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 Hostage Crisis  3 
 Executive Privilege *
 Enron Withheld Data
 Hunger, Homelessness Rise Sharply
 Unemployment-December Report
 Enron--Cooking the Books
 Waxman To Cheney--Enron
 Enron Donations
 Deficits, The Blame Game
 Secrets, Yours & The Governments *

* impeachable offense
Hostage Crisis Continues part 3
Reuters/ABCNews.com/wire
12/15/01

ISABELA, Philippines (Reuters) - Muslim gunmen holding two U.S. hostages retreated deeper into the jungles on Saturday as Philippine troops pressed their pursuit to try to meet a self-imposed timetable for rescuing the Americans. Military officials have set this weekend as a timetable for recovering U.S. missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and a local nurse held by the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas for more than six months on Basilan island, 560 miles south of Manila.

The United States has linked the kidnappers to Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, prime suspects in the September 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

"The moment we have visual contact we are confident we can rescue them in 24 hours," southern military commander Lieutenant-General Roy Cimatu told reporters in Isabela, the Basilan provincial capital.

He said troops pursuing the Abu Sayyaf in mountainous jungles on the outskirts of Isabela last had "visual contact (with the Abu Sayyaf) about three days ago."

The jungles are so thick soldiers cannot detect any moving figure beyond "10 to 15 meters," he said.

Over 1,000 troops are combing the area to prevent the guerrillas from slipping away.

Brigadier-General Glicerio Sua, head of a military task force in charge of rescuing the Burnhams, denied the military had set a firm deadline for rescuing the missionaries by this weekend.

"It was only a hopeful projection," Sua said.

The Burnhams, from Wichita, Kansas, were taken hostage when the Abu Sayyaf raided a beach resort in the country's southwest on May 27. The guerrillas beheaded a third American hostage in June.

A Filipino hostage rescued in October had said the Abu Sayyaf were demanding a ransom of $2 million for the Burnhams but local officials in Basilan said the guerrillas had lowered the amount to $1 million.

"The key element here is money. These things always come down to money," one Muslim local official told Reuters on Saturday.

The Abu Sayyaf professes to fight for an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines but pursues kidnap for ransom as its main activity.

Commentary:
The hostage crisis enters its seventh month with almost nothing from the major networks or the president. Where's Bush?


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Bush Abuses Executive Privilege
House to Investigate ABCNews Wire/Associated Press

The administration informed a House committee of the decision before a congressional hearing on the Boston case involving the FBI's handling of informants. In a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, the president explained his decision.

"It is my decision that you should not release these documents or otherwise make them available to the committee," Bush wrote in the memo obtained by the Associated Press. "I have decided to assert executive privilege with respect to the documents."

Bush wrote that the "disclosure to Congress of confidential advice to the attorney general regarding the appointment of a special counsel and confidential recommendations to Department of Justice officials regarding whether to bring criminal charges would inhibit the candor necessary to the effectiveness of the deliberative process by which the department makes prosecutorial decisions."

'This Is Not a Monarchy'

Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, the Republican House chairman whose committee sought the documents, decried the decision and said it wrongly handicapped Congress for overseeing the government.

"This is not a monarchy," Burton said today at the start of the hearing. "The legislative branch has oversight responsibility to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch."

Burton said for the time being he would hold additional investigative hearings into whether Bush was misusing executive privilege. Another option would be for Burton to take the president to court for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the documents, but that would require the cooperation of the full Congress. The House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.

The decision immediately affects a subpoena from the House Government Reform Committee for documents related to the FBI's handling of mob informants in Boston dating to the 1960s.

More importantly, it sets a new policy in the works for months in which the administration will resist lawmakers' requests to view prosecutorial decision-making documents that have been routinely turned over to Congress in years past.

"I believe congressional access to these documents would be contrary to the national interest," Bush wrote in his memo to Ashcroft.

Executive privilege is a doctrine recognized by the courts that ensures presidents can get candid advice in private without fear of its becoming public.

The committee subpoenaed Ashcroft, demanding those documents in the fall and scheduled a hearing today to examine the Boston case.

That case stems from revelations that Joseph Salvati of Boston spent 30 years in prison for a murder he did not commit even though the FBI had evidence of his innocence. Salvati was freed in January after a judge concluded that FBI agents hid testimony that would have cleared Salvati because they wanted to protect an informant.


