At IPSnews.net, Mohammed Omer reports:
A stream of dark and putrid sludge snakes through Gaza's streets. It is a noxious mix of human and animal waste. The stench is overwhelming. The occasional passer-by vomits.
Over recent days this has been a more common sight than the sale of food on the streets of Gaza, choked by a relentless Israeli siege.
Hundreds of thousands of Gazans, almost all of its able male adults among a population of 1.5 million, crossed over into Egypt last week to buy essential provisions - and a new lease of life. That has staved off starvation. But streets continue as sewers.
The rain has not helped. The sludge has spread, and the stench with it. Starved of timely income and essential supplies, municipal services have all but ceased.
"The smell," says Ayoub al-Saifi, 56, grimacing as he holds a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. "The stench of the sewage ... my wife has asthma, and she can't breathe."
Saifi lives next to what has become a newly formed pool of waste. This used to be the street leading to home. "It's getting worse day by day," says neighbour Said Ammar, an engineer, and father of four.
The sewage treatment plant in al-Zaytoun neighbourhood in Gaza City requires 20,000 litres of fuel a day. Last week Israel ceased delivery of all fuel and supplies to Gaza. The consequences have been catastrophic.
Without fuel to pump it away, the waste backs up, flooding the streets and clogging the plumbing. The local ministry of health has declared this an environmental catastrophe.
Doctors have warned that a medical catastrophe could follow by way of spread of cholera and other diseases. That is at a time when not even life-saving medical services are on offer any more.
"We have to choose between cutting the electricity on babies in the maternity ward, cutting it to heart patients, or shutting down our operating rooms," says Dr. Mawia Hasaneen, director of emergency at al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza.
The World Health Organisation released a statement Jan. 22 warning of serious health difficulties arising in Gaza Strip, isolated by the Israeli siege, the Egyptian border and the Mediterranean Sea.
"Frequent electricity cuts and the limited power available to run hospital generators are of particular concern, as they disrupt the functioning of intensive care units, operating theatres, and emergency rooms," the WHO said. "In the central pharmacy, power shortages have interrupted refrigeration of perishable medical supplies, including vaccine."
Christine McNab, acting director in the communications department in Geneva adds that "our current concerns are about the supply of electricity to health facilities, the ability to move medical supplies into the region, and the ability of people to seek care outside of Gaza."
McNab notes that even if the full blockade is lifted, additional measures would need to be taken by the international community against any further disruptions.
Israel has blocked off fuel and supplies to Gaza because it says it faces rocket attacks from the Palestinian area, which elected Hamas, the Palestinian party that does not recognise Israel.
Official Israeli sources say that about 150 homemade rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since Israel commenced this latest raid. Two Israelis have been slightly wounded and several others treated for shock.
Israel has retaliated with firing from tanks and attacks by F-16 aircraft firing Hellfire missiles into Gaza's neighbourhoods. At least 76 Palestinians have been killed, and another 293 injured since Jan. 1, officials here say.
Through the suffering, many Palestinians still do not blame Hamas.
"Hamas has never been the problem. The occupation has always been the big problem," says Ammar. He instead blames Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who administers the West Bank Palestinian area, and who has been in talks with Israel.
"Abbas doesn't deserve one percent of the respect that (former Palestinian leader Ysser) Arafat earned. Israel will never find someone as good as Arafat. He gave them a historical chance at two states. Yet despite this, they (Israel) laid siege to him."
Rajaa Shalil, 38, and mother of four in Rafah at the Egyptian border, says "my respect for Hamas has increased more than ever. I love them for their empathy for the weak."
But not all of Gaza's residents feel this way. "Both Israel and Hamas are the reason for this," says resident Abu Mohammed. "Before, we were all in better conditions, but since Hamas took over Gaza they have been unable to handle it."
Monday, January 28, 2008
At IPSnews.net, Mohammed Omer reports:
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The waiting list for proposed wind energy projects in the state is 612 years. But changes are afoot.
The Star Tribune reports:
To anyone who wants to join the wind energy movement, Ryan Wolf says: Get in line.
Wolf, of Le Sueur, Minn., has been waiting almost two years for the go-ahead to build 27 wind turbines in the southwest part of the state.
It's anyone's guess how much longer he'll be waiting, given a backlog of applications that technically could take more than 600 years to clear at the federal agency that stands between him and the renewable energy marketplace.
"The queue is the biggest problem we're struggling with," agreed Clair Moeller, a vice president at that gatekeeper agency in St. Paul, the Midwest Independent Transmission System (Midwest ISO).
While the national mood has shifted to embrace renewable energy, and states including Minnesota have pledged increased usage, conditions on the ground are not making it easy. Developers point to shortages of the wind turbines, engineers to run them and transmission lines to carry the electricity they produce.
But many say the biggest immediate problem is the bottleneck at the regional agencies of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- Midwest ISO, in 15 Upper Midwest states -- that give projects permission to connect to existing power lines.
And the Midwest is in the worst shape, they say, because its windy plains are prompting more project proposals than anywhere else.
Moeller's staff has adapted new procedures -- one is clustering several proposals into a single study -- so they expect to be able to clear the queue in 50 years instead of 600. And this spring he will ask federal regulators to approve more adaptations to further speed the process.
But every passing year drives up the cost of the projects -- which is passed on to consumers. And the backlog stands in the way of Minnesota's pledge to get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
"You simply can't get there on time," Moeller said.
Midwest ISO is like a combined roadway planner and traffic cop for the 94,000 miles of power lines within its borders. Moeller runs one of its two central offices out of a one-story, warehouse-type building in a residential St. Paul neighborhood.
Engineers there control the minute-to-minute activity of every utility that sends electricity through the area's power grid.
The agency also vets all the requests by new power projects to connect to the already congested transmission system.
Each request takes about two years to process, because Midwest ISO's obligations include locating any point along the grid that's already maxed out -- even hundreds of miles away. Then it has to put a dollar figure on the work needed at those points -- something similar to adding two lanes to an overloaded four-lane highway -- and then give that bill to the developer.
Federal regulators set up that process as first-come, first-served, in part because everything is so interconnected. Also, by regulation, all requests must be handled one at a time. So, technically, Moeller's staff should spend two years on the project at the top of the list before proceeding to the second one, for two years, and so on. That comes to 612 years for the 306 requests now in the Midwest ISO queue.
The system functioned better when it handled the few, big coal or nuclear power plants that came along. But wind projects are small, and there are many more of them -- three of every four proposals now on the list. And they take about as long to study as do the big projects.
Don't mess with Texas
Texas has found a better way, in the view of Rob Gramlich, policy director at the American Wind Energy Association, a Washington-based industry group.
That state, which is an ISO unto itself, has completely separated grid issues from its vetting process. So, when Texas ISO processes power project applications, all it has to price for them is their "driveways" -- the new power lines to run between them and the grid.
That helped Texas connect three times more wind energy than any other state last year, Gramlich said.
That kind of arrangement works better in a one-state ISO, Moeller said. It's a different proposition to get the legislatures and utilities commissions in 15 states agreed and organized to maintain one another's grids, he said.
Instead, Midwest ISO has gotten permission from federal regulators to consider a "cluster" of several geographically close proposals at once, Moeller said. It also can process several proposals at the same time if they are far enough apart that they will affect different stretches of the grid.
Moeller wants the regulators to approve several more changes to the queuing system. For example, he would like some remedy to this predicament: Now, after their two-year study, project developers have three more years to decide whether to go ahead and build. In the meantime, everybody behind them in line has to wait.
The biggest change Moeller wants is to flip the process from supply-driven to demand-driven. He would like the Midwest ISO states to develop plans for how much and where its future energy needs will be. Then, developers will have to plug any proposals into those plans.
Without that, developers hot on the renewable energy trend are overwhelming Midwest ISO with more proposals than are conceivably possible in the foreseeable future, Moeller said.
For example, even though Midwest ISO's states have announced a collective stretch goal of 12,600 megawatts of renewable energy over the next several years -- half of those are Minnesota's -- Moeller's agency has proposals for 55,000 more.
Another example from Moeller: The transmission system in the Buffalo Ridge area in southern Minnesota now has a customer load capacity of 40 to 50 megawatts. The windy region logically appeals to developers, and several utilities are proposing power line expansions that would add 1,900 megawatts by 2014. But Midwest ISO has proposals in its queue for 55,000 more megawatts for the region.
"That mismatch isn't always so dramatic, but there's a mismatch everywhere," he said.
As time goes by
In the meantime, all this waiting is expensive, Wolf said. He and his 14 partners submitted their proposal for a 27-turbine, 57-megawatt project in March 2006, hoping for approval by 2007, construction of one year, then opening for business this year.
