Wednesday, June 3, 2009
As Obama starts his trip in Saudi Arabia, he's already made an embarrassing blunder. The Daily Beast's Reza Aslan on how he blew it by picking Cairo for his historic speech.
by Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan, a contributor to the Daily Beast, is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of the bestseller No god but God and the forthcoming How to Win a Cosmic War.
No doubt Obama chose Egypt to highlight its growing role as a mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the simple fact is that Egypt is hardly "the Muslim world." Indeed, the Muslim world now exists primarily on the margins of the Middle East. Arabs especially make up an increasingly tiny fraction of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims (about 10 percent, according to some estimates). There are now more Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa than there are Arabs of any religion. Of the top 10 most populous Muslim nations in the world, only one (Egypt) is Arab, and it comes near the end of the list. Egypt may be a strategic ally of the U.S., not to mention the second-largest recipient of American aid, but its importance is strictly regional, and this was not billed as an address to the Middle East but to the Muslim world.
Obama should have chosen Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, a moderate, pluralistic, wildly successful democratic country whose citizens just last month overwhelming voted for secular and moderate Muslim parties over the country's more radical Islamist groups. Instead, by choosing Cairo as the backdrop to his speech, Obama has in effect rewarded Egypt's president for life, Hosni Mubarak, for his bloody, blatantly anti-democratic, and dictatorial rule.
First: "Abortionist" is a word made up by right-wing fanatics. They use it to downplay the fact that abortion providers are doctors, often OB/GYNs. It would be like calling a dermitologist an "acne-ist." It doesn't really make sense, and there's already an actual term for what those doctors do. "Abortionist" is a loaded and totally incorrect word, and it's appalling to see it used over and over again in an article written by a supposedly pro-choice person.
Second: Tiller is not the pro-choice equivalent of Scott Roeder, and Saletan should be ashamed for suggesting as much.
Third: The headine "Is it wrong to murder an abortionist?" suggests that there's actually some debate amongst reasonable people on that issue. There is not.
By Ray McGovern
What's the difference between murder and massacre?
The answer is Terry Halbardier, whose bravery and ingenuity as a 23-year-old Navy seaman spelled the difference between the murder of 34 of the USS Liberty crew and the intended massacre of all 294.
The date was June 8, 1967; and for the families of the 34 murdered and for the Liberty's survivors and their families, it is a "date which will live in infamy" — like the date of an earlier surprise attack on the U.S. Navy.
The infamy is two-fold: (1) the Liberty, a virtually defenseless intelligence collection platform prominently flying an American flag in international waters, came under deliberate attack by Israeli aircraft and three 60-ton Israeli torpedo boats off the coast of the Sinai on a cloudless June afternoon during the six-day Israeli-Arab war; and (2) President Lyndon Johnson called back carrier aircraft dispatched to defend the Liberty lest Israel be embarrassed — the start of an unconscionable cover-up, including top Navy brass, that persists to this day.
Given all they have been through, the Liberty survivors and other veterans – who joined Halbardier to celebrate his belated receipt of the Silver Star – can be forgiven for having doubted that this day would ever come. In the award ceremony at the Visalia (California) office of Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican congressman pinned the Silver Star next to the Purple Heart that Halbardier found in his home mailbox three years ago.
Nunes said, "The government has kept this quiet I think for too long, and I felt as my constituent he [Halbardier] needed to get recognized for the services he made to his country."
Nunes got that right. Despite the many indignities the Liberty crew has been subjected to, the mood in Visalia was pronouncedly a joyous one of Better (42 years) Late Than Never. And, it did take some time to sink in: Wow, a gutsy congressman not afraid to let the truth hang out on this delicate issue.
Bill Collectors Have Found Way To Collect Social Security, Veterans' Payments(AP) Bill collectors are exploiting a legal loophole to seize Social Security and veterans' benefits even though federal law is supposed to protect the payments from creditors.
Lawmakers from both parties who have been pressing the Treasury Department for years to close the loophole with new regulations are growing impatient. The Obama administration is now promising action but has offered no timetable for developing the new rules.
