Thursday, February 17

The Job Deconstruction Act


Just when you think you've bottomed out on the level of cynicism it's possible to have toward Washington's constant kowtowing to the monied interests – along comes the "American Jobs Creation Act."

These days, whenever the White House and Congress put a positive-sounding title on a piece of legislation, you can bet that the law itself does the exact opposite of what the title so gloriously proclaims.

The American Jobs Creation Act, pushed by George W. and enacted last fall, does not create a single job. Instead, it's a massive, multibillion-dollar tax giveaway to global corporations. Through this law's "homeland investment" loophole, corporations operating abroad are allowed to have some $400 billion in foreign profits taxed at the bargain-basement rate of only 5.25%, rather than the normal rate of 35%.

To pass this gargantuan boondoggle for some of the richest corporations in the world, Bush and his congressional cohorts had to cloak it as an economic development program, promising that it would prompt a surge of new investments all across our land and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for U.S. workers.

They lied. Instead of building new factories or producing new products, thus creating new jobs, such corporations as Hewlett-Packard, Proctor & Gamble, Pfizer, GE, and ExxonMobil are using the billions they get from this tax windfall to buy out their competitors, shore up their bottom lines, or simply finance their existing operations.

For example, Hewlett-Packard, which lobbied heavily for the tax break, now says that far from hiring more workers, it plans to reduce its American workforce. Likewise, Oracle Corporation says it will use its windfall to help pay for its recent takeover of its rival, PeopleSoft – a takeover that will cut 5,000 jobs.

Beware of corporate thieves lurking behind noble-sounding legislative titles – the grander the title, the greater the theft.

Rumsfeld on the Run!

Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 14:43 GMT

'Arrest threat' to Rumsfeld trip

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
A group of US lawyers says Mr Rumsfeld is guilty of war crimes
The US defence secretary has said he is considering whether to attend a conference in Germany, where he may face arrest for war crimes.

Donald Rumsfeld is due to attend a gathering of high-level defence officials and experts next week.

But he says he has not yet decided whether or not to attend the conference in the German city of Munich.

US lawyers representing Iraqis who say they were abused in US custody have filed a complaint with a German court.

'War crimes'

"It's certainly an issue. It's something that we have to take into consideration," Mr Rumsfeld said on Thursday.

"Whether I'll end up there, we'll soon know. It'll be a week and we'll find out."

There is no mention of Mr Rumsfeld's attendance on the website for the conference, which runs from 11-13 February.

In a suit filed with German federal prosecutors, the New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights accuses Mr Rumsfeld of war crimes linked to the alleged abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib detention centre.

US investigations into the abuse scandal have concluded that he was not directly responsible.

The complaint was filed in Germany as its laws allow war crimes and human rights violations to be prosecuted across international boundaries.

The prosecutor's office has not taken any action on the complaint, filed last November.

The conference has not always been a welcome event for Mr Rumsfeld - in 2003, German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, publicly challenged Mr Rumsfeld's justifications for possible military action over Iraq, precipitating a deterioration in relations between the two nations.

Wednesday, February 16

How to lose (9) Billion Dollars - without really trying

Poor Oversight of Iraq Funds Blamed on Coalition Policy

By Elise Castelli, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Several key decisions by leaders in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq enabled contractors to bilk the authority out of billions in reconstruction funds, a witness told Democrats on Capitol Hill on Monday.

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee heard how understaffing and lack of security allowed contracts to go unsupervised and money to be transferred with little accounting along the way.

The hearing came just two weeks after an audit of the CPA by the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction found the agency had failed to provide proper oversight of ministry spending, issued unauthorized contracts and lost track of $9 billion in Iraqi funds.

Franklin Willis, a former senior aviation official for Iraq's Ministry of Transportation and Communication under the CPA, testified that many of the problems resulted from such CPA policies as the purging of Baath Party members from government and the disbanding of the Iraqi army, which contributed to the shortages of qualified workers in his department and others.

"The de-Baathification decision was simply too sweeping," said Willis, who was in Iraq from July to December 2003. "I think the sweeping elimination left us with third and fourth level of Iraqis in charge of running an operation and never having had that experience."

Willis said his ministry frequently operated for more than 15 hours a day with as few as 18 workers doing jobs set aside for 50, a problem mirrored in other parts of the authority.

"I'm 61 years old, and in that process I wore out, other people wore out," he said of a typical workday.

Several contracts, including one held by security firm Custer Battles, now under criminal investigation, were not properly overseen because of the understaffing, he said.

