Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

Obama: Let the Sunlight In!

August 5, 2009

It appears to be an inherent risk of the presidential office that its occupants prefer to avoid public accountability for their actions. President Eisenhower coined the term “executive privilege” to avoid revealing government information to Congress and the public. Bill Moyers recalled that President Johnson so despised the ramifications of the Freedom of Information Act that “LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony,” and threatened a pocket veto. Nixon was notoriously secretive, often deliberately keeping members of his administration out of the loop, and vigorously opposed the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the release of the white house papers and recordings. The policy of the Reagan administration was to classify information at the highest level possible (a reversal of Carter’s policy to classify information as low as possible). Reagan also issued Executive Order 12356, increasing the longevity of information classification, and advocated the Freedom of Information Reform Act of 1986, restricting the original FOIA. While some administrations have been more forthcoming than those—the Carter and Clinton administrations both acknowledged to have taken steps towards greater transparency and access—Phillip Melanson notes in Secrecy Wars: National Security, Privacy, and the Publics Right to Know that virtually all presidential administrations have resisted full compliance with the FOIA and public accountability.

The recent Bush administrations hardly broke that mold. Denying the public information on key meetings on energy policy in which energy industry executives participated; covering up executive actions regarding detention, torture, and public wiretapping; attempting to keep presidential records private indefinitely with Executive Order 13233; administration memoranda encouraging bureaucratic obstruction to confound FOIA requests; a vice president who insisted he was exempt from accountability because he supposedly outside all three branches of government: They seemed to have a absolute passion for secrecy (excepting, of course, when it came to releasing classified identities for political purposes)—not particularly surprising given the illicit nature of their agenda.

Obama made quite a point of transparency during his presidential campaign, as a contrast to the Bush administration. Early in his administration Obama issued a memorandum about “transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” During his short term in office, is he on track to produce the change he promised?

Early results are not encouraging. I suppose one might forgive the administration for declining to release the FBI interview with Dick Cheney regarding the Valerie Plame incident. While I’d prefer to see the key members of the previous administration held to full account for their misdeeds, perhaps Obama is sincerely trying to avoid the appearance of partisanship by protecting Cheney from “embarrassment,” or believes that a Gerald Ford strategy of letting bygones be bygones and moving on is the best way for the nation to get over the past eight years.

But the Obama administration has also adopted the Bush administration’s policy on secret wiretapping. In a strange case of deja vu, Obama is refusing to release information on administration an energy policy meeting with coal executives. And most recently, he has denied an FOIA request for information related to meetings with health care industry executives. Obama’s repeated rebuff of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and his general reticence to live up to his memorandum show a distressing lack of concern or understanding for the change we needed.

Whether you take Obama to be the messiah or a commie-muslim-criminal mastermind is irrelevant. Government secrecy is dangerous to the nation irrespective of which party or what person is in power. Sunlight is the best protection against even the potential for corruption. Our democratic republic can only function effectively to the extent that the public has access to the data necessary to make informed judgments and hold our government representatives accountable. If Obama thinks we should simply trust him because of his integrity and of his commitment to change, then he is not the agent of change he claims to be.

President Bush Deregulates Coal Mining Debris Disposal

December 13, 2008

Despite what the headlines seem to suggest, President Bush is not yet inconsequential. His executive powers are maintained for another few weeks, and like the last several of his predecessors, he is spending that time issuing eleventh hour executive orders and regulatory changes. Among the most distressing of the changes is one which lifts many restrictions on the disposal of mining waste. In truth the rules regulating that disposal have widely been ignored for years. Lifting those restrictions will allow mining operators even greater freedom to dump their mining refuse into nearby streams and valleys. Mining runoff contains high levels of selenium and other hazardous chemicals, which threatens not only local fish and wildlife, but the local communities.

Deregulation has always been a central tenet of conventional free market theory as a means to maintain freedom for society. The argument is in theory very persuasive. Why is it that in practice deregulation so often means keeping producers free to pass off the true costs of their production onto others; free contaminate the private property and health of the less powerful, as well as the public property on which we all rely, in their pursuit of profit? So much for the people downstream being “free to choose.”

Bush, China, and Free Speech

August 8, 2008

So President Bush has chosen to take the opportunity afforded by publicity of the Olympics and his trip to China to advocate greater freedom of expression in that nation.

It is certainly a worthy goal. Freedom of speech is one of the most essential freedoms we can hold.

However, given the lengths to which this administration has gone to insulate itself from dissenting expression ( “free speech zones,” extensive audience screening at speeches and events), President Bush may not be the most persuasive credible advocate around.

