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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bush administration passed up chance to nail Zarqawi in 2002

From The New Republic:

"Abu Musab Al Zarqawi isn't just a Jordanian jihadist adept at slaughtering Iraqis and American troops. In the hands of President Bush, he has become a shorthand rebuttal to John Kerry's argument that the Iraq war has been a diversion from the fight against Al Qaeda: 'If Zarqawi and his associates were not busy fighting American forces in Iraq, does my opponent think they would be peaceful citizens of the world? Does he think they'd be opening a small business somewhere?'

But Zarqawi should really be a metaphor for something else: gross cynicism about national security. As The Wall Street Journal reported this week, American officials had identified Zarqawi as a critical terrorist target in spring 2002. By June of that year, Pentagon officials had drawn up options for a strike against Zarqawi's base in Iraqi Kurdistan--only to get no response from the White House for nine months, at which point they were told to delay an attack until the war began...

National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson told the Journal, 'Because there was never any real-time, actionable intelligence that placed Zarqawi at [his camp], action taken against the facility would have been ineffective.' Too bad the uniformed military doesn't agree. Retired General John Keane, then the Army's vice chief of staff, claims that Zarqawi's base was 'one of the best targets we ever had.' By the time American forces eventually struck, Zarqawi and his fighters had fled. It's hard to imagine what could be more cynical than Bush using Zarqawi's presence in Iraq to bolster his case for reelection after letting the terrorist go free in the interest of presenting an uncomplicated (and invalid) case for invading Iraq. But, if Bush is reelected, we'll probably find out. "

Friday, October 29, 2004

No retreat, no surrender

Photo courtesy of AP

"Facing crowds flowing five blocks deep, rocker Bruce Springsteen offered a passionate, and often poetic, pitch Thursday for the election of John F. Kerry, a fellow guitar-playing Democrat.

As he softly strummed his acoustic guitar on a picturesque autumn day here, Springsteen brought 80,000 Wisconsinites to an emotional crescendo with a lyrical call for social fairness, altruism and a Tuesday defeat of President Bush. It was vintage Springsteen, from the heart and distinctly heartland in its simplicity and touch.

'I believe the essential ideas of American identity are what's at stake on November 2,' he said, as red and yellow leaves sprinkled from the tree branches. Health care. Decent wages. Helping the homeless. 'A sane and responsible foreign policy,' the rocker said. 'Paul Wellstone, a great Minnesota senator, said the future is for the passionate. . . . The future is now, and it's time to let your passions loose.'

It was one of the most remarkable scenes of the campaign season, as college kids and old folks, disabled people and local luminaries crammed a straight stretch of West Washington Avenue ending at the steps of the state Capitol in the distance..."

-Jim VandeHei, Washington Post

Full story here.

Bush's campaign admits it doctored campaign ad, filled background with soldiers

Reuters News Service reports:

"President Bush 's campaign acknowledged on Thursday that a television ad depicting soldiers listening to Bush speak had been doctored so that some of the faces of the soldiers appear more than once.

Released five days before Election Day, the ad was called, 'Whatever It Takes' and had been touted by Bush advisers as a personal message from the president talking about the war on terror.

It depicts Bush talking of his meetings with family members of fallen soldiers and saying the 'hardest decision' he faced was the one to send soldiers into battle.

It then shows clips of people apparently listening to the president, including a crowd of soldiers. But some of the faces appear more than once in the image, which flashes across the screen as Bush vows to 'never relent in defending America, whatever it takes."'

Full story here.

FBI launches criminal investigation of Halliburton contracts

The Associated Press reports:

"The FBI has begun investigating whether the U.S. Defence Department improperly awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton Co., seeking an interview with a top army contracting officer and collecting documents from several government offices.

The line of inquiry expands an earlier FBI investigation into whether Halliburton overcharged taxpayers for fuel in Iraq and it elevates to a criminal matter the election-year question of whether the U.S. administration showed favouritism to Vice-President Dick Cheney's former company."

Full story here.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Videotape shows G.I.'s at weapons cache after fall of Saddam

Republicans and Pentagon officials have been all over the TV screens this week contending that a highly controversial cache of high-powered explosives was no longer at Al Qaqaa when American troops entered Baghdad. A videotape contradicts them.

