[Intelligence, Law, War on Terror]

385. Michael Cantrell was an engineer who worked on the Pentagon’s missile defense program (see items 73 and 338) in Hunstville, Alabama. An October 11, 2008 story in the New York Times reports how he and his deputy Doug Ennis got the Pentagon to fund $350 million in worthless projects. Cantrell would pitch his projects to contractors, like Lockheed Martin and pay lobbyists (illegal for civil servants) to sell them to members of Congress. In return, he and Ennis received $1.6 million in kickbacks from contractors and protection from Senators like Ted Stevens (R-AK) (item 223) and Trent Lott (R-MS). Other members of Congress involved in Cantrell’s schemes included Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Representatives Curt Weldon (R-NY) and CW Young (R-FL). At one point, Cantrell supervised a stable of 160 contractors and was handling $120 million worth of business a year for them. His activities spanned the late 1990s to 2007. He and Ennis are currently awaiting sentencing on bribery and conspiracy charges.
[Contractors, Corruption, Criminality]

386. Despite the increasing threat of wildfires, the Bush Administration has failed for 5 years to outfit 8 Coast Guard C-130s for firefighting duty in Southern California. Problems with the contractor have been cited.
[Contractor, Incompetence]

387. PBS engaged in censorship of a documentary on the Bush Administration’s involvement in torture. The documentary “Torturing Democracy” put together by Emmy award winning producer Sherry Jones was approved by PBS with the understanding that it would be ready for showing after May 2008. At that time, however, PBS informed Jones that it had no date available before January 21, 2008, the day after Bush would leave office.

Undeterred, Jones proceeded to pitch the program individually to PBS’s affiliates. 65% of them agreed to show the program, including those in most major markets, except one WETA in Washington, DC. Given the documentary’s subject matter and that DC is the nation’s capital, this would seem precisely the community which would be most interested in it. But WETA’s CEO is Sharon Percy Rockefeller, the wife of Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a man who certainly never opposed and may have abetted the Administration’s torture programs.

In response to the March 24, 2008 Frontline “Bush’s War”, a fairly conventional retelling of the run up to the Iraq War with no new material, the Administration threatened to cut in half and then eliminate federal funding for PBS within 3 years. Now it’s important to realize that, with a Democratic Congress, the Administration had no real ability to carry out its threat. But the pressure appears to have had its desired effect anyway. Indeed PBS, far from being independent, has shown itself to be politically responsive to powerbrokers on both sides of the aisle.
[Media, Political Interference, Torture]

388. In the run up to the 2004 Presidential elections the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security targeted some 2,500 foreigners living in the US. The goal was to disrupt potential pre-election terrorism. Although the government denied it, religious profiling was the primary criterion for investigation, not any suspected terrorist affiliation. 79% of those targeted came from Moslem countries. Huge resources were committed to the effort. Around 500 arrests were made, essentially for minor offenses, such as overstaying one’s visa. This had all the hallmarks of a classic DHS operation: expensive, ineffective, and intrusive.
[DHS, Incompetence, War on Terror]

389. Well, it’s official. Michael Garcia, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), exercised a political hit on the then Democratic Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer. On November 6, 2008, after a 16 month investigation, Garcia announced that the government had no case against Spitzer. How surprising.

The story began back in July 2007 when two banks (North Fork and HSBC) that Spitzer had had run ins with as New York Attorney General reported “suspicious” money transfers involving Spitzer who became Governor of New York on January 1, 2007. This led to a prostitute service Emperors Club VIP. Now while Emperors was laundering money, Spitzer wasn’t. And whether you agree with this or not, it is extremely unusual for this type of investigation to target johns, and even more unusual to target one john in particular, as happened here.

On March 10, 2008, Spitzer’s involvement with high priced prostitutes became public. Two days later on March 12, 2008, he announced his resignation as Governor. The prostitute story had been leaked from Garcia’s office and was based on Grand Jury testimony. The first is a violation of department rules, the second of federal law. Garcia, a protégé of Michael Chertoff, held out the possibility of a prosecution of Spitzer under the Mann Act. This 1910 law prohibits the transport of women across state lines for “immoral” purposes. Spitzer saw one prostitute on a trip to Washington, DC. The Mann Act has been used in the past to harass controversial figures, such as heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson in 1920 and Charlie Chaplin in 1944. Nowadays it is prescribed by the federal Attorney’s Manual only if there is an aggravating factor, such as underage children or kidnapping, involved. In Spitzer’s case, there was no aggravating factor.

