Gov. Michael Leavitt's nomination to succeed Christie Whitman as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency means that the country will be not be treated to a rerun of the political soap operas that marked the Whitman years. That is bad news. Mrs. Whitman almost always lost her internal battles on behalf of the regulatory framework that for 30 years has brought the nation cleaner air and water. But the country was better off for having her in Washington, a solitary if increasingly faint voice against the ideologues and lobbyists who occupy every other important environmental job. Mr. Leavitt, by contrast, is at one with the administration: a Westerner, unlike Mrs. Whitman, and an antiregulatory one at that. He should fit right in.
A three-term Utah governor who saw little point in seeking a fourth, Mr. Leavitt is also smart, soft-spoken and a formidable negotiator. Among his recent successes were the two back-room deals he worked out earlier this year with Gale Norton, the interior secretary, to strip federal protections from millions of acres of public land in Utah. The deals were deplored by environmentalists but celebrated by the oil, gas and off-road-vehicle interests, which hope to exploit that land for commercial purposes.
Mr. Leavitt says he is more sympathetic to the environment than his critics think. He will have some early opportunities to prove it.
On his desk are two pro-business proposals pushed by the White House that are vigorously opposed by the environmental community. One would greatly narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act by removing federal protections from millions of acres of wetlands, lakes and streams. This is a terrible proposal for which even the Justice Department has little enthusiasm. But it is favored by the home builders and other interests to whom the White House feels indebted.
The second proposal would gut a key provision of the Clean Air Act known as "new source review." That provision requires older power plants to install modern pollution controls whenever they significantly expand their output. Eliot Spitzer of New York and other attorneys general have successfully invoked the provision in a series of lawsuits against older power plants whose largely unregulated emissions contribute significantly to air pollution in the Northeast. Their most important victory came just last week in a federal case involving Ohio Edison. Since the decision is likely to influence other pending cases, the big utilities are sure to bring heavy pressure to bear on Mr. Leavitt to get rid of new-source review once and for all.
Mr. Bush plainly hopes that Mr. Leavitt's low-key approach will generally keep the E.P.A. and environmental issues out of the news. With crucial sections of two bedrock environmental laws under attack, that will not be easy.
It's frightening to know that he's still keeping up with all the latest trends in deception and deregulation, prepping himself for some kind of phoenix-like return to fraudulent corporate commerce or a return to his role as the antichrist of energy policy in the future.
While the circus of indictments of just about everyone else at Enron also deserving of prosecutorial attention continues, Ken Lay isn't suffering at all. Fat in his wide leather seat, it appears that he is on the Atkins diet because he ate only the meat from his First Class meal.
In May of 2001, [Ken] Lay [CEO of Enron] convened a private meeting with junk bond king Michael Milken, Los Angeles' then-Mayor Richard Riordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, at which Lay reportedly presented his vision of solving the state's energy deregulation crisis by, absurd as it sounds, expanding deregulation. The meeting, about which the public still knows very little, may become a major issue now that Schwarzenegger is no longer just a Republican movie star..."
Here's a more thorough and analytical report on the same meeting:
The 90-minute secret meeting Lay convened took place inside a conference room at the Peninsula Hotel. Lay, and other Enron representatives at the meeting, handed out a four-page document to Schwarzenegger, Riordan and Milken titled "Comprehensive Solution for California," which called for an end to federal and state investigations into Enron's role in the California energy crisis and said consumers should pay for the state's disastrous experiment with deregulation through multibillion rate increases. Another bullet point in the four-page document said "Get deregulation right this time -- California needs a real electricity market, not government takeovers."
The irony of that statement is that California's flawed power market design helped Enron earn more than $500 million in one year, a tenfold increase in profits from a previous year and it's coordinated effort in manipulating the price of electricity in California, which other power companies mimicked, cost the state close to $70 billion and led to the beginning of what is now the state's $38 billion budget deficit. The power crisis forced dozens of businesses to close down or move to other states, where cheaper electricity was in abundant supply, and greatly reduced the revenue California relied heavily upon.
Milken, Lay, the recently departed Poindexter — all these white collar criminals are continually prancing around the periphery, acting as lieutenants of the Bush Wimp Mafia. And Arnold's brand name and limitless ambition will enable him to sell his soul to these devils more quickly than the other hundred-odd gubernatorial candidates.
