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Page   1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Washington - Page 35

"Treason doth never prosper: what 's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."
- Sir John Harrington

Things to Come

N. Y. Times – by Paul Krugman – March 19, 2003

(3/18/03) - Of course we'll win on the battlefield, probably with ease. I'm not a military expert, but I can do the numbers: the most recent U.S. military budget was $400 billion, while Iraq spent only $1.4 billion.

What frightens me is the aftermath — and I'm not just talking about the problems of postwar occupation. I'm worried about what will happen beyond Iraq — in the world at large, and here at home.

The members of the Bush team don't seem bothered by the enormous ill will they have generated in the rest of the world. They seem to believe that other countries will change their minds once they see cheering Iraqis welcome our troops, or that our bombs will shock and awe the whole world (not just the Iraqis) or that what the world thinks doesn't matter. They're wrong on all counts.

Victory in Iraq won't end the world's distrust of the United States because the Bush administration has made it clear, over and over again, that it doesn't play by the rules. Remember: this administration told Europe to take a hike on global warming, told Russia to take a hike on missile defense, told developing countries to take a hike on trade in lifesaving pharmaceuticals, told Mexico to take a hike on immigration, mortally insulted the Turks and pulled out of the International Criminal Court — all in just two years.

Nor, as we've just seen, is military power a substitute for trust. Apparently the Bush administration thought it could bully the U.N. Security Council into going along with its plans; it learned otherwise. "What can the Americans do to us?" one African official asked. "Are they going to bomb us? Invade us?"

Meanwhile, consider this: we need $400 billion a year of foreign investment to cover our trade deficit, or the dollar will plunge and our surging budget deficit will become much harder to finance — and there are already signs that the flow of foreign investment is drying up, just when it seems that America may be about to fight a whole series of wars.

It's a matter of public record that this war with Iraq is largely the brainchild of a group of neoconservative intellectuals, who view it as a pilot project. In August a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." In February 2003, according to Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, Under Secretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq the United States would "deal with" Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Will Iraq really be the first of many? It seems all too likely — and not only because the "Bush doctrine" seems to call for a series of wars. Regimes that have been targeted, or think they may have been targeted, aren't likely to sit quietly and wait their turn: they're going to arm themselves to the teeth, and perhaps strike first. People who really know what they are talking about have the heebie-jeebies over North Korea's nuclear program, and view war on the Korean peninsula as something that could happen at any moment. And at the rate things are going, it seems we will fight that war, or the war with Iran, or both at once, all by ourselves.

What scares me most, however, is the home front. Look at how this war happened. There is a case for getting tough with Iraq; bear in mind that an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998. But it's not a case that the Bush administration ever made. Instead we got assertions about a nuclear program that turned out to be based on flawed or faked evidence; we got assertions about a link to Al Qaeda that people inside the intelligence services regard as nonsense. Yet those serial embarrassments went almost unreported by our domestic news media. So most Americans have no idea why the rest of the world doesn't trust the Bush administration's motives. And once the shooting starts, the already loud chorus that denounces any criticism as unpatriotic will become deafening.

So now the administration knows that it can make unsubstantiated claims, without paying a price when those claims prove false, and that saber rattling gains it votes and silences opposition. Maybe it will honorably refuse to act on this dangerous knowledge. But I can't help worrying that in domestic politics, as in foreign policy, this war will turn out to have been the shape of things to come.

Is Bush A 'Dry Drunk'?

San Francisco Chronicle – by Harley Sorensen – March 18, 2003

(3/17/03) - What if we elected a crazy man as president? Or what if we elected a sane president who then went crazy? How would we handle it?

I am not now suggesting that President George W. Bush is even a little bit crazy. I do believe his judgment is flawed, but that's a matter of opinion. I could be wrong. It could be that my judgment, not his, is flawed.

The 25th Amendment, passed and ratified in the mid-1960s, attempts to deal with the problem of a disabled president. In the case of physical disabilities, there seems to be not much of a problem. But how about mental disabilities?

It gets a bit complicated. If I read the amendment right, it appears a majority of the president's Cabinet can decide their boss is mentally unfit, and then the vice president takes over.

But wait! If that happens, the president can insist in writing that he's as sane as Antonin Scalia, and he's back on the job.

Not necessarily for long, however, because then the issue can get thrown to Congress, which, by a two-thirds majority, can kick the allegedly deranged president out of office.

Thank goodness no psychiatrists are involved in this process, but even without them stirring up the pot, you can see what a mess it would be if our president flipped out.

Unfortunately, mental illness is not always obvious.

I've seen slobbering nutcases carry on long conversations with street signs, and I've known well-dressed paranoid schizophrenics who are intelligent, well spoken and very persuasive.

George W. Bush's apparent obsession with Saddam Hussein actually has the appearance of paranoid schizophrenia: the fear that someone is out to get us (paranoia) and the belief that only we can save the world (grandiosity).

