Friday, September 28, 2007
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Ten years after Congress ordered federal agencies to have outside auditors review their books, neither the Defense Department nor the newer Department of Homeland Security has met even basic accounting requirements, leaving them vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.
"It means we really can't put any faith in the numbers they use," said Ross Rubenstein, who teaches public administration at Syracuse University.
By Charles Sullivan
09/27/07 "ICH " -- - It is evident that the US or Israel is going to launch an unprovoked attack on Iran in the near future, just as it did against Iraq and countless other defenseless nations within recent memory. As a result, untold numbers of innocent people will die and huge sums of money will change hands. Both the U.S. and Israel will consolidate their power in the Middle East and injustice and death will follow in their wake.
Bush’s co-conspirators in Congress are standing down, leaving little doubt as to whom they serve. As always, the mainstream media is preparing the way by serving as an organ of the Military-industrial complex by beating the drums of war and perpetuating lies.
Outside of a small number of citizens, few people seem capable of plumbing the depths of our conundrum. Under the umbrella of capitalism, business is the business of America, and death, inequity, and misery are its chief byproducts. Thus the rich are getting richer and the wealth generated by the producers is being concentrated into fewer hands than ever before.
War and class warfare are among the offshoots of capitalism. They are opposite sides of the same coin, like Democrat and Republican. Significant change will not occur until the people rise up in revolt and take matters into their own hands—a state of affairs that is virtually unimaginable. Nothing less than a fundamental paradigm shift from capitalism to a just an equitable socio-economic system is required.
It is not difficult to know what kind of response the present threat demands of us—yet only a handful of thoughtful and courageous people will act appropriately against them.
I am quite certain that indifference, apathy, belligerent nationalism, and dumb-foundedness are not appropriate responses to the cancer that is festering in the Pentagon, the halls of Congress, and America’s corporate board rooms and political think tanks.
I am willing to bet that the average American never contemplates the inequities that capitalism foists upon the world, or the unwarranted faith we have in the concept of private ownership, unregulated markets, and trickle down economics. This is a system that was created to serve the wealthy and to oppress the majority, and it is fundamentally predatory in nature.
Championed by the likes of Milton Friedman, capitalism and private ownership is the holy grail of the American economic system, and they are considered beyond reproach even by those who barely survive under their ponderous weight. The nemesis of capital and privilege is an organized and mobilized citizenry. Throughout America’s short history, alternative political and economic systems such as communism and socialism, long associated with organized labor and radical unionism, have occasionally gained a foothold in the barren political landscape and, predictably, were thoroughly demonized by the mainstream media and its corporate funders.
Alternatives to capitalism have been tried but they have always been undermined by the US, which allows their critics to assert that these social experiments have been tried and failed. But left alone to evolve without outside interference, other socio-economic systems that serve people and the public interest might well flourish over for profit systems that promote private enterprise, which explains why so much energy and treasure is spent to undermine them.
Does anyone really believe that capitalism would be so prevalent today if it had been so systematically undermined by other governments as its counterparts? The playing field has never been level. Yet, despite such intense oppression, alternatives continue to spring up like undesirable weeds in capitalism’s well groomed garden. Left untended, the garden quickly reverts to its natural state, which, clearly, is not capitalism or public funded privatized wealth accumulation.
Early on, working class Americans have been programmed to rail against any system that poses a threat to capitalism and its attendant Plutocratic rule. There was the era of McCarthyism in the 1950’s, and long before that the constant specter of the red menace that has always been associated with organized labor and other social justice movements.
Any ideology that is opposed to capitalism has always been presented to the people as a threat to democracy itself, which is an absurd notion. Through propaganda and other distortions of truth, the interests of the ruling clique are widely perceived to also be the people’s interest. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Democracy is the greatest threat to capitalism and Plutocracy; and, as history attests, it is vigorously repressed by those in power, often by acts of state sponsored terrorism and militarism.
Unregulated corporate power and the unbridled exploitation of land and people are as far from true free markets and democracy as anything can be.
Through the judicious use of lies and propaganda the corporate media, aided by the educational system, has successfully steered the collective American psyche away from the very ideologies that might potentially be our greatest benefactors. The underlying causes of societal injustice, including the inequitable distribution of wealth and power, are thus kept safely out of the public conscience, beyond the pale of moral and intellectual discourse. Unregulated corporate power and free markets are hailed in the mainstream media as humankind’s greatest achievements. They are marketed to the very people it exploits as liberating, democratic institutions.
The founding fathers recognized that an aroused and organized citizenry was the primary threat to the ruling elite. Organized labor, in particular, has always been perceived as a threat to the established orthodoxy. A democratic workplace would inevitably lead to a democratic society, and thus deny the strength of the ruling Plutocracy.
It is remarkable that for more than 230 years the Plutocracy has not only successfully kept the majority of the people supporting economic and social policy that is detrimental to the people, they have also kept them from thinking about alternatives that could provide relief from the social and economic injustice wrought by capitalism—among them, universal health care and socialized higher education. The government is always waging a cold war against the working class people, whatever their country of origin.