Federal law has long protected Social Security and veterans benefits from most creditors, with a few exceptions for child support, alimony, unpaid federal taxes and debts to other federal agencies. But creditors have been seizing the payments anyway by getting court orders to freeze and garnish bank accounts that receive the benefits through direct deposit.
Activists say the issue has festered for years, but has intensified as more recipients get their benefits deposited directly into bank accounts.
Many people who receive Social Security or veterans benefits can't afford to have their bank accounts frozen for even a short period of time, said Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. It's hard to hire a lawyer to get your money back when all your resources are frozen, she said.
"They take all your money, and they take it illegally," Saunders said. "But when you live on $700 or $800 a month and have all that money garnished, there's very little recourse."
Over a 12-month period in 2006-2007, an estimated $178 million was garnished from bank accounts that included a mixture of Social Security benefits and other deposits, according to the Social Security Administration's inspector general.
* Victory for detainee lawyers, news organizations
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, June 1 (Reuters) - A federal judge rejected on Monday a U.S. government request to keep secret the unclassified evidence that it says justifies the continued imprisonment of more than 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled the government cannot keep the documents known as factual returns from public disclosure and must seek court approval to keep specific information secret.
"Public interest in Guantanamo Bay generally and these proceedings specifically has been unwavering," Hogan wrote. "Publicly disclosing the factual returns would enlighten the citizenry and improve perceptions of the proceedings' fairness."
U.S. President Barack Obama had vowed to close the detention center set up at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba by his predecessor George W. Bush to hold foreign terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But closing the center has proved difficult as the White House grapples with where to place the remaining prisoners.
The sealed court documents outlined the government's case for the continued holding of the detainees. The documents were filed in response to petitions by the detainees seeking their court-ordered release.
The ruling was a victory for detainee lawyers and a coalition of news organizations. They argued the news media and the public have a constitutional right of access to the documents.
The judge ordered the U.S. Justice Department to publicly file its unclassified records or show the court what specific information it wants to keep secret by the end of next month.
Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, hailed the ruling.
"For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover-up illegal detention and abuse," he said. "The decision marks an important step towards restoring America's open court tradition that is essential to both accountability and the rule of law."
The American Institute of Architects pick their top examples of building projects that marry form and function for both human and environmental needs
Can a building be as easy on the environment as it is on the eyes? Without a doubt, says The American Institute of Architects (AIA), a professional association based in Washington, D.C. To prove it, for the past 12 years, the organization and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) have awarded the top 10 green projects across the globe.
At the same time, science is providing new ways to build green buildings—from using paints with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to high-efficiency ventilation—as well as revealing just how important a pleasing and healthy environment is to our interiors.
Of course, the devil is in the details, and as Scientific American Mind reported in its April issue, neuroscience is shedding new light on how constructed environments impact health and well-being. As it turns out, green buildings don't always put the humans who will be using them first. For instance, they're often, as we reported last week, downright noisy.
As a host of organizations and publications have created their own rankings of buildings based purely on eco-standards, the AIA has created a list of green buildings that also meet the aesthetic and functional needs of the people and communities that encounter and inhabit them. From a low-income apartment building situated by a light rail line to a new town center that reused materials from its old municipal buildings for construction, these projects are putting Earth and its residents on equal footing.
By Les Leopold
The following is an excerpt from Les Leopold's new book, "The Looting of America" (Chelsea Green, 2009).
The Hooking of Whitefish Bay
The great economic crash of 2008 tore right through Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, population 13,500—though you'd never guess it from looking around town.
Located just a few miles north of Milwaukee, this golden village exudes the hopeful self-confidence of the early 1960s. Whitefish Bay's stately mansions offer breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from cliffs that rise a hundred feet above the shoreline. As you head inland on its tree-lined streets, the houses slowly shrink back into sturdy, middle-class neighborhoods. The stores on Silver Spring Drive, its main shopping strip, have survived despite fierce competition from the nearby Bayshore Mall (a self-contained ultramodern shopping village with faux streets, a faux town square, and real condos). Whitefish Bay also supports an art deco movie theater that serves meals while you watch the show, and a top-notch supermarket, fish market, and bakery. Nothing is out of place—except you, if you happen to be brown or black. Whitefish Bay is 94 percent white and only 1 percent black. There's a reason the town's unfortunate moniker is White Folks Bay.
