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7/23/2004

Community College Lies

Bush today at the Urban League:

Plus, I want to make sure the community college system is vibrant. I put money aside and will continue to do so for the community colleges. They're available, affordable, they're accessible, they're good things, they can change their curriculum to meet the needs of a local community. They actually train people for jobs which exist. They're good opportunities for kids coming out of high school. Look, education is the future of the country.
Representative Ron Kind on Wednesday [pdf]:
Republican Committee members voted against all three amendments, including that which would have provided the $250 million that the President has repeatedly called for in appearances at community colleges around the country in the last several months. “In speech after speech, the President has talked up extra funding for community and technical colleges, but he has not lifted a finger to make it happen,” said Kind. “If the President is really interested in getting this funding, he would push for it on Capitol Hill – but he isn’t.”

Two Masters, Again

Tammy McCutchen, the former administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, was allegedly negotiating for private sector employment while working on the Bush administration overtime rule revisions. Rep. George Miller has written the Labor Department requesting information on the matter. McCutchen left the Department of Labor on June 11 and started working with Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky on June 15 (she started full time with the firm July 6).

She was an "architect" of the Bush administration's new overtime rules, which dramatically weakened overtime protections. She was involved in counseling employers on how to avoid paying overtime to eligible employees.

Former Congressman Billy Tauzin and former CMS administrator Thomas Scully negotiated for private sector employment while working on Bush's Medicare reform legislation.

Politicizing Catholic Churches

The RNC requested parish directories from Catholic dioceses back in January. Joe Feuerhard of the National Catholic Reporter broke the story. The AP reported on it. They are tainting religion. I put together a pretty comprehensive run down of their efforts at the beginning of the month.

On a related note, the AP reports that pro-choice Catholic politicians aren't listening to the denial of communion threats. The article at least mentions a couple of pro-choice Catholic Republicans.

Kerry's #1 Flip Flop: Turning the Boat Around

As Bush continues his relentlessly negative campaign, Kerry stays on the high road, relying on his character and biography to clear off the mud.

Kerry's biggest flip-flop: turning back for a fallen soldier:

Kerry's turning point came March 13, when he was ordered with four other Swift boat officers to transport Vietnamese mercenaries and U.S. officers on a series of sweeps along the Bay Hap River. After a long day of shore skirmishes, the gunboats chugged directly into a gantlet of machine-gun fire and mines.

A blast rocked PCF-94, pitching Kerry against the bulkhead and wrenching his arm. Another charge blew Army Lt. James Rassman into the river from another boat. Rassman bobbed under a wild spray of Vietcong gunfire. His arm bleeding, Kerry ordered Sandusky to swing the boat around.

"Here comes Kerry charging up to the bow," Rassman recalled. "He kneeled down and grabbed my arm and pulled me over. What a dummy. It was miraculous neither of us were hit."

Kerry was awarded the Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. With three decorated wounds, an obscure regulation allowed him to request reassignment — even back to the U.S. Kerry recalled one commander, Chuck Horne, telling him: "You've got a ticket home."

Oliphant on Kerry: Worker Thinker

Tom Oliphant, a reporter for the Boston Globe, has a great piece at the American Porspect on Kerry. It works well with the Blumenthal article below, emphasizing the strengths Kerry will bring to the presidency. Having either a worker or a thinker in the White House would be a huge improvement - having someone who is both is almost too much to ask for.

7/22/2004

Kerry's Role in Unveiling Iran-Contra

Sid Blumenthal has a great piece in the Guardian, detailing John Kerry's seminal role as a leader in Senate investigations. He has a great record of uncovering corruption and malfeasance, including Iran-contra and terrorism funding.

Troop Treatment and Gen. Schoomaker

Gen. Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff, testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. The main coverage of his testimony has focused on the Army's tapping into "delayed entry" recruits to fill current needs. He has also criticized expanding the size of the army, arguing that a permanent size increase might "encumber" the service in out years, and might "hamper efforts to modernize the service."

Schoomaker was appointed to the position by Rumsfeld because of his background in special forces and his support for Rumsfeld's modernization program. He replaced Gen. Shinseki. His interesting opening remarks [pdf] are available on the Armed Services Committee website.

Bush Scuttles Tax Deal

George Bush has scuttled a compromise extension of middle class tax benefits to preserve it as a campaign issue for this Fall.  The compromise would have extended the cuts, which include a portion of the $1000 child tax credit, for two years.  Bush and certain House conservatives were pushing for a five year extension.  Rather than agree to the compromise, which had significant Democratic support and would have weakened Bush's ability to use the issue in his Presidential campaign, the White House submarined the bill.

Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post reports that

But White House officials urged Republicans to hold out for a longer extension more in line with the president's call to make the tax cuts permanent. Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. put in a round of angry phone calls Tuesday night, several Senate aides said. Then White House counselor Karl Rove and Bush himself called GOP tax writers yesterday urging them to kill the deal.
 Edmund Andrews of the New York Times reports that
Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said the administration was still trying to negotiate. But Republican Congressional officials said the administration did not want a deal that Democratic lawmakers might support, giving them a tax-cutting credential, too.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had already said he would retain most of Mr. Bush's middle-class tax cuts, and many Democratic lawmakers said they would vote for a modest extension of the tax cuts even if the extension was not paid for.

"If the Democrats had been on the same side, it would have taken a lot of arrows out of the quiver,'' said one Republican staff member.
Trapper John at Kos mocks the clear parallel between this maneuver and the Kerry "flip-flop" on troop funding.  Except that Kerry's vote was defensible - he wanted the funding to be financed through current revenues, rather than deficit spending.  Bush, on the other hand, avoided a compromise position to preserve a partisan political issue.  Would he be so cavalier with his base?