The New York Times reports:

"A videotape made by a television crew with American troops when they opened bunkers at a sprawling Iraqi munitions complex south of Baghdad shows a huge supply of explosives still there nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, apparently including some sealed earlier by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The tape, broadcast on Wednesday night by the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, appeared to confirm a warning given earlier this month to the agency by Iraqi officials, who said that hundreds of tons of high-grade explosives, powerful enough to bring down buildings or detonate nuclear weapons, had vanished from the site after the invasion of Iraq.

The question of whether the material was removed by Mr. Hussein's forces in the days before the invasion, or looted later because it was unguarded, has become a heated dispute on the campaign trail, with Senator John Kerry accusing President Bush of incompetence, and Mr. Bush saying it is unclear when the material disappeared and rejecting what he calls Mr. Kerry's "wild charges."

Weapons experts familiar with the work of the international inspectors in Iraq say the videotape appears identical to photographs that the inspectors took of the explosives, which were put under seal before the war. One frame shows what the experts say is a seal, with narrow wires that would have to be broken if anyone entered through the main door of the bunker."

Full story here.

Leading Republican: for health security, John Kerry has the better plan

Former Sen. David Durenberger writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The presidential candidates are debating whether Iraq or the economy is headed in the right direction, but no one can dispute that the health care trend line is going in the wrong direction.

With 5 million more uninsured Americans, bringing the total to 45 million (including a 12 percent increase in uninsured Minnesotans in the last year), family insurance premiums up more than $3,500 (including a 59 percent jump in Minnesota), prescription drug costs up over 70 percent, and businesses struggling to afford health care and stay competitive, there can be no doubt that we need to change our policy course.

Regardless of how voters view the candidates on all other issues, it is clear that the future of health care costs for Minnesotans has already been determined by President Bush's record of accomplishment. As a Republican, with some experience, I sincerely regret having to say the record over the last four years and the prescription for reform the president is proposing give me little confidence that this most challenging of all domestic priorities will be adequately addressed over the next four years.

His Medicare Modernization Act enhances access to prescription drugs for low-income, high-need seniors. It authorizes demonstrations to identify quality of care and chronic care management. But it all comes at a price neither taxpayers nor Medicare beneficiaries will be able to afford.

Drug companies have inflated prices from which "discounts" are derived and the Republican Congress has protected the drug companies from the price competition that Medicare applies to doctors, hospitals, and home health, dialysis and other care providers. President Bush and the GOP Congress have placed the future of Medicare in the hands of America's big health insurance plans and, again, protected them from the reality of competition with a guarantee of up to 123 percent higher payments than traditional Medicare.

The costs of all this will be borne not by those who profit most from health insurance or services, but by seniors and disabled Minnesotans whose Medicare premiums were increased 14 percent this year and will be 17 percent next year. With a budget deficit of more than $400 billion a year, that Medicare premium can only rise faster in the future. Plus, those of us working past age 64 will pay up to 80 percent of the costs to us of a Medicare program we have funded out of family income for the last 38 years.

President Bush's embrace of Health Savings Accounts would make little dent in the uninsured or in overall cost growth, but they would cut benefits and shift costs to workers. His Association Health Plans -- which are designed to pool certain businesses together and permit them to avoid most state consumer protection insurance laws -- would simply attract businesses with younger, healthier workers at the expense of others. His underfunded individual tax credits to be used in the fatally flawed and discriminatory individual market would -- like his other approaches -- undermine and weaken employer-based coverage and make it even more difficult to find insurance coverage for the least healthy among us.

The president constantly refers to Sen. John Kerry's health reform proposals as "big government." Not true. As one deeply involved in developing alternatives to President Bill Clinton's reform proposals, I must say that what Kerry proposes today for coverage expansion is in line with what mainstream Republican senators like Jack Danforth, John Chafee and I, working with Democrats like Bill Bradley, John Breaux and Kent Conrad, tried to accomplish in 1994.

Indeed, the Kerry plan appears designed to be responsive to those most in need -- people forced out of health care coverage by premium cost increases -- without being disruptive.

By providing employers and health plans with financial relief from catastrophic expenses, it should stabilize and make more affordable the employer-based insurance market. It opens up programs like the Congress' own Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP) and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and provides new private health insurance options -- not mandates -- for the uninsured.

By providing extra tax breaks for vulnerable groups like 55-to-64-year-olds, workers in between jobs, and small businesses, it ensures that health care is made even more affordable.

While far from perfect, it both builds on and learns from the past and takes us in a long-overdue new direction.

In this election people are making decisions on the basis of the candidates' stands on many issues. I have access to all of the health care I need through both FEHBP and Medicare. Like many Republicans, though, I believe our national goal is access for all, not just some.