And I'm sure a lot of people are beginning to wonder about the truth of statements like former energy secretary Bill Richardson's: "We're the world's greatest superpower, but we have a Third World electricity grid."
"How bad does it have to get?," asks Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard Medical School. "How many patients have to die from lack of health insurance? How many seniors have to choose between medicine and food before our legislators enact national health insurance?"
It's clear we're approaching systemic crisis in the way Americans receive and pay for medical care.
In the face of this crisis, what is our vacationing president's highest priority? "Good tort reform."
Call it a loophole you could drive a truck through. Although tax write-offs for most business vehicles have long been limited in an attempt to prevent taxpayers from subsidizing luxurious rides, the squeeze doesn't apply to "light trucks" -- including SUVs that weigh 6,001 pounds or more loaded (many do) -- or cars that tip the scales at 6,000 pounds empty (good luck finding one). Buy a heavyweight for your business and you can "expense" it, meaning you deduct at least part of the cost right away rather than being constrained by limited depreciation write-offs over a number of years.
The amount eligible for expensing was supposed to be $25,000 in 2003. But the new tax law bumped up the limit to $100,000. So if you buy a $71,000 Range Rover this year for a business, you can expense the entire cost. In the top, 35% bracket, that basically means Uncle Sam picks up $24,850 of the tab.
But if you buy a piece of working-class crap, the magic of Bush-expensing doesn't work as well for you. It has to be an expensive guzzler to get the fullest financial benefit: "Besides the Hummer and Range Rover, SUVs that make the list include the BMW X5, Chevrolet Suburban, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg."
Meanwhile, jobless rates and the costs of medical care and college tuition skyrocket — because Republican policymakers don't regard funding the quality of Americans' lives quite as highly as funding a businessman's Hummer.
Faced with growing public questioning of his department's anti-terrorism policies, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft plans to kick off a cross-country tour next week focused on defending the USA Patriot Act and other legislation as vital tools in the fight against terrorism.
Justice Department officials said the series of appearances at more than a dozen stops from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City will be aimed at countering criticism from civil liberties groups and some lawmakers that authorities have gone too far in wielding anti-terrorism powers granted by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But Ashcroft's travel plans underscore growing concerns within the Bush administration at increasing criticism from Congress, opposition from cities and counties across the United States and attacks from Democratic presidential candidates.
More than 140 cities and counties, in addition to state legislatures in Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont, have approved resolutions condemning the Patriot Act and, in a few cases, refusing to enforce it. Justice officials were also blindsided last month by the House, which voted 309 to 118 to cut off funding for part of the law that allows the government to conduct "sneak and peek" searches of private property. The act comes up for review by Congress in 2005.
Justice officials said yesterday that Ashcroft's itinerary has not been finalized, but would begin with a policy-focused speech in Washington on Aug. 19, followed by planned appearances in cities including Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Salt Lake City.
These four sound like relatively compliant cities as far as controlling or avoiding the more unruly elements of the thinking public. I wonder why San Francisco, Chicago, or the 9-11 capital itself — New York City — weren't selected as tour stops. No fan base, I suppose.
While the real terrorists tend to their long-range plans, Ashcroft turns his attention to more pressing matters of national security, showing his facility for prioritizing his do-list by indicting porn purveyors.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)--Jurors in a federal weapons case can hear about Halliburton Corp.'s (HAL) ties to a Canadian anti-terrorist consultant who faces trial next week, but they can't hear about Vice President Dick Cheney.
Federal Judge John Conway ruled Monday that Cheney, who headed Halliburton in the 1990s, was irrelevant to the impending trial of David Hudak.
Hudak faces 50 years in prison if convicted of stockpiling 2,400 missile warheads, providing military training to troops from the United Arab Emirates and several other charges.
He goes on trial Aug. 19, a year after the warheads were found at his Roswell-based High Energy Access Tools Inc., or HEAT -a counterterrorism consulting and training company. Authorities allege he did not register the material with federal authorities as required.
Hudak was arrested last August with co-defendant Michael Payne, who pleaded guilty last month in exchange for a recommendation of leniency.
Hudak has been in federal custody for one year.