But Bush's beliefs wander into dangerous mental territory only if they're wrong. If he's right about the danger presented by Saddam and our role in ending that danger, then he's perfectly rational.

Even if he's wrong, that doesn't make him mentally ill. If he's wrong, his error could simply be an honest mistake.

We're swimming in murky waters here.

Bush's victory over alcoholism is a big plus for him. In my book, anybody who overcomes any addiction deserves recognition and praise.

But there is sometimes a down side to winning such a victory: the tendency to take on a holier-than-thou attitude and to denigrate others who don't demonstrate the same apparent strength of character.

(I'm a reformed smoker myself, but I don't take any particular credit for it. The credit belongs to a Mayo Clinic doctor, who told me in no uncertain terms what my future held if I didn't quit right away. Fear, not character, motivated me.)

Bush appears to me to have a bit of that attitude. In fact, Bush appears to have many of the characteristics of what Alcoholics Anonymous members call a dry drunk.

A dry drunk, in simplest terms, is someone who doesn't drink but still retains many of the characteristics of a drinking alcoholic.

One can argue over what those characteristics are, but I like the list I found in a Counterpunch article about the possibility that Bush is a dry drunk: exaggerated self-importance and pomposity, grandiose behavior, a rigid, judgmental outlook, impatience, childish behavior, irresponsible behavior, irrational rationalization, projection and overreaction.

Now, if you're a rabid conservative, the kind who called Bill Clinton a sex maniac and a rapist, you'll accuse me now of not showing proper respect for the office of the presidency.

OK, so I don't have much respect for offices -- but that doesn't change the fact that George W. Bush seems to have every one of the characteristics attributed to dry drunks.

Last Friday, for a recent example, he confidently announced a new peace plan he wants to impose on Israel and its Palestinian minority. Coming on the eve of a war instigated in large part by the Arab world's disdain for Israel's treatment of Palestinians and America's unquestioning support of Israel, Bush's road map to peace pretty much fits the description of childish behavior.

To suggest, as Bush did, that one of the requirements for success is for the Palestinians to cease terrorist activity (suicide bombings in Israeli neighborhoods) is ludicrous as well as childish. It's like making a requirement that crime be abolished. There is no way the Palestinians can control all the criminals within their community.

It ain't gonna happen, folks. The bombings might stop someday, but not before the Israelis make some serious concessions. And, with Ariel Sharon as their leader, that's not likely to happen, either.

And then Bush jetted off to the Azores for a top-level conference with our valuable allies, the Spanish.

Say what? With his administration in disarray, with his attempt to manipulate the United Nations in shambles, Bush runs off to Spain in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a victory in the United Nations?

I'm not sure which of the dry-drunk symptoms comes into play here. It may be all of them.

Bush's toying with the U.N. is a good example of dry-drunk behavior. If a U.N. resolution goes his way, he's very precise in saying that the United States is acting in accord with international law. If a U.N. resolution does not go his way, he simply dismisses the U.N. as ineffective and does what he meant to do all along.

I'm not prepared to say with finality that Bush is a dry drunk. But, if he is, is that sufficient grounds to dust off the 25th Amendment and see how it works?

Trying to dislodge Bush from office would be chaotic, but it's fair to ask if it would be any more chaotic than the messes he is so busy creating.

Lawmakers Object To Pension Rules

Dow Jones – by Jennifer Corbett Dooren – March 17, 2003

WASHINGTON -- A group of 24 House and Senate Democrats sent a comment letter to the Treasury Department Friday outlining their objections to proposed rules designed to make it easier for companies to convert traditional pension plans into "cash-balance" pension plans.

The lawmakers, led by Rep. George Miller, of California, the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, wrote that they "strongly urge the Department of Treasury to withdraw its proposed regulations pertaining to cash-balance plans."

Treasury proposed its rules in December and a public hearing on the issue is to be held next month.

Miller said that changing to cash-balance plans could cause older workers' pension benefits to be cut by as much as half.

Under a traditional pension , workers' benefits are based on a combination of pay and years with a company. The amount of money a person qualifies for under such a pension usually sharply increases toward the end of a person's career.

Under a cash-balance pension plan, benefits accrue evenly through a person's career, which makes the plans more attractive to younger workers. Both types of pensions differ from 401(k) accounts, which are known as defined-contribution plans.

During the 1990s, several companies, such as International Business Machines Corp., converted their defined-benefit plans into cash-balance plans, prompting the outcry of older workers who charged the change violated age-discrimination laws.

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service stopped sanctioning the switch to cash-balance plans until it puts rules into place governing the switch from a traditional pension to a cash-balance plan.

Other entities are also objecting to the proposed rules, but for different reasons. This week a group of more than 50 companies, including Caterpillar Inc., Dow Chemical Co., Hughes Electronics Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. formed a coalition to fight the proposed rules.

