- Spring: The Department of Health and Human Services decides to abandon mandatory lead testing for tens of thousands of poor children on Medicaid. Lead is a terrifically damaging substance, and poses particular danger to the very young and to people living in public housing (because many of them have not had lead-based paint removed from the premises). According to 2002 data, at least 535,000 Medicaid children suffer from lead poisoning. Despite the fact that only 10% of poor children were screened by their states in 1999 and 2000, Bush proposes allowing states to decide whether or not to perform lead testing. This proposal is intended to go into effect very quietly, but when physicians and public health advocates protest, and the public learns of it, HHS quickly jettisons the plan, blaming a "career civil servant" for the "misunderstanding." (Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- Spring: Political consultant Marc Schwartz and powerful GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff meet with Bush political guru Karl Rove during Abramoff and Schwartz's efforts to "help" the Tigua Indians reopen a Texas casino and secure their income. Rove's standard procedure for such a meeting is not to meet at Rove's White House office, where logs would record the identities of visitors and arrival and departure times. "They've got movement logs over there and everything," Abramoff tells Schwartz, "and we like to keep things kind of quiet. So just watch. You'll really get a kick out of it." Abramoff drives Schwartz to a busy Washington intersection, where Schwartz is amazed to see Rove waiting them on the corner. Rove's first words to Abramoff, which Schwartz hears through the rolled-down window, are, "You've got a problem" with a Republican House member who isn't cooperating on a piece of legislation. (Schwartz claims not to have heard the Congressman's name.) Rove tells Abramoff, "This is really getting out of hand. We need to clamp down. We need this to stop. Can you put the fireman (House Majority Leader Tom DeLay) on this and let Tom know we need this ended?> This is not good for us." Abramoff replies, "You bet. Taken care of. Not a problem. On it."
- "This was how Rove and Abramoff conducted their business," writes authors James Moore and Wayne Slater. "...Rove used Abramoff to deliver messages to [the] House leadership, allowing the uberlobbyist to brag frequently within the concentric circles of Washington politics about his connections to the White House." Schwartz wonders to himself, is this the way it is done? If there is nothing to hide, why aren't they conducting business in Rove's office? He recalls, "Jack just dold me they did that because of the movement logs in the White House. If Rove called him, there'd be a phone log. If Abramoff showed up, there'd be a log of that. But if Rove signed out and said, 'I'm going to get a haircut,' and left, you'd have no earthly idea who he just met with."
- "We're not stupid," Abramoff brags. "This is just easier. It keeps things a lot cleaner. ...If the weather's nice, we meet in a couple of spots, and if not, he'll drive over and come in through Signatures [Abramoff's Washington restaurant] or one of the other spots."
- Abramoff will, of course, be accused of presiding over what one senator later calls "a cesspool of greed," and of defrauding various Native American tribes, including the Tigua, of around $82 million. Abramoff and some associates will eventually plead guilty to what may end up being the biggest government scandal in modern American history. The Tiguas don't know that Abramoff has also been paid millions in lobbying fees from two other tribes to keep the Tiguas from reopening their casino -- playing both sides against the middle -- as well as using tribal money to pay the firm of former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, who uses the money to fight Native American casinos and gambling in general. Abramoff has no compunction about ripping off his Native American clients, writing in one e-mail to Reed, "I wish these moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah." Ultimately, the Tiguas will gain nothing from the millions they sink into Abramoff's lobbying firm. On the other hand, Abramoff uses the Tigua money to schmooze with Washington power brokers such as Rove, DeLay, and Republican House member Bob Ney, and to pay for, among other things, sumptuous golfing and lobbying trips overseas. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
- Spring: Iranian-born student Yashar Zendehdel, attending classes at the University of Colorado, changes his major from computer science to economics. When he drops a tough computer science course, his course load drops to ten hours, and he is flagged by the US Justice Department. Zendehdel and five other Middle Eastern college students in Colorado are jailed in the fall for failing to take at least 12 hours of college credits. The rationale? According to Justice Department and INS guidelines, students from certain countries must obtain permission from their school to go below 12 hours of coursework per semester. Even though Zendehdel had obtained such permission, when he went to check in with the INS in the fall (when he was again taking 12 hours), his INS agent wasn't aware of the law, and ordered Zendehdel jailed. Luckily for Zendehdel, he is bailed out of jail by friends. Other students and immigrants have not been so lucky. Since the 9/11 attacks, over 5,000 foreign nationals have