As a result, we have evolved into a nation of imperialists addicted to war and other forms of violence, which accrues tremendous wealth and power to the rich, while simultaneously undermining the people’s collective welfare, and the wellbeing of the planet.
Attached to their ipods, cell phones, their computers, television sets, and right wing media, the American people are detached from reality. So long as they are free to consume and waste, and sufficient entertainment is provided, the people will not rise up in revolt.
Because of this separation from reality, Americans do not empathize with people outside of their own immediate families, beyond a small sphere of friends and acquaintances. We have no sense of community, and little visceral connection to the wild earth that sustains all life. We are reductionists who do not appreciate the organic whole. Thus we cannot connect the dots and think in rational terms of cause and effect. We have commodified the earth and her people in order to exploit them for profit.
Too many Americans exist with a false sense of entitlement and privilege that is not nearly as prevalent in other parts of the world, where the effects of capitalism are better understood. Confident in our right to consume, while ignoring the misery our consumption and waste is causing others, we do not perceive the connection between capitalism, war, socio-economic class, cheap labor, and planetary destruction.
Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The Wobblies understood: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” But we do not easily think beyond the self and rarely see ourselves as a part of a vibrant global community—a part of nature. We even erect psychological barriers that prevent us from questioning the established orthodoxy, as we witnessed in the aftermath of 9-11. We do as we are told, rather than doing what is right and just. Americans fear the government and tremble before authority.
It is this spiritual isolation and emptiness that allows us to comprise so little of the earth’s population, and to consume so much of her precious biological and ecological wealth—the planetary life support systems that sustain all life.
The American worker, despite all evidence to the contrary, and notwithstanding the lessons of history, continues to subscribe to the ideology of the capitalist model and its empty promises dressed in the seductive garments of the ‘American Dream’. That dream is now, more than ever, as millions of Americans are coming to realize, more myth than reality.
Capitalism has forced a nation-sized plantation upon the working class people of this country, and a world-sized gulag upon people everywhere. Workers keep only a tiny percent of the wealth they create for their employers, just enough to keep them playing the game—a game only a select few will ever win. Someone else always reaps the benefits of our labor.
American workers are like hamsters imprisoned in a cage, spinning our hamster wheels with furious speed, working harder, producing more, more, more—ever more; until our hearts explode or our bodies wear out under mountains of debt.
Hardly a handful of people realize what an elaborate hoax has been erected around us, what a sham this moribund system of waste and exploitation really is.
So we go from one plantation to another, drifting like tumbleweeds from one job to another but always imprisoned by the same exploitive, dehumanizing capitalist system.
At some level, I believe that the majority of the people intuit that something is terribly wrong. Thus they subscribe to the idea of reform and resort to electoral politics—a system that is wholly owned and operated by special interest money and corporate lobbyists. Their faith in the vote is misplaced and their energy is misdirected, which thus helps to maintain the established order, and prevents us from doing anything meaningful and direct. It assures consistency through the centuries: Imperial wars and occupations, a widening gap between the rich and poor; falling wages, union busting, and unfathomable environmental destruction on a global scale.
There are no political solutions available to us. There are no knights in shinning armor coming to the rescue. In a system awash in money the vote has no meaning. It is a mistake to think that the tools provided by capitalism can do anything other than perpetuate the system that is already in place, as history clearly demonstrates. Whether George Bush, Ron Paul, or Hillary Clinton occupies the White House, the result will be the same. Politicians are the property of special interest money. Few of them serve the people.
We must stop believing that reform of this corrupt system is even possible. Misplaced faith in corrupt politicians keeps us from fomenting the seeds of revolution, which are our only salvation and our destiny if we are to survive as a people. If only we could conjure up the fighting spirit that these times require.
People can only affect change by accepting personal responsibility and through direct action. We, ourselves, must become the agents for radical, revolutionary transformation. Rather than putting our trust in George Bush and Hillary Clinton or the sycophants in Congress, we must believe in ourselves and directly assert the power we have. We the people, when organized and mobilized, are the most powerful revolutionary force on earth. All we need is solidarity, but solidarity can be as elusive as a wisp of smoke, especially when so much capital is expended to keep us isolated and disorganized, and propagandized.
Both voting and sporadic protests, while they may temporarily make us feel useful, do not have much long term effect. Let us not simply say no to war with our vote, but with our bodies and our treasure. If we wish to see social justice enacted, we must not merely vote for it, we must, ourselves, become the agents of justice. We must oppose injustice not only on philosophical and ethical grounds, but in the theater of action, with our bodies.
Democracy and justice are too important to entrust to politicians who serve money, rather than people and the public welfare. We must do more than give lip service to the mere symbols of justice while doing nothing to actually obtain justice, or even worse—undermining it by voting more Plutocrats into office. Each of us must act to bring justice to bear. It is wrong to quietly tolerate what is being done to our country.
Our collective tolerance for injustice and mediocrity makes us complicit in them. We do not hold the criminals and the real terrorists accountable and we continue to support the system that ushered them into power by participating in it and pretending that it is legitimate.
