Follow the Money

March 10, 2004 at 9:01 pm
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I hope you’ve all responded to my repeated pleas and subscribed to the Progress Report, and that you read it every day to keep your perspective on the news “fair and balanced.” If you have, you can skip this one.

If you haven’t, here is a carefully, lovingly, hand-picked selection of delights from just the last two issues for your enjoyment.

Original articles here:

The Progress Report: March 10, 2004

The Progress Report: March 9, 2004
DISHONEST REVENUE ASSUMPTIONS: Even though the proposal has been repeatedly rejected by Congress, the Administration’s budget assumes “revenues from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” The President’s tax cuts have left the government so strapped for cash that the Administration has had to resort to assuming revenue “from an activity that is illegal under current law.”

“When it came to Iraq, Cheney made it clear that inspections could not go on forever if they did not produce results, Blix writes. In that case, the United States ‘was ready to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament,’ he quotes Cheney as saying.”

While Vice President Cheney has derided questioning of the Administration’s pre-9/11 behavior as “thoroughly irresponsible  and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war,” serious questions remain about whether the White House grossly neglected counter-terrorism in the lead-up to 9/11. As a 5/27/02 Newsweek cover story noted, before 9/11 “the Bushies had an ideological agenda of their own“: one that subordinated – and in many cases tried to reduce funding for – counter-terrorism efforts. As the NYT reported om 2/28/02, the shift was so dramatic that senior intelligence agents feared it would mean “that counterterrorism would be downgraded” over the long run and that there was a “lack of focus on fighting terrorism.”

Upon coming into office, the Bush Administration inherited a government that was receiving more and more specific warnings about the threat of an Al Qaeda attack on the United States. As ABC News reported, Bush Administration “officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden’s terrorist network might try to hijack American planes.” Similarly, Newsweek reported “that as many as 10 to 12 warnings” were issued, and “more than two of the warnings specifically mentioned the possibility of hijackings.” Meanwhile, George Tenet, “was issuing many warnings that bin Laden was ‘the most immediate’ threat to Americans.”

The warnings were so explicit that in the months leading up to 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped flying commercial airlines and instead began “traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines” because of “what the Justice Department called a ‘threat assessment.'” That “threat assessment” was not made public.

THE WARNINGS – POST-9/11 DENIALS: Despite these explicit warnings, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed that the Administration was never warned of an attack before 9/11, saying “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” Similarly, President Bush denied having any idea about the threat, saying on 5/17/02, “Had I know that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.”

Attorney General Janet Reno ended her tenure as “perhaps the strongest advocate” of counterterrorism spending, and Newsweek reported National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was “totally preoccupied” with the prospect of a domestic terror attack, telling his replacement that they need to be “spending more time on this issue than on any other.” As a 4/2/00 WP story noted Berger “insists that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is ‘a reality, not a perception.'”

In January 2000, [Clinton] departed from the prepared text of his State of the Union address to predict that terrorists and organized criminals ‘with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons’ will pose ‘the major security threat’ to the United States in 10 to 20 years.”

In its final budget request for the fiscal year 2003 submitted on Sept. 10, 2001, the Administration “called for spending increases in 68 programs, none of which directly involved counterterrorism…In his Sept. 10 submission to the budget office, Mr. Ashcroft did not endorse F.B.I. requests for $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators. Mr. Ashcroft proposed cuts in 14 programs. One proposed $65 million cut was for a program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants for equipment, including radios and decontamination suits and training to localities for counterterrorism preparedness.”

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elected not to re-launch a Predator drone that had been tracking bin Laden. When the Senate Armed Services Committee tried to fill those gaps, “Rumsfeld said he would recommend a veto” on September 9. By comparison, “Under Mr. Ashcroft’s predecessor, Janet Reno, the department’s counterterrorism budget increased 13.6% in the fiscal year 1999, 7.1% in 2000 and 22.7% in 2001.”

At the same time the White House was trying to gut counter-terrorism funding, it ignored human rights concerns and the Taliban’s known ties to terrorists, and gave “$43 million in drought aid to Afghanistan after the Taliban began a campaign against poppy growers.” As the 5/29/01 edition of Newsday noted at the time, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan “are a decidedly odd choice for an outright gift of $43 million from the Bush administration. This is the same government against which the United Nation imposes sanctions, at the behest of the United States, for refusing to turn over the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Bush Administration is so delighted at the opium ban that it’s willing to overlook America’s differences with the Taliban even its protection of bin Laden.”