been subjected to "preventative detention." Only three of those have been charged with terror-related activities; of those three, two were acquitted and one is appealing his conviction. "Thousands were detained in this blind search for terrorists without any real evidence of terrorism, and ultimately without netting vitually any terrorists of any kind," says Georgetown University law professor David Cole. What the Justice Department is succeeding at is driving foreign students out of America by the thousands. Amy Goodman observes that "They go in search of a better education, rather than the midnight arrests and deportations that now hang over their heads here. And the contributions they might have made to the United States -- including the $12 billion they contribute to the economy in tuition and living expenses -- will be made to a country that respects their rights." (Amy and David Goodman)
- April: World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, at the opening of the World Bank's offices in Kabul, states he has held talks about financing the Trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline. He confirms $100 million in new grants for the interim Afghani government for development of the pipeline. Wolfensohn also states that a number of companies have already expressed interest in the project. In May, Afghani president Hamid Karzai will announce a $2 billion pipeline project to pump natural gas from Turkmenistan through his country to Pakistan and India. It is essentially the same pipeline originally planned between the Afghan Taliban and Unocal, who is centrally involved in this project as well. (Agence France-Press/From the Wilderness, BBC)
- April: During a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Bush compares his administration's assistance to Afghanistan with the Marshall Plan which rescued Europe after World War II. The comparison doesn't stand up to scrutiny: around the same time as the speech, the US Agency for International Development, in charge of rebuilding Afghanistan, asks for $150 million in funds; the White House allocates $40 million, and tells AID that no more funds will be provided. In October, the administration will tout its provision of $588 million to the country for "humanitarian assistance and reconstruction;" in reality, half of that figure was earmarked for emergency relief, not reconstruction, and the administration will not provide anywhere near the $1.5 billion yearly estimated for Afghanistan to be properly aided. In 2003, the administration will offer USAID even less than it provided in 2001. Peter Tomsen, a special envoy to Afghanistan under the first Bush administration, says that this president "does not even have a comprehensive Afghanistan budget request before Congress, and there is no high-level coordinator providing interagency coherence on Afghan policy. No major roadwork has yet started in Afghanistan. ...The effusive praise of American aid programs in Afghanistan, by both White House and USAID representatives, clearly demonstrates their ignorance of the reality on the ground." During one congressional hearing, Andrew Natsios, the Bush-appointed head of USAID, is asked how much money USAID needs to do the job in Afghanistan; Natsios replies, "I can't mention numbers, if I want to keep my job." (David Corn)
- April: Bush visits Albuquerque to praise Lucy Salazar, a grandmother who tutors pre-K children and collects books for a program called Even Start. Bush fails to mention during the photo op that his 2002 slashes the Even Start budget by 20%. (Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- April 2: Bush says in a speech about childhood education, "[S]ometimes when I sleep at night I think of Hop on Pop." (AllHatNoCattle)
- April 2: In an interview with liberal news site Buzzflash, Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich says of the debate over invading Iraq, " In the debate, when Congress was considering authorizing the President to take action as a result of the events on September 11th, I stated then that we should not let the terrorists win. How do terrorists win? Terrorists win by forcing changes in the constitutional structure of a nation. Terrorists win by forcing a retrenchment of the basic rights to free speech, rights of association, right of due process, and many other rights. The terrorists win when there is a climate of fear created in a nation, and then is accentuated by government pronouncements. America has a right to, and must defend itself. And I voted for that. But, as I said in my speech, we in the Congress have a responsibility to monitor the conduct of the administration and the conduct of its response. It's a Constitutional duty we cannot walk away from. We are a co-equal branch of government. People sometimes forget that. ...[W]hat I wanted to point out is that this administration has begun to take a free license as to where they would prosecute a war. We did not give them the authority to do that. It wasn't a declaration of war. It was licensing the President's ability to respond to anyone who perpetrated the acts of September 11th. But there was never any evidence they offered that I've ever heard of that Iraq was involved. Never any evidence that Iran or North Korea was involved. So what's this all about? ...Congress needs to regain its authority by asking questions. We have to ask questions and we have to demand answers. We have to carry out our Constitutional duties so that we critically analyze what the administration is doing, and, if necessary, withhold funds." (Buzzflash)