Yet this white-collar town voted for Obama—and has always voted for its schools, which are considered among the best in the state. Its residents' deep pockets supply the school system with all the extras: In 2007, $700,000 in donations provided "opportunities, services and facilities for students." The investment has paid off. An average of 94 percent of Whitefish Bay's high school graduates go on to college immediately. And the school dropout rate is less than half of 1 percent.
The school district takes its fiscal responsibilities seriously. It has set up a trust fund to pay benefits, primarily health insurance, for retired school employees. When these benefits (called "Other Post-Employment Benefits" or OPEB) were originally negotiated, the expense was modest. But then health care costs exploded. What's more, accounting rules now require that school districts amortize these costs and post them on their books as a liability each year. Whitefish Bay, like many other school districts, became worried about how to meet these liabilities.
Whitefish Bay is a town full of financially sophisticated residents, including its school managers. They sought to pump up the OPEB trust fund quickly so they could keep their promises to retirees. As responsible guardians of the town's resources, they looked for the highest rate of return at a minimal risk to the fund's principal. As Shaun Yde, the school district's director of business services, put it, the goal was to "guarantee a secure future for our employees without increasing the burden on our taxpayers or decreasing the funds available to our students to fund their education."
Meanwhile, Wall Street investment houses had set their sights on school-district trust funds like Whitefish Bay's. They hoped to persuade districts to stop stashing this money—valued at well above $100 billion nationwide in 2006—in treasury bonds and federally insured certificates of deposit (CDs). Wall Street's "innovative" securities could provide higher returns—not to mention more lucrative fees for the investment firms.
So an old-fashioned financial romance began: Supply (Wall Street's hottest financial products) met Demand (school districts seeking to build up their OPEB trust funds). It looked like a perfect match.
In the Milwaukee area, Supply was represented by Stifel Nicolaus & Company, a venerable, 108-year-old financial firm, which promised to put "the welfare of clients and community first" as it pursued "excellence and a desire to exceed clients' expectations . . ."
As a national firm based in St. Louis, Stifel Nicolaus was fortunate to be represented in Milwaukee by David W. Noack. According to the New York Times, "He had been advising Wisconsin school boards for two decades, helping them borrow for new gymnasiums and classrooms. His father had taught at an area high school for 47 years. All six of his children attended Milwaukee schools." School boards repeatedly referred to him as their "financial advisor"—a label he never refuted.
In 2006, Mr. Noack, an avuncular, low-key salesman (he preferred to be called a banker), urged the Whitefish school board and others in Wisconsin to buy securities that offered higher returns than treasury notes but were just about as safe. He had recently attended a two-hour training session on these new financial products, so he was confident when he assured the officials that they were "safe double-A, triple-A-type investments." None of the investments included subprime debt, he said. And the deal conformed to state statutes, so the district would be erring on the conservative side. In fact, Noack said, the risk was so low that there would have to be "15 Enrons" before the district would be affected. For the schools to lose their investment, "out of the top eight hundred companies in the world, one hundred would have to go under."
Auto giant General Motors filed for Chapter 11 yesterday in one of the largest bankruptcy cases in US history. Shortly after the filing, GM said it would close fourteen more plants, including seven in Michigan, and cut up to 21,000 more jobs. More than 2,000 car dealerships will be shut down, as well. After the factory closings, GM will have fewer than 40,000 workers buildings cars in the United States, one-tenth of a workforce that numbered nearly 400,000 in the 1970s. [includes rush transcript]
Harley Shaiken, professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in labor and the global economy. His latest article is in the current issue of Dissent Magazine, called "Motown Blues: What Next for Detroit?"
Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate. His first book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, published in 1965, took on General Motors and its Chevrolet Corvair model.