For people who cannot afford the health insurance they need, for people whose access to care is threatened, the issue of which presidential candidate is most likely to come to their aid is their most important national security issue. It is the national security position on which President Bush and Sen. Kerry differ most and the one on which Kerry has the clearer vision for restoring security to all Americans.

David Durenberger, who was a U.S. senator from 1978 to 1995, is chair of the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas College of Business.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Bush police state

"If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."
-George W. Bush

The Washington Post reports:

"As Bush has traveled the United States during this political campaign, the Secret Service and local police have often handled public protest by quickly arresting or removing demonstrators, free-speech advocates say. In addition, access to Bush's events has been unusually tightly controlled and people who do not support Bush's reelection have been removed.

Although it's impossible to precisely measure the tactics in comparison with previous campaigns, civil liberties advocates and other experts say the treatment of dissenters is harsher this year. Several dozen protest-related arrests have been reported in recent months, in addition to the 1,800 made outside the Republican National Convention in New York, and the American Civil Liberties Union says that scores of other people have been evicted or denied entry to Bush campaign events...

Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who studies police behavior at political protests, argues that the United States has not seen such tactics during protests since the Vietnam War era.

'This seems to be on a new level from what we've seen from past administrations,' Vitale said. 'It's clear that some of these security zones are not based on legitimate security concerns. They are based on the idea of the president not seeing someone who disagrees with him, which basically undermines the whole idea of the First Amendment.'

Tickets to Bush events, distributed by the Republican Party, go only to those who volunteer or donate to the party or, in some cases, sign an endorsement of the GOP ticket and provide names and addresses. Party workers police the crowds for signs of Kerry supporters, who are frequently evicted...

The Kerry campaign says it does not limit attendance based on political views, a point Kerry has made frequently when confronted by hecklers on the campaign trail. 'We don't base entry to our events on political affiliation,' said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer...

In September, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq was arrested at a rally for first lady Laura Bush in Hamilton Township, N.J.; she was wearing a T-shirt that said 'President Bush you killed my son.' The charges were later dropped.

Full story here.

Dick Cheney: Mad scientist or simple monster?

"Dick Cheney peaked too soon. We've still got a few days left until Halloween.

It was scary enough when we thought the vice president had created his own reality for spin purposes. But if he actually believes that Iraq is "a remarkable success story,'' it's downright spooky. He's already got his persona for Sunday: he's the mad scientist in the haunted mansion, fiddling with test tubes to force the world to conform to his twisted vision.

After 9/11, Mr. Cheney swirled his big black cape and hunkered down in his undisclosed dungeon, reading books about smallpox and plague and worst-case terrorist scenarios. His ghoulish imagination ran wild, and he dragged the untested president and jittery country into his house of horrors, painting a gory picture of how Iraq could let fearsome munitions fall into the hands of evildoers.

He yanked America into war to preclude that chilling bloodbath. But in a spine-tingling switch, the administration's misbegotten invasion of Iraq has let fearsome munitions fall into the hands of evildoers. It's also forged the links between Al Qaeda and the Sunni Baathists that Mr. Cheney and his crazy-eyed Igors at the Pentagon had fantasized about to justify their hunger to remake the Middle East."

-Maureen Dowd

Trying to make a difference

Cindy Sheehan writes on CommonDreams.org:

"I flew into Florida on October 19th not knowing what to expect or what I would find here. I have found a rich dichotomy of ideas and political theologies. I have been called names and praised as a brave patriot. I have had people look at the picture of my son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, KIA, Sadr City, Baghdad, age 24, and weep for my pain and for the tragedy of my sons death. On the other hand I have had people smirk for the shamefulness of me being out here campaigning against a President who they think is strong on terror and is pro-life. These people who smirk also won't look at Casey's picture. They don't want to put a face on this senseless war that they support.

My brave, honest, and sweet son was sent to an unjust war by a cowardly, lying, draft-dodger. Casey didn't have to go to Iraq, he re-enlisted and he told me 'Mom, I can't let my buddies go over there without me. This is what we train for, I'll be okay. The sooner I get there the sooner I'll be home.' Well my gentle and kind boy came home 2 short weeks after arriving in Iraq in a flag draped coffin.

Mr. Bush lied to the world, the country, my family and my son. He told us that Saddam was an imminent threat to the United State with his vast stockpile of nuclear weapons. He lied to us and told us that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. He lied to my son when he told him that he would be welcomed to Baghdad as a conquering hero with flowers and chocolates. Casey was welcomed there with bullets and rpg's.