- April 8: Former president Bill Clinton says in an interview with Newsweek, "One of my friends called me the other day and said, if we had a Democrat in [the presidency], they [the media] would have had a 'Bin Laden watch' every day. They would have been up there for the last three months just marking off the days [when he hadn't yet been caught.]" Compare this to the almost-fawning reactions of the mainstream media to Bush, even when Bush reverses himself on bin Laden from his "wanted dead or alive" rhetoric to having his communications director tell the press that capturing bin Laden wasn't even an objective. (Newsweek/Paul Waldman)
- April 9: The US State Department begins its expansive "Future of Iraq" project, specifically targeted at predicting and making recommendations for a post-invasion, post-Hussein Iraq. (The project is covered in far more detail in later entries in this site.) The project puts together 15 working groups, made up of US diplomats, intelligence analysts, and other officials, and hundreds of Iraqi businessmen, engineers, lawyers, and other experts. Among its recommendations is to keep the Iraqi Army in place after the overthrow of Hussein, and to take measures to prevent looting after the government falls. Instead, because of internecine rivalries between the Pentagon and State, the project's work is roundly ignored by Pentagon war planners. "We almost disemboweled State," later brags one Pentagon official. In the spring of 2003, after a legion of avoidable mistakes have already been made, a CD-ROM with the project's work is distributed to CPA officials, one of whom calls it "our Bible." (Mother Jones, T. Christian Miller)
- April 9: Civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart is arrested. She is charged with passing messages between her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of conspiring to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, and an Egyptian terror organization. The evening of the arrest, Attorney General John Ashcroft appears on David Letterman's talk show to brag about the arrest, which is considered by many to be a message to civil rights organizations and lawyers that those who represent terror suspects will themselves be arrested. Stewart's attorney Michael Tigar says, "This case was, from the beginning, an attempt to chill the exercise of vigorous advocacies." In July 2003, the main charges -- that Stewart conspired to support a terrorist organization -- will be dropped; in November 2003 the Justice Department will take the unusual step of filing an "reframed indictment" containing new allegations of Stewart's supposed support of terrorism. Among the charges: Stewart supported terrorist activities by making "covering noises" while Rahman spoke with his translator, and the charge that Stewart's warning to Rahman that he should not eat chocolate because of a medical condition was an example of her use of "code words" to her client. (Amy Goodman and David Goodman)
- April 10: Energy conglomerate Enron played a key role in the Bush administration's decision to invade Afghanistan, as well as the negotiations with the ruling Taliban that preceded the invasion. Enron's interest centered around the lucrative oil-and-gas pipeline to be built from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan. According to French intelligence analysts Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, to help persuade the Taliban to approve the pipeline, Enron gifted the regime with millions of dollars, some of which may have gone to Osama bin Laden and his terror group al-Qaeda. The Bush administration's attempt to help Enron is believed to be why it has gone to unprecedented lengths to conceal records on Vice President Cheney's energy-task-force meetings in 2001.
- The General Accounting Office has sued Cheney to get records concerning three secret meetings he reportedly had with Lay and other Enron executives in the first months of the Bush administration. One possible result of Cheney's meetings with Enron executives was a proposal of aid to India so it could increase its oil and natural gas production, which would give the Dabhol plant another potential source of cheap fuel. Cheney is no stranger to America's interest in the abundant energy resources of Central Asia and the Mideast. For several years before he was elected vice president, Cheney was CEO of Texas-based Halliburton, the world's largest oil-services company. In that role Cheney helped broker a deal between Chevron (now ChevronTexaco) and Kazakhstan when he sat on the country's oil advisory board. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was a Chevron director at the time. Cheney also oversaw $23.8 million in sales to Iraq in 1998 and 1999. That means that Cheney, who was paid $36 million in salary by Halliburton, profited from the destruction of Iraq that he supervised as secretary of defense during the Gulf War. While the sales were legal because of a 1998 UN resolution giving Iraq the right to resuscitate its oil industry, Halliburton reportedly made its equipment sales through foreign subsidiaries to avoid upsetting US officials or Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. In May 2001, Halliburton signed a 12-year contract with Azerbaijan, another energy-rich state in Central Asia. Azerbaijan is bordered on the south by Georgia, to which Bush has extended his ever-expanding war on terrorism.