AMY GOODMAN: Auto giant General Motors filed for Chapter 11 yesterday in one of the largest bankruptcy cases in US history. Shortly after the filing, GM said it would close fourteen more plants, including seven in Michigan, and cut up to 21,000 more jobs. More than 2,000 car dealerships will be shut down, as well. After the factory closings, GM will have fewer than 40,000 workers buildings cars in the United States, one-tenth of a workforce that numbered nearly 400,000 in the 1970s.
Monday's bankruptcy filing caps a remarkable fall for the century-old company which was once the world's largest car manufacturer. After the filing, GM was removed from the group of thirty blue chip companies that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average, where it had been listed for the past eighty-three years.
Under the proposed restructuring plan, the US government will invest another $30 billion in GM and take ownership of 60 percent of the company. The Canadian government, a union health trust and current bondholders would own the rest.
On Monday, President Obama laid out his case for the nationalization of GM.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are acting as reluctant shareholders, because that is the only way to help GM succeed. What we are not doing, what I have no interest in doing, is running GM. GM will be run by a private board of directors and management team with a track record in American manufacturing that reflects a commitment to innovation and quality. They, and not the government, will call the shots and make the decisions about how to turn this company around.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama also acknowledged the restructuring plan will result in dramatic downsizing and the loss of thousands more jobs.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will not pretend the hard times are over. Difficult days lie ahead. More jobs will be lost. More plants will close. More dealerships will shut their doors, and so will many parts suppliers. But I want you to know that what you're doing is making a sacrifice for the next generation.
AMY GOODMAN: Fritz Henderson, who will stay on as GM's chief executive for the time being, said that going forward, GM will be a new kind of auto manufacturer.
FRITZ HENDERSON: The GM that many of you knew, the GM that, in fact, had let too many of you down, is history. Today marks the beginning of what will be a new company, a new GM dedicated to building the very best cars and trucks, highly fuel-efficient, world-class quality, green technology development, and with truly outstanding design. And above all, the new GM will be rededicated in entirety as a leadership team to our customers.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Chrysler, which entered bankruptcy April 30th, could now emerge as a new corporate entity owned by a UAW healthcare trust, the Italian automaker Fiat and the American and Canadian governments.
For more, we're joined by two guests. Harley Shaiken is a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in labor and the global economy. His latest article is in the current issue of Dissent Magazine; it's called "Motown Blues: What Next for Detroit?" And joining us on the telephone from Washington, DC, longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. His first book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, published in '65, took on GM and its Chevrolet Corvair model.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Shaiken, let's begin with you. First, your response to the bankruptcy of GM?
HARLEY SHAIKEN: Well, it was quite an enormous shock, not a surprise. We knew it was coming. But there was something about a company of this size, visibility and iconic stature imploding like this that's quite extraordinary.
It's very costly for the US government. An additional $30 billion going into GM. But the real key issue here is not simply saving GM. That's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a broader set of issues, which is a viable manufacturing base and viability in health for the communities and the tens of thousands of families who are directly caught in this crossfire.
AMY GOODMAN: And the government taking it over, being the majority shareholder, what does that mean now? And what should the government do?
HARLEY SHAIKEN: Well, the government has, in effect, nationalized GM. And President Obama has said that it is a reluctant act. And that's quite clearly what it is. But the government should not act as if it is a hedge fund. It should not be a reluctant shareholder. It clearly wants to see a viable competitive company at the end of the day, a world-class automaker that also meets some broader public standards on energy and the environment, as well as employment.
But the government, to do that, is going to need a broader set of policies that addresses those concerns as the route to viability and profitability for GM. That, in fact, is what virtually every other auto government in this sort of a situation is doing today. Whether it's a Christian Democratic government in Canada, such as—I mean, in Germany, such as Angela Merkel, whether it's the Canadian government, all other governments are raising these issues in terms of public funds for private restructuring. And I think that's a central challenge for the US government, as well.
In many ways, it is a thin line. There are going to be a lot of conflicting political pressures. But ultimately, this is an opportunity to really have a world-class automaker and meet some broader goals of great value to the public at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, first, we have to recognize the total autocratic, secretive way this bankruptcy was initiated. Congress, which in 1979 had thorough public hearings on the Chrysler bailout and a few years later on the structuring of the Conrail system, completely abdicated its role to the White House, that then allocated the role to a secret task force run by Wall Streeters and overseen by Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Treasury, and Larry Summers. And this is the predictable result of an autocratic, secretive process.
