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Archives for Bush Administration

I Spy…Nothing Good


Some of these men had become abstrusely entangled with the spying departments of other nations and would give an amusing jump if you came from behind and tapped them on the shoulder.- Vladimir Nabokov, The Assistant Producer

The surprising thing was that it was a surprise. It just goes to show how hard it is to predict who will be embarrassed by disclosures when governments operate outside the law.

Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq, was distressed to learn from reading Bob Woodward’s recent book, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, that George Bush spied on Iraqi citizens. That should not have come as much of a surprise since George Bush & Co. have had few compunctions about spying on U.S. citizens. There was little reason to think the administration would not have had fewer compunctions about spying on Iraqi citizens. After all, Iraqis lack the veneer of protection of the United States Constitution.

The discreditation of the United States Constitution – in favor of spying and other extra-judicial conduct – began early in the Bush administration and continues in today’s headlines.

But let’s rewind. On December 16, 2005, we learned from the New York Times that George Bush had signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to listen in on phone conversations held by citizens and non-citizens alike even though some with old-fashioned ideas of life in the United States believed such conduct was legally proscribed. According to that report the NSA “has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible dirty numbers’ linked to Al Qaeda.”

As with much of what George Bush has done during his eight-year tenure, the spying was not without its critics. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said: “This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration. It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.”

On June 25, 2008 the U.S. House Appropriations Committee had approved an amendment denying money for the “National Applications Office.” According reports that office is a Bush administration program expanding the use of Pentagon spy satellites for domestic uses. Rep. Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on intelligence was alarmed and told Newsweek: “We have to make sure this is not a back door for spying on Americans.” She and her colleagues worried that the “Applications Office” might impinge on civil liberties, A reasonable worry since, as with all things in the Bush administration, things that look and quack like ducks often are described by the administration as swans.

In light of the foregoing it is hard to say why the Iraqis are so upset by Mr. Woodward’s book.

According to Woodward, the United States spied on Prime Minister al-Maliki, his staff and other government officials. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Maliki was very upset at the disclosure. An Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh said if the allegations were true, it would be evidence of a lack of trust. Interestingly, that is the sort of thing that a typical American citizen said when learning that he or she was susceptible to unlawful spying. It’s also what so concerned Rep. Harmon. Mr. al-Dabbagh went on to state that the administration’s activity “reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spy on their friends and their enemies in the same way.”

Not all of the Iraqi spokespersons were as concerned as al-Dabbagh. Employing the common technique of telling the press something the speaker is supposedly not authorized reveal, an anonymous “top aide to al-Maliki” told USAToday that “If this is true, then we feel sorry about that. We look upon the Americans as our partners. There’s nothing of real value that would require the Americans to spy on us. On top of that, we have nothing to hide from the Americans to make them have to spy on us.” A less circumspect prominent Kurdish lawmaker, Mahmoud Othman said: “If it is true, it is very dangerous and we will condemn it because how can a friend spy on you? This is unacceptable for us.”

I have news for Mr. Othman. It is unacceptable for American citizens too.

Sadly, George Bush will never be asked to explain how a friend can spy on you. He will never be asked to explain how a United States president can spy on his own citizens. The fact that he did it will simply become part of his legacy.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Six Guns Blazin’


Thy spirit, Independence, let me share;
Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye,
Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare,
Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky. – Tobias George Smallett, Ode to Independence

It was quite a contrast. And that’s not to say that what Russia did was right. It’s just interesting for the outsider to contrast President George Bush’s response to events in Kosovo with his response to events in Georgia. In examining the two responses one is made aware of the fact that Soviet President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Mr. Bush’s United States have come far since George first met Vladimir and, exercising his parapsychology skills, looked into Mr. Putin’s soul and liked what he saw.

Clearly, what he saw in Mr. Putin’s soul was a reflection of his own Texas-bred cowboy mentality.

The cowboy mentality that enabled George Bush to swagger into Iraq in pursuit of an imagined adversary. Not finding the sought-after enemy, he created one remarkably similar to the one he was chasing. It was George Bush’s cowboy mentality that convinced him to place corrals – called radar installations – inside the Czech Republic and missiles inside Poland, ostensibly to protect Europe from a nuclear strike should Iran succeed in developing nuclear weapons. In the eyes of Vladimir Putin and many foreign policy mavens, the installations were meant to protect Europe from Russia.