The Senate began consideration this week of its budget resolution, CongressDailyAM reports. “We’ve got an enormous deficit,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK). “It’s far too high and we have to get it down.” Of course, Nickles’ budget plan proposes extending  “the national debt limit by $664 billion, to just over $8 trillion” (it would be the third such debt increase in as many years).

Nickles’ plan forces average Americans to shoulder cuts, while protecting the rich. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, this means “funding for domestic discretionary programs outside homeland security would be cut by $113 billion over five years, compared with the 2004 level adjusted for inflation. These cuts would affect nearly all domestic program areas, including education, veterans, environmental, and housing programs, among others.” At the same time, large, expensive tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans would be extended, with a price tag of $144 billion by 2009, and a whopping $1.1 trillion over the next decade.

CONSERVATIVES – THE ANTI-ROBIN HOODS: In a cruel inversion of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, the Senate budget wants to raise taxes for the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Sen. Nickles’ budget would cut $3 billion from the “earned income tax credit,” thereby raising taxes for those Americans who earn the least. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Senate budget is devastating to Medicaid. As states struggle under already crushing fiscal burdens, the Budget would “cut Medicaid by more than $11 billion over the next five years, including reductions in the federal share of certain state Medicaid costs that would take effect on October 1.”  The weak economy and unfunded federal mandates have already led to states “cutting their Medicaid programs and thereby causing the ranks of the uninsured to rise faster.”

FUZZY MATH: Sen. Nickles claims his plan would cut the swelling deficit in half in three years. It looks good on paper, but in actuality, the plan uses fuzzy math to get there. […] the resolution would add nearly $1.4 trillion to projected deficits over the next ten years.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt goes to Congress on Wednesday to defend the President’s 2005 environmental budget – and it’s a doozy. The President’s proposed budget would slash more than $600 million, or 7.2%, from the EPA alone. Overall the President would slice $1.9 billion, or 5.9%, from environmental programs compared to last year. Compared to the minimum funding necessary to keep environmental protection at the same level as this year, which takes into account inflation and other cost increases, the President’s budget falls $3.2 billion short. But as bad as those numbers are the devil is in the details.

SLASHING MONEY FOR CLEAN WATER: President Bush declared 2002-2003 the “Year of Clean Water.” But, apparently, that is all in the past. This year, the President has proposed large cuts in funding for infrastructure necessary to reduce water pollution. Under the President’s proposal funding for clean water infrastructure would drop from $2.6 billion to $1.8 billion. The programs slated for reductions include “sewage treatment plants, water purification facilities, and targeted pollution-prevention investments.” The cuts come after the EPA produced a 2002 analysis that concluded that the nation has $450 billion in long-term clean water infrastructure needs.

SLASHING MONEY FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: The President says he believes, when it comes to the environment, “we need to employ the best science and data to inform our decision-making.” But you wouldn’t know it by looking at his budget proposal, which requests significant cuts to funding for scientific research within the EPA. The President’s budget plan would slice $93 million, or 12%, from scientific research on air, water and toxins.

MAKING TAXPAYERS PICK UP THE BILL FOR CORPORATE CLEANUPS: The EPA proposed yesterday to add 11 sites to the Superfund list – a group of more than 1200 toxic waste sites around the country slated for clean up. While the Administration has proposed a small increase in funding for the Superfund program, it is still inadequate to meet the need. Despite the additions, “the Bush administration has proposed new toxic waste sites for the Superfund program at a much slower rate than previous administrations.” (See this chart tracking the additions to the list). Worse, the Administration has abandoned the “polluter pays” principle for the cleanup of federal lands – essentially abandoning the corporate tax that used to fund the Superfund program – meaning that taxpayers are left responsible. As a result, any increase in funding for the Superfund program means funding is drawn away from other needed programs.