"Those dates all burned by," Wolf said.
In the meantime, they have about $100,000 in expenses tied up with Midwest ISO, as well as other legal fees, permitting fees and land agreements. And they can't commit to a sales contract with a utility until they know what price they'll need to cover the costs -- turbines and transformers, for example -- that are rising between 10 and 30 percent a year.
Industry estimates now put total installation costs at about $1.8 million per megawatt of capacity.
"Those kind of delays are almost certainly going to overrun budgets," Wolf said.
"In our case, we haven't hit the point where we've decided to walk away from the project, but I could see scenarios for others where that would happen."
The Democratic majority squandered chances to work with Republicans unhappy with Bush and tried to bully their rivals.
THE START OF TROUBLE: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announcing the Democratic withdrawal plan in March, called herself "the last person to ask about Republican votes." She turned out to be right, but probably not in the way she meant. She is flanked by Reps. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), left, and David R. Obey (D-Wis.).
(Dennis Cook / Associated Press)
The Los Angeles Times reports:
To a crescendo of clicking cameras, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped before a row of shimmering U.S. flags last March to make an announcement Americans had been waiting four months to hear.
November's elections had swept Democrats into power on a wave of frustration with the Iraq war. Now, flanked by three committee chairmen in her ceremonial Capitol office, the San Francisco congresswoman prepared to unveil the party's plan to bring the troops home.
"The American people called for a new direction," the speaker said, trying to give voice to the historic moment. "That's what this bill does."
There was just one problem. Pelosi had no answer for a simple question: Would the plan get any GOP support?
"I'm the last person to ask about Republican votes," she said curtly.
The speaker's dismissive comment drew little attention that morning. But it was telling. Today, the legislative drive against the war -- the most intense on Capitol Hill since the Vietnam era -- is all but over. As Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a leading antiwar Democrat, bluntly put it: "We have made no progress."
The answer lies partly in the slim Democratic majority and a determined Republican president.
But it was the new Democratic majority's inability to work across the aisle that ultimately ensured failure.
Like the Republicans they had replaced, senior Democrats chose confrontation over cooperation.
They squandered opportunities to work with Republicans unhappy with the president.
And, under pressure from their antiwar base, they tried to bully their rivals.
"Even now, I fail to understand how we think we can stop the war unless we bring in Republicans," said Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie, one of the liberal Democrats who challenged his party's strategy.
Democrats -- and even many Republicans -- had expected a far different result.
When GOP senators sat down for a tense luncheon in the Capitol's wood-paneled Mansfield Room last January, their party was in turmoil.
President Bush's decision to send additional troops to Iraq, combined with the party's election losses, infuriated many lawmakers. As Vice President Dick Cheney sat silently, a heated debate erupted.
Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, a white-haired veteran of two wars, rose to express deep concern that the U.S. military was caught in a civil war in Iraq. On the other side, Arizona's John McCain and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham passionately warned that retreat would spell disaster.
"It was a very difficult time," recalled Graham, who struggled that afternoon to prevent a full-scale revolt. "Republicans wanted to drop Iraq like a hot potato."
Senate Democrats were trying to capitalize on the dissent with a resolution that would simply express opposition to the troop buildup.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a conservative Democrat from Nevada who had worked often with Republicans, turned to Warner.
His decision to effectively cede control of the war debate to a lawmaker from the president's party was the calculation of a veteran tactician. Democrats had taken control of the Senate by the narrowest of margins, 51-49. (The chamber's two independents typically side with the Democrats.) If they wanted to force the president to do anything, they would need as many as a dozen Republicans to overcome a filibuster.
But Reid, a former boxer, was also a fierce partisan who had excelled as a leader by keeping Democrats together. That impulse would be decisive.
As Warner walked the hallways of the Senate trying to find GOP votes and proposed weakening the resolution, the staunchest antiwar members of Reid's caucus grew increasingly restive.
Within days, Feingold said he would oppose the resolution. So too did Connecticut's Christopher J. Dodd, another liberal Democrat. Reid, who was skeptical that Warner could deliver enough Republicans, cut off debate. GOP senators killed the measure on a procedural vote.
After just four weeks, the drive to build consensus was effectively over.
"It changed the political complexion of the debate and the environment," said Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a moderate Republican who had worked on the resolution.
The quick demise of the anti-surge resolution prompted Democrats to focus inward. The party, which had done little to develop a consensus antiwar strategy, was in turmoil.
Grass-roots groups that had helped elect Democrats were clamoring for legislation to restrict war funding and compel a swift withdrawal. So, too, was the nearly 80-strong House Out of Iraq caucus, one of whose leaders, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), would get in a shouting match with Pelosi at a packed Democratic caucus meeting.
Other Democrats were reluctant to try to end the war by limiting money. "We didn't want to send a message that we weren't going to fund the troops," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.
Pelosi turned to House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey to write a bill that would bring Democrats together.
Obey, an old-school liberal from rural northern Wisconsin, was a fierce critic of the war. But the 38-year veteran was also someone who could cut deals with Republicans. Obey scorned doctrinaire antiwar Democrats who "didn't want to get any specks on those white robes of theirs." In one confrontation with a soldier's mother who asked Obey to stop paying for the war, the lawmaker exploded in a rant against "idiot liberals."
Republican leaders -- still struggling to keep their caucus from splintering -- worried that Obey would reach out to GOP moderates. "If they had put their hands out . . . there were probably 50 or 60 of my members who could have been there," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said recently. "It could have been a very different outcome."
That was not the task Pelosi handed Obey.
The new speaker, who like Reid had united her party against hard-nosed GOP majorities, had never chaired a committee or drafted major legislation that required bipartisan compromise. She had a frosty relationship with Republican lawmakers. Now, she made it clear to Obey that she wanted a withdrawal timeline.
Drafts upon drafts
Obey and his staff hunkered down in his office for weeks, poring over scores of Democratic proposals. With Obey dictating language over his senior aide's shoulder, they produced draft after draft. Most of them went into a shredder.
Then, over the first weekend in March, they reached for a little-noticed bill filed just days earlier by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village) that linked pullout dates to the performance of the Iraqi government.
The war-funding bill that Pelosi announced at the March news conference would require the administration to begin withdrawing troops no later than March 2008, and to complete the pullout by August.
Democrats would triumphantly pass the most sweeping antiwar legislation since the Vietnam War. But it had attracted just two Republican votes in the Senate and two in the House, not nearly enough to override a presidential veto.
The Democratic response was to threaten to bury their Republican foes at the polls.
New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the combative head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, gleefully touted plummeting GOP poll numbers. "They're going to have to break because they're going to have to look . . . extinction in the eye."
Democratic leaders now openly ridiculed compromise proposals from Republicans.
When Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a soft-spoken Republican and former Foreign Relations chairman, in late June made an earnest call for withdrawing troops, he got a visit from Bush's national security advisor within 48 hours. Democratic leaders ignored him and shut down debate on his proposal to require the Bush administration to submit a withdrawal plan.
Senior Democrats insisted the measure was too weak and would give Republicans political cover.
On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats were attacking their own. Hawaii's Abercrombie, a former Vietnam War protester, was shouted down at a meeting with fellow antiwar Democrats to discuss a similar bill he drafted.
"This was taken as a sign that suddenly I wasn't on the road to Damascus anymore. I had fallen from the true path," Abercrombie said. Pelosi, under pressure from the Out of Iraq caucus, prevented his bill from ever coming up for a vote.
A whiff of revenge
Many Democrats wrongly believed Republicans would break over the August recess when a well-funded antiwar campaign would target many in their districts. This heavy-handed approach had been a hallmark of the way Republicans had run Capitol Hill. Now, GOP lawmakers recoiled at the withdrawal timeline and the smash-mouth tactics.
No Democratic withdrawal measure ever won more than four GOP votes in the House or Senate.
By September, when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus gave Congress an upbeat report about diminishing violence, the Democratic legislative campaign against the war was effectively dead.
Today, Pelosi professes surprise that so few GOP lawmakers joined the Democratic antiwar effort. "I didn't foresee that," she said.
But neither she nor Reid express any regrets.
"We tried everything except yoga," Reid said recently, sitting by a fire in his office on the other side of the Capitol. "Republicans weren't looking for middle ground. . . . We felt we were on track with what the American people wanted."
But, the Congress that began 2007 with a relatively high 35% approval rating now rates just 22%, according to Gallup surveys.
"One of the many messages sent by voters in 2006 was that they were unhappy with the war in Iraq," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican. "Another message that was sent and not heard was that they were tired of partisan gridlock."
