Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rising Prices Hit Home For Food Stamp Recipients

Rising Prices Hit Home For Food Stamp Recipients

By Chris L. Jenkins

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Christina Hall's weekly grocery shopping ritual begins Thursday night in the kitchen of her cramped mobile home in Fairfax County, with the low hum of the refrigerator and the steady drip of the faucet in the background.

"Shredded cheese, bagels, milk . . . Maybe we can do two gallons this week," she says hopefully, scribbling the grocery list on a sheet of notebook paper. She goes through a cabinet, looks in the freezer, checks a shelf behind the linoleum-covered table. "Yogurt, crackers, bananas." She jots down a dozen or so more items: salad dressing, frozen vegetables . . . "That should keep me at about $50 for the week."

A divorced mother of two, Hall receives $219 a month in food stamps; the fastidious inspection of her cupboards and the dollar-by-dollar addition she does in her head are the only way she can make the allotment last through a month.

At a time when food prices are soaring, a growing number of Americans are struggling financially and local social service agencies are seeing record numbers of applicants, advocates are concerned that the purchasing power of food stamps has shrunk since 1996, when Congress recalculated benefit levels. The result slowed the value of food stamps relative to inflation. If benefits had kept pace with inflation over 12 years, a family with one working parent and two children would be receiving an additional $37 a month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

To qualify for food stamps, recipients must have an income below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $22,880 for a family of three.

"An extra $37 a month," Hall said, chuckling. "That would be nice. Might be able to splurge every now and again."

Hall, 38, who lives in a scruffy, tree-lined cul-de-sac of mobile homes in Hybla Valley, one of the poorest sections of one of the country's richest counties, knows that the monthly payment doled out on a blue plastic debit card is meant only to supplement her food budget. The federal government's guidelines make that clear.

But her $8.75-an-hour home health aide job -- about $1,200 after taxes during a good month -- stretches only so far, with rent ($550), utilities ($100, sometimes much more), gas ($180, even in her fuel-efficient Honda Civic), a car payment ($288) and car insurance ($163). That doesn't include other expenses that come with raising a 13-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. The stamps are the family's entire food budget. Skyrocketing food prices and the declining value of the government benefit has made feeding the family a daily struggle for Hall, a first-time food stamp recipient.

Hall wrestled with the challenge the next day as she tried to manage the family's weekly food needs and squeeze in a few extra items for her daughter's birthday party that weekend. Her son had lost his school meal card, which allows him to eat a free breakfast at school every day, so she has to make him breakfast at home until the end of the month, adding an unexpected expense.

"Okay, we can get one package of potato chips and one package of popcorn, okay?" Hall said to her daughter, Rosita, who was having a tough time containing her excitement about the party.

Hall shops at the Aldi on Route 1, a discount supermarket along the frayed commercial strip, where many shoppers go to save money on store brand items that can be as much as 50 percent cheaper than other chains'. The week's dinner plan called for spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, sloppy Joes, tacos and chicken nuggets, plus mixed vegetables with each meal. As she shopped earlier this month, though, she was feeling lucky. Her mother had given her some ground beef and pork earlier in the week. And her son, Richard, was going on a Scout trip, so she wouldn't need as much food over the weekend. (As it turned out, Richard came home a day early, so she had to "wing it for Sunday dinner," she said later.)

Hall made her way through the store using her shopping list as a guide: two gallons of milk, $3.08 each; one package of macaroni and cheese, 59 cents; two quarts of yogurt for her lunch, $1.29. She picked out a box of yellow cake mix and chocolate frosting for Rosita's birthday cake, only to put them back later. Her mother would buy them. Into the cart went vegetables, frozen orange juice and hoagie buns. Bacon and ground turkey, initially on the list, would have to wait. "This! This!" Rosita squealed, pointing to a stack of bagel pizzas at $5.99 apiece.

"No, Grandma's going to order pizza tomorrow for the party," Hall answered, checking the price on a package of frozen french fries before throwing them back. Looking over the shopping cart, which included a package of Fruit Roll-Ups and a few other items that Rosita requested, Hall said, "we're almost at $50, anyway."

Later, in the comfort of her small trailer, festooned with Barbie-themed birthday decorations from Wal-Mart, she looked over the receipt -- $48.06. She looked satisfied .

"Well, this allows me to get away with spending $55 for next week," she said.

For the working poor of the Washington region, stretching the monthly food budget in a sagging economy is particularly difficult, because food prices in the area are consistently higher than the national average, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, an Arlington County-based group that tracks the cost of living in hundreds of places across the country.

During the first part of this year, the group said, the region's food prices were 8 percent higher than the national average. For instance, a pound of ground beef averaged $3.33 for a Washington area shopper, compared with $2.64 nationally. That's a difference of 26 percent. A dozen eggs were 10 percent higher, while a 10-pound bag of potatoes cost 40 percent more.

The consumer price index for food has increased faster than in two decades, and it is especially grim news for people who rely on government subsidies.

"Food stamps aren't meant to supply all of a family's food, but for many people, it's become a way of life. . . . It's a struggle to make them last," said Reuben Gist, director of advocacy and outreach for the Capital Area Food Bank. He cited a 2006 study by America's Second Harvest, a hunger-relief organization, that found that only 16 percent of food stamp recipients said the allotment lasted them an entire month. "People on food stamps are calling us saying they have no idea what they are going to do."

Food stamp benefits, which average about $1 per person per meal, are based on a plan set by the federal government designed to represent a very low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet. For a family of four, the cost of the diet, known as the Thrifty Food Plan, was $567 a month in April. But, under the benefit rate set in October, which was based on June 2007 food prices, a family of four receives about $542 in benefits.

Last week, Congress overrode President Bush's veto of the $300 billion farm bill, which includes $200 billion for nutrition programs such as food stamps, school lunches and emergency food assistance. The legislation will help bring food stamp benefits in line with inflation and stop the erosion, according to national experts. But the new regulations won't kick in until October and will only make up, on average, $5 of the $37 gap.

"Next year will be the first year in the modern history of the food stamp program when food stamp value is the same as the year before," said Dorothy Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Hall said she has had to adjust her expectations. "I think I first noticed when I bought what I usually buy -- eggs, milk, you know, the basic stuff -- and it cost me over $60 for a week. I thought there was a mistake," she said.

It wasn't always like this for Hall. For several years, she had a job as a receptionist, making $15 an hour. The difficult times started when she was laid off and took the home health aide job soon afterward for nearly half the wage.

She has employed a few tricks to save here and there: picking up food from food pantries, grilling meat and vegetables on the porch to keep the gas bill down; rationing the medication that manages her Crohn's disease by only periodically taking pills that she is supposed to take daily. She and her ex-husband agreed, through a mediator, that he would pay for Rosita's after-school care, clothes and other essentials for the children.