As New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer made his reputation aggressively taking on Wall Street interests. His real effectiveness in reforming the Street is debatable, but it is clear that he was hated there. That two banks he had won cases against reported him, that a Republican US Attorney Michael Garcia committed major resources into a long term investigation of him in the absence of a prosecutable crime, or even the anticipation of finding one, that the story broke on the basis of a leak that could only have come from Garcia’s office (and let’s face it either with Garcia’s knowledge or implicit consent), and that Garcia pulled the plug on his investigation two days after the November elections, all indicate a vendetta, a politically motivated one on the part of Garcia.

Now make no mistake, I have no sympathy for Spitzer or with whom he has sex. His behavior was stupid and hypocritical, perhaps not in the way that “family values” Republicans like Mark Foley (item 20), David Vitter (item 214), and Larry Craig (238), were, but his actions ran counter to his public image as a “reformer” and straight arrow which had won him the governorship. My real problem is with Garcia the US Attorney. Garcia used his office for political purposes, first in focusing on Spitzer and then leaking his name to the press. This was the business of a Larry Flynt or the New York Post, not the US Justice Department.
[Politicization of the DOJ, Sex]

390. In the run up to the 2008 Presidential elections, Republicans deployed a variety of unsuccessful strategies to suppress the vote and cast doubt on the validity of the election if it were close.

In Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman purged 35,000 names in violation of the Voting Rights Act by eliminating them too close to the election and using dubious methods to do so.

In Florida, the Republican Secretary of State Kurt Browning also tried to eliminate voters on the basis of minor discrepancies in their voter information, but after a public outcry the state’s Republican governor Charlie Crist overruled Browning.

In Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel tried to purge newly registered voters whose citizenship was called into question. A judge rejected this and ruled that the some 5000 involved be given provisional ballots. After the election, Handel threw away the ballots of those who had not submitted proof of citizenship. It remains unknown how many of these were legitimate voters who had their votes nullified by the Secretary of State.

In Indiana, the GOP tried to shut down early voting in Democratic areas.

In Montana, the GOP tried to challenge likely Democratic voters on the basis of discrepancies in their addresses. When it came out that one was a World War II veteran who had moved across town, the effort was dropped.

In Nevada, the GOP wanted new voters to cast provisional ballots if they corrected their voter information at the polls.

In New Mexico, Republicans released illegally obtained names of 10 voters, all of them Hispanic, who they claimed had voted fraudulently in the state primary in June, except as it turned out they were all legitimate. One GOP operative Pat Rogers then hired an investigator to harass some of them and this has led to lawsuits against him and the state Republican party.

In Ohio, Republicans tried and failed to get the US Supreme Court and Justice Department to force the Democratic Secretary of State to provide election officials lists of voters whose information did not match that on other government documents. Such errors usually result from inputting errors or the use or non-use of a middle name or initial.

In Pennsylvania, they wanted a list of 140,000 voters registered by ACORN in order to mount challenges.

In Virginia, hackers sent a bogus email to the 30,000 students of George Mason University telling them the election had been moved from November 4th to November 5th.

In Wisconsin, in one of the most egregious attempts at voter suppression, the state’s Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen, at the behest of state Republicans, filed suit to force the election board to reconfirm the eligibility of thousands of voters. His suit was thrown out. He then said he would send 50 lawyers and law enforcement officials to “monitor” the polls and harass voters.

As for the other big Republican election scare, that of voter fraud, out of more than 125 million votes cast, there were virtually no allegations that any had occurred. I doubt that this will deter Republicans or those like Hans von Spakovsky (item 101) who see it everywhere. It is after all such a convenient pretext for the much more important Republican political goal of suppressing the vote.