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Hillary's campaign tactics are causing some liberals to turn against the couple
At the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Chait writes:
Something strange happened the other day. All these different people -- friends, co-workers, relatives, people on a liberal e-mail list I read -- kept saying the same thing: They've suddenly developed a disdain for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but I think we've reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons.
The sentiment seems to be concentrated among Barack Obama supporters. Going into the campaign, most of us liked Hillary Clinton just fine, but the fact that tens of millions of Americans are seized with irrational loathing for her suggested that she might not be a good Democratic nominee. But now that loathing seems a lot less irrational. We're not frothing Clinton haters like ... well, name pretty much any conservative. We just really wish they'd go away.
The big turning point seems to be this week, when the Clintons slammed Obama for acknowledging that Ronald Reagan changed the country. Everyone knows Reagan changed the country. Bill and Hillary have said he changed the country. But they falsely claimed that Obama praised Reagan's ideas, saying he was a better president than Clinton -- something he didn't say and surely does not believe.
This might have been the most egregious case, but it wasn't the first. Before the New Hampshire primaries, Clinton supporters e-mailed pro-choice voters claiming that Obama was suspect on abortion rights because he had voted "present" instead of "no" on some votes. (In fact, the president of the Illinois chapter of Planned Parenthood said she had coordinated strategy with Obama and wanted him to vote "present.") Recently, there have been waves of robocalls in South Carolina repeatedly attacking "Barack Hussein Obama."
I crossed the Clinton Rubicon a couple of weeks ago when, in the course of introducing Hillary, Clinton supporter and Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson invoked Obama's youthful drug use. This was disgusting on its own terms, but worse still if you know anything about Johnson. I do -- I once wrote a long profile of him. He has a sleazy habit of appropriating the logic of civil rights for his own financial gain. He also has a habit of aiding conservative crusades to eliminate the estate tax and privatize Social Security by falsely claiming they redistribute wealth from African Americans to whites. The episode reminded me of the Clintons' habit of surrounding themselves with the most egregious characters: Dick Morris, Marc Rich and so on.
The Clinton campaign is trying to make it seem as if the complaint is about negativity, and it is pointing out that Obama has criticized Hillary as well. That's what politicians are supposed to do when they compete for votes. But criticism isn't the same thing as lying and sleaze-mongering.
Am I starting to sound like a Clinton hater? It's a scary thought. Of course, to conservatives, it's a delicious thought. The Wall Street Journal published a gloating editorial noting that liberals had suddenly learned "what everyone else already knows about the Clintons." (By "everyone," it means Republicans.)
It made me wonder: Were the conservatives right about Bill Clinton all along? Maybe not right to set up a perjury trap so they could impeach him, but right about the Clintons' essential nature? Fortunately, the Journal's attempt to convince us that the Clintons have always been unscrupulous liars seemed to prove the opposite. Its examples of Clintonian lies were their claims that Bob Dole wanted to cut Medicare, that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy, that Paula Jones was "trailer trash" and that Kenneth Starr was a partisan.
Except Dole did vote to cut Medicare, there was a vast right-wing conspiracy and Starr was and is a rabid partisan. ("Trailer trash" is, of course, a matter of opinion, and it's a cruel thing to say, but as far as whether it's a lie -- well, it's not like they called William F. Buckley "trailer trash.")
So maybe the answer is that the Clintons would have smeared their opponents in the 1990s, but lying is unnecessary when the other party is doing things such as voting to slash Medicare to pay for a big tax cut for the rich.
But the conservatives might have had a point about the Clintons' character. Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky jeopardized the whole progressive project for momentary pleasure. The Clintons gleefully triangulated the Democrats in Congress to boost his approval rating. They do seem to have a feeling of entitlement to power.
If Hillary wins the nomination, most of us will probably vote for her because the alternative is likely to be worse. But what happens if she's embroiled in another scandal? Will liberals rally behind her, or will they remember the Democratic primary?
Friday, January 25, 2008
The Boston Globe reports:
Some students at Choate Rosemary Hall, the prestigious prep school attended by John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson, are protesting the choice of former presidential adviser Karl Rove as this year's commencement speaker.
Some plan to walk out, while others are trying to bring comedian Stephen Colbert to campus for an alternate speech. The campus newspaper has urged the school to reject Rove.
"It's really just a minefield," said Benjamin Firke, a senior who opposes Rove's visit.
Others said they're interested in what Rove has to say but are not sure the school's June commencement is the best venue because they are afraid he will overshadow the graduates.
"The man is great at what he does," said senior Alessio Manti. "It's just that it's not his place to be the one who shepherds us into the world."
Choate trustee Bruce Gelb, former ambassador to Belgium, helped secure Rove as the speaker after plans fell through for a speech by Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
Rove declined comment Friday through his attorney, Robert Luskin.
Before leaving the Bush administration last year, Rove, one of the most influential presidential advisers, came under scrutiny in an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's name.
Mary Verselli, Choate's director of strategic marketing and communications, said Rove was invited to talk about broader issues, not deliver a political speech.
Headmaster Edward J. Shanahan said he looks for interesting and provocative commencement speakers and Rove has prompted more discussion than any speaker in the past 20 years. Shanahan met with seniors this week to talk about their concerns and asked them to e-mail him with their thoughts.
"This is their day, and I want them to play as much a role in shaping it as we can," he said. "If we can accommodate their wishes within the context of Mr. Rove's arriving here for commencement, that would be something I'd like to pursue."
Senior Peter Borgstrom is among the students looking forward to Rove's speech.
"Maybe I don't agree with his political views and what he's done, but I'd still love to get the opportunity to see him," he said.
No OK from Congress seen; Constitutional issues raised
The Boston Globe reports:
President Bush's plan to forge a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could commit the US military to defending Iraq's security would be the first time such a sweeping mutual defense compact has been enacted without congressional approval, according to legal specialists.
After World War II, for example - when the United States gave security commitments to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and NATO members - Presidents Truman and Eisenhower designated the agreements as treaties requiring Senate ratification. In 1985, when President Ronald Reagan guaranteed that the US military would defend the Marshall Islands and Micronesia if they were attacked, the compacts were put to a vote by both chambers of Congress.
By contrast, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki have already agreed that a coming compact will include the United States providing "security assurances and commitments" to Iraq to deter any foreign invasion or internal terrorism by "outlaw groups." But a top White House official has also said that Bush does not intend to submit the deal to Congress.
"We don't anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress," General Douglas Lute, Bush's deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, said in November when the White House announced the plan.
Lute's disclosure initially attracted little scrutiny. Most of the attention has instead focused on whether the pact could make it more difficult for the United States to withdraw from Iraq after Bush leaves office. Although the next president could scrap the agreement, reneging on the compact would create diplomatic problems by showing that the nation does not live up to its obligations, specialists say.
But there is now also growing alarm about the constitutional issues raised by Bush's plan. Legal specialists and lawmakers of both parties are raising questions about whether it would be unconstitutional for Bush to complete such a sweeping deal on behalf of the United States without the consent of the legislative branch.
"There is literally no question that this is unprecedented," said Oona Hathaway, a Yale Law School professor who has written a forthcoming law journal article about the proposed Iraq agreement. "The country has never entered into this kind of commitment without Congress being involved, period."
At a House hearing on the pact on Wednesday, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California and a former Reagan administration official, accused the Bush administration of "arrogance" for not consulting with Congress about the pact. If it includes any guarantees to Iraq, he said, Congress must sign off.
"We are here to fulfill the constitutional role established by the founding fathers," Rohrabacher said, adding, "It is not all in the hands of the president and his appointees. We play a major role."
Bush and Maliki have said they intend to complete the agreement by July 31. The two countries need to reach some kind of an agreement this year in order to create a legal framework for the continued presence of US troops in Iraq after Dec. 31, when a United Nations Security Counsel mandate is due to expire.
But the "long-term relationship of cooperation and friendship" outlined in November goes far beyond an ordinary status-of-forces agreement. It would include promises of debt forgiveness, economic and technical aid, facilitating "especially American investments" in Iraq - and the security commitments, according to Bush and Maliki's joint declaration last November.
Facing mounting criticism over its assertion that Bush can reach such an agreement on his own, the administration has sent mixed signals about whether it intends to follow through on the plan. The New York Times today reported that administration officials told a reporter that the final pact may not have security guarantees after all, but the article did not identify its sources.
Officially, the administration has not changed the plans it announced in November. Asked to respond to the critics who say that such a pact must be approved by Congress, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates each said that it was premature to talk about the pact because its final text has not yet been negotiated.
"I haven't been involved in any discussions of what kind of form the agreement would take or anything else," Gates said at press conference yesterday. "I do know there's a strong commitment inside the administration to consult very closely with the Congress on this."