"Our life has changed. . . . My kids notice the changes, there's no doubt about it," she said, sitting on her porch. "There are things I can't buy anymore, little things like desserts, or if I say we have to be careful how much we eat. It's not just them; we all feel it. We all notice."

FBI Recruiting Infiltrators for GOP Convention Protestors

FBI Recruiting Infiltrators for GOP Convention Protestors

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This gets complicated. According to - City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Moles Wanted, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is recruiting people to infiltrate anti-GOP protest groups in the run-up to the upcoming Republican convention.

The law is clear that police may attend public meetings undercover to see what people are up to. And of course undercover operations in private settings are also legal, although there should be guidelines as to when they are appropriate. And of course it’s good citizenship for private citizens to report crimes when they witness them.

But this story raises a number of serious questions.

First, there’s this: the FBI told the potential informant that he “would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.”

In other words, the FBI is recruiting unpaid volunteers to become infiltrators. And they get paid only if they give information leading to an arrest. Which creates a serious incentive for agents provocateurs. This is not a sensible policy at all. It is in fact a very bad idea.

Second, there’s the weird description of the targets — “vegan potlucks” — and the general sense of massive overkill, which contributes to the chilling effect discussed in the article.

I also wonder whether a similar effort is underway for the Democratic convention (not that two wrongs make a right). If it is not, would that be because of a political bias in the FBI, or a considered judgment that McCain is more likely to be a target of violence than the first Black (or female) major-party Presidential candidate?

Bottom line: we don’t want violence, but we also don’t a stifling police presence that — whatever its motives — feels like an attempt to stifle dissent.

And we especially don’t want to live in an informer nation in which people with no training and who knows what personal agendas are offered a chance to make money by stirring up trouble and then phoning the FBI.

Update: Emptywheel at Firedoglake has some good comments, notably:

How does one equate vegan potlucks with this restriction on permissible terrorist investigations?
Mere speculation that force or violence might occur during the course of an otherwise peaceable demonstration is not sufficient grounds for initiation of an investigation under this Subpart, but where facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that a group or enterprise has engaged or aims to engage in activities involving force or violence or other criminal conduct described in paragraph (1)(a) in a demonstration, an investigation may be initiated in conformity with the standards of that paragraph. [her emphasis]

It’s a very good question. Rule of Law anyone?

DHS Cracks Down On IRS Workers Protest

DHS Cracks Down On IRS Workers Protest

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Not ten minutes after IRS employees of the Austin Accounts Management center near I-35 and Ben White began protesting their office policies Tuesday afternoon, Homeland Security police began ordering them to leave.

WATCH VIDEO OF UNION & HOMELAND SECURITY CONFRONTATION

The workers, represented under the National Treasury Employees Union, are upset about what they see as a double-standard in how managers are handling vacation days and late penalties when family is sick or when an employee is stuck in traffic.

"You can't take leave to be with your dying father. You're not taking care of him, therefore we have no obligation to let you go. They charged him AWOL," Dorothy Pistole said, explaining a situation which she said happened to a colleague. KLBJ asked Pistole if the employees group has any fears of retaliation.

"We can use this as a marker to say, at this point, management didn't have any problem with what the employee has done. But all the sudden now management is treating the employees differently? Then we have a point when we can start looking at a retaliation grievance."

"It's very important. The holiday is all about service to America. A lot of them, they were in the military. A lot of them have military families now," Union President Ed Walker says. "They denied all of this leave before the Economic Stimulus Program came out, so if they began using that as an excuse, they would not be telling the truth."

"We have filed grievances on behalf of hundreds of people here. Some people were able to get off [work] as the result of this and the embarrassment."

The IRS has refused to comment on the Tuesday protest.

Academics Target Pentagon's Social Science Project

Academics Target Pentagon's Social Science Project

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A group of anthropologists is trying to get Pentagon stop funding an ambitious social science project. Instead, they want the work handed over to the National Science Foundation, an organization that, the academic group contends, would be better able to manage peer-reviewed research.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, the American Anthropological Association said that organizations like the National Science Foundation have "decades of experience" managing peer-review grant proposals. [This isn't the Association's only issue with Pentagon-funded social science; the group has strongly discouraged its membership from joining the Human Terrain program, which embeds social scientists in combat units. -- ed.]

At issue is the recently proposed "Minerva," an far-reaching Pentagon initiative that involves a number of projects designed to involve universities in topics of interest to the Pentagon, ranging from Chinese military technology to Islamic radicalism. While not a huge amount of money -- estimated to be in the millions of dollars -- it could be a significant infusion of funds for the social sciences.

Is it true that the Pentagon does not use peer review and lacks experience handling academic research? Well, it's partly correct. Certainly the Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) has decades of experience handling basic research, and has even funded proposals in the social sciences, most notably during the Vietnam War (and in the past few years as well). That's why it's somewhat strange that the Pentagon office tasked with Minerva is not DDR&E, but Policy.

As for peer review; the Pentagon certainly does know how to use peer review, but often chooses not to do so -- depending on the office -- arguing that it wants to fund high-risk, high payoff research proposals. In the social sciences, the Pentagon likely has even less experience with peer review.

What is the Pentagon's reaction to this proposal? Not all negative.According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a senior Pentagon official said the department is looking at arrangements that could include cooperation with the National Science Foundation.

ALSO:

* 'Human Terrain' Social Scientist Killed in Afghanistan
* Pentagon Academic Outreach: Big Talk, Little Cash
* Pentagon's Project Minerva Sparks New Anthro Concerns
* Human Terrain's 'Catch-22'
* Gates: Human Terrain Teams Going Through 'Growing Pains'
* In Iraq, Psyops Team Plays on Iran Fears, Soccer Love
* How Technology Almost Lost the War
* Pentagon's 'Know the Enemy' Task Force
* Intel Geek Squad Targets Culture, Language
* Exploring Baghdad's "Human Terrain"
* Academics Turn on "Human Terrain" Whistleblower
* Army Social Scientists Calm Afghanistan, Make Enemies at Home
* Anthro Wars Heat Up
* Navy: Let's Play "Sim Iraq"
* Pentagon Plots Sim Iraq for Propaganda Tests
* "Sim Iraq" Sent to Battle Zone
* Weekly Standard Blasts "Human Terrain"
* Pentagon Forecast: Cloudy, 80% Chance of Riots
* Anthropology Association Blasts Army's "Human Terrain"
* Mapping Human Terrain "Enables the Kill Chain"?
* Pentagon Science & Technology: The Human Problem
* When Anthropologists Go to War
* When Anthropologists Go to War (Against the Military)
* When Anthropology Gets Ugly
* Report: Military Should Double Social Science Cash
* Can Social Science Win the War on Terror?