The firms object to a formula aimed at preventing age discrimination. They argue the formula would have to be applied to all types of pension plans, not just cash-balance plans.

The American Benefits Council, a Washington-based organization, said while the proposed rules "are an important first step," the rules, "place undue restrictions on employers attempting a conversion to a cash balance plan."

Tax Cut Unfairly Benefits Rich

Bloomberg News – by William Roberts, Jeff Bliss – March 17, 2003

Washington, March 13 (Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett told Senate Democrats that President George W. Bush's proposal to eliminate taxes on dividends would unfairly benefit the rich, senators said after meeting with the billionaire investor.

Getting rid of the dividend tax, the centerpiece of Bush's $726 billion tax-cut proposal, would slice the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chairman's annual federal tax bill by $300 million, and Buffet said that would mean he would pay proportionately less in taxes than his secretary, according to lawmakers at the meeting.

``His view is the allocation of the cost of government needs to be fair and equitable,'' said Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who listened to Buffett speak at a regular Thursday lunch by the Democratic Policy Committee.

Buffett, 71, didn't make any public comments and the luncheon was closed to the media.

Bush faces growing reluctance in Congress to pass a tax cut of the size he is proposing as the U.S. prepares for a war in Iraq, and forecasts show the federal budget deficit ballooning. Opposition, which includes most Democrats and some Senate Republicans, is focused on the dividend tax repeal.

Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey quoted Buffett as saying, ``We may be having class warfare, but my class won.''

With a net worth of $30.5 billion, Buffett is the second wealthiest man in the world after Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, according to Forbes magazine.


Forty-nine percent of the benefits of eliminating the dividend tax would go to those with incomes in the top 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, an independent research group that advocates for fairness in tax policy.

Average dividend tax cuts would be $11,500 for the top 1 percent of taxpayers -- people earning more than $374,000. The remaining 99 percent of taxpayers would receive average benefits of $1,232 to $1.

Buffett told senators he currently pays taxes at the same rate as his office secretary. He said if Congress passed Bush's dividend tax cut, his tax rate would be a small fraction of hers, senators said.

``He thinks the most important thing for business is to be fair to working people, people in the middle class,'' said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat. ``The last thing we need is a tax cut for the wealthy.''

Treasury Secretary John Snow and Commerce Secretary Don Evans are meeting this week with senators to try to persuade them to support Bush's tax cut.

Republican senators such as Susan Collins of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio expressed reservations about the tax plan after a Congressional Budget Office forecast that the federal budget will run deficits over the next decade totaling $1.8 trillion.

The dividend proposal is the biggest component of the tax cut plan, costing $396 billion over 10 years, according to estimates by the Joint Tax Committee of Congress.

Bush also proposes accelerating income tax cuts slated to take effect in 2004, 2006 and 2009, and allowing small businesses to write off more expenses.

John Edwards Booed Over War

Associated Press – by Erica Werner – March 16, 2003

SACRAMENTO - California Democratic activists booed Sen. John Edwards Saturday as he pledged support for disarming Iraq by force, and greeted anti-war statements by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean with wild applause.

"I believe that Saddam Hussein is a serious threat, and I believe he must be disarmed including the use of military force if necessary," Edwards, D-N.C., told delegates to the annual California Democratic Party convention.

The crowed booed loudly and briefly interrupted his remarks with cries of "No war! No war!"

Hours later Dean issued an apparent challenge to Edwards and other Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who voted for last fall's congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

"What I want to know is what in the world some of these Democrats are doing supporting the president's unilateral intervention in Iraq," he said to sustained applause.

"We want Dean! We want Dean!" the crowd shouted.

Meanwhile some 400 anti-war activists rallied a few blocks away, then marched chanting and shouting to the Sacramento Convention Center.

"The candidates know that to be successful they need California and to be successful here, a pro-peace platform is mandatory," said protester Chris Dunn of California Peace Action.

The responses illustrated a split party as core Democrats largely oppose President Bush on the war and disagree with some of the more prominent presidential hopefuls.

That's given a boost to anti-war candidates like Dean and civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who was speaking later Saturday, while making it harder for Kerry, Edwards and others to get activists enthused. But some analysts believe an anti-war candidate would have trouble beating Bush.

"Clearly Howard Dean gave this crowd red meat. Edwards did not," said University of Southern California political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, who attended the convention.

"This just gives me an indication as to the very difficult obstacle course the Democrats may face because of the war," she said.

Edwards approached the Iraq issue carefully as he addressed the convention hall filled with some 1,800 Democratic activists.

"It is also a test of presidential leadership to have the backbone to say to those who strongly disagree with you, even your friends, what you believe," he said before expressing support for force in Iraq.

Kerry expressed more ambivalence than Edwards when he addressed delegates Friday night and there were only scattered anti-war shouts from the crowd.