But Representative Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, who chaired the hearing on Wednesday, asked four top administration officials - Lute, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, and the State Department's top legal and Iraq advisers, John Bellinger and David Satterfield - to appear and explain the administration's intentions. All four declined.
However, Lute may have offered a clue to the administration's legal arguments during the November press conference when he noted that "We have about a hundred agreements similar to the one envisioned for the US and Iraq already in place, and the vast majority of those are below the level of a treaty." Johndroe, the White House spokesman, also mentioned the existence of such agreements in a Globe interview this week.
Legal specialists, however, say that the numerous pacts that were completed without congressional consent are not similar to the agreement Bush and Maliki outlined in November.
Other such "status-of-forces agreements" are far more limited contracts with countries that host US military bases, covering comparatively minor issues such as leasing arrangements and which country will prosecute any US soldiers accused of committing a crime.
By contrast, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden told Bush in a letter released yesterday, "As a matter of constitutional law, and based on over 200 years of practice," Bush could not commit the US military to protecting Iraq's security without congressional consent.
"A commitment that the United States will act to assist Iraq, potentially through the use of our armed forces in the event of an attack on Iraq, could effectively commit the nation to engage in hostilities," Biden wrote. "Such a commitment cannot be made by the executive branch alone under our Constitution."
Biden said yesterday he had received no reply to the letter, which he sent late last month.
Adding to the pressure, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also repeatedly raised the topic in recent days. The New York senator has filed legislation that would block the expenditure of funds to implement any agreement with Iraq that was not submitted to Congress for approval. Her rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, became a cosponsor to the bill on Tuesday.
"We've got to rein in President Bush," Clinton said Monday in a South Carolina debate. "We need legislation in a hurry."
Thursday, January 24, 2008
The New York Times reports:
House leaders and the White House on Thursday announced a tentative agreement on an economic stimulus package of roughly $150 billion that would pay stipends of $300 to $1,200 per family, and more for families with children, plus provide tax incentives for businesses to encourage spending.
The accord was announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, the Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. at a Capitol news conference and hailed minutes afterward by President Bush as the fruit of “patience, determination and good will” in both parties.
The president and the speaker both described the accord as embracing the basic precepts of their respective parties. Mr. Bush called it “a powerful and effective way to help taxpayers and businesses” by letting people keep and spend more of their own money.
Ms. Pelosi said the package is aimed at the middle class “and to those who aspire to be in the middle class.” She described it as “timely, targeted and temporary — that was our standard.”
In addition to the tax rebates, or stipends, Ms. Pelosi said the package would offer some quick relief for those homeowners in danger of losing their houses.
Mr. Boehner called the package “simple, clean and neat.” Like Ms. Pelosi, he said none of the parties to the talks got everything they wanted. But in the end, he said, “This agreement is a big win for the American people.”
President Bush said the agreement was also a victory for the kind of bipartisanship that some politicians and analysts say is in short supply in Washington of late. And as he has many times, the president said the American economy is “structurally sound” despite rising energy prices and problems in the housing industry.
Democrats released a summary estimating that the rebates would go to 117 million families. About two-thirds of the total package would go toward the rebates, with the remaining one-third going toward business tax breaks, like write-offs for equipment purchases.
Both leaders pledged quick action in the House, and both pointedly urged similar alacrity by the Senate, whose members operate “with their very senatorial rules,” as Ms. Pelosi put it.
“Speed is of the essence,” Mr. Paulson said.
President Bush underscored that message, as he offered warm praise for the negotiators in both parties. He also took the opportunity to urge once again the extension of tax cuts that were approved by the Republican-controlled Congress early in the decade and are to expire within a few years.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said minutes after the announcement that he was pleased an agreement had been reached, and that he wanted a package ready for Mr. Bush by the time Congress recesses around President’s Day. But he said senators would “work to improve the House package” through the addition of unemployment benefits and other items.
Late in the negotiations that preceded Thursday’s breakthrough, Ms. Pelosi agreed not to include two proposals that had broad support among Congressional Democrats: an extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary increase in food stamps.
In exchange for those concessions, the Bush administration and House Republicans agreed that the stipend of at least $300 would be paid to all workers who earned at least $3,000 last year, even those who did not earn enough to pay taxes.
As it was presented on Thursday afternoon, the package calls for workers who paid income taxes to receive $300 to $600, and couples to receive up to $1,200 — plus $300 more for each child. The stipend, which some lawmakers were calling a “tax rebate,” would be subject to income limits so that the wealthiest taxpayers would not receive it. Payments would go to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000. He said roughly two-thirds of the overall package would be aimed at individual taxpayers and one-third at businesses.
Senators Reid and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, have yet to give their approval to the accord. But, while there may be some wrinkles to iron out between the House and Senate, there was nothing to suggest any disagreement so severe as to be a potential deal breaker.
Republicans immediately cheered the deal as “tilted toward taxpayers” and avoiding “extraneous spending” on unemployment benefits, food stamps, or infrastructure projects, which some Democrats had said should be included in a stimulus package.
But it was unclear how the package, without extended unemployment benefits or increased food stamps, would be received by Democrats in the Senate, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who have said that those proposals offered the best prospects for quickly injecting added spending into the economy.
Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Finance Committee, reiterated his interest in extending unemployment benefits at a hearing on Thursday morning, where he said his committee would mark up a fiscal stimulus bill next week.
“There are reports that a deal may be close on the House side,” Mr. Baucus said. “The Senate will want to speak, as well.”
That announcement of potential action by the Finance Committee could jar Democratic leaders who have been striving for a carefully coordinated effort on the economy. Earlier this week, Mr. Reid announced that the House would take the lead in developing the stimulus package and would conduct the immediate negotiations with the White House and Congressional Republicans.
Noting that tax rebates were one potentially cost-effective method to spur new spending, Mr. Baucus said: “Another example would be expanding unemployment insurance benefits. In recent recessions, Congress has extended the number of weeks that unemployed workers could receive benefits. We could do that again. We could provide a further extension for recipients in high unemployment states. And we could also temporarily increase the dollar amount of benefits to help unemployed workers to pay their bills.”
“Unfortunately, under current law, fewer than 4 in 10 unemployed workers receive unemployment insurance benefits,” Mr. Baucus continued. “To address this problem, we could extend eligibility. For example, we could extend benefits to part-time workers.”
Mr. Schumer, at the same hearing, also lamented Ms. Pelosi’s concession on unemployment benefits, but said he hoped that cooperation on a quick stimulus plan would continue. “While I may not agree with every element of the package — such as the decision to leave out extended unemployment benefits, which economists say would give us the greatest bang for the buck — there are some very positive developments around the tax rebate for families,” he said. “I encourage everyone to keep working in a bipartisan way.”
Ms. Pelosi met three times on Wednesday with Treasury Secretary Paulson and Mr. Boehner, who have served as chief architects of the plan in a rare show of bipartisanship.
On her way into a meeting Wednesday evening, Ms. Pelosi signaled that a deal might be close when she said there had been “tremendous” progress during the day.
Democratic leaders said that to speed the economic rescue package they would mostly bypass the usual committee process. Lawmakers said that they hoped the plan could be approved by mid-February and that it would be sufficient to soften an economic downturn and forestall a recession.
“One of the principal tenets of the administration and of ourselves is we have got to do this fast,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said Wednesday. “To go through the regular process and have hearings and have mark-ups and subcommittee mark-ups, obviously we would be to some degree twiddling our thumbs while the economy burns.”
The progress toward a stimulus plan came as the Congressional Budget Office revised its economic projections to give a gloomier assessment of the economy, including a widening budget deficit and the first decline in corporate tax revenue since 2003.
The grimmer outlook prompted Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee, to declare that a short-term stimulus package was insufficient.
“In addition to developing a bipartisan stimulus package,” Mr. Conrad said, “we also must work together to tackle the long-term fiscal challenges we face with the coming retirement of the baby boom generation. The American people rightly expect that we will come together to address these two significant challenges.”
House conservatives raised alarms about the emerging economic legislation, saying they feared it would focus too much on tax rebates and not enough on tax incentives to encourage businesses to create jobs.
They said any package should include provisions that would reduce the corporate tax rate, adjust capital gains for inflation and lower the capital gains rate for corporations.
“Giving temporary tax rebate checks to families, as important as that is, is not the same as economic growth,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “If you’re going to have an economic stimulus package, it ought to contain some economic stimulus.”
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Democrats Attack Bush's Iraq Security Proposal
The Washington Post reports:
The leading Democratic presidential candidates and their allies on Capitol Hill have launched fierce attacks in recent days on a White House plan to forge a new, long-term security agreement with the Iraqi government, complaining that the administration is trying to lock in a lasting U.S. military presence in Iraq before the next president takes office.