The Iraq Status of Forces Negotiations: Exposing the Republican Lie

June 19, 2008

For five years now, Republicans high and low have scoffed at the Iraq War skeptics. They’ve routinely protested any suggestion that the conquest had anything to do with oil or empire. This is a war of liberation, an act of benevolence to free an oppressed people, a noble act to spread Democracy. The regrettable use of military force was necessary, but was merely temporary. Our forces will be removed as soon as the legitimate government of Iraq no longer needed or wanted our services.

Variously naive and duplicitous, these assurances have been proven wrong. We now know that the Bush administration has been in negotiations for a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, one which would permit U.S. forces to maintain dozens of indefinite-term military bases, control of Iraqi airspace, carte blanche to pursue military operations, and immunity from Iraqi law for not only members of the U.S. military, but U.S. contractors.

That is not a mutual aid agreement between sovereign nations. That is a pact turning Iraq into a client state of the U.S.

Yes, the conservatives insist that the bases are intended to be temporary. The bases in Saudi Arabia established during Gulf War I were supposedly temporary as well. So was Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, but the idea that this sprawling, expensive base will be dismantled anytime soon is rather absurd. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, its network of military bases is a primary means by which the U.S. stretches its influence and exerts political pressure on nations throughout the world. This is nothing more than the neo-imperialism practiced by the U.S. for the better part of a century.

You don’t think the war had anything to do with petroleum? I have a hard time believing that the administration didn’t see potential of leveraging the influence of long-term military bases to help assure the pipeline to the U.S.

And what of the desires of the legitimate government in Iraq? They find the U.S. demands to be unacceptable.

We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept (Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki, from “Impasse in US-Iraqi forces talks,” BBC)

It reminds me a great deal of the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba after the Spanish-American War. Cuba, now “liberated” from Spain, was required to grant the U.S. military bases (of which Guantanamo is a remnant), exempt U.S. entities from Cuban law, and even permit the U.S. government a veto over the Cuban legislature. Some liberation.

It is worth considering that the hubris of the U.S. and their insistence that Cuba become a vassal played a very key role in the resentment which ultimately enabled a meglomaniacal dictator to lead an uprising and defy the U.S. for almost half a century now.

Time for the conservatives to face facts and or own up to the lies. There are clearly ulterior motives at play—motives which must be terminated. The Middle-East is explosive enough right now without pouring more gasoline on the fire.

Iraq: Five Years and Counting

March 19, 2008

Five years ago, I was involved in an online Christian forum which frequently veered off topic and onto politics. The invasion of Iraq was a primary subject of conversation for much of 2003. Most of these people proudly counted themselves among the Religious Right, and staunchly defended the conquest. Even when no WMDs were found and the primary justification for the war proved to be a sham, these people were unwavering.

“It doesn’t matter,” they insisted. “Hussein was a menace, a tyrant. His people suffered at his hand, and they are better off liberated.”

I cautioned them to temper their exuberance. I agreed that Hussein was a thug, a brute, and a butcher (one who obtained the tools for his butchery courtesy of the Reagan administration…). But merely because Hussein had been deposed and then apprehended did not mean that Iraq had been “liberated.” Even putting aside the criminality of the war itself, the invasion could only be considered worthwhile if Iraq turned out better in Hussein’s absence. The invasion could not be judged from the point of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner and speech. Lets see where we are at five, ten, twenty years down the line.

So here we are, five years from that fateful day. Things have hardly gone as the administration presumed. They insisting that we would be greeted with flowers and chocolates, able to pull out in a couple years and a few billion dollars, leaving the seeds of an enlightened democracy to blossom in the the Fertile Crescent and spread throughout the Middle East.

What is the state of Iraq?

  • Iraq does indeed have a fragile, newborn Democratic government. If the U.S. doesn’t interfere and require Iraq to institutionalize their client status, as they did with Cuba after the Spanish-American war, and if the government doesn’t implode in sectarian/ethnic bickering, this might possibly develop into a legitimate and functional government.
  • Instead of several billion, the war has cost at least half a trillion dollars. In looking at the hidden costs of the war, Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the real cost is three trillion. Until our troops are entirely withdrawn, that figure continues to burgeon. There is no indication that either our current administration nor the Republican presidential nominee has any inclination to reduce our troop commitment.
  • Almost four-thousand U.S. troops have sacrificed their lives for the war. Actually, they’ve died. Many more than that have sacrificed their lives, now suffering emotional illness which may dog them for a lifetime, shattered marriages, and other tragedies. Again there is no reason to think these numbers won’t continue to climb.
  • Over 700,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the invasion. Well over four million have become refugees, displaced because of the chaos and violence. The basic infrastructure is still not restored to pre-war condition.
  • The national intelligence estimates for 2006 and 2007 suggest that the conquest of Iraq has resulted in the growth of terrorist organizations and increased their threat to our national security.
  • In the aftermath of the occupation, Al Qaeda has now established a presence in Iraq—one nonexistent before.