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Where's Ashcroft?
Andersen Tells Congress Enron Withheld Data
Reuters/ABCNews.com//Wire

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Accounting firm Andersen told Congress on Wednesday it warned Enron Corp. about possible illegal acts and said its client left it in the dark on crucial data at the heart of the energy trader's spectacular collapse.

In congressional testimony, Andersen Chief Executive Joseph Berardino admitted for the first time that the Big Five accounting firm had erred in its treatment of one Enron special-purpose entity (SPE), a type of financing vehicle widely used by the company to keep debt off its balance sheet.

"We made a professional judgment about the appropriate accounting treatment that turned out to be wrong," he said.

Berardino said Houston-based Enron withheld information from Andersen and that Andersen notified Enron's audit committee of "possible illegal acts."

"It is not clear why the relevant information was not provided to us. We are still looking into that... We notified Enron's audit committee of possible illegal acts within the company," Berardino said in testimony to the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

Enron did not reveal to Andersen, its longtime auditor, a pivotal agreement with a large financial institution for a financing vehicle called Chewco, Berardino said.

If Enron had disclosed the agreement, Andersen would have required the company to include the Chewco partnership and similar ones on its balance sheet, Berardino said.

Enron filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2 after succumbing to a dizzying downward spiral of events. At the heart of its financial troubles were highly leveraged, SPE-style outside partnerships involving company officers, which were kept off its balance sheet. The firm later restated results to include those partnerships, reducing its earnings in the four years after 1997 by almost $600 million.

Enron Chief Executive Kenneth Lay was attending a creditors hearing on Wednesday and could not attend the hearing, said committee Chairman Rep. Michael Oxley, an Ohio Republican.

PLENTY OF BLAME TO GO AROUND

At the hearing, Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO labor confederation, pointed the finger at Andersen for not doing more to draw attention to Enron's murky finances.

"There was more than enough information in those statements alone to sound warning bells among the auditors that signed off on them," Trumka told lawmakers in prepared remarks.

"The financial statements themselves contain the proof that the auditors were aware of each of the transactions that led this company to grief," the union leader said.

Commentary:
A small company loses a few million and we have six years of investigations (Whitewater). Now, we have one of the largest collapses of a company in US history, a company that gives millions to Bush and republicans and there's no call for an investigation. Where's Ashcroft and Bush? Where's the press? Why isn't the press asking Bush questions 24/7 like they did to Bill Clinton with Whitewater? Liberal media? Poppy-cock! Rule of law? Poppycock.


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Report: Hunger, Homelessness Rise Sharply in U.S
Reuters/ABCNews/Wire

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hunger and homelessness rose sharply in American cities this year as the nation slipped into recession and could get worse in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a survey released on Wednesday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Examining the situation in 27 cities, the report found that requests for emergency food aid climbed an average of 23 percent and requests for emergency shelter rose an average of 13 percent during the year, from November 2000-2001.

"This survey underscores the real impact of the economic slowdown on real people," New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial told a news conference.

The annual report found an increase in requests for emergency food assistance in 25 of the 27 cities surveyed with no change reported in the other two, Chicago and Charleston.

However, resources available for emergency food aid failed to keep up with demand in most cities, increasing by only 12 percent.

Two thirds of the cities said they were unable to provide an adequate amount of food for those in need and 85 percent said they had cut either the size of the meals they provided or the number of times people could come to get food.

In one third of the cities, hungry people were actually turned away, the report stated. Over half of those needing help were families with children and over a third had jobs.

"Hunger remains a very real problem in America and that problem has gotten worse over the past four years," said Robert Forney, who heads America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity.

Citing the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks and the current recession, all of the cities participating predicted that both food assistance and shelter assistance requests will increase again in 2002.

Commentary:
It's worth noting that 10 months of the report are prior to 9/11 so it's highly questionable to assume the need for assistance was caused by the attack. To further prove this point, the report also points out that cities "shelter assistance requests will increase again in 2002." It's the economy stupid.


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Employment Situation Summary
http://www.bls.gov/cps/
Bureau of Labor Statistics
December 8, 2001

Employment fell sharply for the second month in a row in November, and the unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Nonfarm payroll employment dropped by 331,000, following an even larger decline in October. As was the case in October, job losses in November were widespread.