391. The Bureau of Land Management is set to open public lands to drilling near 3 National Parks in Utah. Bypassing usual input from the Parks Service which would delay the process into the next Administration, the BLM will auction leases in the area on December 19, 2008. Consider it a parting gift by the Bush Administration of your resources to the oil and gas companies. The Utah office of the BLM seems prone to these kind of funny deals (See item 211) and for all I know there may even be someone in that office who isn’t owned by the energy industry and developers although I think that is unlikely.

On February 4, 2009, the new Secretary of the Interior in the Obama Administration Ken Salazar cancelled these leases.
[Cronyism, Energy, Environment]

392. On October 25, 2007, oil giant BP agreed to pay $373 million in fines to settle 3 different investigations against it. In February 2004, BP tried to corner the US market in propane and stick its customers with higher prices. To avoid a criminal prosecution, it agreed to pay $303 million in fines.

On March 23, 2005, an explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas killed 15 and injured more than 170. The EPA found that BP had failed to install equipment mandated by the Clean Air Act to prevent the release of potentially explosive chemical vapors. As part of a felony plea agreement, BP paid $50 million in fines.

On March 5, 2006 a 200,000 gallon leak from a BP pipeline on to the arctic tundra was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The spill occurred over 5 days and was the result of BP skimping and cutting corners on routine maintenance over a period of years. In August 2006, a second spill occurred in the eastern part of the North Slope field. For these, BP pled guilty to a misdemeanor and paid $20 million in fines. A November 10, 2008 McClatchy article reports that the Justice Department terminated the investigation early going for a misdemeanor rather than a felony charge (which investigators thought they could get if given more time to process the evidence). The DOJ also accepted a fine amount which was substantially lower than that recommended by the EPA.

What this goes to show is that in spite of BP being a really bad corporate citizen and repeated offender, killing its workers, screwing its customers, and poisoning the environment, it was essentially let off by the Bush Justice Department. While $373 million may seem like a lot, BP’s gross profits for 2007 alone came to more than $31 billion, and the fine settled the government’s claims against it for the preceding 3 years. Looking at it from this longer perspective, BP executives could write it off as an acceptable cost of doing business.
[Criminality, Energy, Environment, Politicization of the DOJ]

393. On November 17, 2008, the Interior Department announced another final rule to go into effect on January 17, 2009, three days before President-Elect Obama’s inauguration. This one would open up 1.9 million acres to exploitation of oil shale deposits in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Shale remains both a dirty and largely unproven technology and requires large amounts of water in a region that has none to spare. This lack of water and the collapse in oil prices in the second half of 2008 will, however, limit the damage to the environment which the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department contemplated. Still they tried.
[Environment, Energy]

394. On November 20, 2008, the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration finalized rules on truck driving, similar to ones thrown out last year by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The rules will allow truckdrivers to drive 77 hours in a 7 day cycle and mandates only 34 hours rest between cycles. The rule will go into effect on January 19, 2009, one day before the beginning of the next Administration. I am sure that the notion of sleep deprived truckdrivers barreling down the nation’s highways in large semis makes us all feel safer.
[Anti-Candidate, Labor]

395. A November 23, 2008 Washington Post story reports that lax oversight by the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) allowed the savings and loan institutions it regulated to engage in dubious practices which led to $355.7 billion in thrift failures in 2008 and the need the to sell off other institutions to avoid failure. Thrifts are usually smaller than commercial banks and concentrate more on home loans. Even so, some of the names of institutions which failed or were sold are well known: IndyMac, Washington Mutual, and Countrywide, for example (see item 87).

Across the board, the Bush Administration aggressively deregulated financial markets. At the OTS this strategy was spearheaded by James Gilleran who headed the agency from 2001-2005. In his first 3 years, he cut OTS’s 1,200 staff by a quarter even as the value of the assets the agency oversaw increased by half. Banks were also allowed to draw down their reserves on average by a third to the lowest level in 20 years. To justify this, the OTS accepted unrealistic projections on what expected losses in the banks’ loan portfolios would be. At the time thrifts were making more and more higher risk adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), the OTS permitted them to assess the risk of these in terms of their introductory low rate and not the higher rate to which the loans would ultimately convert. And no, these loans were not being to the poor. As part of Gilleran’s deregulation, government obligations to lend in low income communities were not strictly enforced.