"One additional person would have saved us $4 million to $8 million on the Custer Battles contract," he said.

Willis also said the American overseers treated Iraqi money more casually than they did U.S. funds.

"We did have the mind-set that this was Iraqi money, the [Development Fund for Iraq] was Iraqi money, and though it may not be traced very well … at least it's the Iraqis handling their own money and it is getting to Iraqis in one form or fashion," Willis said.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the committee, said the situation was "like passing an ice cube around — by the time the person at the end of the line gets the ice cube, it's a radically different ice cube."

Willis also said the CPA did not allow supervisors like him to make decisions as simple as what floor of the airport to operate out of.

"The smallest decisions went forward to the front office where they waited for a decision, which at times required additional paperwork," he said. "Our system, as a British friend described to me, was constipated within three months."

L. Paul Bremer III, the former administrator of the authority, could not be reached for comment. But he has complained that critics assume "that Western-style budgeting and accounting procedures could be immediately and fully implemented in the midst of a war."

Army Lt. Col. Joseph Yoswa, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday: "The CPA was operating under extraordinary conditions from its inception to mission completement. Throughout, the CPA strived earnestly for sound management, transparency and oversight."

How not to Support the Troops

White House Turns Tables on Former American POWs
Gulf War pilots tortured by Iraqis fight the Bush administration in trying to collect compensation.
By David G. Savage
Times Staff Writer
February 15, 2005

WASHINGTON — The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by American pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And it has taken a strange twist.

The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The rationale: Today's Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government squarely against its own war heroes and the Geneva Convention.

Many of the pilots were tortured in the same Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers abused Iraqis 15 months ago. Those Iraqi victims, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said, deserve compensation from the United States.

But the American victims of Iraqi torturers are not entitled to similar payments from Iraq, the U.S. government says.

"It seems so strange to have our own country fighting us on this," said retired Air Force Col. David W. Eberly, the senior officer among the former POWs.

The case, now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, tests whether "state sponsors of terrorism" can be sued in the U.S. courts for torture, murder or hostage-taking. The court is expected to decide in the next two months whether to hear the appeal

Shooting from the hip

(CBS) A year ago, Paul O'Neill was fired from his job as George Bush's Treasury Secretary for disagreeing too many times with the president's policy on tax cuts.

Now, O'Neill - who is known for speaking his mind - talks for the first time about his two years inside the Bush administration. His story is the centerpiece of a new book being published this week about the way the Bush White House is run.

Entitled "The Price of Loyalty," the book by a former Wall Street Journal reporter draws on interviews with high-level officials who gave the author their personal accounts of meetings with the president, their notes and documents. [Simon and Schuster, the book's publisher, and, are both units of Viacom.]

But the main source of the book was Paul O'Neill. Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports.
Paul O'Neill says he is going public because he thinks the Bush Administration has been too secretive about how decisions have been made.

Will this be seen as a “kiss-and-tell" book?

“I've come to believe that people will say damn near anything, so I'm sure somebody will say all of that and more,” says O’Neill, who was George Bush's top economic policy official.

In the book, O’Neill says that the president did not make decisions in a methodical way: there was no free-flow of ideas or open debate.

At cabinet meetings, he says the president was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection," forcing top officials to act "on little more than hunches about what the president might think."

This is what O'Neill says happened at his first hour-long, one-on-one meeting with Mr. Bush: “I went in with a long list of things to talk about, and I thought to engage on and as the book says, I was surprised that it turned out me talking, and the president just listening … As I recall, it was mostly a monologue.”

He also says that President Bush was disengaged, at least on domestic issues, and that disturbed him. And he says that wasn't his experience when he worked as a top official under Presidents Nixon and Ford, or the way he ran things when he was chairman of Alcoa.

O'Neill readily agreed to tell his story to the book's author Ron Suskind – and he adds that he's taking no money for his part in the book.

Suskind says he interviewed hundreds of people for the book – including several cabinet members.

O'Neill is the only one who spoke on the record, but Suskind says that someone high up in the administration – Donald Rumsfeld - warned O’Neill not to do this book.

Was it a warning, or a threat?

“I don't think so. I think it was the White House concerned,” says Suskind. “Understandably, because O'Neill has spent extraordinary amounts of time with the president. They said, ‘This could really be the one moment where things are revealed.’"
Not only did O'Neill give Suskind his time, he gave him 19,000 internal documents.

“Everything's there: Memoranda to the President, handwritten "thank you" notes, 100-page documents. Stuff that's sensitive,” says Suskind, adding that in some cases, it included transcripts of private, high-level National Security Council meetings. “You don’t get higher than that.”