Republicans here in Florida will invariably tell me that my son 'volunteered' to go to this war. They never (with one exception: 10-year-old Tanner in Pensacola) express any kind of sympathy or compassion. They are correct in the fact that my son did enlist and re-enlist in the Army. He loved being a soldier and he loved his buddies. He was a good soldier and he volunteered for the dangerous mission that he was killed on. He was a trusting person who trusted his Commander-in-Chief to use his troops with great care: to only send them in harm's way if there was a clear and present danger to our country. This Commander-in-Chief has misused and abused his position of authority to put our troops in a preemptive war that had no basis in reality. Bush exploited Casey's sense of duty and honor and sent him to a war that is the beginning of middle-eastern domination and huge profiteering from Bush's cronies. Yesterday, I was protesting at a rally where Dick Cheney said that 'Iraq has been a remarkable success story.' It sure has been for Halliburton, Chiron, Exxon, Osama Bin Laden, Moqtada al-Sadr, Ayad Allawi, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel. I guess he doesn't have to elaborate on what kind of successes he was talking about.

I came to Florida to help to try and make a difference in this election. I have been up and down the state doing interviews in every available medium and protests and peace marches in every city I have stayed in. I came out from California to follow up on a commercial that I did for RealVoices.org and that was run nationally in swing states by MoveOn.org. I have left my home and family to try and make the world a better place like Casey did. I can't face another four years of this man who has devastated our world and my family. If I don't get out and do everything possible, I wouldn't be able to look myself, or my other three children, in the face..."

Full story here.

Iraq ranks 148th in the world in press freedom

Scott Peterson writes in the Christian Science Monitor:
Forty-four journalists have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, making the country the deadliest in the world for the profession, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders released Tuesday. Overall, the country ranked 148th in the world for press freedom.

For Iraqis, it's been a tough transformation after decades of control under Saddam Hussein.

Back then, the word "journalist" hardly applied to members of the media here. Their daily diet was Saddam Hussein, again and again.

"It's a big jump from four newspapers - each one a copy of the other, designed in the office of Saddam Hussein - to 120 papers," says Zuhair al-Jizary, a novelist and editor of Al-Mada newspaper, who lived outside Iraq for more than 20 years.

"The language has completely changed. Now we have complete freedom of the press," he says. "I can criticize the US, and every day I criticize their behavior and military operations without hesitation."

"But I can't trust that this freedom will carry on for a long time," says Jizary, noting pressure from security officials and the interior ministry. "These people have no common language with the press, hide the facts, and limit [news] sources."

Beside getting short shrift from officials in Iraq, local journalists and photographers - while at least able to get to the scene of an attack - find they are frequently prevented from working by Iraqi police or US forces.

Full story here.

Republicans critical of get-out-the-vote campaign

The Associated Press reported earlier today:

"Republicans are criticizing a Wisconsin get-out-the-vote campaign involving public school students, saying Democrats are exploiting the students for political gain.

Young people in the program organized by the Wisconsin Citizen Action Fund take time from regular classes to go door to door in minority neighborhoods and areas with historically low voter turnout, urging people to cast ballots.

The students, ranging in age from 11 to 18, also use phone banks to call homes and urge people to vote.

Chris Lato, spokesman for the state Republican Party, called the program 'a disgraceful use of taxpayer money.'"

The Milwaukee public school get-out-the-vote campaign was cancelled tonight.

Monday, October 25, 2004

More reliable than the Swift Boat Veterans... Wolfpacks for Truth

Wolfpacks for Truth... clearly some people have a lot of time on their hands.

380 tons of high-power explosives left unguarded, now missing

"The White House acknowledged Monday that nearly 380 tons of powerful explosives are missing from a weapons facility that American forces failed to guard following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, raising fears that the weapons could be given to terrorists or used for attacks against troops in Iraq.

U.S. officials say the explosives -- which are powerful enough to detonate a nuclear bomb -- may have been looted from one of Saddam Hussein's bomb-making plants when U.S. military forces were working to pacify Baghdad and other restive cities .
The White House officials downplayed the significance of the missing explosives. Coming eight days before a hotly contested presidential election, the disclosure reverberated through the political campaign, with Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry calling it one of President Bush's 'great blunders' in Iraq...