"The United States of America needs to be serious about how to deal with the issue of proliferation. But the United States of America in the conduct of that use of potential force needs to respect international institutions," he said.

The candidates devoted much of their time to attacking Bush's domestic agenda, and there they agreed. They said Bush's policies had favored the rich and created deficits, and they accused him of failing to deliver on education, health care and the environment.

Republicans brushed aside the criticism.

"It's clear that they're pandering to the liberal base of the Democratic Party and it's a message that is not going to resonate with mainstream American voters, the vast majority of whom support the president and his policies both domestic and foreign," said Karen Hanretty, spokeswoman for the California Republican Party.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun were to address delegates Sunday. The three presidential hopefuls who did not attend the convention are Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida, and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri.

Lieberman and Gephardt cited schedule conflicts while Graham is recuperating from heart surgery.

The Bush Mutiny

N. Y. Times – by Paul Krugman – March 15, 2003

(3/14/03) - Aboard the U.S.S. Caine, it was the business with the strawberries that finally convinced the doubters that something was amiss with the captain. Is foreign policy George W. Bush's quart of strawberries?

Over the past few weeks there has been an epidemic of epiphanies. There's a long list of pundits who previously supported Bush's policy on Iraq but have publicly changed their minds. None of them quarrel with the goal; who wouldn't want to see Saddam Hussein overthrown? But they are finally realizing that Mr. Bush is the wrong man to do the job. And more people than you would think — including a fair number of people in the Treasury Department, the State Department and, yes, the Pentagon — don't just question the competence of Mr. Bush and his inner circle; they believe that America's leadership has lost touch with reality.

If that sounds harsh, consider the debacle of recent diplomacy — a debacle brought on by awesome arrogance and a vastly inflated sense of self-importance.

Mr. Bush's inner circle seems amazed that the tactics that work so well on journalists and Democrats don't work on the rest of the world. They've made promises, oblivious to the fact that most countries don't trust their word. They've made threats. They've done the aura-of-inevitability thing — how many times now have administration officials claimed to have lined up the necessary votes in the Security Council? They've warned other countries that if they oppose America's will they are objectively pro-terrorist. Yet still the world balks.

Wasn't someone at the State Department allowed to point out that in matters nonmilitary, the U.S. isn't all that dominant — that Russia and Turkey need the European market more than they need ours, that Europe gives more than twice as much foreign aid as we do and that in much of the world public opinion matters? Apparently not.

And to what end has Mr. Bush alienated all our most valuable allies? (And I mean all: Tony Blair may be with us, but British public opinion is now virulently anti-Bush.) The original reasons given for making Iraq an immediate priority have collapsed. No evidence has ever surfaced of the supposed link with Al Qaeda, or of an active nuclear program. And the administration's eagerness to believe that an Iraqi nuclear program does exist has led to a series of embarrassing debacles, capped by the case of the forged Niger papers, which supposedly supported that claim. At this point it is clear that deposing Saddam has become an obsession, detached from any real rationale.

What really has the insiders panicked, however, is the irresponsibility of Mr. Bush and his team, their almost childish unwillingness to face up to problems that they don't feel like dealing with right now.

I've talked in this column about the administration's eerie passivity in the face of a stalling economy and an exploding budget deficit: reality isn't allowed to intrude on the obsession with long-run tax cuts. That same "don't bother me, I'm busy" attitude is driving foreign policy experts, inside and outside the government, to despair.

Need I point out that North Korea, not Iraq, is the clear and present danger? Kim Jong Il's nuclear program isn't a rumor or a forgery; it's an incipient bomb assembly line. Yet the administration insists that it's a mere "regional" crisis, and refuses even to talk to Mr. Kim.

The Nelson Report, an influential foreign policy newsletter, says: "It would be difficult to exaggerate the growing mixture of anger, despair, disgust and fear actuating the foreign policy community in Washington as the attack on Iraq moves closer, and the North Korea crisis festers with no coherent U.S. policy. . . . We are at the point now where foreign policy generally, and Korea policy specifically, may become George Bush's `Waco.' . . . This time, it's Kim Jong Il (and Saddam) playing David Koresh. . . . Sober minds wrestle with how to break into the mind of George Bush."

We all hope that the war with Iraq is a swift victory, with a minimum of civilian casualties. But more and more people now realize that even if all goes well at first, it will have been the wrong war, fought for the wrong reasons — and there will be a heavy price to pay.

Alas, the epiphanies of the pundits have almost surely come too late. The odds are that by the time you read my next column, the war will already have started.

A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making

N. Y. Times – by Roger Morris – March 15, 2003

(3/14/03) - SEATTLE — On the brink of war, both supporters and critics of United States policy on Iraq agree on the origins, at least, of the haunted relations that have brought us to this pass: America's dealings with Saddam Hussein, justifiable or not, began some two decades ago with its shadowy, expedient support of his regime in the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980's.