The common shareholders who own GM have been wiped out. They had no voice in Congress to discuss it. The auto suppliers, the auto dealers, consumer groups had no voice to discuss it in Congress. Workers had no actual voice in Congress, other than to tell Congress to lay low while the UAW was negotiating this deal, again, in private. So, we have a process which is very similar to the Chrysler process, which is a White House fiat to a bankruptcy court fiat to Fiat in Italy, if I may have a little play on words. But the bankruptcy process itself is extremely autocratic. Under Chapter 11, the judge keeps pounding the gavel and denying the claimants interventions and appeals on behalf of the combined force of the Obama task force and top brass in GM.
Now, why is this going to turn out bad? Because Obama has made the American taxpayer responsible for saving GM, to a level which will eventually reach $70 billion, but then he makes his government irresponsible by saying he doesn't want to run GM. Well, what if GM management continues to ship its production to China, which is the grand China strategy of GM from several years back, and unemployed workers and closed factories and, by consequence, closed dealers? Is Obama going to step aside?
So, you have so many questions, Amy, that aren't being answered. For example, are the China assets and unrepatriated profits of GM going to be included in the bankruptcy procedure, or are they going to be excluded? What about the act of closing dealers? Dealers don't cost manufacturers anything. The franchise agreement makes certain of that. So why are we further inconveniencing motorists, rupturing their relationship over the years with dealers that are closer to home and making them travel more and more? The answer is, the fewer dealers, the more likely the price of cars go up. So there are all kinds of reasons why this should go back to Congress for thorough House and Senate hearings, if Congress wanted to adhere to its constitutional duties.
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
BEIJING (AP) -- Foreign journalists were barred from Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Wednesday as an Internet clampdown that blocked Twitter expanded to include more blogs on the eve of the 20th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
In a further sign of the government's unwavering hard-line stance toward the protests, the second most-wanted student leader from 1989 said he had been denied him entry to the southern Chinese territory of Macau.
In exile since fleeing China after the crackdown, Wu'er Kaixi traveled to Macau on Wednesday to turn himself in to authorities in a bid to return home. Immigration officers at Macau's airport pulled him aside and demanded he fly back to Taiwan.
Authorities have also shut photo-sharing site Flickr and confined dissidents to their homes or forced them to leave Beijing, as they ramped up efforts to prevent online discussions about or commemorations of those who died in the military assault on demonstrators on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
The sweeping measures have been imposed even though there were few signs of efforts to mark the protests within mainland China, where the government squelches all discussion of them.
Beijing has never allowed an independent investigation into the military's crushing of the 1989 protests, in which possibly thousands of students, activists and ordinary citizens were killed. And young Chinese know little about the events, having grown up in a generation that has largely eschewed politics in favor of nationalism and economic development.
But authorities have been steadily tightening surveillance over China's dissident community ahead of this year's anniversary, with some leading writers already under close watch or house arrest for months.
Ding Zilin, a retired professor and advocate for Tiananmen victims whose teenage son was killed in the crackdown, said by telephone that a dozen officers blocked her and her husband from leaving their Beijing apartment Wednesday morning.
Another leading dissident voice, Bao Tong, was taken by police to southeastern China over the anniversary, said his son, Bao Pu.
Bao Tong, 76, is the former secretary to Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party leader deposed for sympathizing with the pro-democracy protesters.
As in past years, foreign media reports on issues related to the protests in print, on television or the Internet were blocked.
Over recent days, journalists attempting to film on the square or interview dissidents have been detained for several hours on apparently trumped-up charges of creating disturbances, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.
However, the blocking of social networking sites marks a new chapter in the authorities' attempts to muzzle dissent, one that testifies to the burgeoning influence of such technology among young Chinese in an authoritarian society where information is tightly controlled.