- Cheney's task force was not the only place Enron was getting special attention in Washington. The National Security Council set up a "Dabhol Working Group" to help Enron to make its power plant competitive or to sell it. Records show that the working group's plans in August included an "Enron trip" to a location officials blacked out before it was released. Plans for September included a visit to India by US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, a former paid Enron consultant. The records also showed that Cheney raised the issue with Sonia Gandhi, leader of India's Congress Party, in June and with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in October. Undersecretary of State Alan Larson reportedly also discussed Dabhol with Singh that month. Larson revived the issue during a visit to India with Secretary of State Colin Powell in January, weeks after Enron had filed for bankruptcy protection. Powell himself warned Singh last April that "failure to resolve the matter could have a serious deterrent effect on other investors." The Bush administration justified helping Enron because the plant was partly financed through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which gave Enron $554 million in loans and $204 million in risk insurance, and the Export-Import Bank, which lent the company $675 million. Not surprisingly, the federal investigation of possible fraud committed by Enron's executives also has the company's fingerprints all over it. FBI Director Robert Mueller, for example, was hired by Enron in 1993 to investigate a $600,000 payment by a subsidiary for a property assessed at $41,000. When Mueller concluded the deal was not improper, a private investigator working on the case quit in protest. Despite this association, Mueller announced that it was not enough to cause him to step down from the Enron investigation. Mueller said that Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson -- who previously worked for a law firm that represented Enron -- agreed.
- Enron was not the only potential beneficiary of the proposed pipeline in Afghanistan. Another key player was the Unocal oil conglomerate. In January 1998, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and the Taliban agreed to arrange funding on a proposed 890-mile, $3 billion pipeline in conjunction with a Unocal-led consortium. The proposed pipeline would transport natural gas from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to an Indian Ocean port in Pakistan. Eight months later, however, Unocal announced it was suspending the project because of the US government's attack on a bin Laden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of two American embassies in Africa. Another factor in its decision, Unocal said, was the fighting between the Taliban and rebel groups. Unocal stressed that the pipeline project would not be built until a coalition Afghan government was formed and internationally recognized. US negotiators also pushed the Taliban toward this goal. An army of officials in previous Republican administration has also been busy helping Unocal. Among them are former secretaries of state James Baker and Henry Kissinger and Robert Oakley, the former US ambassador to Pakistan who armed the mujahadeen in the 1980s. Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh identified Oakley as a key player in illegal arms shipments to Iran in return for funds sent to the right-wing contras in Nicaragua during that period. Deputy Defense Secretary Richard Armitage is another Iran-contra conspirator who worked for Unocal. Armitage was also implicated in a lawsuit filed by villagers who suffered human-rights abuses during construction of a controversial Unocal pipeline in Burma for which Cheney's Halliburton did contract work.