Both sides are mistaken. Washington's policy traces an even longer, more shrouded and fateful history. Forty years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency, under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi leader seen as a grave threat in 1963 was Abdel Karim Kassem, a general who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. Washington's role in the coup went unreported at the time and has been little noted since. America's anti-Kassem intrigue has been widely substantiated, however, in disclosures by the Senate Committee on Intelligence and in the work of journalists and historians like David Wise, an authority on the C.I.A.

From 1958 to 1960, despite Kassem's harsh repression, the Eisenhower administration abided him as a counter to Washington's Arab nemesis of the era, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt — much as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush would aid Saddam Hussein in the 1980's against the common foe of Iran. By 1961, the Kassem regime had grown more assertive. Seeking new arms rivaling Israel's arsenal, threatening Western oil interests, resuming his country's old quarrel with Kuwait, talking openly of challenging the dominance of America in the Middle East — all steps Saddam Hussein was to repeat in some form — Kassem was regarded by Washington as a dangerous leader who must be removed.

In 1963 Britain and Israel backed American intervention in Iraq, while other United States allies — chiefly France and Germany — resisted. But without significant opposition within the government, Kennedy, like President Bush today, pressed on. In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad, American agents marshaled opponents of the Iraqi regime. Washington set up a base of operations in Kuwait, intercepting Iraqi communications and radioing orders to rebels. The United States armed Kurdish insurgents. The C.I.A.'s "Health Alteration Committee," as it was tactfully called, sent Kassem a monogrammed, poisoned handkerchief, though the potentially lethal gift either failed to work or never reached its victim.

Then, on Feb. 8, 1963, the conspirators staged a coup in Baghdad. For a time the government held out, but eventually Kassem gave up, and after a swift trial was shot; his body was later shown on Baghdad television. Washington immediately befriended the successor regime. "Almost certainly a gain for our side," Robert Komer, a National Security Council aide, wrote to Kennedy the day of the takeover.

As its instrument the C.I.A. had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the C.I.A. in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Kassem in 1958.

According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the C.I.A., the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq's educated elite — killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. No one knows the exact toll, but accounts agree that the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures.

The United States also sent arms to the new regime, weapons later used against the same Kurdish insurgents the United States had backed against Kassem and then abandoned. Soon, Western corporations like Mobil, Bechtel and British Petroleum were doing business with Baghdad — for American firms, their first major involvement in Iraq.

But it wasn't long before there was infighting among Iraq's new rulers. In 1968, after yet another coup, the Baathist general Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr seized control, bringing to the threshold of power his kinsman, Saddam Hussein. Again, this coup, amid more factional violence, came with C.I.A. backing. Serving on the staff of the National Security Council under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the late 1960's, I often heard C.I.A. officers — including Archibald Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a ranking C.I.A. official for the Near East and Africa at the time — speak openly about their close relations with the Iraqi Baathists.

This history is known to many in the Middle East and Europe, though few Americans are acquainted with it, much less understand it. Yet these interventions help explain why United States policy is viewed with some cynicism abroad. George W. Bush is not the first American president to seek regime change in Iraq. Mr. Bush and his advisers are following a familiar pattern.

The Kassem episode raises questions about the war at hand. In the last half century, regime change in Iraq has been accompanied by bloody reprisals. How fierce, then, may be the resistance of hundreds of officers, scientists and others identified with Saddam Hussein's long rule? Why should they believe America and its latest Iraqi clients will act more wisely, or less vengefully, now than in the past?

If a new war in Iraq seems fraught with danger and uncertainty, just wait for the peace.

Roger Morris, author of "Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician," is completing a book about United States covert policy in Central and South Asia.

Senator Seeks FBI Probe of Iraq Documents

Associated Press – by Ken Guggenheim – March 15, 2003

WASHINGTON - The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI on Friday to investigate forged documents the Bush administration used as evidence against Saddam Hussein and his military ambitions in Iraq.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said he was uneasy about a possible campaign to deceive the public about the status of Iraq's nuclear program.

An investigation should "at a minimum help to allay any concerns" that the government was involved in the creation of the documents to build support for administration policies, Rockefeller wrote in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has denied the U.S. government had any hand in creating the false documents.

"It came from other sources," Powell told a House committee Thursday. "We were aware of this piece of evidence, and it was provided in good faith to the inspectors."

Rockefeller asked the FBI to determine the source of the documents, the sophistication of the forgeries, the motivation of those responsible, why intelligence agencies didn't recognize them as forgeries and whether they are part of a larger disinformation campaign.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The documents indicated that Iraq tried to by uranium from Niger, the West African nation that is the third-largest producer of mined uranium, Niger's largest export. The documents had been provided to U.S. officials by a third country, which has not been identified.

A U.S. government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was unclear who first created the documents. The official said American suspicions remain about an Iraq-Niger uranium connection because of other, still-credible evidence that the official refused to specify.