Following Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia in support of South Ossetia’s bid for independence from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Bush sent his head wrangler, Vice President DIck Cheney – a real cowboy, come to think of it – off to Georgia to let the Russians know who was boss. Of course, that part of the world is more closely related to the Russian cowboy’s sphere of influence than the Texan’s.

During Wrangler Cheney’s visit to Georgia he not only assured the Georgian people of Mr. Bush’s support for Georgia’s insistence that the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain part of Georgia, but promised the Georgians that the U.S. would continue its support for its inclusion in NATO. Both positions were the equivalent of pushing a thumb into Putin’s eye since the Russian opposes Georgia’s entry into NATO and supports the bids of South Ossetia and Abkhazia for independence from Georgia.

What made the pronouncements even more interesting, however was that in opposing independence for the two break-away Georgian republics Cowboy George was taking a position diametrically opposed to the one he took slightly more than one year earlier.

In June 2007 Bush visited Fushe Kruje in Albania before the vote was taken on whether or not Kosovo should be independent of Serbia and become an independent country. There were pictures of a back-slapping George Bush greeting people in Albania and expressing his support for Kosovo’s bid for independence from Serbia. According to a report of his visit in the Guardian, Bush announced that he had made up his mind that Kosovo should be independent from Serbia. He let it be known that if agreement were not soon reached permitting the U.N. Security Counsel to vote on its bid for statehood, he might encourage Kosovo to declare independence. Following that, said he, the U.S. would give Kosovo diplomatic recognition. George said: “Independence is the goal. That’s what the people of Kosovo need to know. If it is apparent that is not going to happen in a relatively quick period of time, in my judgment, we need to put forward the resolution. Hence, deadline.” In a press conference in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Mr. Bush said: “Sooner rather than later you’ve got to say enough’s enough. Kosovo’s independent.”

Russia and Serbia opposed Kosovo’s bid for independence. Among other things Serbia was concerned that if Kosovo were independent Serbia would lose 15 percent of its territory. It also observed that the independence of Kosovo would create a dangerous precedent for secessionists in other places around the world…like South Osseti! Responding to Mr. Bush’s meddlesome statements Mr. Putin said Russia remained firmly opposed to Kosovo’s bid for independence. Kosovo declared its independence in May 2008. Shooting started shortly thereafter.

Now South Ossetia’s independence has been recognized by Russia and Cowboy George has responded by sending warships to unload humanitarian aid to those affected by the conflict. Watching the three cowboys one can only hope that Bush will leave the scene before he is able to sponsor a shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 2:00 PM | Permalink

Bearing It All


All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. – George Orwell, Animal Farm

Now that we’ve all gotten over our giddiness at the excitement of a former beauty queen, mayor and short-term governor as John McCain’s running mate we should put to rest any thought that this was nothing more than a spur of the moment decision by John McCain. He only selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin after careful consideration of all the possible candidates for the post.

After all, there are lots of things in Gov. Palin’s background that render her a highly qualified candidate. One that has not been extensively commented upon is her finding common cause with Canada in a fight with the United States.

In what might be perceived a disloyal act coming from a Republican, Sarah took Canada’s side with respect to the status of the polar bear as an endangered species. Neither Sarah nor Canada wants the animal’s continued existence to interfere with life as we have grown accustomed to it.

Last month, a Canadian scientific panel released an April review of the polar bear’s status within that nation and said the bear population was a matter of “special concern” but was not a population “endangered or threatened with extinction.” This finding directly contradicted last year’s U.S. Geological Survey prediction that “two thirds of the world’ polar bear population could be gone by mid-century if “predictions of melting sea ice in the Arctic hold true.” Canada is also in direct conflict with the Bush administration’s decision in May 2008 to add the polar bear to the endangered species list, a decision that was promptly attacked by Gov. Palin. Within days after the ruling was announced, Alaska began a lawsuit demanding that the decision be reversed claiming that the climate models predicting the loss of sea ice were unreliable, a position that is reinforced by Gov. Palin’s belief that global warming, if it exists at all, has nothing to do with human activity.

Explaining the reasons she opposed listing the polar bears as an endangered species, Gov. Palin said that state wildlife officials had “found no reason to list the bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act” even though three marine mammal biologists in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game agreed with the studies the federal government relied on in declaring the polar bear endangered. In addition to opposing the rule because of her flimsy understanding of science, Gov. Palin pointed out that the rule would make drilling for oil and gas more difficult.