PRESIDENT BREAKS HIS PROMISE ON NATIONAL PARKS: Bush pledged during his campaign to clear the maintenance backlog in National Parks by providing $4.9 billion in new funding. Thus far the President has only provided 7% of the money he promised. And, despite the Administration’s insistence that they remain on track, the President’s new budget doesn’t begin to address the problem.

According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, American forces in Afghanistan have detained “at least 1,000 Afghans and other people over the past two years in ‘a climate of almost total impunity‘.” The report contends that the U.S. military has been “employing interrogation techniques, like shackling prisoners, stripping them naked or depriving them of sleep, that the State Department had condemned as torture in countries like Libya, North Korea and Iran.” For the past two years the “American military has refused to release information about the number of detainees it is holding in Afghanistan, their nationalities or their names.”

RIGHT-WING – CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE CONSERVATIVE QUOTES OF THE DAY: The NY Post reports, if he had to spend his life as a woman, “the bow-tied conservative of CNN’s ‘Crossfire'” Tucker Carlson told Elle magazine it would as Elizabeth Birch, “formerly of the Human Rights Campaign because you’d be presiding over an organization of thousands of lesbians, some of them quite good-looking.” Plus, women are simple in their needs: “They want to be listened to, protected and amused. And they want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while.” And, according to the open-minded Carlson, it’s easy to trump them in a fight, too. “Most of the time you can beat a woman in an argument. But what do you win? Nothing. You get short-term pleasure followed by a lot of pain.”

RIGHT-WING – CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE CONSERVATIVE QUOTE OF THE DAY, PART DEUX: “I’m asking this question respectfully. Is it because that the major media in Hollywood and a lot of the secular press is controlled by Jewish people?” – Conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly to an editor from Variety on why Mel Gibson has faced criticism for his film, The Passion.

In a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, CIA Director George Tenet “rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network and that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program.” Tenet said “that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Cheney and others, and that he would do so again.” Tenet was specifically asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) about Cheney’s recent public assertion that a document previously discredited by the Pentagon was the “best source of information” proving that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had an operational relationship (the contradiction was first pointed out in the Progress Report). Tenet said the CIA “did not clear that document,” that harsh criticism over Cheney’s behavior was “a fair point” and that “I will talk to [Cheney] about it.”

Sen. Levin sent a letter to Cheney’s office on February 12 demanding answers about why Cheney publicly cited a discredited document as “the best source of information.”

Almost a month later, the Cheney has not responded to the letter. Instead, the WP reports a senior administration official close to the vice president’s office claimed that Cheney “was merely lending a hand to an interested reporter” and said “entirely too much is being made of an offhand reference to an article.” But even that statement belies reality: Cheney was making unsubstantiated claims about a Saddam-Al Qaeda link for months. See American Progress’ Claim vs. Fact analyzing his – and others’ – distorted statements.

BYPASSING THE CIA: The discredited document Cheney cited was originally authored by Douglas Feith, who headed the “Office of Special Plans” – an operation run by neoconservative political appointees set up to purposely bypass “usual intelligence channels to make a case [for war] that conflicted with the conclusions of CIA analysts.” The office presented unreviewed – and often uncorroborated – intelligence directly “to the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice” without the knowledge of CIA Director George Tenet (yesterday, Tenet acknowledged that he only learned about these side briefings last week). Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the office, writes in today’s that the operation was set up for neoconservatives to “usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.”

[See also this article about the Office of Special Plans: The spies who pushed for war. More GetRealList articles about the OSP.]

WHERE WAS THE MEDIA?: The University of Maryland released a new study on the media’s pre-war coverage showing that “many press stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration’s perspectives on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats and policy options.” The other main conclusions of the study: Too few stories offered alternative perspectives to the “official line” on WMD surrounding the Iraq conflict and most journalists accepted the Bush administration linking the “war on terror” inextricably to the issue of WMD. See the complete study.

President Bush’s nominee to oversee Medicare, Mark McClellan (currently head of FDA), has announced he is refusing to answer questions about “his opposition to importing prescription drugs from Canada before he takes over the government health program.”
(For more on drug reimportation, read this American Progress backgrounder.) McClellan’s refusal to answer questions is just another example of how conservatives are playing politics with Medicare.