In December, the State Department used the information to support its case that Iraq was lying about its weapons programs. But on March 7, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the U.N. Security Council that the documents were forgeries.

Rockefeller said U.S. worries about Iraqi nuclear weapons were not based primarily on the documents, but "there is a possibility that the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq."

At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Thursday, Powell said the State Department had not participated "any way in any falsification."

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the committee's top Democrat, noted a Washington Post report that said a foreign government might have been conducting a deception campaign to win support for military action against Iraq. When Obey asked Powell if he could say which country that was, Powell replied, "I can't with confidence."

The Niger documents marked the second time that ElBaradei has challenged evidence presented by the United States meant to illustrate Iraq's nuclear weapons program. He also rejected the U.S. position that aluminum tubes imported by Iraq were intended to make nuclear bombs.

ElBaradei has said his inspectors have found no evidence that Saddam has revived its nuclear weapons program.

House Commits Malpractice Against Victims

Public Citizen - Joan Claybrook - March 14, 2003

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on House Passage of Medical Malpractice Legislation, H.R. 5

The House has committed a horrendous act of cruelty and injustice against innocent victims of medical negligence and their families. This legislation will do little or nothing to slow the increases in malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, because it is clear from all available evidence that insurance company pricing policies, not damage awards, are the cause of premium hikes. The bill's $250,000 cap on pain-and-suffering damages will do nothing more than punish those who have been paralyzed, blinded, brain-damaged or otherwise horribly injured – all for the sake of more profits for insurers. It will discriminate against children, seniors, homemakers and others who have little or no lost wages to recover. It will keep legitimate cases out of court, because of new limits on the time to file cases and because potential jury awards won't, in many cases, be worth the considerable costs of bringing a case against wealthy insurance companies.

This bill is an affront to the American public and a reward to big corporations for their financial support of many members of Congress. It was sold as a measure to help doctors struggling to pay their malpractice premiums. But while it does nothing to lower premiums, it does shield big HMOs, drug companies, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care-related companies from full accountability for even the most egregious and negligent acts. Its cap on non-economic damages and punitive damages will mean that HMOs and drug makers can harm consumers with virtual impunity because they will know that if they are caught in a wrongful act, they will receive only modest punishment compared to the damages they inflict.

The real problem is an epidemic of preventable medical errors, which kill up to 100,000 people each year and injure hundreds of thousands more. Most malpractice is caused by just a small number of doctors – five percent of doctors are responsible for more than half of all malpractice payments. Most victims never even file a lawsuit.

This bill devalues the lives and lost opportunities of patients who do not earn big paychecks. Under this bill, the life of Jesica Santillan, who died after receiving a heart and lung of the wrong blood type, would be worth, at most, $250,000. But the life of a highly paid CEO of a major insurance company would be worth tens of millions of dollars. Is this the type of justice we want for America?

Why Doesn’t Congress Want a C-B Pension?

Congressman Sanders - – March 11, 2003

Vermont Independent asks why these cash balance boosters don't want it themselves

(3/10/03) - Washington, DC - Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) today unveiled a report based on calculations by the Congressional Research Service that Sanders requested. The results reveal that key supporters of controversial cash balance pension plans, which in many cases cut older workers' pensions by up to 50%, would see a massive reduction in their pensions if they had cash balance pension plans instead of the traditional defined benefit pensions that Congress currently has. Sanders said the results show the hypocrisy of those who want to help companies push cash balance plans onto their workers.

Sanders said, "Here we have computations done by the Congressional Research Service that show that strong supporters of cash balance plans would suffer a significant pension loss if they had a cash balance plan instead of the traditional defined benefit plan they do have. I have a simple question. If Congressional leaders are prepared to push millions of American workers into cash balance plans, and substantially lower their retirement benefits, why don't they convert their own pensions into the cash balance approach? The truth is that cash balance conversions are devastating for workers, particularly older workers. That's why I'll be introducing legislation that would require that companies converting to cash balance plans offer their workers the choice to remain in the traditional defined benefit plan."

Sanders requested the information from CRS in response to pending Bush Administration regulations that would legitimize companies' use of cash balance plans. Since September 1999, the IRS has refused to approve conversions to cash balance plans due to concerns that the plans violate federal age discrimination law. The federal General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that prior to the IRS freeze eight million American workers had their pensions converted to these controversial schemes. Workers who had their pensions converted have seen the future value of their pension benefits cut by up to 50%, with older workers being hurt the worst. If the Bush regulations go into effect, hundreds of more companies are expected to raid their employees' pension plan by converting to a cash balance plan.

Even though the evidence of the harm done by cash balance plans has mounted, leading members of the House and Senate have refused to protect Americans' pensions. Sanders said he hoped that the information in his report might spur the House and Senate leadership to act.