- Unocal has two other important operatives. One is Hamid Karzai, Unocal's former representative in Afghanistan who was handpicked by Bush to become head of Afghanistan's interim government. The other is Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, another former Unocal aide, whom Bush appointed special envoy to Afghanistan. As a Unocal adviser, Khalilzad participated in Unocal's talks with the Taliban in 1997. In 1998, Khalilzad argued that the Taliban was not a sponsor of terrorism and that the United States should reengage the regime. This was, of course, just what Unocal wanted. Once in office, Afghan leader Karzai wasted little time trying to help his former employer. During his first visit to Pakistan on February 8, Karzai announced that he and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had agreed to revive the pipeline. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, another American ally in the US war in Afghanistan, expressed delight with Karzai's announcement, saying the pipeline would provide a crucial new export outlet for his country's huge gas reserves. Karzai took the cue and visited the Turkmen despot within a month to get his endorsement of the pipeline plan. If Bush follows up on his threats to attack Iraq, US forces could also end up controlling the nation with the world's second-largest oil reserve. At that point, Saudi Arabia, with its larger oil reserve, homebred terrorists and the terror network's biggest financial supporters, would no longer be so important. (Free Press)
Venezuelan coup attempt
- April 11-14: The Bush administration encourages, and participates in, a coup attempt in Venezuela, another large oil-producing nation. Elected president Hugo Chavez is kidnapped, and for 48 hours, oil businessman Pedro Carmona proclaims himself president, immediately dissolving the Venezuelan legislature and suspending the Venezuelan constitution. Washington immediately offers to recognize Carmona as the legitimate president, with the US ambassador rushing to have his picture taken with the new "president," but Carmona is unable to keep his seat, and Chavez returns to power. Iran-Contra veterans John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams, Charles Shapiro, and Otto Reich, among others, are involved in the putative coup. After the military fails to support Carmona and 100,000 citizens take to the streets to support Chavez, Carmona is taken into custody. In October, Chavez's security forces stymie a second coup attempt. Chavez survives an attempted coup d'etat because of warnings to him in advance by the secretary-general of OPEC. The adminstration attempts the coup in part to attempt to counter a plan by Libya to join Iraq in an Arab oil embargo; Chavez, unlike his US-friendly predecessor of 1973, would be unlikely to break such an embargo by ramping up production far past Venezuela's OPEC quota. OPEC's Secretary General, Ali Rodriguez, warns Chavez in time for him to prepare for the coup attempt. Chavez places commandos in secret passages in the presidential palace, and the coup participants are informed in the middle of their celebratory party in the palace that they can either withdraw or be slaughtered. The New York Times, which had endorsed the coup, apologized for overreacting, but the Bush administration remained recalcitrant: Bush's spokesman says that while Chavez was indeed "democratically elected...legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters." Partly to punish the oil industry magnates who had planned and abortively executed the coup, Chavez raises the tax on heavy crude extraction from the Orinoco basin on Exxon from 1% to 16.6%; later on, when oil companies like Shell, who have made a practice of "forgetting" to pay their taxes to Venezuela, Chavez hands them enormous bills for back taxes. Shell balks and finds itself frozen out of a lucrative natural gas contract, and Chavez redirects the natural gas, meant for export, back for consumption by Venezuelans.
- Also in 2001, Chavez implements a sweeping land-reform program. Venezuelans are landless by the millions, and the country has vast regions of fallow plantations squatted on by a tiny elite which has run their fiefdoms for 400 years. Chavez passes a law requiring the sale of untilled land to those who do not own land, a program that was promised to Venezuela by John F. Kennedy as part of his Alliance for Progress, and which enrages Venezuela's wealthy landowners. Heinz Ketchup tries to exert its muscle by shutting down its plant in the state of Maturin; the government seizes the facility, throws Heinz out, and puts the workers back on the job. And Chavez responds cannily to further coup attempts: every time another assassination attempt or coup is attempted, he informs the oil companies to expect another tremendous bill for back taxes. After paying $130 million, Shell Oil sees the light; in June 2004, Otto Reich, who had plotted the 2002 coup attempt from his position in the State Department, will be fired. Chavez uses the money from the oil companies to rebuild and revivify the poor communities of the country: "He buys them bread and bricks, and they vote for him," says a reporter for a Venezuelan TV station which supported the 2002 coup. She is disgusted at Chavez's empathy for the 80% of Venezuelans who are "negro e indio," or black and Indian. Free-market mavens like the Wall Street Journal predicted that Chavez's economic reforms, which overturned the principles of borderless, corporate-controlled globalization and imposed controls on the movement of capital in and out of the country, would fail miserably. Instead, in 2003, the Journal writes with some surprise, "the controls trapped liquidity within the economy, which in part led to reduced interest rates and helped boost economic activity." In 2005, Venezuela will lead the Western Hemisphere in economic growth, with a blazing 9.4% growth rate, and the biggest boosts take place in the non-oil sectors. Government subsidies for food, health, and education did not drain the economy, as many predicted, but instead added to economic demand and productivity.