Unemployment (Household Survey Data)

unemployment

The number of unemployed persons increased by 419,000 to 8.2 million in November, and the unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percentage point to 5.7 percent; this followed an increase of half a percentage point in October. The jobless rate in November was at its highest level since August 1995. Since October 2000, when both measures were at their most recent lows, unemployment has risen by 2.6 million and the unemployment rate has increased by 1.8 percentage points, of which 1.4 percentage points have come since the beginning of the recession in March.

The number of unemployed persons who had been jobless for 27 weeks or more rose by 280,000 in November to 1.2 million. This level has nearly doubled since July.

The number of unemployed job losers not on temporary layoff rose by 427,000 in November to 3.4 million and has grown by 1.2 million since July. These job losers accounted for 42.0 percent of the unemployed in November compared to 28.8 percent a year earlier.

The total number of employed persons fell by 478,000 in November to 134.1 million (seasonally adjusted). The employment-population ratio dropped by 0.3 percentage point to 63.0 percent. Since its most recent peak in January, employment has fallen by 1.9 million, and the employment-population ratio has lost 1.5 percentage points.

Commentary:
One has to wonder when the Bush tax cut will fix the economy. It was sold to the Congress for this simple purpose and yet we have no evidence his tax cut is slowing or otherwise reversing the recession. Some very good arguments can be made his tax cut (Bush spin, economy is in trouble give me the tax cut became self-fulfilling) caused the recession.


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Other Links:
Friends in High Places
Enron: Cooking The Books And Buying Protection
ariannaonline.com

The opponents of campaign finance reform keep trying to convince us that it's a non-issue: a matter of inside-the-Beltway baseball that no one cares about except a few money-hating policy wonks.

ariannaRep. Dick Armey derided it as "the lowest thing on the American radar screen" while Sen. Mitch "Money Is Free Speech" McConnell took time out from his busy fund-raising schedule to chastise the editors of The New York Times for "continuing to obsess" about an issue that has completely "dropped off the list" of the public's priorities. In other words, "No one cares, why should we?"

The answer is simple. So simple, in fact, it can be summed up in one word: Enron. Its chairman, Kenneth Lay, is the former 800-pound gorilla of Washington power brokers who is looking more and more like the spiritual offspring of Charles Ponzi.

Enron stands accused of, basically, cooking its books, fraudulently pumping up the company's value by concealing massive amounts of debt in an array of complex partnerships set up by Enron officers. Nudged into reluctant action by a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, the company was forced to admit that it had over-reported profit by nearly $600 million during the last four years. These disclosures caused Enron's stock to plummet from a high of $90 to 26 cents, culminating on Sunday in the energy giant filing for Chapter 11 protection, the largest corporate bankruptcy in history.

And it gets uglier. Much uglier. While all these financial shenanigans were going on and the stock was flying artificially high, Lay, in his position as CPSO (Chief Pyramid Scheme Officer), cashed in stock and options worth $150 million. And former Enron executive Jeff Skilling pocketed $62 million before abruptly abandoning ship this past August.

Shareholders were not so lucky -- I mean "market-savvy." Neither were some 20,000 current and former Enron employees whose retirement accounts evaporated as the company nose-dived. It turns out that these employees were not given the same opportunity as Lay and Skilling to cash out while the cashing was good. The company froze the retirement fund, and employees could only watch helplessly as their nest eggs cracked and turned sunny side down.

But the little guys weren't the only ones taken in. Big-boy bankers Citigroup and J.P. Morgan lent Enron a total of $1.6 billion, $540 million of which is unsecured. Starved for a good laugh? Try asking your friendly neighborhood banker for an unsecured loan and watch his reaction.

So what was Enron's secret? It was the aura of power that glowed around the company and Kenneth Lay -- a key shaper of the administration's energy policy, and an intimate FOG (Friend of George).

This aura doesn't come cheap. Enron and its executives doled out $2.4 million to federal candidates in the 2000 election and were among George W.'s biggest donors. Lay and his wife alone have donated $793,110 to the GOP since W.'s dad was in office.

Enron has also spent big bucks lobbying Congress and the White House: $4 million in the last two years. The money has bought the company a bipartisan who's who of Washington insiders -- including James Baker, Mack McLarty and Gore 2000 fund-raising director Johnny Hayes -- to help push its corporate agenda.

