Archive for January 5th, 2007

Senate Regrets the Vote to Enter Iraq

Jan. 5, 2007 — As the new Democrat-controlled House and Senate take power this month, the Iraq war will be the front-and-center issue.

And as President Bush prepares to announce his new strategy for Iraq, which may include a surge in troops, the attitude of the Senate towards the war — and whether its members regret their overwhelming 77-23 October 2002 vote to authorize the president to use force in Iraq — is critically important.

ABC News decided to survey the views of the senators who served in 2002, most of whom remain in the Senate. The survey indicates that those senators say that if they knew then what they know now, President Bush would never have been given the authority to use force in Iraq.

It’s impossible, of course, to recreate all of the factors, pressures and information that went into this momentous vote. But given that President Bush may next week request that an additional 20,000 or more troops be sent to Iraq — to fight a war 7 in 10 Americans think he isn’t handling well — we thought it might prove a significant indicator of the support for the war to see where these same senators from 2002 now stand. Regret, after all, may not be a valued commodity in politics, but it is not one that public officials express easily, even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. That said, a surprising number of senators who voted for the war were willing to say that they, and the Senate, made a mistake.

By ABC News’ count, if the Senators knew then what they know now, only 43 — at most — would still vote to approve the use of force and the measure would be defeated. And at least 57 senators would vote against going to war, a number that combines those who already voted against the war resolution with those who told ABC News they would vote against going to war, or said that the pre-war intelligence has been proven so wrong the measure would lose or it would never even come to a vote.

For any Senate vote to switch from 77-23 in favor to essentially 57-43 against is quite remarkable, and far more so for a decision as significant as the one to go to war.

The issue was brought home last month by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who delivered an emotional address on the floor of the Senate, saying he regretted having voted for the war.

“I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day,” Smith said. “That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more.”

Twenty-eight of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq indicated, many for the first time, that they would not vote the same way with the benefit of hindsight. Six others indicated that, in retrospect, the intelligence was so wrong the matter would not have passed the Senate, or would not have even come up for a vote.

“This is very significant,” said congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “If they were asked that question a year ago, I think the likelihood of getting anywhere close to a majority voting against the war would be impossible. What this tells me is that Gordon Smith’s very stunning speech was in some ways the tip of the iceberg.”

The list of those who say they would vote differently is a bipartisan group whose ranks include former and current Republican Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois, Bob Smith of New Hampshire, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

An overwhelming number of the Democratic senators who voted to authorize use of force indicated they would vote differently today, including former and current Democratic Senators Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, John Breaux of Louisiana, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

A few former Republican senators gave their answer surprisingly quickly when asked if they would cast the same vote.

“No, I would not,” said former Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H. “I know now there are no weapons of mass destruction.”

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Replacements for Generals Abizaid and Casey

ABC News’ Martha Raddatz Reports: ABC News has learned that the president intends to nominate Admiral William J. Fallon to replace General John Abizaid at Central Command.

The announcement is expected next week, before the president gives his Iraq strategy speech, according to US officials.

Officials also tell ABC that the replacement as MNF-I commander in Iraq (replacing Gen. George Casey) will be LTG David Petraeus. Though Casey was originally staying in position till June, he is expected to leave earlier than expected probably in the next few months.

“The president wants a clean sweep” an official told ABC News.

Fallon, who is in the Navy, is currently head of Pacific Command; he will be overseeing two ground wars, so the appointment is highly unusual.


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White House Postponing Loss of Iraq, Biden Says

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will “be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof,” in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam.

“I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost,” Biden said. “They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy — literally, not figuratively.”

Biden gave the comments in an interview as he outlined an ambitious agenda for the committee, including holding four weeks of hearings focused on every aspect of U.S. policy in Iraq. The hearings will call top political, economic and intelligence experts; foreign diplomats; and former and current senior U.S. officials to examine the situation in Iraq and possible plans for dealing with it. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will probably testify next Thursday to defend the president’s new plan, but at least eight other plans will be examined over several sessions of the committee.

Other witnesses invited for at least 10 days of hearings include former national security advisers and secretaries of state, including Brent Scowcroft, Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry A. Kissinger, Madeleine K. Albright and George P. Shultz.

Biden expressed opposition to the president’s plan for a “surge” of additional U.S. troops and said he has grave doubts about whether the Iraqi government has the will or the capacity to help implement a new approach. He said he hopes to use the hearings to “illuminate the alternatives available to this president” and to provide a platform for influencing Americans, especially Republican lawmakers.

