United States News Digest
Gonzales Stonewalls House Judiciary Committee
Even the Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wisc), found the Administration's obstruction and denial of information too much to take, at a hearing of his committee April 6. Right at the outset, Sensenbrenner asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a series of questions about the "terrorist surveillance program." When Gonzales said he couldn't answer a number of the questions, because the information is classified, Sensenbrenner accused Gonzales of "stonewalling" and asked, "How can we discharge our oversight responsibilities if every time we ask a pointed question, we're told the answer is classified?"
Rep. John Conyers (Mich), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said, "Our nation is on the verge of a full-blown constitutional crisis" because of the way the Administration is operating, "in secret and outside the purview of the courts and Congress." Conyers cited detentions and abuses of immigrants and Arab-Americans; holding U.S. citizens as enemy combatants without trial or access to lawyers; condoning torture; monitoring of mosques; the President signing laws and then saying they don't apply to him; and the NSA warrantless surveillance program in violation of U.S. laws.
Under questioning, Gonzales made two significant implicit admissions:
*That the surveillance program that President Bush has acknowledged, is only one of a number of programs that are underway; and,
*That the Administration regards the interception of purely domestic communications as being within its authority under its interpretation of the President's "inherent" powers, and the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Forcedespite the explicitly contrary language of the FISA statute.
General Calls for Rumsfeld's Head To Roll
A new barrage of attacks against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld erupted April 6, illustrating the depth of the uniformed military's opposition to the Iraq war policy, and its particular hatred of Rummy:
*Major Gen. Paul Eaton (ret.), who had headed the training of the "Iraqi Army" from 2003-2004, called for Rumsfeld to be ousted, in a blistering interview on NPR's "On Point" program which sounded like a brief for a court martial. Eaton said that Rumsfeld was and is a "strategic and operational problem," when he "micromanaged" the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, sabotaged the standing plans that had been decades in the making, which had set forth adequate troops for the operations, mishandled the allocation of money, where in combat, "money is ammunition," and mishandled diplomatic relations with Turkey, "causing a major problem for the invasion." The interviewer asked numerous questions quoting Gen. Anthony Zinni (ret.), an early critic of the war, with whom Eaton expressed agreement, praising Zinni's competence and bravery in bringing out the truth. Eaton also made a point of referencing the day that Bush "declared 'mission accomplished' ... on the Abraham Lincoln."
*George Packer, author of "The Lessons of Tal Afar," in the latest New Yorker magazine, appeared on the same program as Eaton. Packer's article reveals that the town of Tal Afar was only taken by the U.S. Army because the commander, Col. H.R. McMaster, who holds a Ph.D. in history, was able to use counterinsurgency plansagainst the will of Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Packer said officers in Iraq were privately voicing venom against Rumsfeld and the DOD civilians.
*Former CIA agent Larry Johnson's April 6 truthout.com column summarizes the carnage of the previous five days in Iraq: 39 shootings/ambushes killed 144 people; 25 bombs left 40 people dead; five mortar attacks killed three people; four people kidnapped, including the brother of a Sunni lawmaker, a military helicopter shot down with the entire crew killed in the crash; three major attacks on oil pipelines. The White House cannot protect anyone in Iraq, and is deluding itself. Johnson is co-author with W. Patrick Lang of an article that shows that there is no military option for Iraq.
*Sidney Blumenthal, the former Clinton White House advisor, now writing for Salon, spilled the beans on how State Department personnel's reports of the failures in Iraq are being buried. He reports that State is trying to run "Provisional Reconstruction Teams," but the Pentagon will not protect the Embassy personnel in the field, telling them to "hire mercenaries."
Senator Kerry Issues Call for an Exit from Iraq
In a New York Times op-ed titled, "Two Deadlines and an Exit" April 5, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) said the U.S. should set a deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. "So far, Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlinesa deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government and a deadline to hold three elections. Now we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get Iraq up on its own two feet. Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government, or we will immediately withdraw our military.... If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end....