The structure of the OTS was also at odds with its mission. It had an inherent and fatal conflict of interest. It was funded by the very banks it was tasked with regulating. The bigger the bank the bigger the contribution. So although the OTS oversaw some 750 banks, Washington Mutual (WaMu) alone paid 13% of its budget. The mortgage writer Countrywide which was actually recruited by the OTS to become a thrift on the promise that it would be loosely regulated accounted for another 5% of the OTS budget.

In short, the thrifts were paying the OTS not to regulate them, and in exchange for the budget it received from them the OTS turned a blind eye to their reckless behavior. This arrangement worked out very well until the thrifts crashed and burned. Who could have predicted . . .?
[Anti-candidate, Corruption, Economy]

396. The Air Marshal Service went from 33 agents and a $4.4 million budget before 9/11 to 3,000-4,000 marshals and a $786 million budget. During this time, it has had 3 different leaders and been moved to 4 different agencies. Since its expansion, some three dozen marshals have been charged with crimes and hundreds (753 already at the time of a 2004 Inspector General’s report) accused of misconduct, everything from drug smuggling, a marshal who tried to hire a hitman to kill his ex-wife, inappropriate use of firearms, drunk driving, human trafficking, corruption, and weapons smuggling.

A November 25, 2008 report by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported that whistleblowers inside the Air Marshals Service were harassed for speaking out and that the Office of Special Counsel headed by the now fired Scott Bloch (item 153) did little to protect them.

This level of wrongdoing, chaos and mismanagement is pretty much what you would expect from Michael Chertoff’s Department of Homeland Security.
[Criminality, DHS, War on Terror, Whistleblower]

397. On December 2, 2008, the Bush Administration in its last days approved a Department of Interior rule which will allow coal companies to shear off the tops of mountains and dump the debris into surrounding valleys and streams. This change would primarily affect coalfields in Appalachia. Current regulations establish a minimum 100 ft. buffer between dumped material and streams. By changing the environmental effect on streams from “adversely impact” to “significantly degrade,” the new rule would allow variances that would reduce or eliminate the buffer. Stephen Johnson (items 23, 321, 348) the current head of the EPA and one of the Adminstration’s most active anti-environmentalists, stated that fish, streams, and wildlife would be protected. What Johnson did not say was that this would be done by changing the definition of “protected”. The rule also contains a lot of wiggle room in how runoff and water pollution would be minimized “to the extent possible using the best technology currently available.” For mining interests and this Administration, “the extent possible” can mean “not much” and “the best technology currently available” can mean whatever is handy.
[Anti-candidate, Environment]

398. The secrecy and the lack of accountability which have marked the Bush Administration are producing some comical but telling problems for Obama transition teams. NASA’s dictatorial Adminstrator Michael Griffin said that Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator, was unqualified to judge his pet project the Constellation program to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. He directed NASA employees to stay on message with the transition team. Interviews were monitored by NASA officials, and employees were told to report conversations back to their managers. Griffin also directly contacted contractors and told them to sell the program and not discuss any alternatives to it. He demanded that they pre-clear their presentations with him. Some contractors were also supplied with talkingpoints saying that if Constellation were cancelled it would make NASA look bad and damage public confidence in it. As a result, some contractors declined to participate in interviews fearing retribution from Griffin.

Griffin’s actions culminated in the following overheard exchange with Garver:

“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.

“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.”

It would be hard to find a more eloquent expression of the Bush mindset of “Trust me and don’t believe your lying eyes” or a better example of the view that facts are not to be addressed but managed.