Rise Of The NGOs: Global Governance By Proxy

Rise Of The NGOs: Global Governance By Proxy

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‘Global governance’ in our vocabulary does not imply a global 'government', but rather the institution set up for cooperation, coordination, and common action between durable sovereign states…people and nations are beginning to agree To take the next steps together. They are reaching a consensus by practical procedures rather than by the formal voting of governmental representatives; many International functions, especially those requiring the most foresight and operational flexibility, and be carried out through non governmental arrangements. –Club of Rome

Our government and a myriad of multinational corporations have decided that we aren’t informed enough to make the decisions that affect our world. We the people have allowed the government to essentially go into ‘cruise control’. While the majority of Americans slumber our nation is being transformed and the governmental power structure has been taken out of the hands of elected officials. The true power is being wielded by non-governmental organizations. Under the auspices of the United Nations numerous NGOs have amassed enormous power and influence. These loosely organized groups have no responsibility to report to the American people and that is how they have operated unmolested.
Nation-states are having to share their power with new global actors: international (or more accurately 'inter-governmental') organizations (such as the United Nations), transnational corporations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)…NGOs survive the fads and fashions of governments; they outlive the terms of elected governments. They provide a continuity of care and a continued focus on social justice issues when governments might prefer to ignore those issues…NGOs show that governments no longer have a monopoly over information and ideas. [1]–Keith Suter

The Club of Rome in their document, “The First Global Revolution” preaches to their choir about the weaknesses of democracy and how voting is passé. NGOs and think-tanks such as the CFR come to a consensus on a particular subject then government officials push forward their agendas with glee as their influence is undeniable. These bureaucrats who are nothing more than mockingbirds and parrots are invited to join these organizations and partake in the discussions in order to see that the most important goals are met. Many of the more prestigious organizations are blatantly against national sovereignty and outright fund genocidal operations around the globe.
The common enemy of humanity is Man. In searching for a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill. In their totality and their interactions these phenomena do constitute a common threat which must be confronted by everyone together. –Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution

John D. Rockefeller III was an exemplar and a leader of this second population control movement, 1 whose primary concern was less the well-being of individuals than of entire societies, a well-being that, in the view of these neo-Malthusians, was threatened by a growing imbalance between human numbers and a wide variety of natural and other resources, including food supplies. –World Bank, Global Family Planning Revolution [2]

Many of the early advocates of birth control, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, came from the eugenics movement, which was quite strong in both countries in the early decades of the 20th century. That movement had a certain intellectual respectability until the horrors Nazi Germany perpetrated in the name of racial policies destroyed it. –World Bank, Global Family Planning Revolution

the World Bank was actively seeking to make loans for population projects; and the United Nations (UN) had agreed to create a fund, the UN Fund for Population Activities (today known simply as the UN Population Fund, although it retains its original acronym, UNFPA). Developing countries were coming under fairly intense pres-sure, particularly from the U.S. government, to adopt population policies and to mount family planning programs. –World Bank, Global Family Planning Revolution.
We are actively being manipulated on a grand scale. Many people believe fighting global warming is a noble cause and that having an abortion is being ‘earth friendly’. Global warming is a farce; it is nothing more than a method to bring you under neo-feudalism. Family planning is a means to ensure that the numbers of ‘useless eaters’ are reduced and that their bloodlines live on to rule for generations. You would never hear of any family connected to the British Aristocracy having an abortion.
Global governance is about a varied cast of actors: people acting together in formal and informal ways, in communities and countries, within sectors and across them, in non governmental bodies and citizens' movements, and both nationally and internationally, as a global civil society. And it is through people that other actors play their roles: states and governments of states, regions and alliances in formal or informal garb. But we also noted that a vital and central role in global governance falls to people coming together in the United Nations, aspiring to fulfill some of their highest goals through its potential for common action. [3]–Our Global Neighborhood, The Commission On Global Governance
The multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations are lording over us and economic and hemispheric integration is the talk today. We are moving towards a world economic and judicial system as nations are being fused together by working groups like the Security and Prosperity Partnership and the Organization of American States. The end game is to produce an unholy amalgamation in a shotgun wedding fashion with all the governmental responsibilities of all nations being relegated to NGOs and other organizations. Our birthright of common law will be taken away from us and replaced with Napoleonic code [4]that makes nearly everything illegal and you have to get permission from the ruling body to do anything. That is the neo-colonialism or neo-feudalism that transforms free men and women back into slaves on a global plantation.

The most formal initiative aimed at bringing judges together is the recently inaugurated Organization of the Supreme Courts of the Americas. Twenty -five Supreme Court justices or their designees met in Washington in October 1995 and drafted the OCSA charter, dedicating the organization to "promoting and strengthening judicial independence and the rule of law among the members, as well as the proper constitutional treatment of the judiciary as a fundamental branch of the state." The charter calls for triennial meetings and envisages a permanent secretariat. It required ratification by 15 supreme courts, achieved in spring 1996. An initiative by judges, for judges, it is not a stretch to say that OCSA is the product of judicial foreign policy. –Foreign Affairs, The Real New World Order.
The point is that the limitation of national sovereignty for the purpose of participating in higher unions, to secure the common defense and promote the general welfare, is not unprecedented but rather is quite widely recognized in the fundamental constitutions of numerous states. All members of the European Union, except Britain (which has no written constitution), have made similar provisions for the limitation of their sovereignty in order to participate in a higher union, as have states once or prospectively in other regional federations. [5]–Joseph Baratta, The Politics Of World Federation.


Instead of stressing independence our leaders are moving towards interdependence. If you use the European Union [6]for example you will see that the member nations have no autonomy and their nation state leaders are powerless. All the power resides in Brussels and the heads of each nation in the union are just window dressing. In order to restore our constitution we must become the government, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. Let’s take back our country starting from your local county all the way to Washington D.C. If we are the government then we can give Congress a spine once again and all agreements that have not been ratified by Congress are invalid and the non-governmental organizations are forced to go back to their origins, bullying the third world.

Eighty percent of the population isn’t going to do anything to save this republic if they are not directly affected by these policies. Twenty percent will be moved to act and we need people who are willing to stand for limited government and individual liberty to run for anything from dogcatcher to mayor to President of the United States. When people with this mindset are put in positions they can make a real difference in the communities. Don’t be afraid to stand out and let your voice be heard. When you do there will always be people out there who think the very same way you do. Be an example to people in your community and then even the sheep will follow you. Slowly but surely the group think and social constructs will be broken.

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies. – Honore de Balzac
Michael Vail

1. Keith Suter. Globalization and the new world order. 2006 [cited; Available from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2242/is_1683_288/ai_n18791396/print]

2. World Bank. Global Family Planning Revolution. 2007 [cited; Available from: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPRH/Resources/GlobalFamilyPlanningRevolution.pdf]

3. GDRC. Our Global Neighborhood [cited; Available from: http://www.gdrc.org/u-gov/global-neighbourhood/index.htm]

4. Slate. Louisiana's Napoleon Complex. 2005 [cited; Available from: http://www.slate.com/id/2126126/]

5. Joseph Baratta. The Politics Of World Federation. 2005 [cited; Available from: http://www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/BarattaIntroductionWorldFederalism.pdf]

6. The Spectator. Now it's blasphemy to mock Europe. 2000 [cited; Available from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3724/is_200011/ai_n8923307/print]

McClellan Suggests Plame Cover-up

McClellan Suggests Plame Cover-up

By Jason Leopold

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Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says George W. Bush’s political guru Karl Rove arranged a private meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in 2005 when the two men were under mounting suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.