Her approach put herself and her state squarely at odds with the Bush administration that had promulgated the new rule in May. Dirk Kempthorne, the U.S. Interior Secretary, said his decision to add the polar bear to the endangered species list was based on three findings: “First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival; second, the polar bear’s habitat has dramatically melted; third, sea ice is likely to further recede in the future.” Those comments were remarkably close to the beliefs expressed by scientists, an alignment almost unheard of in the Bush administration. Naturally, it wasn’t meant to last. Science would once again be sent to the back of the Bush Administration bus.

When the Bush administration discovered that it had come out on the side of science in connection with a sensitive subject, it quickly retreated thus lining itself up behind Gov. Palin In August, a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act was proposed was proposed. Instead of having independent scientific reviews to determine whether protected species like polar bears would “be imperiled by agency projects”, federal agencies comprising non-scientists would begin making those determinations, a conclusion reminiscent of the EPA’s decision to take issues away from scientists and place them in the hands of non-scientists. Dick Kempthorne, who so eloquently defended the May ruling, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that the new rules were simply an attempt to “provide clarity and certainty to the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act.”

Not everyone sees it that way.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said the rule gives “federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act.” And Bob Irvin who is senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife observes that most agencies do not have wildlife biologists on staff and, therefore, have no way to make qualified judgments on issues affecting wildlife.

Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serve disagrees and offers reassurance that all will be right with the endangered species. He says individual agencies will have to take responsibility if their projects do harm a protected species. “This really says to the agencies, ‘This law belongs to all of us. You’re responsible to defend it’” he explained to the Washington Post.

Those words are comforting. If the agencies err because of lack of scientific input they will be responsible for the consequences. The consequences will be extinction or reduction of the species. The agencies will almost certainly feel really bad about that.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink

The Wandering Anti-Terrorist Funds


Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum
And said “What a good boy am I.”
- Nursery Rhyme

One of the purposes of anti-terrorism funds is to fight terrorism. There is, of course, a lot of money available for that purpose, and sometimes it is so tempting to use it for purposes other than those prescribed by Congress, that the temptation cannot be resisted. That’s what two reports in July suggested happened with at least some of the funds. Since the diverted funds were less than $300 million they would not have been enough to make a difference in the fight against terrorism.

Most of the diverted funds went to help out George Bush’s great good friend Pervez Musharraf, who, when the money was diverted, was still the president of Pakistan. Although many terrorist groups are hiding out on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan thus making the border a logical destination for those funds, they did not head for the border. They headed for an airport. Mr. Bush decided that $230 million should not be used in the border fight between Pakistani forces and the Taliban and al-Qaida, as dictated by Congress, but should be used to pay for, among other things upgrading Pakistan’s F-16 airplanes’ radar systems. (A cynical observer might wonder whether the upgrades of the radar will permit the planes to identify NATO aircraft, a feature that was not allowed on the planes when originally sold to Pakistan.)

Congress is upset with the diversion of funds. So is India. Congress is upset because when it says funds are designated for anti-terrorism efforts it expects them to be spent for anti-terrorism efforts. India is unhappy because one of the more obvious uses for the F-16s is to fight India should war erupt between those two countries. Mr. Bush called Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, to let him know of the diversion of the anti-terrorist funds. Mr. Singh was reportedly, “disappointed.”

The other diverted anti-terrorist force funds found a use that has even less to do with fighting terrorism than the use to which Mr. Bush put his dollars. The Air Force diverted funds for the sake of comfort.

The Washington Post reports that Air Force officials have been using anti-terrorism funds to develop and install something initially called a “Senior Leader Intransit Comfort Capsule.” (The name was later changed to call the capsules “conference” capsules rather than “comfort capsules”. One officer suggested that may have been done to avoid the possibility that the word “comfort” would cause those loading the capsules to confuse the capsules with the pallets of latrines that are often loaded on military planes. It would, for obvious reasons, be disastrous if upon boarding the plane a high-ranking officer found himself seated in a latrine for a ride halfway around the world instead of the luxury capsule he had been led to believe would be his.)

The Air Force says that the new capsules are needed so that important officers can “talk, work and rest comfortably in the air.” The folks who are actually going to go into combat do not need such comfort while flying since it would simply remind them that as soon as they got off the plane and went into combat, there would be no comfort capsules to protect them.