Action applied directly at the point of injustice is the only force that can bring about permanent and just change. But action, unlike rhetoric, requires courage and conviction. It means putting the fear of god into the hearts of the government, as ordinary people do in Europe and Latin America, putting our bodies on the line for what we believe in. When the state is an enemy of the people, all just men and women must become enemies of the state.
Change begins and ends with the individual. What we think and what we do matters only if we act on our beliefs and are even willing to die for them, if necessary. Peace can only follow justice; it never precedes it.
By putting faith in those who serve the almighty dollar, rather than directly upholding the principles of democracy ourselves, we diminish our own power—we cede it to the corrupt and diabolical whose primary purpose is to rape and exploit us. Let us leave the safe haven of our hamster wheels and occupy the streets until justice reigns for everyone. There is no other way.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
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War Inches Closer to Iran: U.S. Soldiers Create Military Base on Iraq-Iran Border to Halt Alledged Weapons Smuggling From Iran
Webb: Lieberman And Kyl’s Hawkish Iran Amendment Is ‘Cheney’s Fondest Pipe Dream’: Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) made an impassioned appeal to his fellow senators, declaring that the Lieberman-Kyl amendment on Iran should be “withdrawn” because the “proposal is Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream.” Webb cautioned that the “cleverly-worded sense of the Congress” could be “interpreted” to “declare war” on Iran
Ahmadinejad "Defies" UN as Iran Threatened With Wider Punishments : Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared yesterday that his country would answer only to international inspectors, not the United Nations Security Council, in the dispute over its nuclear ambitions.
US House of Representatives Approves Measure Strengthening Iran Sanctions : The Iran Counterproliferation Act is aimed at tightening the economic screws on Iran, through import and export sanctions, and steps to dissuade foreign governments and companies, including subsidiaries of U.S. companies, from investing in Iran's energy sector.
Iran: US is world's real threat : Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has accused the US of being the world's "real threat" and defended his country's nuclear programme.
Iranian University Chancellors Ask Bollinger 10 Questions : Seven chancellors and presidents of Iranian universities and research centers, in a letter addressed to their counterpart in the US Colombia University, denounced Lee Bollinger's insulting words against the Iranian nation and president and invited him to provide responses for 10 questions of the Iranian academicians and intellectuals.
In case you missed it: Columbia "Unbecoming": A European Student's Experience at Columbia
In case you missed it: Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran: ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.
By Daniel Ellsberg
09/26/07 "ICH" -- -- September 26, 2007 (Text of a speech delivered September 20, 2007) -- - - I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state.
If there’s another 9/11 under this regime … it means that they switch on full extent all the apparatus of a police state that has been patiently constructed, largely secretly at first but eventually leaked out and known and accepted by the Democratic people in Congress, by the Republicans and so forth.
Will there be anything left for NSA to increase its surveillance of us? … They may be to the limit of their technical capability now, or they may not. But if they’re not now they will be after another 9/11.
And I would say after the Iranian retaliation to an American attack on Iran, you will then see an increased attack on Iran – an escalation – which will be also accompanied by a total suppression of dissent in this country, including detention camps.
It’s a little hard for me to distinguish the two contingencies; they could come together. Another 9/11 or an Iranian attack in which Iran’s reaction against Israel, against our shipping, against our troops in Iraq above all, possibly in this country, will justify the full panoply of measures that have been prepared now, legitimized, and to some extent written into law. …
This is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it, they will exploit it.
Will Hillary Clinton as president decide to turn off NSA after the last five years of illegal surveillance? Will she deprive her administration her ability to protect United States citizens from possible terrorism by blinding herself and deafening herself to all that NSA can provide? I don’t think so.
Unless this somehow, by a change in our political climate, of a radical change, unless this gets rolled back in the next year or two before a new administration comes in – and there’s no move to do this at this point – unless that happens I don’t see it happening under the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic.
The Next Coup
Let me simplify this and not just to be rhetorical: A coup has occurred. I woke up the other day realizing, coming out of sleep, that a coup has occurred. It’s not just a question that a coup lies ahead with the next 9/11. That’s the next coup, that completes the first.
The last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental of our Constitution, … what the rest of the world looked at for the last 200 years as a model and experiment to the rest of the world – in checks and balances, limited government, Bill of Rights, individual rights protected from majority infringement by the Congress, an independent judiciary, the possibility of impeachment.
There have been violations of these principles by many presidents before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War: the use of CIA, FBI, NSA against Americans.
I could go through a list going back before this century to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War, and before that the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 18th century. I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would call quite precisely the current administration: domestic enemies of the Constitution.
I think that none of these presidents with all their violations, which were impeachable had they been found out at the time and in nearly every case their violations were not found out until they were out of office so we didn’t have the exact challenge that we have today.
That was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson, Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they weren’t found out in time, but I think it was not their intention to in the crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to change our form of government.
It is increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that comes out, that Richard Cheney and his now chief of staff David Addington have had precisely that in mind since at least the early 70s. Not just since 1992, not since 2001, but have believed in Executive government, single-branch government under an Executive president – elected or not – with unrestrained powers. They did not believe in restraint.