If the congressional investigations into Enron's collapse slated to begin this month are to have any political impact, they need to focus on how much clout and protection the energy giant was able to buy through lobbying and donations.

Witness, for example, the unprecedented input Lay and Enron were given on the makeup of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with regulating Enron's core business. Lay went so far as to brag to one potential nominee about his "friends at the White House." He also personally put the screws to FERC chair Curtis Hebert in an effort to change his views on electricity deregulation. Hebert didn't, and was soon the former chairman of FERC, replaced by an Enron ally.

The Enron debacle has exposed the dark side of capitalism -- and the unseemly link between money and political influence. Let's hope it also sheds a light on the desperate need for fundamental campaign finance reform. Because trust in the fundamental decency of our political system is not a trivial, inside-the-Beltway issue. Just ask the scores of people who were being sold on the virtues of investing their golden years in Enron -- right up until the stock crashed.

Commentary:
Anyone placing bets on Ashcroft and Bush not investigating their friends at Enron?


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Waxman Asks Cheney for Information on Enron
FoxNews.com

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Enron executives who contributed heavily to President Bush's campaign may have exerted "significant influence" on the energy plan formulated by Cheney's task force last spring.

In a dispute that began in April, Cheney has refused to tell congressional Democrats which power industry executives and lobbyists met with the task force. The panel recommended expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and a rejuvenated nuclear power system.

"In light of Enron's financial failure, you should reconsider your insistence on secrecy," Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, wrote the vice president.

"It is appropriate to ask whether Enron communicated to you or others affiliated with your task force information about its precarious financial position," Waxman wrote. "This is especially important since this information was apparently hidden from investors and the public until quite recently."

Waxman said the task force's conclusions "may have been influenced by unreliable data or opinions provided by Enron."

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has been considering suing the Bush White House over its refusal to identify whom it met with on the energy plan.

The White House says meetings of the president and vice president don't require public disclosure.

The energy task force has reported that it had nine meetings and that staffers met with many others to gather data. Environmental groups complained that the Bush White House shut them out of the process.

Enron chairman Ken Lay donated $250,000 to the Republican Party during Bush's run for president and raised at least $100,000 for Bush from other donors.

Waxman said that one official on the energy task force, chief economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay, served on an Enron advisory board last year. Lindsay received $50,000 from Enron, according to his financial disclosure form for 2000.

Another top White House official, Karl Rove, owned $68,000 worth of Enron stock when he spoke to Lay about a prospective appointee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

During the phone call with Rove, Lay touted Pennsylvania utilities regulator Nora Brownell to fill a slot on the energy commission. The White House says Bush had already decided to pick Brownell at the time of Lay's call with Rove.


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Other Links:
Enron/Cheney/Energy Policy
Fox News 12/5/0 1 
Enron's Donations
OpenSecrets.org/FEC

Soft Money Donations by Enron: 2001-2002

Note: The donations listed may be made by individuals associated with the organization as well as by the organization itself.

Link includes list of Recipients:

To Democrats: $2,050 (2%)
To Republicans: $122,009 (98%)
Total: $124,059


Enron Soft Money 1998-2002

Total 2002 $124,059
Democrat $2,050
Republican $122,009

Total 2001 $1,671,555
Democrat $532,565
Republican $1,138,990

Total 1998 $591,750
Democrat $112,000
Republican $479,750


Ninth Largest Oil and Gas Contributor to Republicans Enron 2002
Total $157,884
Democrats 12%
Republicans 88%

Largest Contributor-Enron 2000
Total $2,387,598
Democrats 28%
Republicans 72%

Largest Contributor-Enron 1998
Total $1,059,993
Democrats 20%
Republicans 80%

Second Largest Contributor-Enron 1996
Total $1,136,121
Democrats 18%
Republicans 80%


When it comes to campaign contributions, the Republican Party's ties to the oil and gas industry have been well documented to say the least. No longer is it a surprise to note that 78 cents out of every dollar the industry has contributed to federal parties and candidates over the last decade has gone to the GOP or that President Bush was the No. 1 recipient of the industry's money during the last election. But here's something you might not know: Bush, with more than $1.8 million in contributions, got more money from the industry during 1999-2000 than any other federal candidate over the last decade, barely eclipsing two fellow Texans in the process. Sen. Phil Gramm (R) is the No. 2 recipient of oil money since 1989, with $1.6 million from industry PACs and individuals, while his oil patch colleague Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) ranks second with $1.3 million. Texas-based companies dominate the industry's giving. The most generous: the Houston-based Enron, the industry's No. 1 contributor during 1999-2000 with more than $2.3 million in contributions, about $1 million more than No. 2 ranked Exxon-Mobil.