Iraqi officials reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. monitoring group -- earlier this month that the explosives were looted after April 9, 2003, when U.S. forces entered Baghdad. IAEA officials verified the explosives were still at the site and under seal in January 2003, the last time the inspectors were there.

The IAEA had been monitoring the material -- known as HMX and RDX -- as part of the U.N. inspections program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The agency had issued numerous warnings about the explosives falling into the wrong hands, before and after the U.S. invasion. Pentagon officials said that while U.S. troops searched the facility on several occasions during and after the invasion, the facility was not high on U.S. commanders' list of key sites to guard because survey teams found no nuclear or biological weapons at Al Qaqaa, a collection of 87 buildings and underground bunkers 30 miles south of Baghdad.

Asked if U.S. troops were ever ordered to guard the facility, where Saddam built conventional warheads and where the IAEA dismantled parts of his nuclear program after the Gulf War, one Defense official responded, 'Not that I'm aware of.'"

- Los Angeles Times

Full story here.

Bush relatives support John Kerry for president

Gersh Kuntzman writes in a web article for Newsweek.com:

"George W. Bush should not be re-elected because he lied to the American people, has presided over record deficits, has removed scores of environmental regulations and is incapable of rethinking his positions even when confronted by new information.

But for once, don’t take it from me. Take it from his second cousin. 'He’s guided by an extreme narrow-mindedness and an inability to consider the full depth of an issue,' says Chris House, whose grandmother, Mary House, was a sister of the president’s grandfather, Prescott Bush. That makes him the president’s second cousin twice removed—although he’ll settle for removing the president just once. 'He may be a relative of mine, but nowhere in my side of the family do you see that sense of entitlement that he has,' says House, who lives in Olympia, Wash. 'He just projects this feeling that this job belongs to him and that he can do whatever he wants.'

House is one of six members of his branch of the family that set up a Web site—bushrelativesforkerry.com—to help spread the news that not everyone in the Bush clan supports the president."

Full story here.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Army to face new investigation related to Halliburton deals

From the Associated Press:

"The Army has agreed to a Pentagon investigation into claims by a top contracting official that a Halliburton subsidiary unfairly won no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars for work in Iraq and the Balkans, according to Army documents obtained Sunday.

The complaint alleges that the award of contracts to KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary, without competition to restore Iraq's oil industry and to supply and feed U.S. troops in the Balkans puts at risk 'the integrity of the federal contracting program as it relates to a major defense contractor.'

It also asks protection from retaliation for the whistle-blower, Bunnatine Greenhouse, chief contracting officer of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Iraq contract with Halliburton has been a focus of the presidential campaign because of Vice President Dick Cheney's past ties to the company. Cheney was chief executive officer of Halliburton and continues to receive deferred compensation from the company...

The Iraq contract was awarded in February 2003, less than a month before the invasion, under a clause specifying no-bid contracts in cases of 'compelling emergency.' The complaint said Greenhouse objected to the five-year term, asking why the certainty that the emergency would continue for five years. "

Full story here.

Recasting Wilderness as Open for Business

"The sculpted buttes of Wild Horse Mesa, the vast escarpment of the Book Cliffs and the soaring ramparts of Upper Desolation Canyon near here have become a prime battleground in the Bush administration's campaign to curb wilderness protection throughout the country.

In 1999, the federal government acknowledged the unique character of the area, where 150 million years of the earth's geologic history unfolds and the forces of nature continue to shape the rugged landscape. The Bureau of Land Management put more than 440,000 acres off-limits to industrial development.
The protection was short-lived.

Within four years, the area was opened to oil and gas exploration. Under the Bush administration, 2.6 million acres of Utah land that had been shielded from development was suddenly open for business.

The actions were part of a sweeping policy shift by Secretary of Interior Gale A. Norton with implications far beyond Utah. Not only does the new policy cancel protection of the Utah land, it withholds the interim safeguards traditionally applied to areas with wilderness potential until Congress decides whether to make them part of the national wilderness system.

But what most distinguishes the administration's position is its claim that under applicable law the Interior Department is barred — forever — from identifying and protecting wild land the way it has for nearly 30 years..."

Story continues here.

Karl Rove: America's Mullah

Photo of Rove and Bush courtesy of the AP

Karl Rove, George W. Bush's top political operative, has guided Bush to election victories in Texas and the 2000 presidential race.

Neal Gabler writes in the Los Angeles Times:

"There is no dissent in the Rove White House without reprisal.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki was retired after he disagreed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's transformation of the Army and then testified that invading Iraq would require a U.S. deployment of 200,000 soldiers.

Chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster was threatened with termination if he revealed before the vote that the administration had seriously misrepresented the cost of its proposed prescription drug plan to get it through Congress.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was peremptorily fired for questioning the wisdom of the administration's tax cuts, and former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III felt compelled to recant his statement that there were insufficient troops in Iraq...

Bush entered office promising to be a 'uniter, not a divider.' But Rovism is not about uniting. What Rove quickly grasped is that it's easier and more efficacious to exploit the cultural and social divide than to look for common ground. No recent administration has as eagerly played wedge issues — gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, faith-based initiatives — to keep the nation roiling, in the pure Rovian belief that the president's conservative supporters will always be angrier and more energized than his opponents. Division, then, is not a side effect of policy; in Rovism, it is the purpose of policy...

Unwavering discipline, demonization of foes, disdain for reality and a personal sense of infallibility based on faith are the stuff of a theocracy — the president as pope or mullah and policy as religious warfare.

Boiled down, Rovism is government by jihadis in the grip of unshakable self-righteousness — ironically the force the administration says it is fighting. It imposes rather than proposes.

Rovism surreptitiously and profoundly changes our form of government, a government that has been, since its founding by children of the Enlightenment, open, accommodating, moderate and generally reasonable."

The Washington Post endorses John Kerry

The Washington Post endorsed John Kerry on Sunday.

Here are some excerpts from the Post editorial:

"In Iraq, we do not fault Mr. Bush for believing, as President Clinton before him believed, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. We supported the war and believed that the Iraqi dictator posed a challenge that had to be faced; we continue to believe that the U.S. mission to promote a representative government in Iraq has a chance to leave the United States safer and the Iraqis far better off than they were under their murderous dictator.

We do, however, fault Mr. Bush for exaggerating to the public the intelligence given him privately and for alienating allies unnecessarily. Above all, we fault him for ignoring advice to better prepare for postwar reconstruction. The damage caused by that willful indifference is incalculable. There is no guarantee that Iraq would be more peaceful today if U.S. forces had prevented postwar looting, secured arms depots, welcomed international involvement and transferred authority to Iraqis more quickly. But the chances of success would have been higher. Yet the administration repeatedly rebuffed advice to commit sufficient troops. Its disregard for the Geneva Conventions led to a prison-torture scandal in both Iraq and Afghanistan that has diminished for years, if not decades, the United States' image and influence abroad. In much of the world, in fact, U.S. prestige is at a historic low, partly because of the president's high-handed approach to allies on issues ranging far beyond Iraq.

These failings have a common source in Mr. Bush's cocksureness, his failure to seek advice from anyone outside a narrow circle and his unwillingness to expect the unexpected or adapt to new facts. These are dangerous traits in any president but especially in a wartime leader. They are matched by his failure to admit his errors or to hold senior officials accountable for theirs...

On many other issues, Mr. Kerry has the better approach. He has a workable plan to provide health insurance to more Americans; the 45 million uninsured represent a shameful abdication that appears not to have concerned Mr. Bush one whit. Where Mr. Bush ignored the dangers of climate change and favored industry at the expense of clean air and water, Mr. Kerry is a longtime and thoughtful champion of environmental protection. Mr. Bush played politics with the Constitution, as Mr. Kerry would not, by endorsing an amendment to ban gay marriage. Mr. Kerry has pledged to follow the Geneva Conventions abroad and respect civil liberties at home. A Kerry judiciary -- and the next president is likely to make a significant mark on the Supreme Court -- would be more hospitable to civil rights, abortion rights and the right to privacy.

None of these issues would bring us to vote for Mr. Kerry if he were less likely than Mr. Bush to keep the nation safe. But we believe the challenger is well equipped to guide the country in a time of danger. Mr. Kerry brings a résumé that unarguably has prepared him for high office. He understood early on the dangers of non-state actors such as al Qaeda. To pave the way for restored relations with Vietnam in the 1990s, he took on the thankless and politically risky task of convincing relatives that no American prisoners remained in Southeast Asia. While he wrongly opposed the first Persian Gulf War, he supported the use of American force in Bosnia and Kosovo. "

The full piece can be read here.

Karzai is clear winner in Afghan election

From today's Washington Post

"President Hamid Karzai has won a majority of votes in Afghanistan's election, clinching a five-year term and becoming the country's first democratically elected president, according to preliminary results released Sunday.