Conservatives continue to react angrily when presented with reports about the Bush Administration’s actions – and lack thereof – prior to 9/11. Yesterday, CNN’s Tucker Carlson accused the Progress Report of “blood libel” for noting CBS News’ report that, because of a secret threat assessment, Attorney General John Ashcroft traveled on a $1600-an-hour privately leased jet, not commercial aircraft, in the months prior to 9/11. Carlson told his viewing audience that the Progress Report accused Ashcroft of “knowing about 9/11 in advance.” That charge is flatly false. Read yesterday’s Report for yourself. Email Tucker Carlson at and tell him he should correct the record.

THREAT ASSESSMENT HAS NEVER BEEN MADE PUBLIC: Carlson also attacked the Progress Report for noting that Ashcroft’s threat assessment “was not made public,” claiming the threat assessment has been “on the CBS website” since the summer of 2001. While the news story about Ashcroft’s private jet flights is on the CBS website, history professor Thomas Spencer notes accurately that the “threat assessment’ was never revealed in the months prior to or since 9/11” and remains secret to this day. According to the same 7/26/01 CBS report that Carlson points to as “proof” of his charges, “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” Eight months after 9/11, in an attempt to deflect mounting criticism, the Justice Department announced that Ashcroft began flying on a private jets in July 2001 because of “personal threats on his life.” But when Ashcroft was asked about it he “walked from the room without comment.”    

RICE’S REVISIONIST HISTORY: Carlson and other conservatives who have attempted to deny that there were clear warnings of an imminent terrorist attack on America before 9/11 are echoing a similar distortion coming out of the White House. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on 5/16/02 said “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” This statement – and others like it – ignore the widely reported string of warnings about the use of aircraft to commit terrorism in the months prior to 9/11 – several of which specifically contemplated the use of an airplane as a missile.

WHAT THE ADMINISTRATION REALLY KNEW ON SEPTEMBER 10: The LA Times reported on 9/27/01 that U.S. and Italian officials were warned in July 2001 that “Islamic terrorists might attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders by crashing an airliner into the Genoa summit of industrialized nations” (this was the same month as the CBS report on Ashcroft’s “threat assessment”). ABC News reported on 5/16/02 “White House officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden’s terrorist network might try to hijack American planes.” Dateline NBC reported 9/10/02 “on August 6th [2001], [Bush] received a one-and-a-half page briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the US, and that the plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane.” Newsweek reported on 9/24/01 that on 9/10/01 “a group of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns.”

WHAT IS THIS REALLY ABOUT?: Coincidently, the same day Tucker Carlson accused the Progress Report of “resurrecting a blood libel” against Ashcroft, we covered Carlson’s controversial comments in which he said women “want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while” and that “most of the time you can beat a woman in an argument.”

EDUCATION – FORGET KNOWLEDGE, CALIFORNIA CREDITS KLEENEX: Who needs to earn grades through hard work when a box of Puffs will do? That’s the case in California, where education budgets have been slashed so severely that teachers are now offering inflated grades for students who bring in school supplies, like tissues, lab supplies and markers. The San Jose Mercury News reports, “With school budgets shriveling across the state, teachers are enticing students to help stock the supply shelves in exchange for extra credit.” It sends the message that “grades are not a reflection of the quality of your schoolwork,” said Buzz Bartlett, president of the Council for Basic Education. And what about the kids who can’t afford to inflate their grades by stocking their schools with supplies? The “arrangement can put poorer students at a disadvantage — especially when teachers award more extra credit for expensive items, like markers for overhead projectors and dry-erase boards.”

FOREIGN POLICY –DEFINING DEMOCRACY: The White House treatment of “democracies” seems to shift with the wind. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney defended U.S. involvement in the ousting of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying he “was democratically elected but he didn’t govern in a democratic manner.” But today’s In the Loop column by Al Kamen points out the Administration’s rather arbitrary policies for meeting with leaders with sketchy democratic credentials. To Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, “upset at not being invited to the White House,” the WP’s Kamen writes, “Note to Gaddafi: Forget the Rose Garden for now. Try Crawford, Tex. It’s much easier. Well-known democrats such as Saudi Prince Abdullah, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Jiang Zemin have visited there. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, not known to have run any tight races lately, is headed there next month. Hey! Maybe you could hitch a ride with him?”

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