399. On March 11, 2004, a series of bombings took place in Madrid which killed 191 people and injured 2,000. A fingerprint lifted from a bag of detonator caps was erroneously identified by the FBI as belonging to Brandon Mayfield, a 37 year old lawyer in Portland, Oregon. Although Mayfield was living more than 5,000 miles away from Madrid and there was no evidence that he had been outside the country, and despite the doubts of Spanish authorities about the fingerprint match, what sealed the deal for the FBI was that Mayfield’s wife was from Egypt and he had converted to Islam and had Moslem clients. As far as they were concerned, he had to be a terrorist. As a result, the FBI began a highly intrusive surveillance of Mayfield including wiretaps and searches of his home and office which culminated in his arrest on May 6, 2004 as a material witness, a detention which lasted two weeks. As Mayfield described his ordeal

The days, weeks and months following my arrest were some of the darkest we have had to endure. I personally was subject to lockdown, strip searches, sleep deprivation, unsanitary living conditions, shackles and chains, threats, physical pain and humiliation.

It is important to realize the intensity of the government’s pressure on Mayfield. They were hanging death penalty offenses over him and generally terrorizing both him and his family. In this, the government’s investigation recalls the heavy-handedness and sloppiness of its anthrax investigations (see item 366).

Nevertheless, a January 6, 2006 report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, in a fairly typical whitewash characteristic of IG reports, found that the FBI had not misused any provisions of the Patriot Act although it noted that the government’s sharing of information on Mayfield to other agencies had amplified the effects of its “mistake”.

On November 29, 2006, the government settled with Mayfield for $2 million. It issued him an apology, and allowed his case challenging the Constitutional validity on 4th Amendment grounds of the Patriot Act to go forward.

With great power comes great responsibility. Along with understanding a lot about human nature, the Founders understood this. They knew from their own experience that there were plenty of fools and zealots who would abuse and misuse any power that was given to them. It is why they were so careful to make sure that no power went unchecked. Post-9/11, the Bush Administration went on a bender and with considerable help, or complicit silence, from the Democrats undid many of the simple lessons that the Founders struggled so hard and sacrificed so much to bequeath to us. Bush and the political leadership on both sides of the aisle thought they were considerably smarter than the Founders gave them credit for. What they did not understand was that they were the ones the Founders were warning us about.
[Incompetence, Inspector General, Surveillance, War on Terror]

400. Of the 2922 days Bush was President he spent all or part of 1,020 on vacation (35% of his time in office). This includes 487 days at Camp David, 490 at his ranch in Crawford, and 43 days at his family’s compound in Kennebunkport. If there is one word which typifies this and Bush, it is AWOL. The man has been AWOL his whole life.
You have only to look at his academic career or his lack of it. It nails his experience with Vietnam where he never took a strong position for the war and went, or against it and protested. It was the essence of his time in the National Guard (whether it was technically the case or not). It marked his approach to his business failures. As for the governorship of Texas, it looks good on a résumé and is a useful political springboard but it is a weak position, tailor made for an AWOL man. Unfortunately for us, the Presidency is a real full-time job. In it, Bush stayed true to form. He was not just physically absent from it much of the time. He was intellectually and morally absent from it all the time.

The results we can see all around us. He did not keep us safe from 9/11. He mired the nation in stupid wars he waged stupidly and interminably. He was not there for Katrina. He took a piratical financial industry and negligently set it loose on the economy to wreak havoc in the housing and oil markets and eventually bring the whole system to the point of collapse and the country to the edge of depression.

But the blame does not belong to him. It never does with an AWOL man. No, it belongs with us who, as a nation, for 8 years took a vacation from our ourselves and our responsibilities. We had not just an AWOL President with Bush but an AWOL age. Now Bush is gone, as AWOL as ever, and we are left to deal with his legacies.

401. There seems to be something about Bush officials spending money on their offices. They may not be kings but they like their surroundings palatial (see 296). The government spent $235,000 to give Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne a new wood paneled bathroom complete with refrigerator, freezer, and monogrammed towels. Why would Kempthorned need a refrigerator and freezer in his bathroom? Make up your own story.