The Air Force has been meticulous in its specifications for the capsules. The capsules must be “aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule. ” One of the ways this goal was achieved was by spending $68,240 to change the seat color and pockets in the capsule because the officers responsible for deciding on the colors concluded that the colors originally supplied were not as practical as the colors ultimately installed. The entire project is estimated to cost $7.6 million and the money has come from funds that would otherwise have been used in the anti-terrorism effort.

General Robert McMahon, who is overseeing the project, explained that he wanted to “create an environment that whoever was riding in that would be proud of”, the government would be proud of and “the people of the United States would be proud of.” He has certainly got that right. I can’t imagine anything that would make me prouder than knowing that high-ranking officers were flying in ultimate luxury. Unless it was knowing that funds were diverted from the anti-terrorism effort to give returning troops the best possible medical care. There’s no sense spending time imagining that. It won’t happen on George Bush’s watch.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 2:38 AM | Permalink

Bush, Babes and Human Rights


I hate [slavery] because it deprives the republican example of its just influence in the world-enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites-causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity. – Abraham Lincoln, 1854 speech at Peoria, Illinois

It was a dreadful coincidence and no one felt sorrier for George Bush than I did. He gave a perfectly wonderful speech in Thailand and was done in by the timing. Since he made the speech the same day that the military tribunal in Guantánamo rendered its verdict in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan timing made him sound the perfect fool.

When Mr. Bush was in Thailand he thought it would be a good time to criticize China’s human rights record, which everyone agrees is terrible. The problem is that the Hamdan verdict reminded everyone that China and Mr. Bush who take pride in their respect for human rights have nothing of which to be proud.

In Guantánamo, a military tribunal convicted Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, of providing material support for terrorism. Mr. Hamdan is the first person in Guantánamo to be tried by the military commissions that were created in 2006. Mr. Hamdan was convicted on a Wednesday and the prosecution asked for a life sentence. On Thursday the commission sentenced him to more than five-and-a-half years in prison with credit for the 61 months he has already spent in prison. Within five months he will have served his sentence.

Unfortunately, that is the end of the good news for Mr. Hamdan unless something unexpected happens. That’s because at the end of the five months he will still be an unlawful combatant and that means Mr. Bush can keep him in prison as long as he wants or until the war that Mr. Bush has declared is declared over by Mr. Bush – whichever happens first

Although the trial does not by itself, do anything to hasten Mr. Hamdan’s release, it serves one useful purpose from Mr. Bush’s perspective. It enables the administration and its supporters to point out that, because the trial has been conducted, human rights are being observed and the military commissions are working in a way that proves the United States is a country that follows the rule of law. The people who believe that, of course, are the ones who invented this new justice system. The rest of the world is less credulous.

Neither the verdict or its timing inhibited the national orator. The anticipation of all the fun to be had in Beijing is one reason Mr. Bush made a really good speech in Thailand.

Mr. Bush relished the opportunity to be the first U.S. president to attend an Olympic ceremony outside the U.S. In part he viewed it as a reward for the tough time he has had during the last eight years. The opportunity came, appropriately enough, during the twilight of his perpetually dark administration. And there could hardly be a better reward for a job poorly done, than to attend the games as the leader of the entire free world (save, of course, for Guantánamo.)

It was clearly a fun time. He took his wife and one of his daughters. There were lots of good parties including a dinner for 300 people to which he and his father, former President and Ambassador to China George H.W. Bush, and other important people were invited. The younger Bush got to play a little beach volleyball with one of the very pretty bikini-clad beach volleyball players, even tapping one on the back and have his picture taken with her with their arms around each other, he wearing a cocky baseball cap and looking every bit the frat boy he was in college.

But still Mr. Bush was mindful of his responsibilities as leader of the free world and took advantage of the trip to make a verbal show of being committed to human rights.

In that speech he expressed “deep concerns” about restrictions on faith and free speech in China. He expressed concern about the detention of dissidents. The detained dissidents of which he spoke are not, of course, the detainees at Guantánamo. Those people are not called dissidents. They are called unlawful combatants. They have something in common with dissidents, however. Both dissidents and unlawful combatants are kept in jail until the country that is holding them decides, in its sole discretion, when they can be released.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink

A South Dakota Fairy Tale


If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. – Gloria Steinem, The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.

Herewith a suggestion on how to improve the South Dakota Fairy Tale that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has approved for reading to women before they undergo abortions.