With 94.3 percent of the votes counted, Karzai was winning 55.3 percent, or 4.2 million, of the votes cast, enough to avoid a runoff, the Joint Electoral Management Body reported. Any showing of less than 50 percent would have required a runoff between the top two vote-getters, according to the Afghan constitution. Even if all the votes that are currently uncounted went to his rivals, Karzai would still win a majority. An official announcement may be made later this week...

Tallying the votes from the Oct. 9 election has been a painstakingly slow process, as election officials said workers needed to become accustomed to the new experience of examining ballots, discerning voter intentions and counting the estimated 8 million votes cast...

The elections body had initially set Oct. 30 as the target date for finishing the vote count and announcing a decision.

While the election was relatively peaceful, despite vows by remnants of the ousted Taliban rulers to disrupt it, the counting was marred Saturday by a suicide bombing on a busy shop-lined street in Kabul that is typically frequented by foreigners. An attacker dressed as a beggar and wearing a string of six grenades detonated the explosives just after 3 p.m., killing himself, a 12-year-old Afghan girl and an American woman, identified as a 23-year-old translator and former Army reservist who lives in Uzbekistan and was visiting Kabul. Apparently three of the grenades exploded, Afghan and foreign officials said.

A purported Taliban spokesman asserted responsibility for the attack in a satellite telephone interview with Reuters in Kabul. Three Icelandic members of the International Security Assistance Force on patrol in the capital were injured in the attack, two slightly and one more seriously. The injuries were reported not to be life-threatening."

Full story here.

Nixon's EPA chief: George W. Bush is at war against the environment

"We’re at war in Iraq. They tell us we’re at war against terrorism. I’d say that George W. Bush has declared war on the environment. And I think that people ought to stand up and be counted in opposition to that...

I grew up a Republican. You know, you sort of inherit these things. My great-grandfather was a Republican member of Congress during the Civil War. I certainly have always felt the Republican Party stood for conservative values.

The first National Park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872. Now that was a Republican year, right after the Civil War. General Grant, then the president, was the person you have to give credit to for Yellowstone. You can go back to Teddy Roosevelt and say he Roosevelt was a great conservationist. He created our National Forest and our national wildlife refuges and he took a strong interest in conservation. You get to Richard Nixon and you get a fantastic blooming of environmental interest and initiatives on the part of the administration. The EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, was a creature of Richard Nixon. The Clean Air Act of 1972, the Clean Air Act of 1970, ocean dumping controls, clean drinking water, the Noise Control Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, you name it.

So, during the Nixon administration and the Ford administration we accomplished a great deal. I was never officially part of the administration of George H.W. Bush – Bush the First. We were good personal friends and our families were friends. He asked me for advice on the environment; he asked me to explain the environment to him, although that wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do in a short while, but we sat down and talked in Florida for an hour or so. He really wanted to know. He entered the presidency with the intention of being a good environmental president. He sponsored the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, and that’s the law under which we live today. He had a very good environmental record, and his heart was very much in the right place on the issue.

I feel George W.’s heart is in the wrong place on this issue. Calling something the Clean Air Act, the Healthy Forest Act when what you’re really doing is opening up the forest to logging. It’s almost an ideological antagonism. And there’s no understanding, I feel, of the importance of this issue. It’s addressed from the standpoint of, 'What is such-and-such a regulation going to do to a particular industry that is a pretty good contributor to our campaign cause.' And I think that’s what’s motivated its approach to environmental matters. "

-Russell Train, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon

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Relative cost

"The vice president is right that Mr. Kerry can't compete in the arena of power hunting. When Mr. Kerry goes, only the birds are in danger. When Mr. Cheney and his pal Antonin Scalia go duck hunting together, the Constitution is in danger."
-Maureen Dowd

Top U.S. contracting official calls for investigation over Halliburton deals

"The top civilian contracting official for the Army Corps of Engineers, charging that the Army granted the Halliburton Company large contracts for work in Iraq and the Balkans without following rules designed to ensure competition and fair prices to the government, has called for a high-level investigation of what she described as threats to the 'integrity of the federal contracting program.'

The official, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, said that in at least one case she witnessed, Army officials inappropriately allowed representatives of Halliburton to sit in as they discussed the terms of a contract the company was set to receive.

The contracts to Halliburton, a Houston-based conglomerate headed by Dick Cheney before he became vice president, have stirred controversy and charges of favoritism because some were granted on an emergency basis, without competitive bidding. The company's operations in Iraq, involving work for more than $10 billion, have also been dogged by charges of overbilling and waste and have been an issue in the presidential campaign.