And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

“From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” says Suskind. “Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this,’" says O’Neill. “For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap.”

And that came up at this first meeting, says O’Neill, who adds that the discussion of Iraq continued at the next National Security Council meeting two days later.

He got briefing materials under this cover sheet. “There are memos. One of them marked, secret, says, ‘Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,’" adds Suskind, who says that they discussed an occupation of Iraq in January and February of 2001.
Based on his interviews with O'Neill and several other officials at the meetings, Suskind writes that the planning envisioned peacekeeping troops, war crimes tribunals, and even divvying up Iraq's oil wealth.

He obtained one Pentagon document, dated March 5, 2001, and entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts," which includes a map of potential areas for exploration.

“It talks about contractors around the world from, you know, 30-40 countries. And which ones have what intentions,” says Suskind. “On oil in Iraq.”

During the campaign, candidate Bush had criticized the Clinton-Gore Administration for being too interventionist: "If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I'm going to prevent that."

“The thing that's most surprising, I think, is how emphatically, from the very first, the administration had said ‘X’ during the campaign, but from the first day was often doing ‘Y,’” says Suskind. “Not just saying ‘Y,’ but actively moving toward the opposite of what they had said during the election.”

The president had promised to cut taxes, and he did. Within six months of taking office, he pushed a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts through Congress.

But O'Neill thought it should have been the end. After 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, the budget deficit was growing. So at a meeting with the vice president after the mid-term elections in 2002, Suskind writes that O'Neill argued against a second round of tax cuts.

“Cheney, at this moment, shows his hand,” says Suskind. “He says, ‘You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.’ … O'Neill is speechless.”

”It was not just about not wanting the tax cut. It was about how to use the nation's resources to improve the condition of our society,” says O’Neill. “And I thought the weight of working on Social Security and fundamental tax reform was a lot more important than a tax reduction.”

Did he think it was irresponsible? “Well, it's for sure not what I would have done,” says O’Neill.

The former treasury secretary accuses Vice President Dick Cheney of not being an honest broker, but, with a handful of others, part of "a praetorian guard that encircled the president" to block out contrary views. "This is the way Dick likes it," says O’Neill.
Meanwhile, the White House was losing patience with O'Neill. He was becoming known for a series of off-the-cuff remarks his critics called gaffes. One of them sent the dollar into a nosedive and required major damage control.

Twice during stock market meltdowns, O'Neill was not available to the president: He was out of the country - one time on a trip to Africa with the Irish rock star Bono.

“Africa made an enormous splash. It was like a road show,” says Suskind. “He comes back and the president says to him at a meeting, ‘You know, you're getting quite a cult following.’ And it clearly was not a joke. And it was not said in jest.”

Suskind writes that the relationship grew tenser and that the president even took a jab at O'Neill in public, at an economic forum in Texas.

The two men were never close. And O'Neill was not amused when Mr. Bush began calling him "The Big O." He thought the president's habit of giving people nicknames was a form of bullying. Everything came to a head for O'Neill at a November 2002 meeting at the White House of the economic team.

“It's a huge meeting. You got Dick Cheney from the, you know, secure location on the video. The President is there,” says Suskind, who was given a nearly verbatim transcript by someone who attended the meeting.

He says everyone expected Mr. Bush to rubber stamp the plan under discussion: a big new tax cut. But, according to Suskind, the president was perhaps having second thoughts about cutting taxes again, and was uncharacteristically engaged.

“He asks, ‘Haven't we already given money to rich people? This second tax cut's gonna do it again,’” says Suskind.

“He says, ‘Didn’t we already, why are we doing it again?’ Now, his advisers, they say, ‘Well Mr. President, the upper class, they're the entrepreneurs. That's the standard response.’ And the president kind of goes, ‘OK.’ That's their response. And then, he comes back to it again. ‘Well, shouldn't we be giving money to the middle, won't people be able to say, ‘You did it once, and then you did it twice, and what was it good for?’"

But according to the transcript, White House political advisor Karl Rove jumped in.

“Karl Rove is saying to the president, a kind of mantra. ‘Stick to principle. Stick to principle.’ He says it over and over again,” says Suskind. “Don’t waver.”

In the end, the president didn't. And nine days after that meeting in which O'Neill made it clear he could not publicly support another tax cut, the vice president called and asked him to resign.

With the deficit now climbing towards $400 billion, O'Neill maintains he was in the right.

But look at the economy today.