Calling the scene “one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss,” McClellan writes in his new memoir that “in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, [the meeting] sticks vividly in my mind. …

“Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card’s office], Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. ‘You have time to visit?’ Karl asked. ‘Yeah,’ replied Libby.”

In the new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Culture of Washington Deception, McClellan doesn’t offer substantive evidence that Rove and Libby used the meeting in 2005 to coordinate their cover stories.

“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately,” McClellan writes.

“At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much,” McClellan said. “I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic?”

For more than a year in three separate appearances before a federal grand jury, Rove had insisted he was not a source for columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, two journalists who were told about Plame’s CIA identity when it was still secret.

On July 14, 2003, Novak wrote the first story exposing Plame’s CIA identity in the context of discrediting her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had challenged Bush’s bogus claims that Iraq had purchased yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Rove told the grand jury that he first learned that Plame worked for the CIA when he read it in Novak’s column, according to Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin. But the truth was Rove had been an unnamed source for both Novak and Cooper.

McClellan's Role

Press secretary McClellan was dragged into the middle of the Plame controversy in September 2003, after the CIA – angered by the blowing of Plame’s cover – got the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the leaking of her classified identity.

It fell to McClellan to steer reporters – and the public – away from suspicions that Bush’s inner circle was implicated in exposing an undercover CIA officer, an act that Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, once had likened to treason.

In early fall 2003, the White House tried to make it appear that the younger George Bush held the same standards.

“The President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration,” McClellan said on Sept. 29, 2003. “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”

President Bush then announced that he was determined to get to the bottom of the matter.

“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.”

Yet, even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters.

In other words, though Bush knew a great deal about how the scheme to discredit Wilson got started – since he was involved in starting it – the President uttered misleading public statements that obscured the White House role.

Also, since the leakers knew that Bush already was in the know, they might well have read his comments as a signal to lie, which is what they did. In early October, McClellan said he could report that political adviser Rove and National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams were not involved in the Plame leak.

That comment riled Libby, who feared that he was being hung out to dry. Libby went to his boss, Vice President Cheney, complaining that “they want me to be the sacrificial lamb,” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells said later.

Cheney scribbled down his feelings in a note to press secretary McClellan: “Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others.”

In the note, Cheney initially ascribed Libby’s role in going after Joe Wilson to Bush’s orders, but the Vice President apparently thought better of it, crossing out “the Pres” and putting the clause in a passive tense.

Cheney has never explained the meaning of his note, but it suggests that it was Bush who sent Libby out on the get-Wilson mission to limit damage from Wilson’s criticism of Bush’s false Niger-yellowcake claim.

Special Prosecutor

In those early days of the leak investigation, it appeared that the Plame case wouldn’t go very far with Attorney General John Ashcroft in charge, but Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame case in December 2003.

Deputy Attorney General James Comey then selected Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as a special prosecutor to conduct the investigation. Fitzgerald proved to be more aggressive than his predecessors.

In late January 2004, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Comey, seeking confirmation that he had the authority to investigate and prosecute individuals for obstruction of justice, perjury and destroying evidence – as well as willful disclosure of an undercover CIA officer.

On Feb. 6, 2004, Comey responded in writing, confirming that Fitzgerald had the authority to prosecute those crimes.

By April 2004, Fitzgerald had begun focusing on contradictions between White House documents and sworn statements by Rove and other White House officials. The prosecutor also grew suspicious that Rove and Libby were trying to hinder his investigation.

Fitzgerald’s suspicions may have been on target. An e-mail that Rove had sent to then Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in early July 2003 revealed that Rove had spoken to Time reporter Cooper about Plame – a fact that Rove had omitted when he was first interviewed by the FBI.

Rove didn't reveal to the grand jury that he had spoken with Cooper until Oct. 15, 2004, around the same time that a federal court judge compelled Cooper to testify about the identity of his source.

At the time of the Rove-Libby meeting in 2005 that was recalled by McClellan, Fitzgerald’s investigation was zeroing in on Libby, who was indicted in October 2005 on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

When Libby went on trial in 2007, Libby’s attorney Wells told the jury that the White House had decided that Libby must be “sacrificed” to protect Rove whose criminal exposure in the leak was so great that the White House feared it could cost the Republicans badly in Election 2004.

In his opening statement, Wells told the jurors that “the person ... who was to be protected was Karl Rove … President Bush's right-hand person in terms of political strategy. Karl Rove was the person most responsible for making sure the Republican Party stayed in office.”

As the trial proceeded, however, Wells never presented evidence backing up his “scapegoat” claim. Libby was convicted on four of five counts and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (Bush later commuted the sentence, sparing Libby jail time and dangling the possibility of a full pardon later.)

One of Libby’s jurors, Denis Collins, said after the verdict that he and other jurors often asked “where’s Rove?”

Renewed Interest

Now, McClellan’s memoir is stoking renewed interest in the Bush administration’s handling of the Plame leak. On Wednesday, Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Florida, called for McClellan to give sworn testimony to Congress.

Wexler described McClellan’s admissions and allegations as “earth-shattering” regarding both the cover-up of the Plame leak and the administration’s deceptive case for invading Iraq.

"Scott McClellan must now appear before the House Judiciary Committee under oath to tell Congress and the American people how President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and White House officials deliberately orchestrated a massive propaganda campaign to sell the war in Iraq to the American people,” Wexler said.

Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said McClellan’s book reveals that a “conspiracy” of sorts did take place.

Weismann, whose group represents Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson in a civil suit against White House officials, said the disclosures show why the case requires a discovery order from the courts.

“This was an outrageous conspiracy by top White House officials to attack and discredit a high-level CIA operative, which is exactly what we have said and the Wilsons have said,” Weismann said about the case, which was dismissed by a lower court and is now on appeal.

An aide to Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the California Democrat continues to negotiate with Fitzgerald and Attorney General Michael Mukasey about obtaining documents that the special prosecutor uncovered during his investigation.

So far, Fitzgerald has turned over to Waxman’s committee “FBI 302 reports” of interviews with CIA and State Department officials and other individuals involved in the leak, according to a letter the congressman sent to Attorney General Mukasey in December.

But Waxman added that “the White House has been blocking Mr. Fitzgerald from providing key documents to the Committee," including transcripts of Fitzgerald’s interviews with Bush and Cheney about the leak.