When I say this I’m not saying they are traitors. I don’t think they have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country – but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought.
They believe we need a different kind of government now, an Executive government essentially, rule by decree, which is what we’re getting with signing statements. Signing statements are talked about as line-item vetoes which is one [way] of describing them which are unconstitutional in themselves, but in other ways are just saying the president says “I decide what I enforce. I decide what the law is. I legislate.”
It’s [the same] with the military commissions, courts that are under the entire control of the Executive Branch, essentially of the president. A concentration of legislative, judicial, and executive powers in one branch, which is precisely what the Founders meant to avert, and tried to avert and did avert to the best of their ability in the Constitution.
Founders Had It Right
Now I’m appealing to that as a crisis right now not just because it is a break in tradition but because I believe in my heart and from my experience that on this point the Founders had it right.
It’s not just “our way of doing things” – it was a crucial perception on the corruption of power to anybody including Americans. On procedures and institutions that might possibly keep that power under control because the alternative was what we have just seen, wars like Vietnam, wars like Iraq, wars like the one coming.
That brings me to the second point. This Executive Branch, under specifically Bush and Cheney, despite opposition from most of the rest of the branch, even of the cabinet, clearly intends a war against Iran which even by imperialist standards, standards in other words which were accepted not only by nearly everyone in the Executive Branch but most of the leaders in Congress. The interests of the empire, the need for hegemony, our right to control and our need to control the oil of the Middle East and many other places. That is consensual in our establishment. …
But even by those standards, an attack on Iran is insane. And I say that quietly, I don’t mean it to be heard as rhetoric. Of course it’s not only aggression and a violation of international law, a supreme international crime, but it is by imperial standards, insane in terms of the consequences.
Does that make it impossible? No, it obviously doesn’t, it doesn’t even make it unlikely.
That is because two things come together that with the acceptance for various reasons of the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the public and the media, we have freed the White House – the president and the vice president – from virtually any restraint by Congress, courts, media, public, whatever.
And on the other hand, the people who have this unrestrained power are crazy. Not entirely, but they have crazy beliefs.
And the question is what then, what can we do about this? We are heading towards an insane operation. It is not certain. It is likely. … I want to try to be realistic myself here, to encourage us to do what we must do, what is needed to be done with the full recognition of the reality. Nothing is impossible.
What I’m talking about in the way of a police state, in the way of an attack on Iran is not certain. Nothing is certain, actually. However, I think it is probable, more likely than not, that in the next 15, 16 months of this administration we will see an attack on Iran. Probably. Whatever we do.
And … we will not succeed in moving Congress probably, and Congress probably will not stop the president from doing this. And that’s where we’re heading. That’s a very ugly, ugly prospect.
However, I think it’s up to us to work to increase that small perhaps – anyway not large – possibility and probability to avert this within the next 15 months, aside from the effort that we have to make for the rest of our lives.
Restoring the Republic
Getting back the constitutional government and improving it will take a long time. And I think if we don’t get started now, it won’t be started under the next administration.
Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack, is for right now, it can’t be put off. It will take a kind of political and moral courage of which we have seen very little…
We have a really unusual concentration here and in this audience, of people who have in fact changed their lives, changed their position, lost their friends to a large extent, risked and experienced being called terrible names, “traitor,” “weak on terrorism” – names that politicians will do anything to avoid being called.
How do we get more people in the government and in the public at large to change their lives now in a crisis in a critical way? How do we get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for example? What kinds of pressures, what kinds of influences can be brought to bear to get Congress to do their jobs? It isn’t just doing their jobs. Getting them to obey their oaths of office.
I took an oath many times, an oath of office as a Marine lieutenant, as an official in the Defense Department, as an official in the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. A number of times I took an oath of office which is the same oath office taken by every member of Congress and every official in the United States and every officer in the United States armed services.
And that oath is not to a Commander in Chief, which is not mentioned. It is not to a fuehrer. It is not even to superior officers. The oath is precisely to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Now that is an oath I violated every day for years in the Defense Department without realizing it when I kept my mouth shut when I knew the public was being lied into a war as they were lied into Iraq, as they are being lied into war in Iran.
I knew that I had the documents that proved it, and I did not put it out then. I was not obeying my oath which I eventually came to do.
I’ve often said that Lt. Ehren Watada – who still faces trial for refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq which he correctly perceives to be an unconstitutional and aggressive war – is the single officer in the United States armed services who is taking seriously in upholding his oath.
The president is clearly violating that oath, of course. Everybody under him who understands what is going on and there are myriad, are violating their oaths. And that’s the standard that I think we should be asking of people.
On the Democratic side, on the political side, I think we should be demanding of our Democratic leaders in the House and Senate – and frankly of the Republicans – that it is not their highest single absolute priority to be reelected or to maintain a Democratic majority so that Pelosi can still be Speaker of the House and Reid can be in the Senate, or to increase that majority.
I’m not going to say that for politicians they should ignore that, or that they should do something else entirely, or that they should not worry about that.