Maybe things will improve in the future. Maybe the violence is nearing its end. Maybe at ten or twenty years, we will see the beginnings of a prosperous Iraq, a model for a new, modern Middle East and ethnic/religious cooperation.

Or maybe things will take a turn for the worse. Maybe the region will explode in bloodshed, or this delicate coalition will snap and pave the way for some new bloodstained junta to take the reigns. Maybe the U.S. will be forced to maintain a presence, to establish a protectorate in Iraq to prevent rivers of blood—and perhaps to protect U.S. national interests. McCain isn’t opposed to a thousand years…

Who can know? All I can say is that here, at the five year anniversary of the War on Iraq, the results look questionable, and hardly worth the price.

Matheson is Right On

December 22, 2007

Very rarely do I find myself agreeing with Utah Representative Jim Matheson, a politician neither hot nor cold, one who usually tries to straddle the fence and like most of his “Blue Dog Democrat” ilk, is all too willing to be duped by those who would dispense with any and all ethics in the name of national security.

But when he criticizes both parties for passing a “patch” on the AMT which only widens our budget deficits, he hits the nail on the head.

Matheson called the parties “gutless” in a statement released after the House gave its final approval to a “patch” on the alternative minimum tax, or AMT.

He was one of 64 representatives who voted against the bill that will add $50 billion to the national debt.

“The Blue Dogs may be the last ones standing who put their money where their mouths are when it comes to fiscal responsibility,” Matheson said, referring to a group of fiscally conservative Democrats (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/20/2007).

It’s difficult to lay too much blame at the feet of the Democratic Party, since the Republicans and the administration could trump any move the Democrats made. Still, the Democrats could have stood on their principles and forced a showdown. If they had made their case of fiscal responsibility to the nation, they might have won that showdown. Alas, they decided yet again to back down.

(Typically, Chris Cannon showed his lack of integrity by criticizing the Democrats for level of spending in Washington, while completely ignoring the fact that the quickest and most effective way to lower federal spending would be to end this administration’s misbegotten wars.)

AMT confusion

December 15, 2007

One of the big issues which has been looming over the federal government over the past several weeks is the Alternative Minimum Tax. The House of Representatives recently passed a bill reforming the AMT and making up for the reduced revenues in other places. The administration, however, has consistently warned against such a fix.

“The administration does not believe the appropriate way to protect 21 million additional taxpayers from 2007 AMT liability is to impose a tax increase on other taxpayers,” the White House said in a policy statement.

They would prefer a bill like that passed by the Senate, which does not compensate for the lost revenues.

How confusing. I thought part of conservatism was living within your means, paying as you go. Strange that conservatives today are so eager to reduce revenues, but not to reduce expenditures. Oh, sure, they’ll talk about cutting back on social programs. But this administration and most conservatives have no desire to cut back on military spending—by far the biggest drain on government coffers, as has been mentioned before. Never before has this nation—any nation—engaged in a war without requiring sacrifice from their citizens in order to help pay for the war. This administration? They would prefer for citizens to act as if the war didn’t exist. These conservatives want to buy their illegal and immoral war on credit.

Why not. Go ahead, cut taxes. Our kids can figure out a way to pay for our generation’s blunders.

The Cheney Forecast: Warm and Sunny in Iraq

December 8, 2007

Vice-President Cheney is confident that the administration’s war policy is the correct one, and is boldly predicting success by 2009.

…by the middle of January 2009, it will be clear that ‘we have in fact achieved our objective in terms of having a self-governing Iraq that’s capable for the most part of defending themselves, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a nation that will be a positive force in influencing the world around it in the future (“Political Bulletin,” U.S. News and World Report).

What a pleasant thought. Maybe we should give this administration a break, since things are going so well. After all, he did so well in his prior prognostication regarding Iraq.

They’re going to welcome us. It’ll be like the American Army going through the streets of Paris. They’re sitting there ready to form a new government. The people will be so happy with their freedoms that we’ll probably back ourselves out of there within a month or two (“The Imperial Presidency,” The New York Times).

I appreciate that Cheney has become a bit less…brash…as his term wanes. But I’m not about to hold my breath over this augury either.

Bush Doesn’t Want Congressional “Wasteful Spending”; That’s His Job

December 4, 2007

President Bush gave a stern admonition this morning to Congress in their unwillingness to acquiesce to his spending priorities and demands.

Americans also expect their tax dollars to be spent wisely. Yet today 11 of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of the federal government remain unfinished. And now, congressional leaders are talking about piling these bills into one monstrous piece of legislation which they will load up with billions of dollars in earmarks and wasteful spending.