The Pentagon has asserted that, as the invasion of Iraq began, Halliburton was the only company able to provide services with the required speed and secrecy. But Pentagon auditors later questioned the company's billing practices and found examples of reckless spending or unjustified charges."

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Conservative columnist: Why I Can't Vote For Bush

"'[T]he Bush administration's free-spending fiscal record only hints at its larger rejection of conservative principles. The more fundamental betrayal arises from the administration's central focus: an ill-defined 'war on terror' that has no determinable endpoint and that is used to justify an unprecedented expansion of executive power. To make matters worse, this administration shows little inclination to demand accountability from those who serve within it. In turn, the Republican Congress--ignoring its 1994 vow to 'restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives'--appears disinclined to check the powers of the executive. Together, these factors endanger the long-term health of the republic..

The dangers of this new, unlimited power were plain to see at a tough congressional hearing in June. Attorney General John Ashcroft squared off against the Senate Judiciary Committee as it looked into whether Ashcroft's office provided legal cover to the Department of Defense on issues involving torture. The Wall Street Journal and other papers ran stories based on a heavily redacted 100-page memo, dated March 6, 2003. Written by a Defense Department working group, the memo seemed to outline ways to justify the use of aggressive interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo without running afoul of international treaties forbidding torture...

In essence, the authors of the Defense Department memo were arguing that, in wartime, getting around inconvenient laws is 'inherent in the president.' The memo's existence raised the possibility that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were, in fact, an extension of official policy.

At the hearing, Ashcroft denied that President Bush approved of torture. But, in refusing Democratic senators' demands to turn either the full memo or similar ones written by the Justice Department over to the Judiciary Committee, he said, 'We are at war. And for us to begin to discuss all the legal ramifications of the war is not in our best interest and it has never been in times of war.' Ashcroft was essentially asserting that Congress--whose oversight powers give it authority to demand accountability from the executive--should not be allowed to inquire about the quality of legal advice being given to the president. This, even though the apparent result of that advice "trickled down" to the abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

If the answer to every legitimate congressional inquiry concerning presidential powers is that 'we are at war' and that legislative questions concerning executive behavior are inappropriate, it becomes impossible for Congress to fulfill its constitutional mandate as a co-equal branch of government. At what point do the American people ask the obvious: What sort of war is this and exactly how long should a president have virtually indeterminate powers to wage it?"

-New York Post columnist Robert George, "Why I Can't Vote For Bush"

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Running out of gas

"George W. Bush and John Kerry probably differ more on energy policy than on any major issue except abortion, yet news organizations have said barely a word about their positions. Energy policy ought to be a limelight issue this election year. Congress has not passed an energy bill in more than a decade. Oil consumption and oil imports continue to rise. Natural gas prices are high and supplies are tight. Average fuel efficiency of new cars is the lowest in 15 years. The United States continues to supplicate to Persian Gulf dictators for petroleum. And greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel use continue to accumulate...

If elected president, Kerry might be the nation's first executive since Jimmy Carter to offer meaningful reform in energy policy. Today, Carter is remembered as a well-meaning bumbler, but his energy decisions had historic impact. Carter deregulated oil and natural gas while imposing a big increase in vehicle MPG. These actions converted the oil and gas shortages of the 1970s into the surpluses of the 1980s, and cracked the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (opec) 'price maintenance' monopoly...

In four years, Bush has done nothing to change America's craving for Gulf oil. Bush has opposed significant strengthening of MPG standards for vehicles, continued to hold SUVs and the misnamed 'light' pickups to lower MPG strictures than regular cars, continued to exempt some altogether, and enacted a tax break for those who buy the heaviest SUVs...

Official overall mileage of new U.S. vehicles rose from about 14 MPG in the late '70s to a peak of 22 MPG in 1987 and has since declined to 21 MPG... Weaning ourselves from Gulf oil or combating the greenhouse effect only seems impossible today because we have not yet tried to face these challenges. With a wise and forward-looking energy policy, we can preserve our comfortable lifestyle and protect the climate. But nothing will happen until genuine changes in energy policy are made. Western society is living in a pleasant interregnum, during which fossil energy is cheap and artificial global warming has so far done no harm. Neither condition is likely to last. John Kerry proposes to act while there is yet time; George W. Bush proposes to leave the problems for someone else."

-Gregg Easterbrook, The New Republic

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