Among the top critics is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). She has used the past two Democratic presidential debates to blast President Bush for his effort, as she put it Monday in South Carolina, "to try to bind the United States government and his successor to his failed policy."
Her concerns have been echoed by Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and other Democratic lawmakers who are focusing their fire on the administration's plans for a long-term commitment to Iraq, after gaining little traction for their efforts to force a faster withdrawal of U.S. combat troops there.
"How do you make an commitment to a country where there is no way of measuring whether that country is likely to have a functioning government?" Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked in an interview yesterday.
Biden recently wrote a letter to Bush expressing concern that the agreement could "mire us in an Iraqi civil war indefinitely." Biden and other lawmakers held out the possibility that they will try to block the administration's plans to reach a bilateral accord with Iraq, or at least seek to compel the White House to submit any such agreement for congressional approval.
Administration officials said the next president will have full authority to withdraw troops if that is desired. They said Democrats are reading too much into the plan, which they describe as an effort to give the next commander in chief the tools to deal with the situation in Iraq.
Efforts to secure an agreement began with little fanfare late last year. The White House announced then that it was opening negotiations with the Iraqis on a new bilateral agreement that would cover how the two countries will relate politically, economically, culturally and militarily in the years ahead.
The agreement would include "security assurances and commitments" to Iraq to deter foreign aggression, according to a declaration of principles that Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed in November. Officials said they hope to conclude the pact by mid-year, in time to replace the expiring United Nations mandate that authorizes the operations of coalition troops in Iraq.
As described by administration officials, the accord would amount to a standard "status of forces agreement" with a friendly country. It would cover such issues as the power U.S. forces would have to arrest and detain Iraqis, or the rules covering engagement with the enemy.
Historically, such agreements have not been submitted to Congress for approval, though administration officials concede that if they were to agree to certain security "guarantees" for the Iraqis, they would have to bring the matter before the Senate. Lawmakers are insisting that the proposed agreement is already broad enough to require congressional review.
"While the exact structure of the forthcoming agreement is yet to be negotiated, the U.S. has concluded similar agreements with more than 120 countries around the world, including many countries in the region," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. He also addressed a key concern raised by Clinton and other Democrats: "The Iraqi government has indicated that they do not want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, and we are not seeking them."
The accord has stirred liberal activists, with the advocacy group MoveOn.org recently garnering more than 250,000 signatures on a petition demanding congressional involvement in any agreement.
Democrats' suspicions have been further fanned in recent weeks by comments from Bush and from senior Iraqi officials suggesting that a significant U.S. troop presence in Iraq could endure for years. During his recent trip to the Middle East, Bush spoke of how "long-term success will require active U.S. engagement that outlasts my presidency."
The number of U.S. troops in Iraq is set to decrease from 160,000 to 130,000 by summer.
Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) convened a hearing yesterday to explore the proposed agreement. He dismissed the contention that the proposal is routine, saying that administration officials declined to explain themselves before his Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
"We don't trust this administration," he said, suggesting that at first glance, the scope of the proposed agreement goes well beyond that of a standard status-of-forces agreement.
Despite such sentiments, Bush and his advisers express the private conviction that any presidential successor will find it hard to disengage from Iraq, no matter what is said on the campaign trail. One senior official, not authorized to speak publicly, said Clinton or any another would-be president will eventually welcome the agreement that the Bush administration intends to negotiate with the Iraqis.
"Is the next president going to say, 'I don't want to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq'? Maybe," this official said. "But I think they are going to want to, and we will give them the proper authorities."
Southeast water shortage a factor in huge cooling requirements
A man fishes next to the water outflows of the McGuire Nuclear Station near Lake Norman, N.C., on Monday. Lake Norman supplies water to the plant, but has shrunk by nearly 94 feet.
Nuclear reactors across the Southeast could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate.
Utility officials say such shutdowns probably wouldn’t result in blackouts. But they could lead to shockingly higher electric bills for millions of Southerners, because the region’s utilities could be forced to buy expensive replacement power from other energy companies.
Already, there has been one brief, drought-related shutdown, at a reactor in Alabama over the summer.
“Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles’ heel,” said Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, an environmental group critical of nuclear power. “You need a lot of water to operate nuclear plants.” He added: “This is becoming a crisis.”
An Associated Press analysis of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants’ turbines.
Because of the yearlong dry spell gripping the region, the water levels on those lakes and rivers are getting close to the minimums set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Over the next several months, the water could drop below the intake pipes altogether. Or the shallow water could become too hot under the sun to use as coolant.
“If water levels get to a certain point, we’ll have to power it down or go off line,” said Robert Yanity, a spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., which operates the Summer nuclear plant outside Columbia, S.C.
Limits on intake pipes
Extending or lowering the intake pipes is not as simple at it sounds and wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. The pipes are usually made of concrete, can be up to 18 feet in diameter and can extend up to a mile. Modifications to the pipes and pump systems, and their required backups, can cost millions and take several months. If the changes are extensive, they require an NRC review that itself can take months or longer.
Even if a quick extension were possible, the pipes can only go so low. It they are put too close to the bottom of a drought-shrunken lake or river, they can suck up sediment, fish and other debris that could clog the system.
An estimated 3 million customers of the four commercial utilities with reactors in the drought zone get their power from nuclear energy. Also, the quasi-governmental Tennessee Valley Authority, which sells electricity to 8.7 million people in seven states through a network of distributors, generates 30 percent of its power at nuclear plants.
While rain and some snow fell recently, water levels across the region are still well below normal. Most of the severely affected area would need more than a foot of rain in the next three months — an unusually large amount — to ease the drought and relieve pressure on the nuclear plants. And the long-term forecast calls for more dry weather.
Lakes nearing their minimums
At Progress Energy Inc., which operates four reactors in the drought zone, officials warned in November that the drought could force it to shut down its Harris reactor near Raleigh, according to documents obtained by the AP. The water in Harris Lake stands at 218.5 feet — just 3½ feet above the limit set in the plant’s license.
Lake Norman near Charlotte is down to 93.7 feet — less than a foot above the minimum set in the license for Duke Energy Corp.’s McGuire nuclear plant. The lake was at 98.2 feet just a year ago.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We know we haven’t gotten enough rain, so we can’t rule anything out,” said Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe. “But based on what we know now, we don’t believe we’ll have to shut down the plants.”
During Europe’s brutal 2006 heat wave, French, Spanish and German utilities were forced to shut down some of their nuclear plants and reduce power at others because of low water levels — some for as much as a week.
If a prolonged shutdown like that were to happen in the Southeast, utilities in the region might have to buy electricity on the wholesale market, and the high costs could be passed on to customers.
“Currently, nuclear power costs between $5 to $7 to produce a megawatt hour,” said Daniele Seitz, an energy analyst with New York-based Dahlman Rose & Co. “It would cost 10 times that amount that if you had to buy replacement power — especially during the summer.”
At a nuclear plant, water is also used to cool the reactor core and to create the steam that drives the electricity-generating turbines. But those are comparatively small amounts of water, circulating in what are known as closed systems — that is, the water is constantly reused. Water for those two purposes is not threatened by the drought.
Instead, the drought could choke off the billions of gallons of water that pass through the region’s reactors every day to cool used steam. Water sucked from lakes and rivers passes through pipes, which act as a condenser, turning the steam back into water. The outside water never comes into direct contact with the steam or any nuclear material.
At some plants — those with tall, Three Mile Island-style cooling towers — a lot of the water travels up the tower and is lost to evaporation. At other plants, almost all of the water is returned to the lake or river, though significantly hotter because of the heat absorbed from the steam.
Progress spokeswoman Julie Hahn said the Harris reactor, for example, sucks up 33 million gallons a day, with 17 million gallons lost to evaporation via its big cooling towers. Duke’s McGuire plant draws in more than 1 billion gallons a day, but most of it is pumped back to its source.
Nuclear plants are subject to restrictions on the temperature of the discharged coolant, because hot water can kill fish or plants or otherwise disrupt the environment. Those restrictions, coupled with the drought, led to the one-day shutdown Aug. 16 of a TVA reactor at Browns Ferry in Alabama.
The water was low on the Tennessee River and had become warmer than usual under the hot sun. By the time it had been pumped through the Browns Ferry plant, it had become hotter still — too hot to release back into the river, according to the TVA. So the utility shut down a reactor.
David Lochbaum, nuclear project safety director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, warned that nuclear plants are not designed to take the wear and tear of repeatedly stopping and restarting.
“Nuclear plants are best when they flatline — when they stay up and running or shut down for long periods to refuel,” Lochbaum said. “It wears out piping, valves, motors.”