Taxpayers deserve better. And if the Congress passes an irresponsible spending bill, I’m going to veto it.

After all, this administration has proven to be a paragon of financial and government restraint.

An Unjust and Illegal War

November 21, 2007

There are two related charges leveled against the conquest of Iraq. The first regards the essential moral questions about the war—charges that the war is unjust. The second relates to the legal issues regarding the war. While many denounce such charges, sometimes more vehemently than the moral charges, there is a clear body of evidence pointing to the fact that the war is illegal.

The United Nations charter very specifically prohibits the use of force by member states (Chapter I, Article 2, Section 4). It provides exceptions only in the case of self-defence (Chapter VII, Article 51) and in situations in which the Security Council approves the use of force to promote international peace and security (discussed in the various articles of Chapter VII).

The U.S. was under no threat by Iraq, nor was it authorized by the Security Council to use force to enforce the various U.N. resolutions against Iraq which were part of the justification for the invasion. The U.S. did not have the authority to unilaterally make the decision to enforce the U.N. resolutions.

Those who challenge the authority of the U.N. charter or other forms of “international law,” should familiarize themselves with The Constitution.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land (Article VI; emphasis added)…”

The U.N. charter was presented to the Senate by the presidential administration and was there ratified, as required by the Constitution (Article 2, Section 2). Until such time as the U.S. officially withdraws from the U.N, the charter agreement is law.

It is sad not only that we have to remind U.S. citizens—and the administration—about the laws according to the Constitution, but that we would have to justify our obligation to follow international law. After all, a person’s integrity is in many ways defined by his ability to follow the conditions of contracts and obligations voluntarily entered in to. If we wish to be considered a principled nation, we should observe and abide by our treaties and international agreements, such as the U.N. charter and its rules against force, or the Geneva Conventions and their rules against torture, simply because we signed them, regardless of whether The Constitution requires us to.

Yes, the U.N. is flawed. Yes, the U.N. is in a great many ways rather impotent. Yes, many participating nations have violated the U.N. charter in the past (including the U.S. in many prior instances). So what? “He did it first!” never worked for me on my mother, and I doubt it did for any of you. If we are going to resort to such puerile rationalizations, our moral state is pathetic indeed.

It is interesting to note that noted neo-con hawk and war supporter, Richard Perle admitted that the war was illegal.

The Iraq war is illegal not only because it violates international law, but domestic law as well. It has been claimed that “Bush went through the same channels as you always do when you start a war,” but this is false. Ron Paul proposed a declaration of war on Iraq in 2002 (one which he insists he planned to vote against) precisely because no legal declaration of war had been made. Nor has one been made since. The legality of a war which has not been legally declared is questionable at best.

What about the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002? Congress made explicit in the authorization that the use of force was conditioned on a number of premises:

  1. Iraq was not complying with various U.N. resolutions.
  2. Iraq still had possession of WMDs in defiance of the U.N. resolution banning that possession.
  3. Iraq was connected with 9/11 or terrorist organizations involved in 9/11 or similar activities.
  4. The administration had exhausted all diplomatic avenues in trying to resolve the issue (contained in section 3 of the resolution).

The U.S, as I’ve already discussed, had no authority to act on the first condition. None of the remaining three conditions were met.

A policeman can go through the proper channels to get a search warrant. But if he falsified the conditions upon which the issuance of the warrant were bases, then the search is now an illegal search.

The administration’s assertion that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and that they were actively pursuing WMDs were fraudulent. They made no more than token efforts to resolve their concerns through diplomatic means.

This war can be no more legal than the policeman’s search conducted with a legal warrant obtained by fraudulence.

Those Democrats who allowed themselves to vote in favor of the authorization and who have not taken the steps to hold the administration accountable should be held accountable by their constituents for abetting crimes. But the fact that Congress allowed themselves to be manipulated into issuing the authorization and then did not have the moral courage to hold the administration to the conditions of the authorization does not make it any less illegal.

I’ve heard it said that what separates a Republic from other forms of government is that a Republic is a government of law. A Republic is not governed by the whim of an individual, of a small group of oligarchs, nor even the tyranny of the majority; all governance is confined to and shaped by established code. Whether or not this is strictly true, I think it fair to say that many of those involved in the American Revolution and the founding of the U.S. were most concerned about so constraining government. As they themselves saw, without the constraint of law government all too easily becomes tyranny.

Perhaps the most important area in which the government must be circumscribed to legally established practices and procedures is in the use of military force. For the sake of the Republic, it is imperative that we recognize offenses to that law for what they are. Abuses are far too costly to our nation to do otherwise—not only in gold, but in blood.