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Deficits, the Blame Game Begins
FOXNews.com

Mitch joins us now to talk about the latest economic news and what it means. Mitch, welcome.

MITCH DANIELS, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Thanks, Jim.

ANGLE: Now, one of the things we got today was that the government announced that the downturn in the third quarter, from July to September, was three times worse than we thought — not 4/10 reduction in economic growth, but 1.1 percent reduction. How much tougher does that make it for your job, and how much is that likely to hurt federal revenues?

DANIELS: It hurts, and it's not a real big surprise, if you talk to people who were meeting payrolls or trying to. They've been saying for some time, and the president has been signaling that his sense that the economy was struggling more than the numbers indicated.

But it has made a profound difference in the money available now, and in the money that we imagine will be available, through tax revenues in the years ahead.

ANGLE: Well, now, if it was that bad from July through September, obviously things haven't turned around. September only included three weeks after the terrorist attacks. The fourth quarter, the last quarter of this year, is likely to be even worse.

DANIELS: Could well be. And it's the reason the president continues to urge Congress, as he's been doing for months now, to move on a stimulus package that will give us a better change of coming out sooner and stronger from this downturn. Inexplicably, this bill is still stuck in the Senate, we hope not for much longer.

ANGLE: Now, you issued some warnings earlier in the week, saying that it looks like we're going to be in deficits. We're going to be spending more than we're taking in for quite a while. How long, and why?

DANIELS: Biggest reason is economics. By the way, it's not just the downturn we're in now. The first blow we got, in terms of future budgets and balance, came when the economist corrected their assessment of how much productivity is built into the economy — how much was in the between 1995 and 2000.

Comment: So, here we have it. Blame economists. Which economists? We're not told. Now the card trick. When do we blame them? They were wrong from 1995 to 2000.

When they corrected that downward, that lowered our revenue projections a lot. Then came the recession, and on top of that, the new spending that has occurred during the course of this year, and the further new spending that's going to be necessary to win a two-front war.

You put all that together, and it made a dramatic shift from a string of surpluses lying ahead of us to at least a couple of deficits. We've got to get the economy back on track, and we've got to control overall spending, otherwise we may not see another balanced budget for a long time.

Comment: According to Bush's own Office of Management and Budget Office in their mid-session review, the cuts in the surplus were coming from 1.) $40 billion, tax rebate. 2.)$28 billion, Corporate tax timing changes made by Bush and 3.) $46 billion from technical and economic changes. Danials is lying. Surplus-OMB

ANGLE: Long time, meaning...

DANIELS: Indefinitely. We've got a fighting chance in the budget after the one we're preparing now. That would be fiscal '04 budget. But to do that, we will need economic recovery, and we will need to fund the war fully, but simply pile that on top of the spending of today, but to transfer some of the less important spending we now do to the war.

ANGLE: Now, there's a raging debate on Capitol Hill over what caused the recession. Senator Daschle said yesterday, "I told you so. It's the tax cuts." Go ahead.

DANIELS: And in fact, the recession was clearly oncoming all last year. Not everyone saw it, but President Bush did.

Comment: The first prediction of a possible recession by someone in the Bush Administration was made on October 17th. Any attempt to say otherwise is a lie. Recession

He saw the stock market peak in March of 2000. He saw manufacturing peak in June of 2000. He saw employment peak in November of 2000. So the tax cut, in fact, is the best thing we have going right now for getting out of the recession. We'd like to add some further near-term stimulus.

ANGLE: Now, the Democrats, in the last couple of days, have unleashed an attack on the president's economic policy. One, saying that we're going to have much bigger deficits in the years to come because of the tax cut. I think Senator Conrad was saying today that their stimulus plan will mean $100 billion less of deficit spending than the administration's plan. And saying that this is the Bush recession.

What do you make of all that, and does that suggest anything about the negotiations going on now over an economic stimulus package?