Both the industry and NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said plants can shut down and restart without problems.
The Associated Press reports:
Vice President Dick Cheney prodded Congress on Wednesday to extend and broaden an expiring surveillance law, saying "fighting the war on terror is a long-term enterprise" that should not come with an expiration date.
"We're reminding Congress that they must act now," Cheney told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The law, which authorizes the administration to eavesdrop on phone calls and see the e-mail to and from suspected terrorists, expires on Feb. 1. Congress is bickering over terms of its extension.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked an effort by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to extend the stopgap Protect America Act without expanding it, raising stakes for an expected showdown in the Senate later this week on a new version of the law.
"This cause is bigger than the quarrels of party and the agendas of politicians," Cheney said. "And if we in Washington, all of us, can only see our way clear to work together, then the outcome should not be in doubt."
Congress hastily adopted the stopgap act last summer in the face of warnings from the administration about dangerous gaps in the government's ability to gather intelligence in the Internet age.
Administration allies in Congress not only want the expiring law made permanent but amended to give telephone companies and other communications providers immunity from being sued for helping the government eavesdropping and other intelligence-gathering efforts.
Cheney said such providers "face dozens of lawsuits."
"The intelligence community doesn't have the facilities to carry out the kind of international surveillance needed to defend this country since 9-11. In some situations, there is no alternative to seeking assistance from the private sector. This is entirely appropriate," Cheney said.
At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino defended the proposal to protect phone companies from liability. "These are companies who helped their country right after 9-11," she said. She also criticized Democratic plans for a one-month extension of the current law. "Look, there's been six months to hash out the differences. Actually, there's been a whole year-and-a-half worth ... And there was robust debate, a hearty debate back in August when we got the bill that we have now."
At the heart of the controversy is whether the government's wireless surveillance program violated provisions of the original FISA law that requires warrants for wiretaps whenever one of the parties involved in the communication resides in the United States.
Cheney also said the administration "feels strongly that an updated FISA law should be made permanent, not merely extended again. ... There is no sound reason to pass critical legislation like the Protect America Act and slap an expiration date on it."
Reid plans to bring to the Senate floor on Thursday competing versions of the legislation.
If a bill is not approved then, Reid said he would require the Senate to work through the weekend to get a bill passed.
The original FISA law requires the government to get permission from a special court to listen in on the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States. Changes in communications technology mean many purely foreign to foreign communications now pass through the United States and therefore require the government to get court orders to intercept them.
The Protect America Act, adopted in August, eased that restriction. Privacy and civil liberties advocates say it went too far, giving the government far more power to eavesdrop on American communications without court oversight.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
False Pretenses - Following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq
The Center for Public Integrity reports:
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.
On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.
It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.
In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Not surprisingly, the officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.
President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14).
The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.
Consider, for example, these false public statements made in the run-up to war:
On August 26, 2002, in an address to the national convention of the Veteran of Foreign Wars, Cheney flatly declared: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." In fact, former CIA Director George Tenet later recalled, Cheney's assertions went well beyond his agency's assessments at the time. Another CIA official, referring to the same speech, told journalist Ron Suskind, "Our reaction was, 'Where is he getting this stuff from?' "
In the closing days of September 2002, with a congressional vote fast approaching on authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, Bush told the nation in his weekly radio address: "The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. . . . This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year." A few days later, similar findings were also included in a much-hurried National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — an analysis that hadn't been done in years, as the intelligence community had deemed it unnecessary and the White House hadn't requested it.
In July 2002, Rumsfeld had a one-word answer for reporters who asked whether Iraq had relationships with Al Qaeda terrorists: "Sure." In fact, an assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director Tenet) found an absence of "compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda." What's more, an earlier DIA assessment said that "the nature of the regime's relationship with Al Qaeda is unclear."
On May 29, 2003, in an interview with Polish TV, President Bush declared: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." But as journalist Bob Woodward reported in State of Denial, days earlier a team of civilian experts dispatched to examine the two mobile labs found in Iraq had concluded in a field report that the labs were not for biological weapons. The team's final report, completed the following month, concluded that the labs had probably been used to manufacture hydrogen for weather balloons.
On January 28, 2003, in his annual State of the Union address, Bush asserted: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." Two weeks earlier, an analyst with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research sent an email to colleagues in the intelligence community laying out why he believed the uranium-purchase agreement "probably is a hoax."
On February 5, 2003, in an address to the United Nations Security Council, Powell said: "What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources." As it turned out, however, two of the main human sources to which Powell referred had provided false information. One was an Iraqi con artist, code-named "Curveball," whom American intelligence officials were dubious about and in fact had never even spoken to. The other was an Al Qaeda detainee, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had reportedly been sent to Eqypt by the CIA and tortured and who later recanted the information he had provided. Libi told the CIA in January 2004 that he had "decided he would fabricate any information interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government]."
The false statements dramatically increased in August 2002, with congressional consideration of a war resolution, then escalated through the mid-term elections and spiked even higher from January 2003 to the eve of the invasion.
It was during those critical weeks in early 2003 that the president delivered his State of the Union address and Powell delivered his memorable U.N. presentation. For all 935 false statements, including when and where they occurred, go to the search page for this project; the methodology used for this analysis is explained here.
In addition to their patently false pronouncements, Bush and these seven top officials also made hundreds of other statements in the two years after 9/11 in which they implied that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or links to Al Qaeda. Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.
The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war. Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, "independent" validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq.
The "ground truth" of the Iraq war itself eventually forced the president to backpedal, albeit grudgingly. In a 2004 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, for example, Bush acknowledged that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. And on December 18, 2005, with his approval ratings on the decline, Bush told the nation in a Sunday-night address from the Oval Office: "It is true that Saddam Hussein had a history of pursuing and using weapons of mass destruction. It is true that he systematically concealed those programs, and blocked the work of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power."
Bush stopped short, however, of admitting error or poor judgment; instead, his administration repeatedly attributed the stark disparity between its prewar public statements and the actual "ground truth" regarding the threat posed by Iraq to poor intelligence from a Who's Who of domestic agencies.
On the other hand, a growing number of critics, including a parade of former government officials, have publicly — and in some cases vociferously — accused the president and his inner circle of ignoring or distorting the available intelligence. In the end, these critics say, it was the calculated drumbeat of false information and public pronouncements that ultimately misled the American people and this nation's allies on their way to war.
Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period. Congressional oversight has focused almost entirely on the quality of the U.S. government's pre-war intelligence — not the judgment, public statements, or public accountability of its highest officials. And, of course, only four of the officials — Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz — have testified before Congress about Iraq.
Short of such review, this project provides a heretofore unavailable framework for examining how the U.S. war in Iraq came to pass. Clearly, it calls into question the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were the unwitting victims of bad intelligence.
Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?
The New York Times reports:
Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sushi from 5 of the 20 places had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market. The sushi was bought by The New York Times in October.
“No one should eat a meal of tuna with mercury levels like those found in the restaurant samples more than about once every three weeks," said Dr. Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.
Dr. Gochfeld analyzed the sushi for The Times with Dr. Joanna Burger, professor of life sciences at Rutgers University. He is a former chairman of the New Jersey Mercury Task Force and also treats patients with mercury poisoning.
The owner of a restaurant whose tuna sushi had particularly high mercury concentrations said he was shocked by the findings. “I’m startled by this,” said the owner, Drew Nieporent, a managing partner of Nobu Next Door. “Anything that might endanger any customer of ours, we’d be inclined to take off the menu immediately and get to the bottom of it.”
Although the samples were gathered in New York City, experts believe similar results would be observed elsewhere.
“Mercury levels in bluefin are likely to be very high regardless of location,” said Tim Fitzgerald, a marine scientist for Environmental Defense, an advocacy group that works to protect the environment and improve human health.
Most of the restaurants in the survey said the tuna The Times had sampled was bluefin.
In 2004 the Food and Drug Administration joined with the Environmental Protection Agency to warn women who might become pregnant and children to limit their consumption of certain varieties of canned tuna because the mercury it contained might damage the developing nervous system. Fresh tuna was not included in the advisory. Most of the tuna sushi in the Times samples contained far more mercury than is typically found in canned tuna.
Over the past several years, studies have suggested that mercury may also cause health problems for adults, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and neurological symptoms.
Dr. P. Michael Bolger, a toxicologist who is head of the chemical hazard assessment team at the Food and Drug Administration, did not comment on the findings in the Times sample but said the agency was reviewing its seafood mercury warnings. Because it has been four years since the advisory was issued, Dr. Bolger said, “we have had a study under way to take a fresh look at it.”