- Chavez then shepherds legislation through the Venezuelan congress requiring all banks to make 20% of their lending portfolio available for "micro-loans" to small businesses and small-plot farmers. As a result, more of Venezuela's petro-dollars would stay with the Venezuela peasants instead of being siphoned out to the huge oil conglomerates or paying for new luxury developments in Caracas. Other countries who have been more friendly to the oil companies have paid with poverty and disease among their populations: Kazakhstan, for example, has 75% of its populace living below the poverty line, and tuberculosis runs rampant among the Kazaks. Its manufacturing base has dropped by 30% and its GDP has plummeted. Similar stories can be told of Nigeria, Sudan, and Indonesia. Investigative journalist Greg Palast writes, "Chavez is called a Marxist and a socialist. He is neither. His reformist, cooperative, and redistributionist program, and his handling of oil wealth, is clearly 'Norwegian-ist.' Chavez is a dramatist, calling his Scandinavian-style reforms the 'Bolivarian revolution.' It seems to drive Washington just crazy that brown people are demanding Nordic privileges."
- Chavez has also reached out to his neighbors, including helping Ecuador and Argentina pay for bond sales, and will assist Ecuador with millions of barrels of oil to help when that country seizes Occidental Petroleum's oil fields. The Wall Street Journal has written with reluctant admiration of Chavez, calling him "a tropical version of the International Monetary Fund, offering cut-rate oil-supply deals and buying hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds from financially distressed countries such as Argentina and Ecuador." And in September 2005, Chavez will offer the poor communities of the Bronx and Chicago's West Side discounted heating oil through Citgo, the Venezuelan-owned US retail outlet of Venezuela's oil industry. (Albion Monitor, WSWS, Observer, Mother Jones, Greg Palast)
- April 11: Democratic members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the US Senate grills Secretary of the Army Thomas White over his participation in the Enron collapse. White made $13 million in "phantom stock" profits and $12 million from selling Enron stock after he was sworn in as secretary. The questioners elicit information showing that White knew the stock was about to collapse in value just before he sold it off, information that goes a long way towards proving White is guilty of insider trading and fraud. The questioners also prove that Enron deliberately manipulated California's energy market to send California's energy prices skyrocketing, and skimmed tremendous profits in the process. White later resigns as secretary, though no criminal charges are ever filed against him. (Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- April 11: By today's meeting of the secretive Cheney energy task force, it is apparent that "phase two" of the task force's proceedings is well underway. Environmentalists of all stripes are not even being paid lip service any longer, and are not allowed to participate whatsoever. Instead, the recommendations of the various energy industry lobbyists are being included almost at will in the task force's draft proposals for the administration's overarching energy policies. Environmental concerns are left to be articulated by two administration outsiders, EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. They find themselves defending the most basic concept -- that thirty years of regulations to protect the nation's land, air, and water have any value at all. "This is a slaughter," Whitman grimly confides to O'Neill after the meeting. "It's ten on two, not counting White House people [most notably political guru Karl Rove] and all the advisors to the group from the various industries." Every recommendation to be adopted by the task force is favorable to one energy industry or another, with the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to unregulated drilling and a host of tax credits for the industries taking center stage. Particularly galling to Whitman and O'Neill is the adoption of new licensing regulations -- or lack of regulations -- for newly opening power plants. Instead of adopting Whitman's recommendation that would force regulatory agencies to join the EPA in enforcing environmental regulations affecting new power plants already on the books, the anti-regulatory axis -- led by Dick Cheney, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, and economic advisor Larry Lindsey -- succeeds in having virtually all regulations on new power plants swept aside.