He contends Halliburton, a Houston-based oilfield-services and construction company, initiated the sale of the missile tips, billing them as demolition devices rather than warheads. Halliburton, through a spokeswoman, has confirmed selling demolition devices, but not warheads.
The devices were bought "as demolition charges, stored as demolition charges and used as demolition charges," defense attorney Robert Gorence told the court.
The devices were used to demolish unwanted buildings and for similar activities, the defense has said.
Cheney did not come aboard as CEO at Halliburton until a year after the 1994 purchase of the explosives.
But Gorence said in court documents that Cheney's presence at Halliburton underscored Hudak's belief that the company would operate legally.
A key issue in the case is what Hudak intended to do with the explosives, Gorence said.
But prosecutor Greg Wormuth said the explosives are warheads regardless of what Hudak intended.
Online, the headline for this story is "Judge Says Cheney Irrelevant To N Mexico Fedl Weapon Case," which somehow misses the mark by at least an ocean.
Incidentally, High Energy Access Tools Inc., or HEAT, is the lamest, forced-acronym podunk name for a crypto-military commercial enterprise I've heard all day. Hudak must be a total shithead, just like his masters.
UPDATE: Nice to know that HEAT is conveniently headquartered at a post office box in Casper, Wyoming. It has a vague website and a sister company called Hydro Cut, "the leader in tactical breaching equipment and training for law enforcement, military, corrections and government agencies." The latter website features an animated United We Stand US flag and lists its headquarters as a post office box in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The situation in Iraq has gotten so bad that I am having trouble keeping the American atrocities separate in my mind. I find myself reading about some new massacre, and mistakenly thinking it is a report of an old massacre, only to realize that it is in fact a brand spanking new massacre with similarities to the old massacres. The Americans have been in Iraq so long now they are resorting to repeating their outrages:
'Jittery' American soldiers shot and killed six Iraqis who were attempting to get home before the 11 p. m. curfew in Baghdad. Anwaar Kawaz, who lost her husband and three of her four children, said:
"We kept shouting, 'We're a family! Don't shoot!' But no one listened. They kept shooting. They killed us. There was no signal. Nothing at all. We didn't see anything but armored cars. Our headlights were on. He (her husband) didn't have time to put his foot on the brake. They kept shooting. He was shot in the forehead. I was still sitting next to him. I got out of the car to get help. I was shouting, 'Help me! Help me!' No one came."
Her husband didn't die for at least an hour, but no one tried to help. In fact, the father and two daughters would have survived if they had been taken immediately to the hospital, but the Americans refused to let anyone take them (this is very Israeli, and is starting to become an American trend). The daughter bled to death on the street.
The federal tax cut, which slashed the tax rate on dividends and prompted many companies to increase their payouts, is proving to be a boon for some corporate executives who are reaping millions in after-tax gains.
All shareholders benefit from higher dividends and lower taxes. But for senior executives holding sizable stakes in their companies, the rewards have been especially lucrative.
At Wall Street securities firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which raised its dividend by 108%, Chief Executive Henry Paulson will get a $2 million after-tax boost in dividend income each year. Charles Schwab, chairman of discount-brokerage firm Charles Schwab Corp., picks up an additional $5.4 million, Leslie Wexner of retailer Limited Brands Inc. will get $9.3 million extra and Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates, whose company announced its first, though modest, dividend earlier this year, gets an $80.3 million after-tax increase.
"You're using the extreme example but any assessment of who owns the most stocks would have to say this dividend cut will tend to benefit the wealthiest taxpayer group the most," says Mark Luscombe, chief analyst for the federal and state tax group at tax-information provider CCH Inc.
The Bush administration maintains its reputation for giving the most to those who need it least. The extra $80 million Bill Gates will get (that's just for this year — wait until you see what Gates gets in 2008 when the dividend tax rate goes all the way down to zero percent) comes directly from the US Treasury, the joint assets of 291 million American citizens. So when your town's police force is reduced, and Head Start is cut, and veterans' benefits are eliminated, remember who is to blame.
A week ago, the Corps of Engineers Web site carried an amendment to the contract proposal, saying that 220 projects, mostly at installations above the ground, must be completed for Iraq's oil production to reach prewar levels. The projects are divided into three phases, with a total estimated cost of $1.14 billion.