No government agency regularly tests seafood for mercury.
Tuna samples from the Manhattan restaurants Nobu Next Door, Sushi Seki, Sushi of Gari and Blue Ribbon Sushi and the food store Gourmet Garage all had mercury above one part per million, the “action level” at which the F.D.A. can take food off the market. (The F.D.A. has rarely, if ever, taken any tuna off the market.) The highest mercury concentration, 1.4 parts per million, was found in tuna from Blue Ribbon Sushi. The lowest, 0.10, was bought at Fairway.
When told of the newspaper’s findings, Andy Arons, an owner of Gourmet Garage, said: “We’ll look for lower-level-mercury fish. Maybe we won’t sell tuna sushi for a while, until we get to the bottom of this.” Mr. Arons said his stores stocked yellowfin, albacore and bluefin tuna, depending on the available quality and the price.
At Blue Ribbon Sushi, Eric Bromberg, an owner, said he was aware that bluefin tuna had higher mercury concentrations. For that reason, Mr. Bromberg said, the restaurant typically told parents with small children not to let them eat “more than one or two pieces.”
Koji Oneda, a spokesman for Sushi Seki, said the restaurant would talk to its fish supplier about the issue. A manager at Sushi of Gari, Tomi Tomono, said it warned pregnant women and regular customers who “love to eat tuna” about mercury levels. Mr. Tomono also said the restaurant would put warning labels on the menu “very soon.”
Scientists who performed the analysis for The Times ran the tests several times to be sure there was no mistake in the levels of methylmercury, the form of mercury found in fish tied to health problems.
The work was done at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, in Piscataway, a partnership between Rutgers and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
The New York Times reports:
Jose Padilla, the Brooklyn-born convert to Islam who was once accused by the government of plotting to detonate a “dirty bomb” in the United States, was sentenced on Tuesday to 17 years and four months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to help Islamic jihadist fighters abroad.
The sentence was more lenient than the federal sentencing guidelines recommended and was a blow to the government, which had requested the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for Mr. Padilla, 37.
In explaining her decision, Judge Marcia G. Cooke of Federal District Court in Miami acknowledged the gravity of the crimes Mr. Padilla had committed. But she questioned the range and impact of the conspiracy, saying that there was no evidence linking the men to specific acts of terrorism anywhere or that their actions had resulted in death or injury to anyone.
She also noted that defendants in other well-known American terrorism cases had received life sentences for more heinous crimes, including Zacharias Moussaoui, who was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Terry L. Nichols, who was convicted of murder in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Over the objections of prosecutors, Judge Cooke gave Mr. Padilla credit for time served during his 3 1/2-year detention in a South Carolina military brig following his arrest in 2002 on suspicions that he had been involved in the “dirty bomb” plot, allegations the government eventually discarded.
During that detention, Mr. Padilla was subjected to prolonged isolation and intensive interrogations in conditions that the judge called “harsh.” The conditions, she said, “warrant consideration in the sentencing.”
The sentences, following a three-month trial and a seven-day sentencing hearing, brought to a close the latest chapter in Mr. Padilla’s extraordinary legal odyssey, which began with his arrest in May 2002 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
John Ashcroft, who was then the attorney general, announced Mr. Padilla’s capture, saying that Mr. Padilla was part of an “unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive “dirty bomb” intended to cause “mass death and injury.”
After his detention in South Carolina, Mr. Padilla was transferred to civilian custody in Miami in 2006 and added to the conspiracy case of two men of Middle Eastern descent, Ahmad Amin Hassoun, 45, a computer programmer of Palestinian descent, and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, 46, an engineer and school administrator originally from Jordan.
The three were accused of belonging to a North American terrorism support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremists around the world.
Defense lawyers contended that the men were involved in humanitarian missions to help persecuted Muslims in places like Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon and Somalia.
The government’s main evidence against Mr. Padilla, a former Chicago gang member with a lengthy criminal record, was an application form that prosecutors said he had filled out to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000.
Last August, a federal jury here in Miami convicted the three of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country, and of two lesser counts of material support.
On Tuesday, the judge also gave lenient prison sentences to Mr. Padilla’s two co-defendants in the case, both of whom were, like Mr. Padilla, eligible for life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. Mr. Hassoun, who recruited Mr. Padilla in a Broward County mosque, received 15 years and eight months in prison. Mr. Jayyousi, who was said to be a financier and propagandist for the cell, received 12 years and eight months.
Lawyers for the three men vowed to appeal the sentences and verdicts in the case but were in something of a victorious mood on Tuesday following the sentencings.
“It’s definitely a defeat for the government,” said Jeanne Baker, a lawyer for Mr. Hassoun.
William Swor, a lawyer for Mr. Jayyousi, criticized the length of his client’s sentence. “The government has not made America safer nor promoted the rule of law,” he said. “The government has just made America less free.”
The government’s lawyers did not speak to the media at the courthouse, but in a statement issued by the United States Attorneys Office in Miami, Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said the case had been brought to “a successful conclusion.”
“The defendants’ North American support cell has been dismantled and can no longer send money and jihadist recruits to conflicts overseas,” Mr. Wainstein said.
But Mr. Padilla’s mothers, Estela Lebron, said in comments to the media outside the courthouse that the Bush administration had waged a misguided prosecution against her son, calling it “insane.”
“He’s a human being and an American citizen,” she told reporters. “he’s not a terrorist.” She added: “This is the way they’re spending our money? ‘Hello?’ ”
Mr. Padilla’s detention became the centerpiece of a heated debate about the Bush administration’s approach to prosecuting terrorism.
Administration officials had long maintained that some terrorism suspects could be properly handled only with military detention and trials by military commissions, not in the civilian justice system. But the verdict against Mr. Padilla seemed to undercut the administration’s insistence and, in the eyes of critics of the administration’s approach, proved that the criminal justice system should have handled the case in the first place.
Monday, January 21, 2008
In the New York Times, Paul Krugman writes:
Historical narratives matter. That’s why conservatives are still writing books denouncing F.D.R. and the New Deal; they understand that the way Americans perceive bygone eras, even eras from the seemingly distant past, affects politics today.
And it’s also why the furor over Barack Obama’s praise for Ronald Reagan is not, as some think, overblown. The fact is that how we talk about the Reagan era still matters immensely for American politics.
Bill Clinton knew that in 1991, when he began his presidential campaign. “The Reagan-Bush years,” he declared, “have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.”
Contrast that with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”
Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?
For it did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.
When the inevitable recession arrived, people felt betrayed — a sense of betrayal that Mr. Clinton was able to ride into the White House.
Given that reality, what was Mr. Obama talking about? Some good things did eventually happen to the U.S. economy — but not on Reagan’s watch.
For example, I’m not sure what “dynamism” means, but if it means productivity growth, there wasn’t any resurgence in the Reagan years. Eventually productivity did take off — but even the Bush administration’s own Council of Economic Advisers dates the beginning of that takeoff to 1995.
Similarly, if a sense of entrepreneurship means having confidence in the talents of American business leaders, that didn’t happen in the 1980s, when all the business books seemed to have samurai warriors on their covers. Like productivity, American business prestige didn’t stage a comeback until the mid-1990s, when the U.S. began to reassert its technological and economic leadership.
I understand why conservatives want to rewrite history and pretend that these good things happened while a Republican was in office — or claim, implausibly, that the 1981 Reagan tax cut somehow deserves credit for positive economic developments that didn’t happen until 14 or more years had passed. (Does Richard Nixon get credit for “Morning in America”?)
But why would a self-proclaimed progressive say anything that lends credibility to this rewriting of history — particularly right now, when Reaganomics has just failed all over again?
Like Ronald Reagan, President Bush began his term in office with big tax cuts for the rich and promises that the benefits would trickle down to the middle class. Like Reagan, he also began his term with an economic slump, then claimed that the recovery from that slump proved the success of his policies.
And like Reaganomics — but more quickly — Bushonomics has ended in grief. The public mood today is as grim as it was in 1992. Wages are lagging behind inflation. Employment growth in the Bush years has been pathetic compared with job creation in the Clinton era. Even if we don’t have a formal recession — and the odds now are that we will — the optimism of the 1990s has evaporated.
This is, in short, a time when progressives ought to be driving home the idea that the right’s ideas don’t work, and never have.
It’s not just a matter of what happens in the next election. Mr. Clinton won his elections, but — as Mr. Obama correctly pointed out — he didn’t change America’s trajectory the way Reagan did. Why?
Well, I’d say that the great failure of the Clinton administration — more important even than its failure to achieve health care reform, though the two failures were closely related — was the fact that it didn’t change the narrative, a fact demonstrated by the way Republicans are still claiming to be the next Ronald Reagan.