Of course that will be and should be a major concern of theirs, but they’re acting like it’s their sole concern. Which is business as usual. “We have a majority, let’s not lose it, let’s keep it. Let’s keep those chairmanships.” Exactly what have those chairmanships done for us to save the Constitution in the last couple of years?
I am shocked by the Republicans today that I read in the Washington Post who yesterday threatened a filibuster if we … get back habeas corpus. The ruling out of habeas corpus with the help of the Democrats did not get us back to George the First it got us back to before King John 700 years ago in terms of counter-revolution.
We need some way, and Ann Wright has one way, of sitting in, in Conyers office and getting arrested. Ray McGovern has been getting arrested, pushed out the other day for saying the simple words “swear him in” when it came to testimony.
I think we’ve got to somehow get home to them [in Congress] that this is the time for them to uphold the oath, to preserve the Constitution, which is worth struggling for in part because it’s only with the power that the Constitution gives Congress responding to the public, only with that can we protect the world from mad men in power in the White House who intend an attack on Iran.
And the current generation of American generals and others who realize that this will be a catastrophe have not shown themselves – they might be people who in their past lives risked their bodies and their lives in Vietnam or elsewhere, like [Colin] Powell, and would not risk their career or their relation with the president to the slightest degree.
That has to change. And it’s the example of people like those up here who somehow brought home to our representatives that they as humans and as citizens have the power to do likewise and find in themselves the courage to protect this country and protect the world. Thank you.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
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President Bush's transportation secretary, Mary Peters, with White House approval, personally directed a lobbying campaign to urge governors and two dozen House members to block California's first-in-the-nation limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks, according to e-mails obtained by Congress.
The e-mails show Peters worked closely with the top opponents in Congress of California's emissions law and sought out governors from auto-producing states, who were seen as likely to oppose the state's request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allow the new rules to go into effect.
"The administration is trying to stack the deck against California's efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions," House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, wrote Monday to the White House. "It suggests that political considerations - not the merits of the issue - will determine how EPA acts."
Waxman released the e-mails, which are available on the committee's Web site, along with his letter to the White House. The documents show that the idea to launch the lobbying effort started with Peters.
The secretary "asked that we develop some ideas asap about facilitating a pushback from governors (esp. D's)" - Democrats - "and others opposed to piecemeal regulation of emissions, as per CA's waiver petition," Jeff Shane, the Transportation Department's undersecretary for policy, wrote to top staffers on May 22.
It was not an unbiased outreach effort: Peters targeted officials who agreed with her agency's opposition to California's landmark effort to regulate auto emissions.
"Are we making any headway in identifying sympathetic governors?" Shane wrote on May 23. "(Peters) asked me about them again this morning."
The release of the e-mails comes at an awkward time for the White House. President Bush was scheduled to meet Monday night with global leaders in New York to convince them he is serious about the United States' efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He has convened a meeting in Washington this week to talk about climate change with the world's 15 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
The Department of Transportation and the White House responded to Waxman's letter Monday with statements arguing that they did nothing wrong by urging lawmakers and governors to oppose California's efforts to curb emissions.
"Our efforts to inform elected officials about the petition before EPA were legal, appropriate and consistent with our long-held position on this issue," the Transportation Department said. "For over 30 years, the Department has supported a single, national fuel economy standard as part of our effort to save fuel, ensure safety, preserve the environment and protect the economy."
"With respect to California's request to be allowed to set its own standards, there are a wide variety of strongly held views across the country," said Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Outreach by federal officials to state government counterparts and members of Congress on issues of major national policy is an appropriate and routine component of policy development."
But California officials, including one of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's top environmental aides, said the e-mails suggest the Bush administration is working behind the scenes to deny California's waiver. The EPA is expected to make its decision by December.
"We're deeply disappointed to hear of confirmed reports of back-room maneuvering to deny our request," said Mary Nichols, who chairs the state's Air Resources Board. "We will move ahead with our lawsuit if the EPA fails to act in the next few weeks."
California has taken the initial steps to sue the federal government if it turns down the state's request for a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act that would approve California's plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The e-mails paint a picture of the administration working closely with Michigan's powerful congressional delegation, which strongly opposes California's new rules. U.S. automakers fear a huge drop in sales if California and 12 other states implement the new rules - which would cut emissions by 30 percent by 2016.
In one e-mail, Peters asks if she needs to call Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., who was rallying opposition in Congress to California's proposal.
"Do I need to touch base with Knollenberg to coordinate our efforts?" she wrote in a June 7 e-mail to her deputy chief of staff, Simon Gros.
"His staff is also going to ping other members of the automotive caucus for us," Gros replied. "My staff this morning called just about every auto-friendly member of this issue."
Gros, in an interview with House investigators, said Peters personally called two to four governors to urge them to lobby the EPA. The Transportation Department would not identify the governors, but one cited in the e-mails was Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.
The documents also reveal that Peters sought - and received - approval for her effort from the White House. Her executive assistant, Sandy Snyder, reported in a May 25 e-mail that the White House Council on Environmental Quality's chief of staff, Marty Hall, approved the idea.
Hall was "OK with (Peters) making calls," Snyder wrote.