"For this transition to work, we must finally begin to engage in genuine diplomacy. We must immediately bring the leaders of the Iraqi factions together at a Dayton Accords-like summit meeting. In a neutral setting, Iraqis, working with our allies, the Arab League, and the United Nations, would be compelled to reach a political agreement that includes security guarantees, the dismantling of the militias and shared goals for reconstruction. To increase the pressure on Iraq's leaders, we must redeploy American forces to garrisoned status.... We will defeat Al Qaeda faster when we stop serving as its best recruitment tool.... An exit from Iraq will also strengthen our hand in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat and allow us to repair the damage of repeated deployments, which flag officers believe has strained military readiness and morale."
House Bill To Probe Corruption in Iraq War Spending
Two House Republicans have agreed to join the list of co-sponsors of a bill to create a special committee to investigate corruption in Iraq war spending, the Boston Globe reported April 6. Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota and Walter Jones of North Carolina, have joined the bill's other 33 co-sponsors, which until now included only one Republican, Jim Leach of Iowa. The bill, first put forward in February 2005 by Leach and Rep. John F. Tierney of Massachusetts, has been blocked from consideration for over a year by GOP leaders. Republican members have expressed reluctance to support a committee which may become a forum for questioning the legitimacy of the war.
The Boston Globe noted that "The growing calls for a direct Congressional oversight role are being made amid growing evidence of contracting abuses in Iraq. The Defense Department's inspector general has concluded that the military has failed to properly account for $8.8 billion in Iraqi reconstruction funds. Meanwhile, as many as 50 separate investigations have now been opened to look into charges of contractor fraud, kickbacks, bribery, and waste in war contracts."
Rep. Tierney says that a growing number of Republicans are expressing interest in the proposal, under which the new committee would be made up of 15 House members and have subpoena powers, and would be able to levy fines and disqualify contractors for serious violations of government policies.
House Republicans To Vote Against Bush Budget Bill
An article in The Hill April 6 reports that 46 Republicans intend to vote against the House Budget bill. The Senate version, which adds nearly $9 billion in discretionary spending to the overall budget, has provoked opposition among both moderate and conservative House Republicans. The new House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has vowed to pass the House version this week, but a final vote is in question because the 46 House Republicans have threatened to vote against it. Most of them were also among the 60 House Republicans who signed the McHugh-Gerlach letter opposing the Medicare cuts in the Bush budget.
Real Estate Bubble Accounts for 75% of New Jobs
Three-fourths of all new jobs in the past five years have been in the real-estate/home construction sector, i.e., the housing bubble, which has already sprung major leaks, according to the Washington Post April 5. Economist Lyndon LaRouche, however, noted that the real story is far, far worse, since the majority of employment in the sector is virtual slave labor, from mostly illegal immigrants, paid off the books, and thus not making it into the "experts'" statistics.
The Post asks: "Is reliance on real estate cracking the foundation?" The consumer spending boom has been fuelled not by employment, but by the housing bubble-generated "flipping" of mortgagesrefinancing at lower rates to extract equity as spendable cash. A full 6.2% of disposable personal income now comes from mortgage refinancing nationally, compared to only 2.3% in 1999. In the Washington, D.C. area, that figure is an astonishing 14.5%.
Funds Shift from 'Democratization' to Private Armies
Project Democracy is losing its funding to "Project Empire" in Iraq, according to the Washington Post April 5. NED, IRI, NDI, AID, and even Freedom House (where President Bush recently spoke on his democratization crusade) are all losing their Federal funding for operations in Iraq, as the money is diverted to the private armies. Jennifer Windsor of Freedom House is "appalled"; Les Campbell of the National Democratic Institute said that the President's daily speech about democracy, "when it's translated into action, looks very tiny." Thomas Carothers of Carnegie complained that "money keeps getting transferred away to security training." AID money to NED outfits will dry up this month, while the U.S. Institute for Peace had its budget cut by 60%.