Sanders said, "In many instances, companies use cash balance plans to substantially lower the retirement benefits that were promised to their employees. Cash balance plans are bad for American workers and bad for members of Congress. Congress must act now to prevent millions of American workers from seeing major reductions in the pensions they had been promised. They must oppose the Bush proposal."

Brother Blasts Rep. Cass Ballenger

The Charlotte Observer – Letter to the editor – March 8, 2003

(3/7/03) - Observer forum: Stem cell research: My brother is wrong

In response to "Kept safe from cures" (March 5 Viewpoint): My brother [Rep. Cass Ballenger] voted for the bill banning any aspect of stem cell research. His 46-year-old nephew, my son, has Parkinson's. I was so mad I could spit and I wanted to respond but didn't know how. Thanks, Ellen Goodman -- I've asked my senators to read your column and to permit research, not cloning babies.

Bruce Ballenger


Previous Cass Ballenger article:

Cass Ballenger: ‘Big Mouth of the Year’

New Energy Laws Introduced

Dow Jones – March 6, 2003

(3/4/03) - LOS ANGELES - (Dow Jones) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators Tuesday introduced legislation to beef up federal oversight of energy markets in the wake of the Western energy crisis, said U.S Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on a conference call with reporters.

The Energy Market Oversight Act would restore the Commodities Future Trading Commission's authority over online and bilateral energy trades and give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more power to investigate and punish potential market manipulation, Feinstein said.

"We want to close a loophole that allows online and bilateral trades to take place in secret with no federal oversight to guard against fraud and manipulation," Feinstein said. "This legislation also gives FERC greater authority to investigate fraud and price manipulation."

The loophole refers to the 2000 Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which exempts online and bilateral energy and metals trading from regulatory oversight, Feinstein said.

The legislation was introduced Tuesday by Feinstein, Peter Fitzgerald, R-IL; Richard Lugar, R-IN; Maria Cantwell, D-WA; Ron Wyden, D-OR; and Patrick Leahy, D-VT.

The measure would require energy firms to maintain sufficient capital to cover trades; increase reporting, bookkeeping and other transparency requirements; and prohibit wash trades.

Wash trades, which involve offsetting positions with the same counterparty, boost volume and revenue but serve no other purpose. Such trades would be subject to civil penalties and up to 10 years imprisonment for each violation, Feinstein said.

The measure would also increase jail time to five years from two years for violating the Federal Power Act and Natural Gas Act, as well as increase fines to $1 million from $5,000 per violation.

The measure would allow FERC to fine companies that don't comply with information requests; to launch an investigation into more than 10 companies without obtaining approval from the Office of Management and Budget; and to more easily hire accountants, lawyers and investigators for inquiries, Feinstein said. FERC's authority to impose civil penalties would increase to $1 million from $100,000, with fines of $10,000 to $50,000 per violation per day, she said.

The measure targets allegations that energy firms used manipulative trading strategies and excessive market power to drive up energy prices in the West in 2000-2001. The Western energy crisis led to blackouts and utility insolvency.

Similar legislation was debated last session, but "time ran out" before it could be approved, Feinstein said.

'Virtual March' Over Iraq

BBC News – February 28, 2003

(2/26/03) - Thousands of anti-war activists have been bombarding the White House and senators with phone calls and e-mails in a virtual protest over the Iraq crisis.

Backed by a number of celebrities, volunteers jammed switchboards in Washington DC in an effort to force US politicians to think again over the prospect of war in the Gulf.

Organisers online democracy group MoveOn say more than 250,000 people signed up to take part in the protest and that many more joined in during Wednesday.

Celebrity backers - from the Artists United to Win Without War - include veteran activist Martin Sheen, Matt Damon and Susan Sarandon.

BBC News Online tried calling the White House "comments" line and the numbers of more than a dozen senators without success.

Those volunteers who did get through expressed their irritation that the US was not allowing UN inspectors more time to do their work in the Gulf state.

Eli Pariser, international campaign director, told BBC News Online the response to the protest had been "extraordinary" from people all over the US.

"If we were to have done a normal march, there a lot of people in the likes of Kansas or North Dakota who couldn't have made it."

As well as organising the virtual march, MoveOn has paid for a US television advert suggesting that the end result of war in Iraq could be nuclear war.

One of the other stars joining the protest was James Cromwell, who played the US president in nuclear thriller The Sum of All Fears.

The Babe and LA Confidential star said: "This gives ordinary Americans an opportunity to express their protests that there are other policies that this administration could pursue to get Saddam Hussein."

Fellow character actor Tony Shalhoub, who has appeared in both Men in Black films and the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, has also lent support.

He said: "We are asking people to call, fax or e-mail the US Senate or the White House.

"We need to be courageous and voice our opinion and that is why we are here and that is... [what the] virtual march in Washington is all about."