- Whitman locks horns with Lindsey, who makes the sweeping assertion that "thousands of power plants, literally" have not been able to open because of what he calls a "jumble of regulations." Whitman challenges him: "With all due respect, Larry, do you have any facts to back up these assertions of yours? I'm driven by facts, and I'd like to see any facts that show any power plants were not built because of these regulations." Instead of answering Whitman, Lindsey rears back and whispers something to the task force members next to him, causing a storm of giggles. Whitman reacts angrily to Lindsey's childish mockery, storming, "If you have something to say to me, Larry, say it to my face!" Whitman's concerns are never answered, and Lindsey is never forced to back up his factless assertions. The task force does, of course, write up proposals for dozens of huge tax credits for energy, gas, and oil companies, prompting O'Neill to say later, "We killed off our share. We viewed almost all of [the tax credits] as just a waste of money. Companies that are already doing something generally don't do more of it if they get a tax credit. And the ones that aren't doing the thing you want will probably just take your money and then drag their feet or figure out a way not to do it." In other words, the billions of dollars of tax credits are nothing more than a gift of taxpayer money to the largest American energy companies -- the same companies that have long backed Bush and Cheney as career politicians. "Let's just say the recommendations generally did not meet the high standard of 'in the public interest,'" O'Neill recalls. (Ron Suskind)
- April 15: Plagued by feuds between the administration neocons who want to invade Iraq and more cautious Pentagon and State Department officials who want to use diplomacy against the Hussein regime, Bush gives his feuding agencies until today to come up with a "coagulated plan," as one State Department official calls it, for bringing the Hussein regime to an end. Bush will meet with British PM Tony Blair during April; Blair's support for the Iraq invasion is considered crucial. Though agreement is widespread that Hussein should be overthrown, dissension about how to bring such an event about splits the administration. The planning by senior military officers, part of normal planning procedures for such an event, is all but non-existent, unwelcomed and unasked-for by Wolfowitz and his "team." "It's the return of the right-wing crazies, crawling their way back," says an associate of the State Department's Richard Armitage. "The knives are out." In contrast, one of Wolfowitz's colleagues says that the opposition from the more moderate and cautious officials was "unbelievably vitriolic and personal." He continues, "Their attitude is that we're yahoos -- especially those of us who come from the far right. The American Enterprise Institute is like Darth Vader's mother ship for them."
- In previous administrations, such disputes had often been smoothed over by the national security advisor, but Condoleezza Rice's ability to do so had been diminished by a series of resignations and reassignments within the NSC, some of which were brought on by internal bickering. The lack of planning expertise within the NSC has been filled by people like retired general Wayne Downing, a right-wing associate of Ahmad Chalabi who is currently advising Rice on combatting terror. Downing brings in fellow radical Linda Flohr, a veteran of the CIA's clandestine service who has since 1994 been working with the Rendon Group, the PR firm who handled the Gulf War for the first Bush administration. Since the fall of 2001, Rendon has been retained by the Defense Department to counter what it calls "disinformation" about the American war effort in Afghanistan; the firm was also retained by the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence, which was eliminated in February 2002 after the New York Times reported that the OSI would provide foreign reporters with "news items, possibly even false ones." Flohr also worked for a firm headed by former Marine colonel Oliver North, which manufactures bulletproof vests. Everyone except the civilian leadership of the Pentagon continues to balk at the involvement of Chalabi's INC in any efforts to topple Hussein, noting that even after millions of dollars and years of effort spent in Iraq, Chalabi continues to be unpopular with most Iraqis: "If Chalabi is the guy [chosen to lead Iraq], there could be a civil war after Saddam's overthrow," notes a former CIA operative. A former CIA station chief says, "It would be ridiculous to tie our wagon to Chalabi. He's got no credibility in the region."