Snyder added that Hall had spoken the day before with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson - suggesting he may have known of the effort to lobby his agency. Johnson, at a Senate hearing in July, said he'd talked with Peters only about extending the comment period for the waiver request.
Waxman has suggested the actions could violate the Anti-Lobbying Act, which restricts the ability of federal employees or agencies to lobby. The law prohibits "grassroots lobbying" - efforts to get members of the public to lobby Congress.
The Transportation Department has said it did not engage in grassroots lobbying. But Thomas Susman, an attorney at Ropes & Gray in Washington and co-author of "The Lobbying Manual," said contacting governors - who are called "grasstops," in lobbying parlance - is usually considered grassroots lobbying.
"In my experience, there is no distinction in the statute or any interpretations between governors and the public," he said.
But Peters could have a legal out: The president, vice president and Cabinet members can't be barred from speaking out or instigating grassroots actions on issues of public concern, Susman said.
The law is enforced if a "substantial" amount of money - $50,000 - is spent on lobbying, and it's unlikely the Justice Department would go after members of the administration, he said.
Waxman said the debate over the legality of the actions misses the point. Peters could have submitted comments to the EPA, stating her views, he said.
"Instead ... she apparently sought and received White House approval to use taxpayer funds to mount a lobbying campaign designed to inject political considerations into the decision," Waxman said.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 — The Democratic chairman of a House committee complained Tuesday that the State Department was blocking his panel’s efforts to investigate the private security firm Blackwater USA and its operations in Iraq.
The department described the situation as a “misunderstanding.”
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, wrote that the State Department had prevented Blackwater from cooperating.
“Blackwater has informed the committee that a State Department official directed Blackwater not to provide documents relevant to the committee’s investigation into the company’s activities in Iraq without the prior written approval of the State Department,” Mr. Waxman’s letter stated. The letter was made available to the news media on Tuesday.
In response, a State Department statement late Tuesday said: “There seems to be some misunderstanding with regard to this matter. All information requested by the committee has been or is in the process of being provided.”
The statement added: “Blackwater has been informed that the State Department has no objection to it providing information to the committee. We have offered to make available for testimony those officials in the best position to respond to the specific issues the committee has raised.”
Blackwater, the private contractor that provides security for American diplomats in Baghdad, has come under intense scrutiny since a Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater guards in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed.
The American and Iraqi governments have said they are conducting a joint investigation, which infuriated many Iraqis who believe that American contractors are not held accountable for their actions in Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, citing Blackwater’s involvement in other violence, called for the company to be banned from working in Iraq. But the Bush administration has resisted such pressure.
The Blackwater shooting quickly came to be viewed as a test of the sovereignty of the Maliki government and of its ability to stand up to the Bush administration. Mr. Maliki met with President Bush in New York at the United Nations on Tuesday, and American aides said that the two discussed the Blackwater issue briefly. They said that Mr. Maliki discussed the matter more extensively in a meeting with Ms. Rice.
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From Prime to Subprime, America’s Home-Mortgage Meltdown Has Just Begun
Home sales, prices continue to fall: Sales of existing homes, depressed by turmoil in credit markets, fell for a sixth straight month in August, pushing activity to the lowest point in five years, an industry trade group said Tuesday. A separate report showed that t he nationwide decline in home prices accelerated in July, posting the steepest drop in 16 years.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
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Monday, September 24, 2007
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By Larry Pratt
September 22, 2007
Hundreds of thousands of veterans -- from Vietnam through Operation Iraqi Freedom -- are at risk of being banned from buying firearms if legislation that is pending in Congress gets enacted.
How? The Veterans Disarmament Act -- which has already passed the House -- would place any veteran who has ever been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the federal gun ban list.
This is exactly what President Bill Clinton did over seven years ago when his administration illegitimately added some 83,000 veterans into the National Criminal Information System (NICS system) -- prohibiting them from purchasing firearms, simply because of afflictions like PTSD.
The proposed ban is actually broader. Anyone who is diagnosed as being a tiny danger to himself or others would have his gun rights taken away ... forever. It is section 102(b)(1)(C)(iv) in HR 2640 that provides for dumping raw medical records into the system. Those names -- like the 83,000 records mentioned above -- will then, by law, serve as the basis for gun banning.
No wonder the Military Order of the Purple Heart is opposed to this legislation.
The House bill, HR 2640, is being sponsored by one of the most flaming anti-Second Amendment Representatives in Congress: Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). Another liberal anti-gunner, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
Proponents of the bill say that helpful amendments have been made so that any veteran who gets his name on the NICS list can seek an expungement.
But whenever you talk about expunging names from the Brady NICS system, you’re talking about a procedure that has always been a long shot. Right now, there are NO EXPUNGEMENTS of law-abiding Americans’ names that are taking place under federal level. Why? Because the expungement process which already exists has been blocked for over a decade by a "funds cut-off" engineered by another anti-gunner, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).
So how will this bill make things even worse? Well, two legal terms are radically redefined in the Veterans Disarmament Act to carry out this vicious attack on veterans’ gun rights.