The case was Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, et al vs. Mike Rounds, et al. It pertained to a piece of legislation passed by the South Dakota legislature, a mostly male body that has, until now, unsuccessfully tried to tell women what they may and may not do with their bodies. Thanks to the court it has finally succeeded.

The essence of the case was that although women may continue to get abortions in South Dakota, the physician performing the procedure is required to read aloud to the prospective mother. Under section 7 of the statute a woman is required to receive oral disclosures about the procedure she is about to undergo. Some of the information must be given orally and in writing and other information only in writing although the language of the statute can be read to require that all information must be imparted orally by the physician.

Although the prescribed reading (and writing) is not the sort of thing the mother would read aloud to the child were the child to be born, it has a certain fairy tale like quality to it. Among the things the physician is required to tell the mother is that an abortion will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” that the woman has an “existing relationship with that unborn human being,” that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States constitution and under laws of South Dakota” and that “by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated.”

It is patently absurd to describe the embryo has a “whole” and a “separate” human being since whatever else it may be, it is neither whole, having many months to go before it achieves that state, nor is it “separate” since ordinarily it cannot survive outside the mother’s body at the time the abortion is performed. It is equally absurd to say that the “relationship” “enjoys protection under the United States Constitution” since it does not.

Sarah Stoesz, president of the regional Planned Parenthood office, said the statute represents an “unprecedented interference in the doctor-patient relationship and unprecedented interference in a woman’s life.” She also observed that the law is “non-science”. But as we have been taught by none other than the president of the United States and his minions at the Environmental Protection Agency that science these days is an elective subject whose proofs one may accept or reject based on one’s personal biases.

Speaking of science, we are brought to the EPA most recent pronouncement which when added to the South Dakota statute, will bring the number of abortions performed in South Dakota to zero.

The EPA issued a report on July 19 pertaining to a matter with which few people knew it was concerned. The report said the value of a human life has gone down from $8.04 million to $7.22 million. That does not mean, as the report is careful to point out, that every reader of this column is worth that amount. Some readers will be worth more and others less and most readers know to which group they belong.

There’s a reason it is important to know the value of a human life. When when you have the answer to that question you can decide whether certain governmental actions are worthwhile. If a governmental agency’s proposal determines will save 50 lives and cost $500 million, the agency determines if the proposal makes sense by multiplying 50 lives times $7.22 million. If the product is less than $500 million, the project is abandoned and if more, it may be implemented. If, in that example, 200 people were affected, then the math would justify the cost.

Now that this information is available, the South Dakota legislature should promptly amend House Bill 1166 to include a requirement that the state fairy tale be refined to add a section that will inform the woman that not only is she “terminating the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” but she is also disposing of an asset that has a scientifically established value of $7.22 million.

Armed with that scientifically correct information most women will immediately spring for the cash and abortions in South Dakota will come to an end. There will, of course, be a modicum of disappointment when the kid hits college age and the parent goes looking for that $7.22 million. They will then find, to their dismay, that the $7.22 million was, like much of the rest of the language in the South Dakota Fairy Tale, made up by ignorant busy bodies more interested in controlling women’s bodies than in educating their proprietors.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 12:31 AM | Permalink

Judging Liars


When you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research – Wilson Mizner, Sayingyu

We live in a country run by a consummate liar whose most egregious lies have resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 American servicemen and women, the infliction of life altering wounds on more than 20,000 servicemen and women, and the creation of millions of refugees in foreign countries.

We live in a country where a general of the U.S. Army whose first concern should be the welfare of his troops, lies to Congress about the quality of water supplied to troops working in the far off land that the consummate liar has done much to destroy. This is a general to whose command the welfare of those he commanded was entrusted.

Yet we whine about a plagiarist.

Early in July it was disclosed by Sen. Byron Dorgan that Maj. General Jerome Johnson misled (a Washington euphemism for lying) Congress in April 2007 when he testified that there were no problems with water supplied to American troops by Kellogg Brown Root, described as the largest defense contractor in Iraq.

According to the New York Times, beginning in 2006 whistleblowers let Congress know that there were problems with the nonpotable water KBR supplied the troops. The Pentagon’s inspector general confirmed that KBR had not provided safe water for hygiene uses at several Iraq bases. The Pentagon learned of this in a communication from the inspector general on March 31, 2007. Three weeks later Gen. Johnson testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that problems with the water supplied by KBR were not widespread.