One ordinary activist taking part, Justin Laughlin, a manager at a telephone company in Florida, said he had not been able to get through to either of his senators or to the White House despite repeated efforts.

Saying all of his friends wanted more time for inspections, he added: "There has got to be another alternative to war.

"This is the first time I've felt such strong betrayal by my government."

Iraq Bottom Line: It's The Bottom Line – by Arianna Huffington – February 22, 2003

(2/19/03) - Boys, boys, you're all right. Sure, it's Daddy, oil and imperialism, not to mention a messianic sense of righteous purpose, a deep-seated contempt for the peace movement, and, to be fair, the irrefutable fact that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

But there's also an overarching mentality feeding the administration's collective delusions, and it can be found by looking to corporate America's bottom line. The dots leading from Wall Street to the West Wing situation room are the ones that need connecting. There's money to be made in post-war Iraq, and the sooner we get the pesky war over with, the sooner we (by which I mean George Bush's corporate cronies) can start making it.

No one in the administration embodies this bottom line mentality more than Dick Cheney.

The nugget of truth that former Bush economic guru Lawrence Lindsey let slip last fall shortly before he was shoved out the oval office door says it all. Momentarily forgetting that he was talking to the press and not his buddies in the White House, he admitted: "The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy."

To hell with worldwide protests, an unsupportive Security Council, a diplomatically dubious Hans Blix, an Osama giddy at the prospect of a united Arab world, and a panicked populace grasping at the very slender reed of duct tape and Saran Wrap to protect itself from the inevitable terrorist blow-back -- the business of America is still business.

No one in the administration embodies this bottom line mentality more than Dick Cheney. The vice president is one of those ideological purists who never let little things like logic, morality, or mass murder interfere with the single-minded pursuit of profitability.

His on-again, off-again relationship with the Butcher of Baghdad is a textbook example of what modern moralists condemn as "situational ethics," an extremely convenient code that allows you to do what you want when you want and still feel good about it in the morning. In the Cheney White House (let's call it what it is), anything that can be rationalized is right.

The two were clearly on the outs back during the Gulf War, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense, and the first President Bush dubbed Saddam "Hitler revisited."

Then Cheney moved to the private sector and suddenly things between him and Saddam warmed up considerably. With Cheney in the CEO's seat, Halliburton helped Iraq reconstruct its war-torn oil industry with $73 million worth of equipment and services -- becoming Baghdad's biggest such supplier. Kinda nice how that worked out for the vice-president, really: oversee the destruction of an industry that you then profit from by rebuilding.

When, during the 2000 campaign, Cheney was asked about his company's Iraqi escapades, he flat out denied them. But the truth remains: When it came to making a buck, Cheney apparently had no qualms about doing business with "Hitler revisited."

When it came to making a buck, Cheney apparently had no qualms about doing business with "Hitler revisited."

And make no mistake, this wasn't a case of hard-nosed realpolitik -- the rationale for Rummy's cuddly overtures to Saddam back in '83 despite his almost daily habit of gassing Iranians. That, we were told, was all about "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

No, Cheney's company chose to do business with Saddam after the rape of Kuwait. After Scuds had been fired at Tel Aviv and Riyadh. After American soldiers had been sent home from Desert Storm in body bags.

And in 2000, just months before pocketing his $34 million Halliburton retirement package and joining the GOP ticket, Cheney was lobbying for an end to U.N. sanctions against Saddam.

Of course, American businessmen are nothing if not flexible. So his former cronies at Halliburton are now at the head of the line of companies expected to reap the estimated $2 billion it will take to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure following Saddam's ouster. This burn-and-build approach to business guarantees that there will be a market for Halliburton's services as long as it has a friend in high places to periodically carpet bomb a country for it.

In the meantime, Halliburton, among many other Pentagon contracts, has a lucrative 10-year deal to provide food services to the Army that comes with no lid on potential costs. Lenin once scoffed that "a capitalist would sell rope to his own hangman." And, while the man got more than a few things wrong, he's been proven right on this one time and time again: from Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel helping arm Saddam back in the '80s, to the good folks at Boeing, Hughes Electronics, Lockheed Martin and Loral Space whose corporate greed helped China steal rocket and missile secrets -- and point a few dozen long-range nukes our way.

Clearly, our national interest runs a distant second when pitted against the rapacious desires of special interests and the politicians they buy with massive campaign contributions. Oil and gas companies donated $26.7 million to Bush and his fellow Republicans during the 2000 election and another $18 million in 2002. So does it really come as any surprise that Cheney's staff held secret meetings in October with executives from Exxon Mobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips -- and, yes, Halliburton -- to discuss who would get what in a post-Saddam Iraq? As they say, to the victors -- and the big buck donors -- go the sp-oil-s.

Here's my bottom line: At a time of war, at what point does subverting our national security in the name of profitability turn from ugly business into high treason?

"Treason doth never prosper: what 's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."
- Sir John Harrington

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