One term relates to who is classified a "mental defective." Forty years ago that term meant one was adjudicated "not guilty" in a court of law by reason of insanity. But under the Veterans Disarmament Act, "mental defective" has been stretched to include anyone whom a psychiatrist determines might be a tiny danger to self or others.
The second term is "adjudicate." In the past, one could only lose one's gun rights through an adjudication by a judge, magistrate or court -- meaning conviction after a trial. Adjudication could only occur in a court with all the protections of due process, including the right to face one's accuser. Now, adjudication in HR 2640 would include a finding by "a court, commission, committee or other authorized person" (namely, a psychiatrist).
Forget the fact that people with PTSD have the same violent crime rate as the rest of us. Vietnam vets with PTSD have had careers and obtained permits to carry firearms concealed. It will now be enough for a psychiatric diagnosis (a "determination" in the language of the bill) to get a veteran barred for life from owning guns.
Think of what this bill would do to veterans. If a robber grabs your wallet and takes everything in it, but gives you back $5 to take the bus home, would you call that a financial enhancement? If not, then we should not let HR 2640 supporters call the permission to seek an expungement an enhancement, when prior to this bill, veterans could not legitimately be denied their gun rights after being diagnosed with PTSD.
Veterans with PTSD should not be put in a position to seek an expungement. They have not been convicted (after a trial with due process) of doing anything wrong. If a veteran is thought to be a threat to self or others, there should be a real trial, not an opinion (called a diagnosis) by a psychiatrist.
If members of Congress do not hear from soldiers (active duty and retired) in large numbers, along with the rest of the public, the Veterans Disarmament Act -- misleadingly titled by Rep. McCarthy as the NICS Improvement Amendments Act -- will send this message to veterans: "No good deed goes unpunished."
by Prof. Rodrigue Tremblay
The mismanagement of money and credit has led to financial explosions over the centuries. The causes, cures and consequences of such financial catastrophes are most often repetitive. Indeed, such financial collapses are usually the result of the unbridled greed and cupidity of financial operators and of the lack of necessary supervision by public institutions designed to protect the public and the common good. For example, after the October/November 1907 financial crisis in the United States, the idea initially advanced by banker Paul Warburg to establish a partially private and partially public Federal Reserve system of banking was finally adopted, in 1913. The Fed thus became the lender of last resort for banks that find themselves in an illiquid position. It is only after the stock market crash of 1929, however, that the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established, in 1934.
But even with institutions and regulations in place, when they are inoperative, corrupt or ill-adapted, financial crises can still occur. And the current financial crisis is there to remind us of this fact.
On September 18 (2007), the Fed showed some panic and announced a larger than expected half percentage point cut in both the Federal funds rate and in the discount rate , and this after having slashed its discount rate by a half point, on August 17, in order to facilitate borrowing by America's largest banks and to facilitate the bailout of their affiliates and other operators, such as hedge-funds, caught in the sub-prime loans crisis. In so doing, the Bernanke Fed is following Bagehot's advice for aggressive discounting in a situation of financial crisis. The only problem is that Bagehot's rule calls for the central bank to lend copiously in times of critical credit stringency ... but at a high rate of interest. By lending to troubled lenders at reduced preferential rates, the Fed is acting as their "government", i.e. subsidizing their risky loans operations and taxing anybody else who holds American dollars. It is not only attempting to make them more "liquid", but also more "solvable" and less likely to fail.
This raises three interesting questions. First, who pays for the bailout of U.S. financial institutions; second, what are the longer-run consequences of the massive bailout undertaken by the Fed; and third, why did the Fed let the financial situation deteriorate to such an extent that an entire sector of the economy is being clobbered and its collapse is threatening the whole economy.
First, we must consider that the U.S. dollar is still a key reserve currency, although loosing ground to the euro, and it is still being held in massive amounts by most central banks in their foreign reserves, and also by private banks, commercial and economic entities and individuals around the world. For example, in early 2007, foreign central banks alone held some two and a quarter trillion in U.S. dollars reserves, which represented about 66 percent of their total official foreign exchange reserves, with a bit more than 25 percent being held in euros.
Since the dollar is loosing its purchasing power, both in absolute and relative terms, central banks and other foreign investors have been "taxed" by the American Fed's policy of benign neglect regarding the dollar. In real terms, the seigneurage tax on foreign holders of the dollar can be measured by taking the difference between the annual rate of depreciation of the dollar vis-à-vis major convertible currencies and the short-term rate of interest on these reserves. For example, if the annual rate of depreciation of the dollar is five percent and the short-term rate of return on U.S. T-bills is four percent, central banks are loosing some $22.5 billion on a yearly basis. Since private foreigners hold more than two trillion in dollar denominated debt, the net annual loss of foreign holders of U.S. dollars can easily reach $50 billion a year. The conclusion is easy to see: Not only have foreigners been heavily financing the large U.S. government's deficits over the last six years, but they are now being called upon to help finance the generous bailout of American financial institutions.
