Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 12, 2004 5:50PM (UTC)

Did Bush act?
The Los Angeles Times provides an analysis of the brouhaha over the President's Daily Brief from Aug. 6, 2001 -- conveniently released by the White House into the black hole of news on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend too late for network news programs and cutting in to print reporters' deadlines -- and says the debate is turning from whether the document contained information largely "historical" in nature about al-Qaida, as Condoleezza Rice repeatedly told the 9/11 commission, to just what the president and FBI did in response to the threat assessment in the crucial weeks before Sept. 11, 2001.

"The bipartisan commission investigating the events leading up to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is expected to make the once-classified document -- and the Bush administration's reaction to it -- a prime focus of its hearings Tuesday and Wednesday. Top FBI and Justice Department officials in the Clinton and Bush administrations, along with CIA director George J. Tenet, are scheduled to testify."

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"'The 9/11 commission is going to want to know what was the White House's reaction to the analysis and judgment of the CIA and the FBI about the threats,' said Roger W. Cressey, who served as a deputy White House counterterrorism official in both administrations and now heads a security consulting firm. The president and his top aides have acknowledged there were mounting signs during spring and summer 2001 that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network were planning new attacks on U.S. interests. But they have argued that the information was not specific enough for them to take steps that might have prevented the airliner assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On Sunday, Bush reiterated that argument, saying that at no time did he receive specific warning about the sort of attacks that Al Qaeda ultimately carried out."

" Critics contended Sunday that with its insistence that it could not have done more to thwart the attacks without further details of the terrorists' plans, the administration displayed a disturbing passivity in the weeks leading up to Sept. 11.

Are they really that clueless?
In TomPaine.com, Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA and counterterrorism official and a registered Republican who has written 40 President's Daily Briefs in his career, says the White House insistence that the PDB of Aug. 6, 2001 was not "actionable" and merely "historical" is "absolute nonsense."

"This particular PDB article was written in response to a presidential request. I am told that Bush's request was a reaction to the intelligence warnings he was hearing during the daily CIA morning briefings. Something caught his attention and awakened his curiosity. He reportedly asked the CIA to come back with its assessment of Bin Laden's intentions. The CIA answered the question -- Bin Laden was targeting the United States."

"The PBD article released Saturday is a classic CIA response to such a request. It lays out the historical and evidentiary antecedents that undergird the analyst's belief about the nature of the threat and provides current intelligence indicators that reinforce the basic conclusion of the piece -- i.e., Bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. It is true that the piece did not contain specific details about the plot that was launched subsequently on 9/11. However, the details that are included in the piece are so alarming that anyone familiar with the nature of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda should have asked, 'What are they planning and what can we do to stop it?'"

"Remember the furious attacks against Richard Clarke during the past month? Now that we have seen the content of the PBD we know he was telling the truth when he said that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice did not make fighting Al Qaeda a priority prior to 9/11. At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals' meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president's national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the Al Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of Al Qaeda operators in the United States. While Condoleezza Rice is correct that there was no 'silver bullet' in that PDB, she conveniently ignores the huge pieces of the puzzle that were in the hands of various members of the U.S. government."

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"None of these steps were taken. Bush was on vacation and Condi -- the smartest woman in Washington we are told -- was asleep at the switch."

Freeh: Before 9/11, we lacked will
The limelight of the 9/11 commission public hearings will shine this week on the law enforcement and intelligence communities, including the tenure of former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who can expect some tough questioning about what the agency did and didn't do in the months and years before Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, Louis Freeh begins to make his public case in this Wall Street Journal op-ed (Sub. only). Freeh suggests that the FBI did everything in its power to combat terrorism before 9/11, but that the political will for an all-out war on al-Qaida didn't exist before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, limiting the agency's ability to fight terrorism.

" The question before the 9/11 Commission is why our political leadership declared war back on al Qaeda only after Sept. 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden had been indicted years before for blowing up American soldiers and embassies and was known as a clear and present danger to the U.S. So what would have happened had the U.S. declared war on al Qaeda before Sept. 11? Endless and ultimately useless speculation about 'various threads and pieces of information,' which are certainly 'relevant and significant,' at least in retrospect, will not take us very far in answering this central question.