But the corps notes in the plan that the first two phases, which together would require about $967 million in investments, would have to be completed by Dec. 31.
Halliburton's competitors worry that if the winner of the new contracts is not announced until Oct. 15, that company could not even begin the work before year's end. The only company that could do the work based on that timetable is Halliburton, its competitors say.
Only the third and final phase, worth about $176 million and requiring the work to be completed by March 31, could realistically be performed by a Halliburton competitor, its rivals say.
Wall Street is looking kindly on Cheney's Halliburton fraternity and its incumbent advantage as they record increased revenues, thanks to invaluable US taxpayer assistance in restoring them to profitability.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said he will hear from the Chronicle Aug. 26. Citing the First Amendment, the newspaper has asked Hoyt to make public the record of a July 28 hearing that was scheduled for open court, but was instead held behind closed doors.
It's 101 degrees in Houston today — much too stuffy for closed doors. A little sunshine and First Amendment fresh air for Enron's secrets might be beneficial.
And with the help of the judiciary, life will continue to get hotter still for W's Enron friends who are still at large, as more and more of their dastardly secrets come out into the Texas sun.
When he was governor of Texas, Bush invited Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship to start InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a fundamentalist prison-within-a-prison where inmates undergo vigorous evangelizing, prayer sessions, and intensive counseling. Now comes a study from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society reporting that InnerChange graduates have been rearrested and reimprisoned at dramatically lower rates than a matched control group.
But when you look carefully at the Penn study, it's clear that the program didn't work. The InnerChange participants did somewhat worse than the controls: They were slightly more likely to be rearrested and noticeably more likely (24 percent versus 20 percent) to be reimprisoned. If faith is, as Paul told the Hebrews, the evidence of things not seen, then InnerChange is an opportunity to cultivate faith; we certainly haven't seen any results.
...if you're smart, you don't listen the political advocates of "faith-based" this and that when they say they're only asking us to support programs that have been "proven" to work.
Once again, fuzzy math to support faith-based science, undoubtedly to cast a voodoo economic magic spell. Why doesn't Dubya just appoint Colson to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Exorcism, Leeches and Alchemy?
The United States of America — marching toward medievalism!
Link via Tapped. We most recently wrote about Chuck in June.
In what has become an annual tradition, Bush stopped at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for the exams on his way to a month-long stay at his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch, which he will use as a base for traveling to political and official events.
Vice President Cheney, who is spending the month at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., is following Bush's lead and giving up fishing time to raise money for their reelection campaign. Between them, Bush and Cheney plan to travel to 13 of their own fundraisers during August, and each plans to make a fundraising stop for another Republican candidate.
A CBS News tally shows this is Bush's 26th presidential trip to Crawford. He has spent all or part of 166 days at the ranch or en route -- the equivalent of 5-1/2 months. When Bush's trips to Camp David and Kennebunkport, Maine, are added, according to the CBS figures, Bush has spent 250 full or partial days at his getaway spots -- 27 percent of his presidency so far.
These all-August, every-August vacation schedules don't seem representative of the American workplace, even by CEO standards.
In fact, they sound downright French.
UPDATE: A new presidential statement from whitehouse.org: "...I did briefly consider cutting my Crawford time short this year – because, you know, when those Arabiacs spent my 2001 vacation plotting to fly into the World Trade Center, it sure made me look like a slack-ass Bozo when I finally rolled back into Washington. But, then Laura reminded me that I am not just taking a vacation for myself. I'm also vacationing for all our boys in uniform who have been on duty for the past 365 days straight. So, I may take even longer, and will certainly be adding one additional tribute day for each American National Guardsmen who gets mowed down by some Iraqi who's jubilantly embracing the freedom to exercise our Second Amendment."
Revenue climbed to $3.6 billion from $3.24 billion a year earlier, which the company said is largely attributable to projects at its engineering and construction group, including "government services work in the Middle East."
The benign-sounding latter phrase translates roughly to "a unilateral invasion championed by former Halliburton CEO and present US vice president Dick Cheney and waged on false pretexts of nonexistent Iraqi WMD programs, involving the ongoing deaths and injuries of dozens if not hundreds of American mothers and fathers in the Reserves who had offered to serve one weekend a month for the legitimate defense of this nation, but have since learned otherwise about the true nature of their work, which involves serving as an American taxpayer-subsidized slave labor force for Halliburton."