The Bush Scandals List as Bush Leaves Office
As President Bush slinks off to a much merited place in the dustbin of history, I thought I would take a moment to look back at my own attempt to chronicle the damage he did to us as individuals, a people, and a country. I began my scandals list almost two years ago as a protest against amnesia. I had the feeling that however much I could remember Bush doing, there was a lot more I had forgotten. A constantly changing and never ending parade of cronies, criminals, and incompetents danced before our eyes. They were there, spent their 15 minutes of notoriety and ignominy in the public spotlight, and then slipped away, immediately replaced by others. It all seemed designed to keep us stunned, confused, off balance, reacting to the newest outrage, as we forgot the others. It was the Shock Doctrine as media policy.
Yet I don’t think Bush and his Administration actually planned it this way. That’s because they never really planned much of what they did. Nor do I think they were concerned about any consequences that might stem from their actions. They always assumed that consequences would be borne by others, not them, and so of no importance. Instead I think this was just a serendipitous silver lining to the sheer magnitude of their failure. The Bush Administration screwed up so often and so massively that its disasters began to obscure each other and run together. You might remember Katrina and Brownie but what about Rita and Ike? Even if you were aware at the time of the politics, the cronyism, the broken promises, the poisoned trailers, the scattered population, would it remain clear to you a year or two on?
Perhaps some of us could do it in a few instances but I doubt any of us could do it for all of them, hence the list. It started out as short phrases to jog the memory and convey an idea of the enormity of what we faced. As time went on and the list kept growing, I decided this wasn’t enough. I wanted to show it wasn’t just about memory but also about evidence so I began adding details, names, dates, numbers, and links. (And in this I was aided and abetted by my co-conspirator in truth selise who made all these changes possible.) I tried to have each entry tell its own story. At first, I tried to suspend judgment but this proved impossible. On some items like torture, the facts speak for themselves and carry a judgment from which there is no escaping. In some sense, this is also what happened with the list. After a while, it wasn’t simply a recitation of facts and incidents, it too became a judgment.
To be blunt, the reason there was a need for the list at all was because the media and the Democratic party didn’t do their jobs. The media did not report, underreported, misreported or reported far too late to matter most of what went on in the last 8 years. They fed us narratives filled with talking points, not facts. Access and he said / she said reporting became the order of the day. Real journalism occurred by accident or was perpetrated by a lonely few. Meanwhile the Democrats refused to raise any opposition and found silence and complicity the better part of valor. So to create the list I had to do what all of us in the blogosphere have had to do. I had to pick among the media, unpack, unspin, and deconstruct their narratives. I went to primary sources. And I did this not alone but benefiting from the collective effort of us all.
And what I found horrified me.
Our government has been hollowed out. It is not just the Justice Department but all departments and agencies whose mission it was to help citizens that were filled with Bush appointees whose job it was to dismantle them. Interior became a playground for drilling, mining, and developers, Labor for Big Business, the EPA for polluters, Energy for oil and gas companies, the Pentagon for neocons, the SEC for Wall Street. Nor was it just the top echelons where this rot occurred but went down to the fourth and fifth tiers, to the Monica Goodlings and Kyle Sampsons. And it wasn’t here or there but across the board that this demolition of our government occurred.
Our government has been looted. It began with tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. It continued with the promotion of deregulation and the financial bubbles. It is finishing with us on the edge of depression. While the rest of the economy falls apart the government continues to announce one monster bailout of the financial industry after another.
Our Constitution and the rule of law have been trashed. The last 8 years saw the creation of a Presidential dictatorship: torture, indefinite detention, kidnapping, spying, kangaroo courts, signing statements, illegal wars, and for all these things there was no accountability, none.
What I hope the list conveys in its own imperfect way is that these were not isolated events committed by a few people. This was an undertaking that thousands in the Bush Administration worked on day in day out for 8 years. This was their job. They made a career out of doing in our government, and we were paying them to do it.
And yet, Americans did not take to the streets. Democrats did not oppose. The media cheered on. As I said, my list is a judgment on George Bush. He is the worst President in our history. My list is a testament to that fact. But it is also a judgment on us because we let it happen. Yes, some of us spoke out, but the question that haunts many of us, and certainly me, is could we have done more.


  1. Thanks!
    Your list has no peer; it deserves renewal and SEO.
    I've sent and posted countless links to it.
    Horrifically, it still needs more entries.

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