7/21/2004

Source of Italian Forgeries

Josh Marshall is thinking about forgeries.  The SSCI report remained mum on the issue of the forged Niger-Iraq documents, pending an FBI investigation.  The three big theories appear to be: SISMI/Berlusconi were doing Bush a favor, a rogue former CIA operative attempting to discredit the administration, and a Libyan Deception Operation designed to distract from Libyan-Iraqi cooperation. 

Of course, one can never discount the Iraqi National Accord or the Iraqi National Congress.

We have access to the Libyan nuclear program, but no further information on the Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily allegations.

Wilson & Uranium from Africa

Joe Wilson has an oped in today's Los Angeles Times [mirrored here]. 

Conservatives have distorted the SSCI report and the Butler report to two ends: preemptively excusing any criminal charges related to the leaking of the identity of Joe Wilson's wife (Valerie Plame) as a NOC CIA operative (see David Corn's account of a WSJ editorial here), and exonerating Bush of the charge that he lied in the 2003 State of the Union when he claimed "British intelligence has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." (William Safire here)

Both uses are laughable, but they have succeeded in turning the national conversation to the minutiae of Wilson's credibility, away from the glaring weakness of the administration's case for war. 

In February 1999 the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, visited four African countries, including Niger.  The visits were public, and the American ambassador to Niger, Charles Cecil, filed a report at the time, based at least in part on a picture in the local media.  There was nothing suspicious about the visit, and at the time the Nigerien government was trying to improve relations with the United States. [SSCI Report p. 42]  There was no mention of uranium.

Niger's two top exports are livestock and uranium.  The British government has relied on this fact as evidence that Zahawie's visits were part of an Iraqi effort to procure urnaium [Butler Report para. 493].  Zahawie, though, claimed that the visit was part of an effort to get African heads of state to visit Baghdad to weaken the UN sanctions and build support for their elimination [article mirrored here].  Libya had used  a similar tactic in the early nineties.  The IAEA investigated this explanation and determined that it was credible [Butler Report para. 502].  The Nigerien President agreed to visit Baghdad in April but was assassinated prior to the visit. 

There are two uranium mines in Niger, an open pit mine run by SOMAIR (Arlit) and an underground mine run by COMINAK (Akouta).  The mines, six kilometers apart, are owned and operated by a consortium headed by France's Cogema and including Japan, Germany, Spain, and Niger.  After being converted to yellowcake (uranium oxide) on site, the uranium is processed into uranium hexaflouride by the French Comurhex,  and most of it was sold to France and Japan in 1999 [pdf].  It would be logistically very difficult to steal uranium from this complex.  There is also significant IAEA oversight of the complex, which would have made diversion difficult.

In the aftermath of September 11th, the Italian intelligence service SISMI forwarded a report on Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Niger.  [SSCI Report p. 36]  The report alleged that after a year of negotiation the State Court of Niger, with the assent of the Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo, "concluded an accord to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq." [SSCI Report p.36] 

The American intelligence community doubted the SISMI report.  Rep. Henry Waxman compiled media reports of Intelligence Community (IC) skepticism [pdf] about the general claims in 2003.  I will probably update this list at some point in the near future.

Nonetheless, the report was forwarded/stovepiped to the OVP.  Cheney asked his intelligence briefer about the report, and his briefer sought out more information.  He reported back that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger in the early eighties.  In 1981, Hussein had purchased uranium from the Nigerien government.  Cheney was interested, and asked for more information. [See Hersh]

The CIA decided to send Joe Wilson to investigate the claims.  Wilson had extensive contacts in the area and had been singled out by GHWB for his heroism in the first Gulf War.  His wife, Valerie Plame, was also a CIA operative who was able to facilitate his trip.

Wilson was called into a meeting with the CIA where he was given background information on the charges.  He was then sent to Niger to verify the claims.   There was no evidence to support any of the specific information, and all of the actors indicated in the report denied any involvement.  The former Prime Minister of Niger reported that he met with the Iraqi ambassador, and that Zahawie mentioned "expanding trade relations," which the PM believed was an oblique reference to uranium. 

U.S. Marine General Carlton W. Fulton Jr. also visited Niger and reported to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers that the uranium facilities were secure.  He was accompanied in his meeting with Niger's President, Mamadou Tandja and Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou by the US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick.  She filed a report with the State Department discrediting the SISMI intelligence claim [SSCI report 41-42]. 

These reports have been dismissed as casual interviews by non-intelligence operatives, not up to the task of discovering the diabolical Iraqi machinations.  These critics are overlooking how ludicrous the allegations were to begin with.  There is no plausible scenario by which a secret Iraq-Niger agreement could be implemented.  If it isn't formal, approved by the consortium actually controlling the uranium mines and the IAEA, it doesn't happen.  This is exactly what Wilson, Fulton and Owens-Kirkpatrick reported: the consortium controls were in place, and there was no formal agreement. 

It doesn't take a lot of effort to debunk these ridiculous claims.  That they were believed at all is evidence of horrible negligence, an unwillingness to look at the actual operation of the uranium mines, and a potentially bad-faith credulity when it came to anti-Hussein allegations.

Proposal for Intelligence Reform

There is an easy solution to our intelligence problems.  Outsource the entire operation to the New Yorker.  The magazine appears to have better sources and better analytic capacity than the entire intelligence community. If they won't do it, hire the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau.

 

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