Government Internet monitors have shuttered message boards on more than 6,000 Web sites affiliated with colleges and universities, apparently to head off any talk about the 1989 events, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Numerous Chinese sites were also disabled Wednesday, including mini-blogging site Fanfou and video sharing site VeryCD. Notices on their home pages said they would be closed through Saturday for "technical maintenance."
The text-messaging service Twitter and pictures on photo-sharing site Flickr could not be accessed within China starting Tuesday. Video sharing site YouTube has been blocked within China since March.
by Robert Reich
For now, though, some background. First and most broadly, it doesn't make sense for America to try to maintain or enlarge manufacturing as a portion of the economy. Even if the U.S. were to seal its borders and bar any manufactured goods from coming in from abroad--something I don't recommend--we'd still be losing manufacturing jobs. That's mainly because of technology.
When we think of manufacturing jobs, we tend to imagine old-time assembly lines populated by millions of blue-collar workers who had well-paying jobs with good benefits. But that picture no longer describes most manufacturing. I recently toured a U.S. factory containing two employees and 400 computerized robots. The two live people sat in front of computer screens and instructed the robots. In a few years this factory won't have a single employee on site, except for an occasional visiting technician who repairs and upgrades the robots.
Factory jobs are vanishing all over the world. Even China is losing them. The Chinese are doing more manufacturing than ever, but they're also becoming far more efficient at it. They've shuttered most of the old state-run factories. Their new factories are chock full of automated and computerized machines. As a result, they don't need as many manufacturing workers as before.
Economists at Alliance Capital Management took a look at employment trends in twenty large economies and found that between 1995 and 2002--before the asset bubble and subsequent bust--twenty-two million manufacturing jobs disappeared. The United States wasn't even the biggest loser. We lost about 11% of our manufacturing jobs in that period, but the Japanese lost 16% of theirs. Even developing nations lost factory jobs: Brazil suffered a 20% decline, and China had a 15% drop.
What happened to manufacturing? In two words, higher productivity. As productivity rises, employment falls because fewer people are needed. In this, manufacturing is following the same trend as agriculture. A century ago, almost 30% of adult Americans worked on a farm. Nowadays, fewer than 5% do. That doesn't mean the U.S. failed at agriculture. Quite the opposite. American agriculture is a huge success story. America can generate far larger crops than a century ago with far fewer people. New technologies, more efficient machines, new methods of fertilizing, better systems of crop rotation, and efficiencies of large scale have all made farming much more productive.
Manufacturing is analogous. In America and elsewhere around the world, it's a success. Since 1995, even as manufacturing employment has dropped around the world, global industrial output has risen more than 30%.
We should stop pining after the days when millions of Americans stood along assembly lines and continuously bolted, fit, soldered or clamped what went by. Those days are over.
By Richard A. Clarke
Top officials from the Bush administration have hit upon a revealing new theme as they retrospectively justify their national security policies. Call it the White House 9/11 trauma defense.
"Unless you were there, in a position of responsibility after September 11, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans," Condoleezza Rice said last month as she admonished a Stanford University student who questioned the Bush-era interrogation program. And in his May 21 speech on national security, Dick Cheney called the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a "defining" experience that "caused everyone to take a serious second look" at the threats to America. Critics of the administration have become more intense as memories of the attacks have faded, he argued. "Part of our responsibility, as we saw it," Cheney said, "was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America."
I remember that morning, too. Shortly after the second World Trade Center tower was hit, I burst in on Rice (then the president's national security adviser) and Cheney in the vice president's office and remember glimpsing horror on his face. Once in the bomb shelter, Cheney assembled his team while the crisis managers on the National Security Council staff coordinated the government response by video conference from the Situation Room. Many of us thought that we might not leave the White House alive. I remember the next day, too, when smoke still rose from the Pentagon as I sat in my office in the White House compound, a gas mask on my desk. The streets of Washington were empty, except for the armored vehicles, and the skies were clear, except for the F-15s on patrol. Every scene from those days is seared into my memory. I understand how it was a defining moment for Cheney, as it was for so many Americans.
Yet listening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic. "If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans drop out of eighty-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people," Rice said in her recent comments, "then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again."
I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney's admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.
Thus, when Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.