That's Lawrence Di Rita, Special Assistant to the SecDef, speaking yesterday on the termination of the Policy Analysis Market, characterizing some of the research DARPA performs to support initiatives like the Total Information Awareness program.
The Policy Analysis Market was planned to be the Blogshares of Middle Eastern politics, a fantasy marketplace for wagering on assassinations and the like. Here's MSNBC's report.
This is the sort of uncomfortable research American taxpayers are now funding via DARPA (on five-count Iran-Contra felon Poindexter's watch, no less).
Laughably, this effort was purported to have some counterterrorism value. In another case of poor timing (is Rove napping?), its termination arrived within hours of cutting the air marshal and airport screening programs, simultaneously with renewed Al-Qaeda hijacking threats.
The new Homeland Security Department, indicative of the Bush administration's hopelessly ineffectual approach to counterterrorism, is the butt of an extraordinarily expensive national joke that simply isn't funny anymore.
Can Tom Hanks, who has handled a Southern drawl effectively in several films, master the distinctive East Texas twang? We're going to find out when he portrays flamboyant Rep. Charlie Wilson of Lufkin in a film based on the book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.
Author George Crile, a 60 Minutes producer, reports that Hanks' production company has just teamed with Universal Studios to buy movie rights to the book. Hanks has committed to the lead role. He will play the East Texas congressman who led efforts to provide money and weapons to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s in their battle against the Soviet Union.
This screamingly made-for-the-silver-screen story is not without its dark side, although the book reportedly soft pedals it, according to Molly Ivins:
One thing I especially like about Crile's treatment of all this splendid material is his almost tender portrait of Wilson himself, warts and all. Charlie is awfully easy to caricature or dismiss, though I think he is not quite as exceptional as Crile does. Brilliantly talented alcoholics are rather common in Texas public life, including Bob Bullock, Ann Richards, Oscar Mauzy, Warren Burnett, etc. I believe I am safe in claiming that at one time almost half the Texas Senate consisted of drunks. But Wilson was never the cartoon figure he liked to play. For one thing, most of those gorgeous women who worked for him over the years, known as Charlie's Angels, of course, were smart as hell.
One cannot, in this account, help siding with Charlie and his sidekick, Gust Avrakotos, "the blue-collar James Bond," against all the stuffed shirts, wusses and pompous [CIA] bureaucrats who worried about silly stuff like breaking the law and setting off World War III. Far be it from me to side with the grown-ups -- makes me happy just to think about the hot fantods Charlie and Gust must have produced amongst the mopes at the State Department.
On the other hand, dismissing "blowback" from CIA operations should not be done out-of-hand. It seems to me that even the CIA's "successes," like returning the Shah to Iran and the 1954 Guatemalan coup, produced hideous results. There was good reason to be anti-anti-communist during the Cold War. In this case, we are left with the unfortunate fact that Wilson's War armed a bunch of people who are now shooting at us. While Crile does not neglect that delicate topic entirely, his treatment of it is slight and defensive.
Wouldn't it be great if Tom Hanks chose not to portray a colorful, happy-go-lucky, aw-shucks Texas-via-Hollywood Charlie Wilson and decided not to gloss over the immense difficulties (ahem, 9/11) that the real Charlie Wilson helped to bring upon us? Couldn't he color the role with some darkness, some "grown-up" quality that in fact matches the reality of the situation as it has developed over the last twenty years? Wouldn't it be more interesting not to spoon-feed another Forrest Gump oversimplification of history to a media-anesthetized public?
Tom Hanks already has his archetypal home-spun roles and Academy Awards — hopefully he realizes that he need not contribute to the national stupor.
...if ExxonMobil or ChevronTexaco touch Iraqi oil, it will be immune from legal proceedings in the United States. Anything that could go, and elsewhere has gone, awry with U.S. corporate oil operations will be immune to judgment: a massive tanker accident; an explosion at an oil refinery; the employment of slave labor to build a pipeline; murder of locals by corporate security; the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The president, with a stroke of the pen, signed away the rights of Saddam's victims, creditors and of the next true Iraqi government to be compensated through legal action. Bush's order unilaterally declares Iraqi oil to be the unassailable province of U.S. corporations.