Jason Leopold has launched a new Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org

Military contractor Blackwater files suit to push through new California facility

Military contractor Blackwater files suit to push through new California facility

By Kevin Martinez

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Blackwater Worldwide, a private contractor for the US military, filed suit last week to ask a federal judge to order San Diego, California officials to issue final permission for the construction of a new training facility along the US-Mexico border.

Local officials have delayed granting final permits for the new center in Otay Mesa. Blackwater insists that it has received permits from all relevant authorities, and that its Navy contract requires that the center open on June 2.

The indoor facility, which is two doors down from the Border Patrol office of Otay Mesa, will operate out of a 61,600 square foot building which will include an indoor-shooting range, a mock Navy ship, as well as multiple classrooms.

So far the appeals process in San Diego has not been favorable to Blackwater. On May 16, San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre found faults with the permits, prompting Mayor Jerry Sanders to issue a stop-work order. Sanders said the company would have to wait until the public review process was completed.

The company had abandoned its previous attempts to establish a west-coast foothold 45 miles east of San Diego in Potrero, also along the border with Mexico. Those plans were withdrawn after a coalition of community residents and anti-war activists organized a special recall election to oust 4 of the 5 planning commissioners who approved so-called "Blackwater West."

Blackwater is best known for the crucial assistance it has provided in the brutal US-led occupation of Iraq. Private contracts such as Blackwater have operated with virtually no constraints in repressing opposition to the occupation.

On Tuesday, Iraqi witnesses appeared before a grand jury in Washington investigating an incident last September in which Blackwater contractors killed 17 civilians when they fired into a crowded Baghdad intersection.

Blackwater has indicated that it wants to increase its role in domestic operations within the US to complement its close ties with the military. While the company officially denies it, there are indications that Blackwater is hoping to win future government contracts to help police the US-Mexico border.

When anti-Blackwater activists held a demonstration outside of the site planned for the Potrero training facility in October of last year, the company had already filed for permits to build a new complex in Otay Mesa. Apparently, the company executives had a "plan B" in case "Blackwater West" never materialized due to public outcry. The Otay Mesa facility is, however, much smaller than what was planned for Potrero.

The permits for Otay Mesa were obtained under different names. According to San Diego city officials, the building permits were obtained by Raven Development Group and Southwest Law Enforcement, both subsidiaries of a shell company named E & J Holdings, a real estate firm based in Puerto Rico. E & J stands for Erick and Joanne Prince. Erick Prince is the founder of Blackwater Worldwide.

"They were using these phony names to evade scrutiny by activist groups like ours that are watching their every move," Raymond Lutz told the Los Angeles Times. Lutz is one of the founders of the Stop Blackwater group and lives in Portrero.

The new facility will be located in an industrial warehouse park owned by the Home Tex Packaging Corporation, a textile manufacturer with several factories in Pakistan. The CEO of Home Tex is Shoaib Kothawala, who was selected in 2002 to serve on the California Business Commission, a Republican-backed initiative set up to help the party win in the elections of that year.

Blackwater has insisted to city officials that the Otay Mesa facility is a "vocational trade school" designed to train Navy crew in "counter-terrorism" tactics. Ever since the 2000 terror attack on the USS Cole, Blackwater has been providing training assistance to the US Navy, in conjunction with a privatizing trend in the military that has gone on for decades.

Given the close proximity to the border, however, it would not at all be surprising to learn that Blackwater intends to use this building to train paramilitaries to police the border.

At a public meeting in Potrero on September 17, 2007, Brian Bonfiglio, the Vice President of Blackwater, was asked by Raymond Lutz if Blackwater would use their planned training camp in Potrero as a base of operations to patrol and monitor the border.

Bonfiglio responded, "If we were asked by our government to help out in whatever security was needed on our border, I don't think there's one person in this room who wouldn't want our borders tightened up. And what's wrong with that?" Lutz questioned Bonfiglio further, asking if Blackwater would receive any government contract to assist the Border Patrol. He replied, "We would entertain any approach from our government to help secure either border, absolutely."

In the summer of 2007, Blackwater was one of several defense contractors that were awarded a $15 billion contract for the next five years. The contract was awarded by the Pentagon's "Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office."

The mission of the office is to "develop and deploy technology that aids disrupting, deterring and denying the flow of drugs, people, information, money and weapons related to illegal drug trafficking and narcoterrorism," according to a 2003 memo from the Pentagon expanding the charter.

Especially significant is the fact that the new facility will be located in an area where many cross-border tunnels used for smuggling have been found.

Jeremy Scahill, an author who has written a book about Blackwater, recently noted to local television station KPBS, "Blackwater is manufacturing a surveillance blimp ...that they're marketing to the department of homeland security for use in monitoring the US Mexico border."

The militarization of the border has been a boondoggle for the Defense industry, as they have been ordered by the White House and Congress to turn the area into a future warzone.

Sharp increase in mental illness among US troops during 2007

Sharp increase in mental illness among US troops during 2007

By James Cogan

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American military personnel deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in rapidly increasing numbers, according to statistics released on Tuesday by the US Army Surgeon-General.

In 2003, 1,020 army personnel and 206 marines were diagnosed while on deployment. The figures had climbed to 6,876 and 1,366 by 2006. Last year, PTSD cases leapt to 10,049 and 2,114—ten times the number before the Bush administration launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Including Navy and Air Force cases, 39,366 members of the US military were officially diagnosed as suffering from the debilitating illness between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007, during their deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The release of the figures follows testimony in March by Gerald Cross, Deputy Under Secretary for Veterans Health Administration, in a class action against the US government by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth. Cross testified that of 300,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who had been treated in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, half were diagnosed with a serious mental illness, including 68,000 with PTSD.

PTSD is defined as a “common anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened”. Its symptoms—such as flashbacks, nervousness, insomnia and avoidance of contact with others—have been noted among soldiers returning from war for hundreds of years. Sufferers are prone to self-harm, ranging from suicide to substance abuse, as well as to outbursts of aggression against others.

It is no surprise that soldiers who have been sent to fight in the Bush administration’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are succumbing at a staggering rate. Few military experiences can be as traumatic as serving in occupation armies that are hated by the civilian population and targeted by a resistance movement. The troops are encouraged to view everyone—including the old, women and children—as potential insurgents. They live in terror of being captured. Even soldiers in administration and logistical roles live on edge. Nervous or trigger-happy troops have killed civilians as a result.

Where conventional combat has taken place in Iraq, it has involved intense street-to-street fighting, often over weeks. In general, however, there is no frontline or identifiable location of the “enemy”. Most American casualties have been caused by roadside bombs, unseen snipers or helicopter crashes. Tens of thousands of US troops have endured multiple tours of duty in these conditions.