“Yes, well, in the last quarter the growth rate was 8.2 percent. It was terrific,” says O’Neill. “I think the tax cut made a difference. But without the tax cut, we would have had 6 percent real growth, and the prospect of dealing with transformation of Social Security and fundamentally fixing the tax system. And to me, those were compelling competitors for, against more tax cuts.”
While in the book O'Neill comes off as constantly appalled at Mr. Bush, he was surprised when Stahl told him she found his portrait of the president unflattering.

“Hmmm, you really think so,” asks O’Neill, who says he isn’t joking. “Well, I’ll be darned.”

“You're giving me the impression that you're just going to be stunned if they attack you for this book,” says Stahl to O’Neill. “And they're going to say, I predict, you know, it's sour grapes. He's getting back because he was fired.”
“I will be really disappointed if they react that way because I think they'll be hard put to,” says O’Neill.

Is he prepared for it?

“Well, I don't think I need to be because I can't imagine that I'm going to be attacked for telling the truth,” says O’Neill. “Why would I be attacked for telling the truth?”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the book on Friday and said "The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."

Monday, February 14

Balancing the Budget on the Backs of our Children

Published on Sunday, February 13, 2005 by
Bush's Hit List: Teens and Kids
by Laura Flanders

They call it Bush's budget, but a better word would be hit list. Who's on it? Teens and kids.

Bush's '06 budget calls for cuts in emergency medical services for children, cuts in K-12 education funding, cuts in vocational education and likely, Head Start. There are food-stamp cuts and a five-year freeze on child care. A $41 million college loan program is eliminated. The whole National Youth Sports Program, which has provided athletics for low income kids is cut, as in cut out.

Saturday's New York Times fronts a frightening story about a new aggressive strain of HIV that may relate to methamphetamine use. (The first case has shown up in a homosexual man who had a lot of unsafe sex on crystal meth.) What's on W's budget chopping block? Programs that combat meth use and unsafe sex. Bush's budget shrinks the methamephetamine "hot spots" program by 60 percent. It would zero out the Safe and Drug Free Schools program which provides money to reduce drug use and violence among youth.

John Walters, the President's top drug advisor said that Safe and Drug Free Schools "does not have demonstrable results." Producing no studies to back his allegations up, the President repeats that his administration's only cutting programs which are ineffective. He said again this week that his budget is all and only about results. But on the safe-sex front, one of the only domestic programs he's expanding has had no demonstrable impact, except of the negative sort.

In 2005, Congress appropriated about $130 million to sponsor "abstinence-only education." Instead of sex-ed, these Clinton-era programs are set on scaring kids off sex. On coming into office the Bush administration ended scientific-tracking of "abstinence only" and replaced tracking of pregnancy and other outcomes with assessments of students' "attitudes" towards sex instead. Congressman Henry Waxman looked at what taxpayers are paying for and found that the most-used curricula trade more in myth and ideology than science. A popular program "teaches" that half of all gay male teenagers in the US are HIV positive.

That's bunk. They've been "teaching" that touching a genitals can get girls pregnant. The result? Terrified, and dangerously misinformed kids.

Shelby Knox, from Lubbock, Texas lives in the STD capital of her state. It has the highest teen pregnancy rates, the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. "In 7th grade, we were given a love, sex and dating seminar," she told Air America Radio. "The pastor goes "sex is bad. Sexuality is bad. He insinuates that if you have sex before marriage you'll go to hell and if you masturbate, it'll turn you into a "selfish lover" and may cause your partner to commit suicide later in life." Because Knox's school depends on federal funds, teachers can't mention condoms - except to talk up failure rates - and they can't discuss birth control or safer sex. Sick or pregnant kids had no idea where to go for help until Knox started her own peer-group counseling service.

Knox's story (which is the subject of a PBS documentary to air this summer) is typical. An ongoing study by the Texas Dept of Health found that about 23 percent of 9th-grade girls had sex before experiencing the scare-kids-off sex program. After taking the course, 29 percent of girls in the same group said they had had sex. With boys in tenth grade the numbers went from 24 percent to 39 percent. Other studies have shown that the sex kids have after going through the program is more, not less likely to be unsafe.

Who's on the White House enemies list? Poor kids, and those who teach them athletics or talk to them about drugs or safer-sex. But the dangerous ideologues who are putting our youth in danger are thriving. "Abstinence education" is slated to receive $205.5 million in 06, an increase of nearly 25 percent.

Laura Flanders is host of The Laura Flanders Show heard weekends, on Air America Radio.