She wonders whether Neil, 48, was unfaithful to her throughout their marriage as he has admitted he was at the end. She wonders whether Neil is the father of the baby born to Maria Andrews, the 40-year-old Houston woman he is dating. Sharon wonders why he used e-mail to tell her he was leaving and why he told her by phone months later, "You better move on with your life or you'll find yourself in a back alley."
At one point, Sharon says, she tried to talk to her former father-in-law, and he changed the subject. "He said, 'Come and see the new hot tub.' Like, let's go play with the new toys."
Sharon wants Neil back. "I told him, 'Don't leave and scar the children. Give me a weekend to try to fix things.' "
Neil was not interested in so much as a walk around the block, Sharon says. "He told me, 'I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture.' "
"Once I called my mother-in-lawfor help," Sharon says. "She told me, 'Neilsie will talk to me. You talk to your own mother.' "
Blah blah blah "Nielsie." Nielsie! That's a name fit for a poodle or a schnauzer or a gerbil — hardly a respectable name for the banking criminal son of a hot-tubbing former president. The child born to Friend of Mom and Other Woman Maria Andrews may someday find out that his real father's name is... Nielsie.
Unwittingly, Neil's words to his wife may actually describe brother George's feelings for his fellow countrymen. "I'm thinking of my future, and you're not in the picture" is an extremely succinct summary of the Dubya political agenda.
We've looked at the Neil-Sharon soap opera many times before, with the gleeful voyeurism that only the internet can provide.
Last week, my daughter called me because a co-worker's daughter shot herself in Iraq. So I looked at the news and saw in a British newspaper a short line about a woman in the military in Iraq was shot. I was furious and wrote to papers like The New York Times demanding they ask about her suicide. Not a word from the military and not one question from the press. The mother is too bereaved and upset to talk to anyone and is now in seclusion.
The lack of curiousity in our press is very annoying. When terrorists killed 17 sailors, each got a long and loving memorial. We don't even get the names of the dead now. Always, it is "one was killed and four injured today." Not only that, there is seldom any description of how they died. I learned in the British and Muslim press that one soldier was on fire and ran through the streets, his face in flames, screaming before collapsing. He died but not one newspaper in America said he burned to death.
Another had his arm blown off and as he cried, clutching at it, dying, the Iraqis cheered because they want us to leave. This was hidden from us too. Finally, just this week, our press showed a photo of a dead soldier -- only he was completely covered.
America should be shown the burned soldier, the one with his arm blown off. We should see the 10,000 "injured", some of whom are missing arms and legs and eyes. Not one wounded soldier aside from Jessica Lynch, the propaganda victim of a faked-up story, has been shown.
Elaine Meinel Supkis
Thanks for the article on the media's underreporting of Iraq-war casualties. I live in Elkhart, Ind., home of another U.S. soldier who died about a week ago -- whose death was not reported as a combat casualty. He was Craig Boling, a reservist, age 38, who is reported to have suffered a heart attack, though the autopsy report is not in yet. As you state in your article, had he not been in Iraq, in 120-degree heat and extreme stress, he would likely be alive to see his four children grow up. The whole community is grieving his loss.
Every death and injury is tragic, but the number of middle-aged mothers and fathers who have suffered or died to bolster W's poll numbers and to enrich Halliburton shareholders is unconscionable.
It will take at least a full generation for the Reserves to recover from the abuse they've endured at the hands of the Rove-Cheney administration. Leaving aside the theft of the US Treasury and all that Iraqi oil for the moment, it is clear that the White House is literally destroying our military capability in pursuit, at best, of a half-baked geopolitical strategy that will certainly not protect us from further security threats.
Meanwhile, Lambert in Atriosland questions the wisdom and effectiveness of killing Saddam's evil boys:
Turning them over to the Hague would have been better for the Iraqi people, too, who probably are not going to be persuaded that Saddam's sons are really dead by any dental records or DNA analysis CENTCOM can produce. Prosecuting them live on TV for weeks on end—that would have been persuasive. Such a strategy worked for the Peruvians when they captured Shining Path leader Guzman and put him in a cage. Why not go with what works?
Bush and his gang seem to think that "hard power"—killing lots of people using very expensive high-tech weaponry—is the essence of what it means to be a great power. The Bush gang likes it, their backers (e.g., Halliburton) like it, and it brings them a bump in news coverage and the polls. So they do it.