Soldiers are surviving roadside bombings with horrifying injuries, due to advances in medical treatment. Only about 9 percent of American casualties who are not killed outright die from their wounds in Iraq, compared with 17 percent in Vietnam and 23 percent during World War II. Over 3,000 troops have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with severe brain damage, damaged spinal cords, lost limbs or third degree burns to large parts of their body. In many cases, these injuries will disable them for life.

Better vehicle armour and body protection has meant thousands of American soldiers whose vehicles have been hit by roadside bombs suffered only minor wounds or no obvious injury at all. They have still lived through the trauma of an attack, however, and did not necessarily escape psychological and physical harm.

In April, the Rand Corporation released an estimate, based on surveys of veterans, that of the 1.6 million American military personnel who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq, at least 300,000 are suffering from PTSD or major depression. The Rand think tank also estimated that as many as 320,000 may have suffered some form of brain damage from explosion blast waves, affecting their long-term cognitive capabilities.

The Army Surgeon-General, Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker, did not comment on the Rand findings, but he did admit that the official tally of PTSD cases is most likely only the tip of the iceberg. He told journalists on Tuesday: “I think we’re still in the infancy of fully knowing how to track it [PTSD].”

Indicating that he believed that the number was far higher, Schoomaker underscored the relationship between combat deployment and serious mental illness. “We know that human beings exposed to that environment are susceptible to developing symptoms. Soldiers are human beings and they are subject to extreme stress,” he said.

The sharp increase in PTSD cases during 2007 is partly because more soldiers than ever before were in a combat zone as a result of the Bush administration’s “surge” of some 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. In many cases, it was their second, third or even fourth deployment. The fighting in the first eight months of last year was also some of the most intense of the conflict, particularly in Baghdad, Anbar province and Diyala province. Iraqi insurgents made greater use of bombs designed to penetrate armour. More US troops were killed and wounded than in any other year of the war thus far.

The large discrepancy between the official number of PTSD cases and the Rand Corporation estimate is due to lack of diagnosis. Of those surveyed by Rand, half said that a friend of theirs had been killed or wounded; 10 percent had been injured themselves; and 45 percent said they had seen dead or seriously wounded civilians. However, of those who described symptoms of PTSD or depression, only 53 percent had sought medical help. That suggests some 150,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans remain undiagnosed.

It is also possible that veterans genuinely afflicted with PTSD have been assessed as suffering milder psychological illnesses such as adjustment disorders or short-term depression for which they do not receive a disability pension. A veterans group exposed earlier this month that a psychologist in a VA clinic in Texas had emailed staff advising them not to diagnosis PTSD as “we are having more and more compensation veterans”. While the case was dismissed as an isolated one, it points to the tremendous pressure applied to VA employees to give out as little as possible in the way of compensation.

Veterans Affairs actually used “budgetary limitations” as one of the government’s defences in the class action against the slow time taken to process compensation claims. According to attorney Daniel Bensing, the VA received 838,000 new claims in 2007, a 25 percent increase. Much of the increase was due to Vietnam veterans entering the system in larger numbers, but claims by Afghanistan and Iraq vets were a significant proportion.

The veterans groups’ suit, representing some 12,000 individuals, cites estimates that over half a million veterans are waiting for their claims to be acted on, with the process often taking more than 180 days. The class action argues that “a pattern of neglect” puts lives at risk, particularly those of veterans suffering PTSD. The suit presents figures that among the 5.6 million veterans of US wars that were being treated by VA in 2005, 6,250 committed suicide and some 12,000 others attempted suicide.

The Bush administration’s refusal to spend the necessary resources to adequately treat those suffering from PTSD is most poignantly revealed in the tragic stories that appear with increasing frequency in the US media. Case after case has surfaced of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq taking their own lives while in the grip of severe mental illness.

The Arizona Republic reported this month on the recent case of 36-year-old Sergeant Travis Twiggs, a father of two and a marine who did four tours in the two war zones. On May 12, he and his older brother were suspected of a carjacking at the Grand Canyon. Two days later, a police pursuit ended with Twiggs shooting his brother and then turning the gun on himself.

His wife, Kellee Twiggs, explained that he had displayed PTSD symptoms after his second tour but was still sent back on active duty. After his return from his fourth tour, he authored an article on the impact of PTSD for the January edition of the Marine Corp Gazette. He wrote: “When I arrived back in the States, it was as though I had never left. All my symptoms were back and now I was in the process of destroying my family.” He had been hospitalised twice but had been discharged on medications to treat his condition.

Kellee Twiggs said: “That’s not what he needed. He needed help.”

McClellan: White House fed war propaganda to a “complicit” media

White House fed war propaganda to a “complicit” media

By Bill Van Auken

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In a stunning blow to what very little remains of the Bush administration’s political credibility, the president’s former press secretary Scott McClellan has published a book indicting the White House for launching an “unnecessary” war in Iraq based on false “propaganda.”

Even more telling, particularly coming from an official who was in charge of dealing with the press, is McClellan’s harsh indictment of the American media as a servile and willing accomplice in this process.

“If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq,” he writes. “The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. ... In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

Significantly, in their main articles on McClellan’s book, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post, which together played the most influential roles in selling the war, chose to quote this passage.

Elsewhere, McClellan describes the press as “complicit enablers” in the White House’s “carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval” in the drive to war. It was guilty, he says, of “spreading distortions, half-truths, and occasionally outright lies.”

There is no indication in what has appeared thus far in the media about the book that it deals at any length with the role of the administration’s other “complicit enablers” in launching the Iraq war—the Democratic Party.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared herself in full agreement with McClellan’s critique of the Bush White House and the Iraq war, but this only underscores the bipartisan character of the conspiracy to drag the American people into an imperialist bloodbath.

Pelosi set the tone for the Democrats after their victory in the 2006 congressional elections by immediately ruling out any impeachment hearings or other actions to hold Bush, Cheney and their confederates responsible for the criminal war of aggression that has cost the lives of more than one million Iraqis and more than 4,000 American troops.

Nor will there be the slightest effort by the Democrats now—after the lesser criminal McClellan has provided an inside account of the deliberate fomenting of the war by his bosses—to take action to remove Bush and Cheney or halt the war. On the contrary, McClellan’s book became public within days of the Senate Democrats’ vote to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not only through the end of Bush’s presidency, but through the first nine months of the next administration.

While the book, titled “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” is to be published next week, substantial excerpts were reported in the press on Wednesday.

McClellan calls the Iraq war a “serious strategic blunder” and insists that if Bush had had a “crystal ball” and could have foreseen the costs in terms of casualties and destruction, he would not have waged it.

Drawing what he portrays as the principal lesson of this experience, he writes: “What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”

He makes the same point already made better by many others at the time: that the Bush administration acted in 2002-2003 to preclude any outcome other than a US invasion of Iraq.

It “managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option,” he writes.

McClellan continues: “Over that summer of 2002, top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war. . . . In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage.”