It was a minor breach of trust by the general. After all, when your commander-in-chief is a man whose lies have ruined millions of lives, a drop or two of bad water is hardly anything to get excited about.

Nor, it seems, is a bit of plagiarism even when the plagiarist has been nominated to a Federal District Court judgeship. It is hardly surprising that an administration that routinely lies would be unperturbed by a bit of plagiarism and would naturally consider confession of misconduct adequate to remove the stain from a reputation.

Michael E. O’Neill, a former to aide to Sen. Arlen Specter is law professor at George Mason University. He is considered a fine legal scholar who has had a brilliant career and is clearly of the sort of cloth from which federal judges are cut. There is only one flaw in the fabric and it would not even be noticeable if some journalist from the New York Times had not only discovered it but then seen fit to hold the fabric up for all to see. Alan Liptak is the journalist. He discovered that Mr. O’Neill has plagiarized on more than one occasion. One of those occasions involved an article he wrote in 2004 for the Supreme Court Economic Review, a journal published by the George Mason School of Law.

The purloined passage dealt with something called “bounded rationality” which, according to Mr. O’Nell “is not a refutation of the rational actor model,” quoting word-for-word from a book review published in 2000 in the Virginia Law Review. Explaining the copying Mr. O’Neill said it was a result of a “poor work method.” “I didn’t keep track of things. I frankly did a poor and negligent job.” He got that right. In 2007 the review issued a retraction of the article.

The White House is unperturbed by a bit of plagiarism sanctioning, as it has, lying to create foreign policy. Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman said Mr. O’Neill had been completely forthcoming” and had “expressed remorse for his actions. ” She also said that the background searches the White House conducts are “very thorough” and “would capture issues such as this one.” Not everyone agrees with the White House.

Deborah Rhode who teaches legal ethics at Stanford described the retraction of the article in the review as “extremely unusual” and told the Times reporter that plagiarism was a “textbook case of conduct that casts doubt on someone’s fitness for judicial office.”

Mr. O’Neill, in contrast, said the 2004 plagiarism was “fairly insignificant” and asked whether it was “something to kill someone’s career for?” One answer was given by Daniel Polsby, the dean of the George Mason law school. He said as a consequence of the plagiarism Mr. O’Neill “stepped away from tenure and will reapply for it.” That may not be necessary. Mr. O’Neill, answering his own question has refused to withdraw his nomination for a federal judgeship and if an unethical administration has its way, Mr. O’Neill will have life tenure as a federal judge. That’s much better than humbly applying for restoration of a privilege lost through misconduct held up for all the world to see.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 12:08 AM | Permalink

Return To Sender


To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant – Amos Bronson Alcott, Table Talk

This is an appendix. Not the removable kind. The kind that adds information to something previously reported. It is an appendix about George Bush and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week I told you about some of the things that went on between George Bush, science and the EPA. In every case George Bush won and science and the EPA lost. Here is what is happening as you read this. George Bush is scampering as fast as he can to make sure coal fired power plants can be built near several national parks. He isn’t personally scampering. His EPA is.

According to a recent report, the EPA is proposing a rule change to take effect before George Bush becomes nothing more than a bad memory. It would alter the way the impact of a new pollution source is calculated when determining if it can be built. Under the existing rule, peak periods of pollution are used to determine the effect of a new pollution source. If the pollution source would adversely affect a site at peak period times it could not be built. Under the proposed rule annual averages would instead be used thus making it easier to build polluting power plants near national parks.

Congress has designated 156 national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges as Class-1 areas giving them maximum legal protection. Senator Lamar Alexander, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, represents Tennessee, a state that includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says that if the new rule is enacted Congress should promptly enact legislation to overturn it. In a letter to Stephen Johnson, the EPA Administrator, Mr. Alexander said the proposed rule “provides the lowest possible degree of protection” for those areas. The EPA disagrees. It says the rules are simply refinements to regulations that measure Class-1 air quality standards. When the Bush administration, the least refined in United States history, defines something as refined, warning hackles rise. Mr. Alexander’s hackles are not the only ones that rose.

Federal air-quality experts at both the EPA and the National Park Service describe the proposals as a step backward. John Bunyak, policy chief at the National Park Service’s planning and permit branch said the new rule “[C]ould allow additional pollution sources to locate in a particular area, where they wouldn’t have been under the old rule,” Clayton told the Christian Science Monitor. EPA regional staff experts say that the new rule provides “the lowest possible degree of protection” against spikes in pollution.