Once again, the White House's political expedience remains the only policy criterion there is.
On May 25, while scanning the Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program images pipelined into his desktop from 450 miles in orbit, Hank Brandli skidded at a nighttime photo of Iraq. It looked familiar. But not exactly.
Brandli retrieved another DMSP image he'd archived from May 3. He compared the two. The most recent photo showed a blazing corridor of light running the length of Kuwait, south to north, all the way to the Iraqi border. The image wasn't there on May 3.
"It's going right up to Iraq's oil fields," says the retired Air Force colonel from his home in Palm Bay. "Maybe I'm full of s---. Maybe all they're doing is building a highway to put in McDonald's and sell hamburgers. But why go that way? I think we're in bed with Kuwait. I think we're pumping oil out of Iraq to pay for this war."
"If you're building pipelines, you've got to have power, you've got to have light -- trucks and personnel and food and all sorts of support. If I had to bet, I'd say it looks like we're running Iraqi oil through Kuwait. It would make sense, because Kuwait's got its infrastructure intact."
The story originally ran in Florida Today in June. A followup was published on July 15:
The State Department seemed to be the go-to choice for answers about this river of light, but a spokesperson was in the dark and said to call the Coalition of Provisional Authority, the office in charge of rebuilding Iraq. But the CPA never called back.
The U.S. Agency for International Development doesn't have any answers, either, and advises you to call the Defense Department. But the Pentagon media desk doesn't know anything about it, and urges you to call the CPA or U.S. Central Command in Tampa. CPA doesn't call back again. At CentCom, Lt. Col. Martin Compton is stumped.
"There are a number of possible explanations. All kinds of things are moving into Iraq right now, and it could be something as simple as water," he says. "But if it's something going on in Kuwait, I wouldn't know where to tell you to go for that. We might not even be in a position to tell you even if we knew."
You call the U.S. Commerce Department's Iraq Reconstruction Task Force in Washington. They refer you to CPA. CPA doesn't call back again.
Surely the American Petroleum Institute in Washington would know something about new Iraqi pipelines running through Kuwait. But after reviewing the e-mailed images, API spokesman Bill Bush says a key colleague is skeptical that they're oil-related.
"Presumably, if you're drawing oil out of Iraq, it would make more sense to go east toward the Gulf, where it could be unloaded," Bush says.
But in Monterey, Calif., Bob Fett says "Hank got it right."
Fett and Brandli worked together in Vietnam. Fett was the head of the Tactical Applications Department for the National Reconnaissance Organization, the spy-satellite program whose very existence was a state secret for 30 years. Fett, now a consultant for Naval Research Lab, provided a map showing how the lights line up into the region of Iraq's Rumaila oilfields.
"It's been an impressive operation," Fett says. "(Construction giants) Halliburton, or Bechtel, or Brown & Root, were contracted to get the oil flowing out of Iraq as quickly as possible, and hundreds of workers have been going at it 24 hours a day, around the clock. They needed lights to work at night." Fett adds that the project, which runs south into the metropolitan glow around Kuwait City, doesn't have to reach the Gulf for it to be oil-related. "Why not bring it south where the infrastructure is already in place?"
Bechtel and Halliburton didn't respond to messages. What's important is, Halliburton stocks are over $22 a share now. That's up from $12.62 last October.
So sometime between May 3 and May 25, private contractors probably installed a new pipeline running from Iraq to Kuwait at taxpayer expense — diverting resources from the citizens of not one but two countries, the US and Iraq.
This is so much worse that Iran-Contra or Watergate. It's the heist of a lifetime.
On Wednesday morning, when the ABC news show ["Good Morning America"] reported from Fallujah, where the [Third Infantry] division [whose stay was extended] is based, the troops gave the reporters an earful. One soldier said he felt like he'd been "kicked in the guts, slapped in the face." Another demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quit.
The retaliation from Washington was swift.
"It was the end of the world," said one officer Thursday. "It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."
First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don't ever talk to the media "on the record" -- that is, with your name attached -- unless you're giving the sort of chin-forward, everything's-great message the Pentagon loves to hear.
The quality of the US civilian leadership is looking shabbier, more expensive and less effective by the day.