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" I believe that any president and Congress faced with the reality of Sept. 11 would have acted swiftly and overwhelmingly as did President Bush and the 107th Congress. They are to be commended. However, those who came before President Bush can only be faulted if they had had the political means and the will of the nation to declare a war back then, but failed to do so. The fact that terrorism and the war being waged by al Qaeda was not even an issue in the 2000 presidential campaign strongly suggests that the political will to declare and fight this war didn't exist before Sept. 11."

" All of this is not to say that the intelligence and law enforcement communities couldn't have done more to protect the nation from a Sept. 11. As FBI director I share in that responsibility. And I don't know of any FBI agents who would not have given their lives -- two did -- to prevent Sept. 11 from happening. The Joint Intelligence Committee and now the 9/11 Commission are properly seeking to understand how Sept. 11 was able to happen. But the grand failure to comprehend the contrast between the pre-9/11 fight against terrorism with the total war being waged since Sept. 11 blinds us to an immensely significant historical and political dialectic."

" The FBI and CIA working together have accomplished much in fighting terrorism, but it is a continuing battle. These agencies should remain the primary counterterrorism agencies. But al Qaeda-type organizations, state sponsors of terrorism like Iran, and the threats they pose to America, are ultimately beyond the competence of the FBI and the CIA to address. America must maintain the will to use its political, military and economic power when acts of war are threatened or committed against our nation by terrorists or their state sponsors. We have now seen how war is declared and waged against terrorists who attack our nation. The painful lesson is that fighting terrorism without such a declaration of war is unlikely to be successful."

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Kerry critics play the French card
The Boston Globe looks at the trend in some conservative circles to use the "F-word" to describe John Kerry that's F for French. This stoop in the public discourse can be found on far-right Internet blogs, conservative columns, and speeches by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

"Kerry, his foes complain, might as well be French. 'The French believe John Kerry has 'a certain elegance,'" sneers a contributor to the FreeRepublic.com website, over unflattering pictures of the Massachusetts senator playing ping-pong, catching a football, and throwing a baseball. 'Of course, the French also think Jerry Lewis is a comic genius. Think about it,' the satirical posting says. House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, is reported to have started a meeting by saying, 'Good morning, or as John Kerry would say, 'Bonjour.' " And the RNC weighed in April 1 with a spoof TV spot -- identified as just a little April Fools' Day joke -- that derides both Kerry and the French. 'Did you know that April Fools' Day was started by the French back in the 16th century? I think today, their gas prices are about $4.57 a gallon,' says the announcer, with an accordion playing in the background and an oil painting shown hanging on a wall to evoke the mood of Paris. 'In the United States, we have John Kerry, who supported a 50 cent increase in the gas tax. It might not seem like much for a guy whose 50-foot yacht, named after a French swashbuckler, costs $700 to fill. Who's voted for higher taxes? All with the support of unnamed foreign leaders,' the fake ad continues, showing Kerry pictured with a question mark over his face. 'All of it has his cousin so upset, he called to say he's voting for Bush.'"

"True, Kerry has a French cousin, speaks French fluently, and as a child was en vacances on the Brittany coast. It's a combination his foes have turned into a kind of character flaw, much to the insult of many French people as well as Kerry's supporters. 'These guys are doing the same thing they do to black candidates. They're appealing to people's prejudices,' said Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware. The underlying message, Biden and others said, is to make the decorated Vietnam War veteran look unpatriotic by associating him with a country that opposed the Iraq war, and to make the Massachusetts senator look like he's privileged and out of touch with regular Americans. 'They're playing the anti-intellectual card, the antielitist, anticulture,' Biden fumed. 'It's saying sophistication is something very bad, like you read the whole Bible, instead of just the parts you want.'"