- Other Iraqi resistance groups are working on their own plans to replace Hussein without Chalabi's involvement, whom they see as arrogant and high-handed. The anti-Chalabi Iraqi groups are led by two Kurdish groups, a Shi'ite resistance group, and the British-based Iraqi National Accord, led by neurologist and Iraqi exile Iwad Allawi, who left Iraq in the 1970s. Allawi is viewed with distaste himself, mostly because of his involvement in helping Hussein gain power in the 1960s and 1970s. Former CIA officer Reuel Gerecht says, "Two facts stand out about Allawi. One, he likes to think of himself as a man of ideas, and two, his strongest virtue is that he's a thug." Allawi is known as a big, burly man who loved to terrorize medical students, and his status as a doctor is tarnished by the perception that the Baath Party of Hussein gave him his medical degree. Worse, he is a former operative for Hussein's intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, with, according to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistrato, "blood on his hands." Allawi was involved with Mukhabarat assassination squads who searched out and killed enemies of Hussein throughout Europe before his fall from grace in 1978. The CIA leadership favors the prospects of Nizar Khazraji, a former Hussein army chief of staff who defected in the mid-1990s, and who is known as a "completely Westernized businessman." Chalabi's INC organizes a PR attack against Khazraji, accusing him of involvement in the 1988 gassing of a Kurdish town; Khazraji will be indicted for war crimes in December 2002 in Denmark, placed under house arrest, and will subsequently disappear. "There's a huge firestorm over Chalabi that's preventing us from reaching out to the Iraqi military," says a former CIA operative. "It's mind-boggling for an outsider to understand the impasse." (Seymour Hersh)
- April 15: After receiving a CIA report that concluded that Hans Blix had conducted inspections of Iraq's declared nuclear power plants "fully within the parameters he could operate" when Blix was head of the international agency responsible for these inspections prior to the Gulf War, an intelligence report indicates that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz "hit the ceiling" because the CIA failed to provide sufficient ammunition to undermine Blix and, by association, the new UN weapons inspection program. (Washington Post/Center for American Progress)
- April 19: The Wall Street Journal reports on a particularly callous business practice, known colloquially as "Dead Peasants Insurance." This is a common practice among many American corporations -- the Journal names Disney, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan, Chase, and Wal-Mart, among others -- that involves the corporation secretly taking out insurance policies on their low- and mid-level workers and naming themselves as the beneficiaries. Not only does the company profit from your death, but it can borrow against the policies and deduct the interest from its corporate taxes. The Journal relates several instances where employees' families were left destitute, but corporations profited handsomely -- the employee of a music store owned by CM Holdings who died of AIDS-related complications at age 29, leaving his family nothing but "earning" the company $339,302; another employee of a store owned by the same company who suffered from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, whose children asked the company to help them buy their mother a wheelchair and were turned down, but who, when she died, enabled the company to receive $180,000 in death benefits. After the article, some corporations, including Wal-Mart, end the practice, and some states enact laws banning the practice. But many corporations continue taking out life insurance policies on their employees for their own benefit. (Wall Street Journal/Michael Moore)
"This foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating." -- George W. Bush, April 23, 2002
- April 26: A federal judge settles a lawsuit between a number of civil rights organizations and Florida's Leon County over widespread voting problems in the 2000 Florida elections, a settlement in favor of the civil rights organizations that acknowledges the voting problems that threw the presidential elections to George W. Bush. The state and six other counties remain in the case brought by the NAACP and four other groups. Settlement talks for lawsuits filed against other counties are ongoing. (AP/Truthout)
- April 26: Bush tells the press, "I want to remind you what I told the American people, that if I'm the president -- when I was campaigning, if I were to become the president, we would have deficits only in the case of war, a recession, or a national emergency." Interestingly enough, Bush never said any such thing during the campaign; in fact, during the campaign, one of his major themes was that the American economy had plenty of money and that deficit spending would never happen. He did say in an August 2000 interview that he would be willing to run a deficit only to cut taxes during a recession, though he never mentioned war or national emergency. Only after months of criticism over this particular lie will Bush drop the line from his speeches. (Paul Waldman)
- April 28: Bush meets with Saudi head of state Prince Saud and other key Saudi officials at Camp David. The Saudis request that, among other things, Bush show greater concern for the Palestinian people. Bush agrees to nothing, and fails to request Saudi support for the war on terror. The Sauds wonder if Bush even read their short preparatory document they had sent days in advance of their visit. In fact, he did not even know about the document; it had been diverted to Dick Cheney's office. (Mother Jones)
- April 29: The conservative Weekly Standard does its bit for administration fearmongering, thundering in an article, "Saddam has been moving ahead into a new era, a new age of horrors where terrorists don't commandeer jumbo jets and fly them into our skyscrapers. They plant nuclear bombs in our cities." I will leave it to the reader to deconstruct the statement. (Mother Jones)
- April 30: The US begins transferring prisoners from the Afghan war from Camp X-Ray to Camp Delta. Both are in US-controlled Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but Camp X-Ray was little more than metal wire cages and Camp Delta is made of proper buildings. Conditions in the new facility are considered more humane, but the prisoners are still not named, not allowed to contact their families, and are not given the rights of prisoners of war. Halliburton, Vice President Cheney's former company, has been given the contract to build Camp Delta even though it is estimated military engineers could do the job for about half the price. (CCR)