While providing further evidence that the administration is guilty of the grave crime of launching a war of aggression based on lies, the former White House spokesman draws back, claiming that he and others who conducted this propaganda campaign were not “employing out and out deception.”

He repeats the theme that the administration was guilty of “downplaying the major reason for going to war,” while promoting the phony pretexts of non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties. “To this day, the president seems unbothered by the disconnect between the chief rationale for war and the driving motivation behind it.”

But what was this “major reason,” this “driving motivation” in McClellan’s view? He insists that Bush was intent on “realizing his dream for a free Middle East.” This, however, is merely one more fraudulent rationale for a war aimed at utilizing US military force to secure strategic objectives, namely the domination of US capitalism over the oil resources of the Persian Gulf.

McClellan is also harshly critical of the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, which he had staunchly defended in 2005 against reporters, whom he accused of playing “the blame game.”

“One of the worst disasters in our nation’s history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush’s presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush’s second term,” he writes in the book. “Many within the White House were in denial about the administration’s responsibility for Katrina...we largely ignored the fact that the federal government was the vital backup, the fail-safe mechanism supposed to compensate for breakdowns at the lower levels. When you’re president, the buck stops with you—a lesson George W. Bush still hadn’t fully absorbed.”

McClellan begins the book by recounting his 2003 statement to the White House press corps that then-White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Bush’s top political advisor Karl Rove had insisted that “they were not involved” in leaking the name of the CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press as political payback for her husband, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, having publicly exposed White House lies about the war in Iraq.

This was one of the many lies he told as White House press secretary—he claims that he was duped by Rove, Libby, Cheney and also a supposedly unwitting Bush—but it came back to haunt him. Libby was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in October 2005 in relation to the CIA leak case and ultimately convicted in March 2007. During the course of these legal proceedings, it was proven that both Rove and Libby were indeed involved in identifying the CIA operative to the press.

“I could feel something fall out of me into the abyss as each reporter took a turn whacking me,” McClellan writes of the press briefings after these revelations came to light. He claims that what was at stake was his “reputation,” though there is little to suggest that he had much to lose. His performance, however, did contribute to his being pushed out of his position in 2006 by Bush’s new chief of staff, Joshua Bolten.

McClellan’s problem was that the Plame-Wilson affair was one issue on which the media could summon the courage to go on the offensive, largely because it was being egged on by elements of the national security apparatus, and in particular the CIA, which was angered by the political tactics of the White House.

Much of what McClellan writes merely serves to confirm conclusions already drawn by the bulk of the American people about the war and the nature of the government that launched it. Nonetheless, it is significant from the standpoint of who wrote it.

McClellan is hardly the first White House insider to come out with a tell-all book charging the administration with dragging the American people into war on false pretenses and other crimes. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill did so in early 2004, barely a year after being forced out of office. He was followed by Richard Clarke, the administration’s former counterterrorism adviser; CIA Director George Tenet; Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for Bush’s 2004 campaign; and others.

With McClellan, however, one is dealing with a longtime Bush loyalist, the offspring of a well-connected Texas Republican family who had been with Bush since his days as the state’s governor, when he also served as spokesman, a role he continued as traveling press secretary for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000. With this book, there is far more the sense of the last rats jumping from a sinking ship, and trying to make some money in the process.

Moreover, the timing of its release cuts across the efforts of the Republican Party to somehow refurbish the image of the Bush administration—which is receiving approval ratings lower than those of Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal—so that it does not destroy all prospects for McCain and other Republicans in the November elections.

Reaction from the Bush camp was predictably blistering, with many seeming to suggest that after leaving the White House McClellan had either suffered a mental breakdown or had been brainwashed by the administration’s opponents or a left-wing editor.

Former White House chief of staff and Bush’s senior political advisor Karl Rove, who comes in for some of the harshest criticism in the book, suggested that McClellan didn’t even write it.

“First of all, this doesn’t sound like Scott. It really doesn’t,” Rove said on Fox News. “Not the Scott McClellan I’ve known for a long time. Second of all, it sounds like somebody else. It sounds like a left-wing blogger.”

Current White House press secretary Dana Perino issued a statement reacting to the reports on the book: “Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad—this is not the Scott we knew.”

Meanwhile, McClellan’s predecessor as press secretary, Ari Fleischer, described him as an “always reliable, solid deputy” when he was at the White House. He added that “not once did Scott approach me—privately or publicly—to discuss any misgivings he had about the war in Iraq or the manner in which the White House made the case for war.”

Indeed, McClellan spent three years at thee podium in the White House press room, lying to the American public not only about the Iraq war, but also about torture, extraordinary rendition, domestic spying and other crimes carried out by the administration which he served.

He was a loyal, though thoroughly unconvincing, defender of the Bush White House line who sought to overcome his intellectual and rhetorical limitations in jousting with the press corps by doggedly repeating the same lies over and over again. In contrast to his predecessor, the unctuous Fleischer, and his successor, the right-wing radio talk show host Tony Snow, McClellan often left the impression of a deer caught in the headlights.

As Michael Wolff, who profiled McClellan for Vanity Fair, wrote, McClellan’s appointment demonstrated “a certain amount of contempt for the press on the part of the White House . . . It was a comedy, a farce, actually. He could not do the job, bottom line. He came out every day and he couldn’t talk through a sentence.”

Many of the administration’s right-wing supporters, who previously defended McClellan against his critics, are now highlighting these competence issues in an attempt to discredit him and his book.

From the excerpts that have appeared thus far, McClellan’s book is a hackneyed and self-serving account of his tenure in the White House, which hardly makes a coherent critique of the Bush administration and indeed claims that Bush himself was a victim of unscrupulous advisors.

Nonetheless, to the extent that it further substantiates the way in which the administration lied to the American people in order to launch an unprovoked war that has claimed over one million lives, it provides one more bit of evidence for bringing those responsible for this crime to account.

Bush administration uses IAEA report to make new demands and threats to Iran

Bush administration uses IAEA report to make new demands and threats to Iran

By Peter Symonds

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The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear programs, handed to member states on Monday, has already prompted a new round of criticisms, demands and threats on the part of the US and its allies. The report will be released publicly only after it has been discussed at next week’s meeting of the IAEA board of governors.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declared the report to be “very troubling”, claiming it demonstrated Iran was “willfully withholding” information about “potential weaponisation”. Implying Iran was actively involved in weapons research, he added: “There are a number of different questions out there about the military’s involvement in this nuclear program, about Iran’s efforts to fabricate hemispheres of uranium. And I’m not sure other than for a weapon why you would do that.”

Even before receiving the report, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Milliband last week mooted a new round of UN sanctions on Iran over its failure to shut down its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and end construction of a heavy-water research reactor at Arak. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned on Tuesday of increased international pressure, including through the UN Security Council, if Iran failed to provide “reasonable answers to our questions”.