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Dean: Don't repeat 2000 mistake
In a New York Times op-ed, Howard Dean beseeches voters to steer clear of Ralph Nader. The country's future depends on it, Dean says. "Democrats are motivated to defeat the president this year. They've seen firsthand what three years of Bush administration policies have done to America. And they want to stop his policies from inflicting any more damage on working-class Americans, the environment, our international standing or a woman's right to choose. Many Democrats also admire Ralph Nader's achievements, as I do. But if they truly want George Bush out of the White House, they won't vote for Ralph Nader in November."

"Ralph Nader has built a remarkable legacy as a consumer advocate. Because of his tireless work, we have federal consumer protection laws and a federal department dedicated to the protection of our environment, and millions of defective motor vehicles are off the roads. And I campaigned against the very same corporate special interests that he has been criticizing longer than almost anyone else. But I don't believe that the best way to do justice to Ralph Nader's legacy is to vote for him for president. Re-electing George Bush would undo everything Ralph Nader has worked for through his entire career and, in fact, could lead to the dismantling of many of his accomplishments."

" Ralph Nader once said that your best teacher is your last mistake. Too many of us learned the consequences of not standing together four years ago. This November, we can elect a president who fights for average Americans. But we can achieve this goal only if we join together -- and don't repeat our last mistake."

Tax system subsidizes super-rich
David Cay Johnston, author of a recent book on the tax code, wrote this infuriating expose in the San Francisco Chronicle saying Americans don't understand what the tax system ahs become. "Through explicit policies, as well as tax laws never reported in the news, Congress now literally takes money from those making $30,000 to $500,000 per year and funnels it in subtle ways to the super rich -- the top 1/100th of 1 percent of Americans. People making $60,000 paid a larger share of their 2001 income in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes than a family making $25 million, the latest Internal Revenue Service data show. And in income taxes alone, people making $400,000 paid a larger share of their incomes than the 7,000 households who made $10 million or more."

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"While millions of Americans in the last quarter-century debated about who shot J.R. and scurried for news about who would be Jennifer Lopez's next lover, Congress quietly passed tax laws that shift the tax burden from the 28,000 Americans in households with incomes of $8 million per year or more. One 1985 law, promoted in the Senate as relieving middle class Americans, gave a huge tax break to corporate executives who make personal use of company jets. CEOs may now fly to vacations or Saturday golf outings in luxury for a penny a mile. Congress shifted the real cost of about $6 per mile to shareholders, who pay two-thirds, and to taxpayers who suffer the rest of the cost lost as a result of reduced corporate income taxes. Since 1988, Congress has also cut in half the Internal Revenue Service's capacity to enforce tax laws, replacing it with extra effort to reduce audits of corporations and the rich."

"On March 30, Congress was told that 78 percent of known tax cheats in investment partnerships are not even asked to pay because there are not enough tax collectors to go after them. Congress and the Bush administration rejected the request by the IRS Oversight Board, a citizen panel Congress created, for extra money to pursue some of these tax cheats and stop about 1 percent of the $311 billion in estimated annual tax cheating. In the late '90s, a crooked banker gave the IRS records on 1,600 criminal tax cheats who used his Cayman Islands bank. The Justice Department prosecuted 49 of them, but the other 1,551 were not even asked to pay, lawyers for some of them say. Two billionaires in New York, the art dealer Alec Wildenstein and his former wife, Jocelyn, testified under oath in their divorce that for 30 years they never filed a tax return. They have not been prosecuted."

"There are now seminars that show business owners how to drop out of the tax system with virtually no risk of detection by the IRS, which relies on a computer system installed when John F. Kennedy was president. While letting rich tax cheats run wild, Congress did finance a crackdown on the poor."

"The working poor, most of whom make less than $16,000, are eight times more likely to be audited than millionaire investors in partnerships. The audits of low-income taxpayers found little cheating. Two-thirds of the poor get either their full refund or more than they sought. These and other unseen changes in the tax system are major factors in profound economic changes that have caused so many in America to lurch from job to job, a fourth of which pay less than $8 an hour, while helping a very few grow very rich."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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