DANIELS: Well, it's silly on its face. You know, the recession, we ought not worry about blame. I guess if we want to cast some blame, let's cast it at Usama, because we were probably on our way out of this, helped by the first phase of the tax cut, when September 11th came, and had a very, very profound effect.

Comment: Why not place blame? Republicans blamed President Carter in the late 1970's. Fair is fair. Bush's entire budget was based on assumptions that were wrong. Some of us have standards by which we hold our public officials accountable.

ANGLE: So you think we were going to either skirt a recession, or maybe dip down and come out of it, if it had not been for the terrorist attacks?

DANIELS: An awful lot of evidence to that effect. But you know, that was then and this is now. the question is, for the president, how do we get out of this? Not whose fault was anything. It's clearly a situation that he inherited, that then was aggravated by circumstances no one foresaw.

Comment: This one puzzles me. First, we're to believe the recession only happened because of September 11, but then it was "clearly...inherited." Which is it? More Bush-speak.

ANGLE: Now, Republicans argue for fairly sizable tax breaks for business, in the hopes that it would spur job creation. Why would giving money to businesses at this point, when consumers aren't spending as much as they might — why would that help boost the economy?

DANIELS: First of all, nobody's "giving" money to business, or at least the president's principles aren't about that. Maybe about giving incentives to businesses to invest, which they're not doing now, which then lead directly to...

Comment: Really? So why did republicans leaders plan on repealing the alternative minimum tax passed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan. This tax cut would/will give corporations billions. Another lie. Alternative Minimum Tax

ANGLE: They can write off investments more quickly.

DANIELS: That's right. And in the very balanced package the president proposed, there was direct assistance for lower-income Americans, consumers, who might spend more, direct assistance for dislocated workers who need the funds right now. And then, the notion of incentives to invest for business, which both parties have been calling for.

So I think that we'll have a package in the end, and I do expect something like that to be part of a consensus.

ANGLE: OK, Mitch Daniels, budget director. Thanks very much for joining us.

DANIELS: Appreciate the invite.


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Secrets---Yours and the Governments *
An Impeachable Offense
Find Law.com
Edward Lazarus

Recently, various Bush Administration initiatives have combined to dramatically reduce the power of individuals to keep their affairs secret from the government. Yet at the same time, the Administration has repeatedly denied the public basic information about how the government conducts its affairs.

This potent policy combination -- in which individuals are stripped of privacy even as the government is further swathed in it -- is seriously jeopardizing our claim to be a free society. And it is only worsened by the Administration's overall strategy of changing federal law not by legislation, but rather by regulation and executive order -- and thus without public hearings and debate -- and of keeping the press at arms length from information about the war effort.

Destroying Individual Privacy; Detaining Witnesses as Well As Suspects

First, the Department of Justice decided to arrest, interview, and detain, in the course of the September 11 investigation, more than 1000 Middle Eastern men -- some of whom are being held not as suspects but simply as supposed "material witnesses." Then DOJ refused to reveal their identities, the charges against them, or even the reason why such information is being withheld. Meanwhile, new DOJ regulations were crafted to allow the government to listen in on the previously sacrosanct communications between detainees suspected of terrorist acts and their lawyers.

Now DOJ is ordering federal agents and local police to conduct "voluntary" interview with 5000 young Middle Eastern men who have entered the United States in the last two years from countries with links to terrorism. But these men must know what is likely to happen if they do not show up "voluntarily": They will be added to the ranks of the detainees and if they even so much as seek to consult a lawyer, the government will listen in.

Any illusion that these men might have had that their lives were private has now been shattered. Nor should the rest of us retain any such illusion. New laws have expanded the government's power to eavesdrop on phone conversations and to intercept electronic transmissions, such as e-mails and instant messages.

Not Just Military Tribunals, But Secret Ones

The government's "privacy," however, is well protected -- even though in a democracy, the idea of a private government should be unthinkable, an oxymoron. Over the last week, for instance, attention has turned to several Administration initiatives designed to protect the government's secrets from public scrutiny.

John Ashcroft has declared, for example, that the Administration not only intends to try suspected militants before military tribunals, it intends to do so wrapped in the darkest shroud of secrecy. According to one military officer, the government may limit public disclosure of a tribunal's proceedings to such bare bones facts as the defendant's name and the sentence meted out (including, one must suppose, the death penalty).