Yesterday Rice declared that Iran “had a lot of explaining to do about the IAEA report, which essentially sees them as not cooperating on some very important dark questions that the international community has about their programs.” An article in the Jerusalem Post article reported that Israel, which has repeatedly hinted at a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, was “pleased” with the IAEA. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson declared that the report “reaffirms that Iran continues to flout UN Security Council resolutions”.

The mounting pressure on Iran is being fuelled by selective media leaks from the report, highlighting Iran’s supposed failure to provide adequate explanations to the IAEA on aspects of its past activities. The BBC headlined its story: “Iran withholds nuclear details”; the Associated Press said: “Iran may be withholding info in nuke probe”; and Agence France Press: “IAEA report turns heat up on Iran”.

The New York Times claimed the report was “unusually blunt and detailed”, pointing to documents supplied by Western intelligence agencies indicating that Tehran had ventured into explosives, uranium processing and missile warhead design. The article cited Iran’s installation of more sophisticated gas centrifuges at its Natanz plant and the military’s involvement in their manufacture.

Once again an attempt is being made to ramp up a climate of fear on the basis of misleading or false statements. None of the allegations about “potential weaponisation” related to Iran’s current activities. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the IAEA report provided no evidence that any weapons program continued after 2004. Last December, a National Intelligence Estimate drawn up jointly by 16 US intelligence agencies found that Iran had abandoned research into nuclear weapons in 2003.

Moreover, the claims that Iran had previously tested high explosives, had plans to modify its Shabab missile to carry a nuclear device and possessed a document on the fabrication of uranium hemispheres are not new. All these allegations relate to documents allegedly found on a laptop purportedly smuggled out of Iran in 2004. Up until February, the US administration provided details to the IAEA but refused to formally release the intelligence, thus preventing the body from discussing the claims with Iranian authorities.

The US finally released the data in an attempt to undermine efforts by IAEA director general Mohammed ElBaradei to clarify all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear activities. The decision was also part of the Bush administration’s campaign to discredit the NIE findings and to create the conditions for pushing through another UN Security Council resolution in early March strengthening sanctions against Iran.

Iran has declared the documents to be forgeries and insisted that all its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. It has rejected UN Security Council resolutions as illegal, pointing to its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment and the building of research reactors. Iran’s IAEA ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh declared that the latest report showed that “Iran’s entire nuclear activities are peaceful”.

The full story on the mysterious laptop is yet to emerge. In his 2006 book Target Iran, former American weapons inspector Scott Ritter pointed to possible Israeli involvement in concocting the documents. “The link between the laptop data and Israel’s earlier intelligence could be viewed as a coincidence, but some European intelligence officials believe there is a link, and that link is Israel, and as such the whole package of intelligence that is included in the laptop is questionable in terms of its overall veracity,” he wrote.

“The Iranians, for their part, called the laptop intelligence ‘total fabrication’. However, in private meetings with the IAEA, the Iranians did indicate that there were aspects of reality woven throughout the entire laptop story. Some point to these Iranian admissions as proof that the laptop story is credible; others say it only reinforces their concern that the Israelis built an overall story about military involvement in a nuclear weapons program using as seed-stock a few verifiable facts” (Target Iran, Scott Ritter, p.184).

Threat of US military strike

Even if all of the documents were authentic, they would offer no conclusive proof that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past, let alone that it has continued to the present day. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the IAEA asked Tehran to respond to 11 issues to clarify the nature of its nuclear programs. The reply sent on May 23 was not included in the latest report.

If all the documents proved to be forgeries, it would not halt the Bush administration’s campaign to vilify the Iranian regime. Other “evidence” would be found or concocted to justify Washington’s demands, in open contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that Iran shut down all enrichment activity. Or other pretexts would be brought to the fore: allegations of Iranian “meddling” in Iraq or support for so-called terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian party Hamas.

On Sunday, former US President Jimmy Carter mentioned the unmentionable by putting a figure on the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. In response to a question, he dismissed a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat, declaring that Iran would face overwhelming odds against the huge number of nuclear weapons held by the US, Britain, France and Israel, which he said had “150 or more”. His comments underscore the hypocrisy of the Bush administration, which has no objections to Israel’s atomic bombs but condemns Iran despite the lack of conclusive proof that it is seeking to build any.

Washington’s real objective in its propaganda against Iran is to undermine a regime that it regards as a barrier to American ambitions to assert economic and strategic dominance throughout the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. The Bush administration has never relinquished its ambition for “regime change” in Tehran and has continued to declare that all options—including a new war of aggression—remain on the table.

There continues to be a steady stream of leaks in the media indicating that Bush may attack Iran before leaving office early next year. The latest, published on the Asia Times web site yesterday and entitled “Bush plans Iran air strike by August”, was based on a high-level source described as a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state. Rather than using Iran’s nuclear programs as the casus belli, “the source said that the White House views the proposed air strike as a limited action to punish Iran for its involvement in Iraq”.

“Details provided by the administration raised alarm bells on Capital Hill, the source said. After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike, Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece ‘within days’, the source said last week, to express their opposition. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee,” the article explained.

The Bush administration has not commented on the article. Spokesmen for Feinstein and Lugar denied the story in comments to the Raw Story web site. No further corroboration of the claims has been published. Whatever the exact truth of the article, it does point to continuing sharp divisions within the American political establishment over the wisdom of attacking Iran. There is a distinct nervousness that Bush may be committed to a new military adventure that has potentially devastating consequences for the global interests of American capitalism.

The Washington Post featured a comment on Tuesday entitled “A sensible path on Iran” by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brezinski and former National Security Agency director William Odom. The article was scathing in its dismissal of the Bush administration’s strategy, declaring: “[A] heavy-handed ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ may work with donkeys but not with serious countries. The United States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats of military action and calls for regime change.”

Brezinski and Odom warned that the US would have “to pay a price from likely Iranian reactions” to air strikes by either the US or Israel. “These would almost certainly involve destabilising the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, and serious efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, at the very least generating a massive increase in its already high cost. The turmoil in the Middle East resulting from a preemptive attack on Iran would hurt America and Israel, too.”

The comment proposes that the US enter into negotiations with Iran to “accommodate its security interests and ours” with a long-term view to “bring Iran back into its traditional role with the United States in stabilising the Gulf Region”. Such a strategy is rejected out of hand by the Bush administration, particularly its most militarist sections led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who regard all diplomatic efforts, including the current push for tighter UN sanctions, as a waste of time.

As far as the proponents of war are concerned, any lessening of the tensions with Iran runs the danger of allowing America’s major rivals for influence in the region to gain the upper hand. These include not only Russia and China, but also Washington’s allies in Europe and Asia, which already have considerable economic ties with Tehran, including options to exploit its huge gas and oil reserves. While Brezinski and Odom’s proposal might have appeared reasonable in a bygone period of US dominance, a reckless new war of aggression against Iran has a certain logic when US power is increasingly under challenge.