Investors both abroad and in the U.S. know that official inflation figures are tilted on the low side for many people, essentially because they are designed to reduce the weight given in the indexes to goods and services whose prices increase the fastest, but also because housing costs and asset prices are only partly taken into consideration. This could explain why inflation expectations are on the rise, even though official inflation figures do not register an increase in inflation. Too much easy money as experienced over the last few years at first fuel asset inflation, but sooner or later it shows its ugly head in the prices of all commodities and in the prices of all goods and services. With the current drop of the dollar, Americans can be expected to pay more for a lot of items, such as fuel and food. This will translate to a lower standard of living.
Already, the price of gold, the price of oil and the prices of other commodities are on their way up and can serve as inflation bell-weathers. The behavior of long-term interest rates that incorporate inflation expectations is also a good indicator of future inflation. With the Fed printing money and increasing the money supply on a high scale as if it was dropping money from an helicopter, thus the nickname of Fed Chairman Ben "Helicopter" Bernanke, short term interest rates will drop for a while, but long term interest rates will be edging up, unless a deep recession steps in.
Secondly, a massive bailout as the Bernanke Fed has undertaken raises the question of moral hazard present in any massive central bank rescue intervention, after it has failed to properly regulate the risky activities of the banks it supervises. Indeed, by accepting mortgage-backed securities as collateral for huge more or less longer term loans to American banks and brokers, at reduced interest rates, the Fed is in effect rewarding the very institutions which acted the most irresponsibly over the last four or five years, while saving its own face for having failed in its regulatory mission. The message is loud and clear: American financial institutions can indulge in creating "innovative" risky artificial credit instruments, shifting the risks to unsuspecting borrowers and investors while reaping juicy fees and rewards, and when things turn sour, as can be expected, the Fed will come to their rescue and bail them out with cheap and extended loans. That is a good way to carelessly encourage a greedy and out-of-control financial institution to create successive disorderly and disruptive financial crises.
Indeed, the Bernanke Fed is presently taking the pain of the consequences away from financial institutions that acted irresponsibly, and for some, as former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has said, which have acted criminally. —This is a clear case of moral hazard.
If old regulations are not implemented or if no new regulations are put into place, such a massive bailout will insure that American financial institutions will continue in the future to pursue the fast buck in creating risky artificial capital, without due regard to the risks involved for small borrowers and small savers, while the Fed will take responsibility for shifting losses partly on itself but mainly to holders of American dollars. In effect, the Fed is suspending market discipline for the big financial players it puts under its protection, while letting market discipline crush small homeowners and small investors who bought now foreclosed houses on shaky mortgages or who invested their savings in fraudulent and risky collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). That is the net result of applying Bagehot's rule only in part.
The third question is why both the Greenspan and the Bernanke Fed did not remove the punch bowl of easy money and easy credit sooner when things began getting ugly in the sub-prime mortgage market during the 2003-2007 period. Why did they appear paralyzed and do nothing? Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has an easy and self-serving explanation. Before 2003, he was afraid of an onset of deflation and that is why the Fed brought its key lending rate to 1 percent (from June 2003 to June 2004) for only the second time in history. He also says that there were too much "global savings" around the world and that is what pushed interest rates down. This is a slight of hands explanation, because if globalization and global savings kept inflation low and term interest down, short term interest rates and money supply increases were under the Fed control at all times. The Fed had no obligation, after 2003, to keep real short term interest rates so negative for so long. Indeed, as the Bush administration was cutting tax rates to enhance its 2004 reelection prospects and was spending money like a drunken sailor in wars waged in remote lands, the Fed should have taken the contrary route to counterbalance the fiscal impetus this created for the macro economy. In other words, it should have taken the punch bowl away. —It did not.
As a consequence, mortgage debt as a percentage of disposable income in the U.S. is at the highest level it has been in seventy-five years, reaching 100 percent, while consumer debt has risen to its highest level in history. All this makes the economy more vulnerable than it has been since the 1929-39 depression. Another consequence of this binge of easy money has been the frenzy of leveraged buy-outs and industrial concentration that we have observed over the last few years.
Finally, let's put the cherry on the cake. Indeed, there is a most disturbing piece in former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's recent Memoirs (The Age of Turbulence) and in the explanations he gave in interviews granted to promote his book, and it is his confession that while he was acting chairman of the Fed he actively lobbied Vice President Dick Cheney for a U.S. attack on Iraq. [If this was the case, it was most inappropriate for a central banker to act this way, especially when he had other things to do than lobbying in favor of an illegal war. Does it mean that Mr. Greenspan was an active member of the pro-Israel Lobby within the U.S. government and joined the Wolfowitz-Feith-Abrams-Perle-Kissinger cabal? It would seem to me that such behavior would call for an investigation.
Indeed, to what extent was the pro-Israel Lobby responsible for the Iraq war and the deficits it generated? Already, polls indicate that forty percent of American voters believe the pro-Israel Lobby has been a key factor in going to war in Iraq and that it is now very active in promoting a new war against Iran. This figure is bound to rise as more and more people confront the facts behind this most disastrous and ill-conceived war. Indeed, how many wars can this lobby be allowed to engineer before being stopped? And, to what extent can the current financial turmoil in U.S. and world markets be traced back to the influence of this most corrosive lobby?