Echoing the staff experts’ concerns, Mark Wenzler, clean air director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), says the new rule would permit “phony pollution accounting” methods. The EPA fact sheet, in contrast, says the “proposed rules would provide greater regulatory certainty and reduce complexity without sacrificing the current level of environmental protection.”

The NPCA’s list of threatened parks includes the Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Capitol Reef, Zion Canyon and Mesa Verde. If the EPA rule takes effect and is not overturned, higher levels of pollution in our national parks will become, together with the war in Iraq, one of the enduring legacies of George W. Bush.

It is, not clear that Mr. Bush is aware of this. It seems that if George Bush’s White House gets an email it doesn’t like it doesn’t open it.

That ‘s what the administration did with an e-mail report it got from the EPA in December of 2007, the month the agency responded to a 2007 Supreme Court order that it determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment. The EPA’s conclusion: greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled.

Someone at the EPA thought such a conclusion should be shared with George “Ignorance is Bliss” Bush. The EPA could have saved itself the trouble. When Mr. Bush received the e-mail it told the EPA its e-mail would not be opened. And it wasn’t. As a result the EPA waited six months and then released what the New York Times described as a “watered-down version of the original conclusion contained in the un-opened e-mail that greenhouse gases are a pollutant.” Instead, according to the Times, the agency’s recent report simply “reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.” The paper further says that for five days preceding the report’s release the White House put pressure on the EPA to eliminate large sections of the e-mail it refused to open that supported regulation of greenhouse gases.

Here’s a tip for my readers. Refusing to open e-mails because you don’t like the new it brings may work in George Bush’s White House world. It’s probably not good practice in the real world of which George Bush is not an inhabitant.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 6:08 PM | Permalink

Tree Mugger


Blind and naked Ignorance
Delivers brawling judgments, unashamed,
On all things all day along.- Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
Merlin and Vivien

If there’s one agency that has consistently enjoyed the benefits lavished on it by an ignorant president who continuously diminishes its standing in the world of science, it would be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No other agency has so thoroughly given in to the importunings of a president who lives in constant fear of what science might offer if left to its own devices; science being a branch of knowledge that cannot be controlled by him or Dick Cheney.

A hint of things to come started with Mr. Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. That was an issue he preferred not to address since, to Mr. Bush’s way of thinking, it wasn’t the problem others thought it was and, more especially, was a problem he was prepared to address quite differently from the rest of the world.

Then came Christie Todd Whitman’s 2003 departure from the EPA., an agency she headed from the beginning of the Bush administration. Her tenure was marked by criticism from those outside the administration who thought she did too little to advance regulatory remedies to extant environmental issues, and White House insiders who thought she was doing too much. Irrespective of who was right, her departure marked the beginning of a change at the EPA that continued throughout the rest of the Bush years.

In October 2003 the agency announced a new set of rules permitting power plants, oil companies and other industries to avoid requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1970 which says, among other things, that industrial plants that upgrade facilities were not required to install modern pollution controls. In December of that year the EPA announced that mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants should not be regulated the same as other toxic air pollutants. According to the New York Times the proposal would place legally mandated mercury regulation “under a less stringent section of the Clean Air Act that governs pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, which are not toxic to humans.”

In December 2006 we learned of another of the administration’s encounters with science that involved eliminating some of the libraries maintained by the EPA, as effective a way of silencing critics as there is. (Presumably anticipating the departure of George Bush, on June 17, 2008 the EPA told Congress that the libraries were being reopened and books returned whence they’d gone during the Bush sponsored knowledge blackout.)

Concurrent with the library closings the EPA announced a new protocol pertaining to national air-quality standards. Instead of having independent scientists and professional scientists within the EPA set safety standards, staff scientists were instructed to come up with what is called “policy-relevant” science. Only after those standards are constructed are the agency’s professionals permitted to comment.

The most recent skirmish between science and the EPA occurred in December of 2007. California applied for a waiver from the provisions of the energy bill signed by Mr. Bush that established a federal goal to reduce automobile emissions by 40 percent by 2020. California wanted to accelerate that schedule and effect a 30 percent reduction by 2016. EPA staffers believed the waiver should be granted as had other waivers sought by California. Overruling staff, Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator, said that California’s request did not “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions” and turned down the waiver.