Indeed, at least in theory, under the current Bush plan, a foreign national could be arrested on a warrant issued by a secret court on the basis of secret evidence; tried before a secret military panel in a secret location using secret procedures based on evidence kept secret even from the defendant; and finally executed with no public disclosure and little if any review by a civilian court.

Keeping Presidential Decisions Secret, Too

Moreover, the Administration believes that government secrets should be kept for as long as possible. For example, last week President Bush dealt a considerable blow to historians seeking to enlighten the public about presidential decision-making in the future.

Except where national security is potentially jeopardized, federal law provides that presidential papers ordinarily will be opened for scholarly inspection 12 years after a president leaves office. Bush has now extended the 12-year delay in disclosure -- thus keeping secret hundreds of thousands of documents from Ronald Reagan's tenure that were about to be made public.

The measure may, however, be geared towards protecting not just President Reagan, but President Bush -- the current President Bush. If the change is retained by future President to protect this President's own papers, then Bush will have guaranteed that what we do not know now, we may never know -- keeping our history not only out of today's newspapers, but also out of tomorrow's history books.

How the Different Sets of Restrictions Work in Tandem

All of the initiatives discussed above have triggered comment and controversy. But few have observed the insidious way they all work in tandem: The government initiatives shielding its own actions from public view significantly compound the dangers in the government's new restrictions on personal privacy.

Certainly, a case can be made for several of the Administration's anti-terrorism initiatives. Our wiretapping laws needed revision even before September 11. And in the aftermath of the attack, it made perfect sense to combine a policy of tough enforcement of immigration laws with some measure of preventive detention, in order to disrupt any potential follow-up plans the terrorists may have hatched. Finally, in some situations (albeit very limited ones), military tribunals may indeed be preferable to civilian courts.

But such measures, especially ones that inevitably will cause individual hardships and injustices, are much more difficult to justify or accept when the government simultaneously decrees that the public has essentially no right to know about the operation of its expanded powers of law enforcement.

The Inability to Know If Government Restrictions Are Justified

As matters stand, for example, we have no basis for assessing whether Attorney General Ashcroft's policy of dragnet detentions continues to serve any legitimate national security purpose or has yielded any real evidence in the pursuit of the terrorists. For all we know, the detentions are continuing precisely because the Administration is afraid of releasing innocent detainees who will go directly to the press, en masse, and criticize them, at an inconvenient time in the war on terrorism. Worse yet, those in charge act as if we have no right to know whether the trade-off they have exacted from our civil liberties has yielded any fruit.

The government's arrogation of far greater power than it had prior to September 11 is particularly dangerous when coupled with its insistence on much less accountability. Indeed, in the absence of a serious explanation from the Administration (and there has been none), one is left with the sinking feeling that Bush's team is gripped with either a consuming fear of failure or, more darkly, a genuine Star Chamber mentality. Either way, the Administration's strategy is formula for governmental error, abuse, and cover-up.

Earning Our Trust

At bottom, the Administration's program, buoyed by exuberant polling data, amounts to a giant "trust us." But that raises the troubling question of whether the Administration has earned our trust.

Prior to September 11, the great achievement of the Bush Administration was the passage of a giant individual tax cut, which was sold to the American people on the basis of a equally large lie. The lie concerned the effect the tax package would actually have on the (now illusory) budget surplus and as many economists vouched, Bush's numbers are off by a trillion.

Since September 11, the Administration's major policy initiative is a giant corporate tax cut which, again, is being sold to the American people on the big lie strategy for marketing bad ideas. Although countless economists agree that a corporate tax cut, especially a retroactive one (as this largely is), will have little or no short-term effect on the economy, Bush and his cronies in Congress are selling it shamelessly as a short-term "stimulus" package for the ailing economy.

In between these great bookends of fiscal policy, lie a host of other political shenanigans. Recall, for example, the cooked-up energy crisis that the Bush-Cheney team tried to exploit as a bailout for their energy mogul friends, such as the folks at Enron.

In light of this history, if the Administration wants to curtail civil liberties in the name of security, then let them do so as openly as possible. A basically forgiving and trusting public should be able to assess over time whether the trade-offs their leaders have mandated are justified and wise. In short, to borrow a timeworn phrase, let us trust, but verify.


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