Now progressives have been granted a second chance to argue that Reaganism is fundamentally wrong: once again, the vast majority of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track. But they won’t be able to make that argument if their political leaders, whatever they meant to convey, seem to be saying that Reagan had it right.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The New York Times reports:
Last May, a Saudi Arabian conglomerate bought a Massachusetts plastics maker. In November, a French company established a new factory in Adrian, Mich., adding 189 automotive jobs to an area accustomed to layoffs. In December, a British company bought a New Jersey maker of cough syrup.
For much of the world, the United States is now on sale at discount prices. With credit tight, unemployment growing and worries mounting about a potential recession, American business and government leaders are courting foreign money to keep the economy growing. Foreign investors are buying aggressively, taking advantage of American duress and a weak dollar to snap up what many see as bargains, while making inroads to the world’s largest market.
Last year, foreign investors poured a record $414 billion into securing stakes in American companies, factories and other properties through private deals and purchases of publicly traded stock, according to Thomson Financial, a research firm. That was up 90 percent from the previous year and more than double the average for the last decade. It amounted to more than one-fourth of all announced deals for the year, Thomson said.
During the first two weeks of this year, foreign businesses agreed to invest another $22.6 billion for stakes in American companies — more than half the value of all announced deals. If a recession now unfolds and the dollar drops further, the pace could accelerate, economists say.
The surge of foreign money has injected fresh tension into a running debate about America’s place in the global economy. It has supplied state governors with a new development strategy — attracting foreign money. And it has reinvigorated sometimes jingoistic worries about foreigners securing control of America’s fortunes, a narrative last heard in the 1980s as Americans bought up Hondas and Rockefeller Center landed in Japanese hands.
With a growing share of investment coming from so-called sovereign wealth funds — vast pools of money controlled by governments from China to the Middle East — lawmakers and regulators are calling for greater scrutiny to ensure that foreign countries do not gain influence over the financial system or military-related technology. On the presidential campaign trail, the Democratic candidates have begun to focus on these foreign funds, calling for international rules that would make them more transparent.
Debate is swirling in Washington about the best way to stimulate a flagging economy. Despite divided opinion about the merits, foreign investment may be preventing deeper troubles by infusing hard-luck companies with cash and keeping some in business.
The most conspicuous beneficiaries are Wall Street banks like Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, which have sold stakes to government-controlled funds in Asia and the Middle East to compensate for calamitous losses on mortgage markets. Beneath the headlines, a more profound shift is under way: Foreign entities last year captured stakes in American companies in businesses as diverse as real estate, steel-making, energy and baby food.
The influx is the result of a confluence of factors that have made the United States both reliant on the largesse of foreigners and an alluring place for opportunistic investors. With American banks reeling from the housing downturn and loath to lend, businesses are hungry for cash.
The weak dollar has made American companies and properties cheaper in global terms, particularly for European and Canadian buyers. Even as Americans confront the prospect of a recession, economic growth remains strong worldwide, endowing oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia and export powers like China and Germany with abundant cash.
As the German company ThyssenKrupp Stainless broke ground in November on what is to be a $3.7 billion stainless steel plant in Calvert, Ala., its executives spoke effusively about the low cost of production in the United States and the chance to reach many millions of customers — particularly because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows goods to flow into Mexico and Canada free of duty.
“The Nafta stainless steel market has great potential, and we’re committed to significantly expanding our business in this growth region,” said the company’s chairman, Jürgen H. Fechter, according to a statement.
Foreign giants like Toyota Motor and Sony have been sinking capital into American plants. Investment in the American subsidiaries of foreign companies grew to $43.3 billion last year from $39.2 billion the previous year, according to the research and consulting firm OCO Monitor.
“This is a vote of confidence in the American economy, the American marketplace and the American worker,” the deputy Treasury secretary, Robert M. Kimmitt, said. “These investments keep Americans employed and keep balance sheets strong.”
Five million Americans now work for foreign companies set up in the United States, Mr. Kimmitt said, and those jobs pay 30 percent more than similar work at domestic companies. Nearly a third of such jobs are in manufacturing, which explains why Rust Belt states have been wooing foreign investment.
“We’ve lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs,” said Michigan’s governor, Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, who has traveled three times to Europe and twice to Japan in pursuit of investment since taking office in 2003. “I’ve got to get jobs for our people.”
Some labor unions see the acceleration of foreign takeovers as the latest indignity wrought by globalization.
“It’s the culmination of a series of fool’s errands,” said Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers. “We’ve hollowed out our industrial base and run up this massive trade deficit, and now the countries that have built the deficits are coming back to buy up our assets. It’s like spitting in your face.”
Other labor groups take a more pragmatic view.
“We need investment and we need to create good jobs,” said Thea Lee, policy director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in Washington. “We’re not in the position to be too choosy about where that investment comes from. But it does bring home the consequences of flawed trade policies over many, many years that we’re in this position of being dependent.”
At the center of concern is the growing influence of sovereign wealth funds, which invested $21.5 billion in American companies last year, according to Thomson. Analysts say they could skew markets by investing to improve the fortunes of their national companies or to pursue political goals.
“This is a phenomenon that could be called the growth of state capitalism as opposed to market capitalism,” said Jeffrey E. Garten, a trade expert at the Yale School of Management. “The United States has not ever been on the receiving end of this before.”
Perhaps emblematic of national ambivalence, in an appearance on CNBC last week, the voluble market analyst Jim Cramer spoke in menacing terms about the growing role of state investment funds from the Middle East and China.
“Do we want the communists to own the banks, or the terrorists?” Mr. Cramer asked. “I’ll take any of it, I guess, because we’re so desperate.”
Proponents of investment from overseas note that finance from sovereign wealth funds is a mere trickle of the overall flow from abroad. Indeed, the bulk comes from Europe, Canada and Japan. Just as Americans have scattered investments around the world in pursuit of profit — with holdings of foreign stock and debt exceeding $6 trillion in 2006, according to the Treasury Department — foreigners are looking to the United States, with their capital generating economic activity, proponents say.
If fear of foreign money now inspires Americans to erect new barriers, that would damage the economy, said Todd M. Malan, president of the Organization for International Investment, a Washington lobbying group financed by foreign companies.
“The policy choices on the negative side would have enormous economic implications that would make the current situation look like a bubble bath,” he said.
Tensions spawned by foreign investment hark back to the 1980s, when Japan snapped up prominent American businesses like Columbia Pictures, and some intoned that the American way of life was under assault. The new wave of foreign money is washing in at an even more important time, analysts say.
The United States has lost more than three million manufacturing jobs since 2001, with foreign trade often taking the blame. Foreign-made goods now account for roughly one-third of all wares consumed in the United States, roughly tripling their share over the last quarter-century. The soaring price of oil and a widening trade deficit underscore how the American economy is increasingly vulnerable to decisions made far away.
In 2005, Congressional opposition scuttled a bid by the state-owned Chinese energy company Cnooc to buy the American oil company Unocal. The following year, furor on Capitol Hill prevented DP World, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, from buying several major American ports.
No such outcry has greeted the purchase of stakes in major Wall Street banks by state investment funds in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, China, Singapore and South Korea. This is largely because the banks sold passive slices and ceded no formal control, which would have set off a federal review of the national security implications. But the silence also reflects the imperative that these enormous institutions swiftly secure cash.
“It would be good if these companies didn’t need all this capital and better if the capital was available in the United States,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who was a vocal opponent of the DP World deal. “But given the situation that these institutions find themselves in and the fact that there’s a pretty strong credit squeeze, there’s only two choices: Have foreign companies invest in these firms or have massive layoffs.”
In years past, particularly when Japanese money washed in, many foreign purchases proved not to be so prudent in the end. This time, with the dollar weak and troubled American companies in a poor bargaining position, the prices really do seem cheap, some economists say.
“They’re buying financial assets at well under book value,” said Gary C. Hufbauer, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Trade experts assume tensions will rise as developing countries — which tend to have more state companies — continue to expand their share of investment in the United States.
Canada still spends the most money buying stakes in American companies — more than $65 billion in 2007, according to Thomson. But other countries’ purchases are growing rapidly. South Korea’s investments swelled to more than $10.4 billion last year from just $5.4 million in 2000. Russia went to $572 million from $60 million in that span; India to $3.3 billion from $364 million.
But even if political tension increases, so will the flow of foreign money, some analysts say, for the simple reason that businesses need it.
“The forces sucking in this capital are much bigger than the political forces,” said Mr. Garten, the Yale trade expert. “If there is a big controversy, it will be between Washington on the one hand and corporate America on the other. In that contest, the financiers and the businessmen are going to win, as they always do.”