In response to that decision and another made in March 2007 to issue smog regulations that were less strict that those recommended by an EPA science advisory board, the House of Representative’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee began an investigation. Among other things it wanted to know if the White House had pressured Mr. Johnson.

As part of its investigation the committee subpoenaed more than 10,000 documents but some 25 of the sought after documents were withheld. Government Reform Committee Chairman Howard Waxman, a California Democrat, and his committee would like to review the withheld documents, believing they may permit the committee to discover the level of involvement, if any, by the White House in the EPA decision in regard to California.

Mr. Bush refused to turn them over claiming executive privilege. In a letter to the committee supporting that claim, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the release of the documents could inhibit the candor of future deliberations between the president and others dealing with political issues.

He could have argued that their release would have disclosed George Bush’s ignorance about matters environmental. That would be a convincing argument since most presidential observers would agree that if anyone were ever to be entitled to claim that ignorance is protected by executive privilege, it would be George Bush.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 8:00 AM | Permalink

The New Graveyard Shift


He who doesn’t lose his wits over certain things has no wits to lose. – Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Emilia Galotti [1772]

A clarification: In a couple of recent columns I may have left the impression that it was only former employees of the federal government who get sweetheart deals after they have left their former employer. Nothing could be further from the truth. The private sector is even more creative than the public sector that is presided over by George Bush when it comes to such things.

Payments private sector employees receive after leaving their employment require nothing of them whereas those getting the government dole have to work in order to receive their compensation.

It is impossible in a space as short as this, to chronicle all the rewards bestowed upon executives in the private sector who have left their employers. A few examples suffice. And in considering their severance packages it is well to keep in mind that while working these men and women received somewhere in the neighborhood of 262 times the pay of the average worker. In other words, they were not threatened with impoverishment upon leaving the pay of their employers.

When Merrill Lynch & Co. decided that Stan O’Neal, its CEO, was not doing an adequate job, the board got rid of him. It gave him the 5th largest exit-pay package ever received by a U.S. executive: $161.5 million in stock and retirement benefits. Home Depot’s former CEO, Bob Nardelli, received a severance package of $210 million even though the company stock did not fare well under his governance and he was liked by neither employees nor customers.

Hank McKinnell, the former CEO of Pfizer, received $213 million when he left the company and Lee Raymond of Exxon Mobil received $351 million when he left. The reason they got more than Messrs. O’Neal and Nardelli, presumably, was because their departures were not linked to poor performance.

Thanks to a report in the Wall Street Journal, we now know that many companies have compensation packages for executives who neither retire nor are fired. Those are the executives who are summoned to a higher calling while still employed. They die.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many corporations provide for post-mortem severance packages that rival the inter vivos packages described above. The lavishness of these payments is not new. What is new is that as a result of a federal rule change the size of these payments is required to be reported in such a way that those reading shareholder proxy statements can understand them.

According to the WSJ, when Eugene Isenberg, CEO of Nabors Industries Ltd. throws off his mortal coil the company will throw off benefits for him that exceed the most recent first quarter earnings of his company. The amount of his severance package is $263.6 million. The family’s sorrow that will surely accompany the death of Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, will be ameliorated by the severance package valued at $298 million his family will receive. XTO Energy Inc. has provided a $3 million life insurance policy to its CEO, Bob R. Simpson and wanting to further assuage his survivors’ grief has also agreed to provide a $111 million bonus.

As generous as the post-mortem payments are, (and they usually consist of providing insurance, vesting stock options, etc.) the most creative way of describing the payments is that used by the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge, La. It has agreed to pay its CEO, James M. Bernhard Jr., $17 million for a covenant not to compete for a period of 2 years following his death. Normally, when an employee signs a covenant not to compete the employee is agreeing not to enter into a line of work that is in competition with the former employer and it assumed that the employee is able to work somewhere on this earth. In Mr. Bernhard’s case, however, when he moves into celestial heights (not the name of a subdivision in Louisiana) the company will pay him not to compete against it.

Although the foregoing suggests that executives are getting what they deserve, labor doesn’t doesn’t seem to get the same rewards – just or not.

Richard Ferlauto, director of corporate governance and pension investment for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, observed that Mr. Isenberg’s death benefit “is a great present to his estate” but would have a significant – and deleterious – effect on the company’s balance sheet.

Mr. Ferlauto doesn’t understand that those kinds of payments are what make America the kind of economic place of which George Bush is so proud.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 8:00 AM | Permalink

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