“There is nothing a United States Senate can do to stop a president from conducting his war,” Biden said. “The only thing that is going to change the president’s mind, if he continues on a course that is counterproductive, is having his party walk away from his position.”

Biden said that Vice President Cheney and former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld “are really smart guys who made a very, very, very, very bad bet, and it blew up in their faces. Now, what do they do with it? I think they have concluded they can’t fix it, so how do you keep it stitched together without it completely unraveling?”


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Harriet Miers Resigns As White House Counsel

WASHINGTON — The White House lawyer President Bush tried but failed to place on the Supreme Court has quit her job.

Officials say Harriet Miers has submitted her resignation as White House counsel, effective at the end of the month.

Asked why she’s leaving, Press Secretary Tony Snow replied, “Basically, she has been here six years.”

Miers was nominated in October 2005 to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the high court.

But GOP activists questioned her qualifications and commitment to conservative causes, and the rebellion forced the White House to drop the nomination.

Snow said Miers’ departure as White House counsel does not signal an exodus of top officials.

Asked if other resignations are imminent, he replied, “I’m aware of none and anticipate none.”


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Hurricane center chief issues final warning

A departing Max Mayfield is convinced that the Southeast is inviting disaster.

MIAMI — Frustrated with people and politicians who refuse to listen or learn, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield ends his 34-year government career today in search of a new platform for getting out his unwelcome message: Hurricane Katrina was nothing compared with the big one yet to come.

Mayfield, 58, leaves his high-profile job with the National Weather Service more convinced than ever that U.S. residents of the Southeast are risking unprecedented tragedy by continuing to build vulnerable homes in the tropical storm zone and failing to plan escape routes.

He pointed to southern Florida’s 7 million coastal residents.

“We’re eventually going to get a strong enough storm in a densely populated area to have a major disaster,” he said. “I know people don’t want to hear this, and I’m generally a very positive person, but we’re setting ourselves up for this major disaster.”

More than 1,300 deaths across the Gulf Coast were attributed to Hurricane Katrina, the worst human toll from a weather event in the United States since the 1920s.

But Mayfield warns that 10 times as many fatalities could occur in what he sees as an inevitable strike by a huge storm during the current highly active hurricane cycle, which is expected to last another 10 to 20 years.

His apocalyptic vision of thousands dead and millions homeless is a different side of the persona he established as head of the hurricane center.

Mayfield attained national celebrity status during the tempestuous 2004 and 2005 seasons, appearing on network television with hourly updates as hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Frances and Wilma bore down on the Caribbean and the Southeast. His calm demeanor and avuncular sincerity endeared him to millions of TV viewers seeking survival guidance.

And he argues that his dire predictions don’t have to become reality.

The technology exists to build high-rise buildings capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and tropical storm surge more powerful than those experienced in the last few years. Much of Hong Kong’s architecture has been built to survive typhoons, and hotels and apartments built in Kobe, Japan, after a 1995 earthquake devastated the city are touted as indestructible, he said.

What is lacking in the United States is the political will to make and impose hard decisions on building codes and land use in the face of resistance from the influential building industry and a public still willing to gamble that the big one will never hit, he said.

“It’s good for the tax base” to allow developers to put up buildings on the coastline, Mayfield said in explaining politicians’ reluctance to deter housing projects that expose residents to storm risks.

“I don’t want the builders to get mad at me,” he said, “but the building industry strongly opposes improvement in building codes.”

Consumers also have yet to demand sturdier construction, Mayfield added. A builder gets a better return on investment in upgraded carpet and appliances than for safety features above and beyond most states’ minimal requirements, he said.

As a senior civil servant, Mayfield was prohibited from making job inquiries in the private sector while still in the government’s employ. But he said on Tuesday, his last day in office, that he hoped to launch a second career as a consultant in emergency planning and disaster response. He has particular interest in a potential public-private initiative to mine natural disaster scenes for their educational value.

He envisions a natural disaster assessment service like the National Transportation Safety Board, which probes the causes and consequences of aviation and other transport accidents.

“If the NTSB finds some structural problem is the cause of an air crash, you would never see that plane continue to be built with the same problems,” he said.

With natural disasters, though, the same mistakes that put lives at risk are repeated year after year in unsafe construction and inadequate planning, he said.

Mayfield said he also was pondering collaboration with advocates of tougher building standards and land use rules.

“It’s not just about the forecasting. Whatever I do, I want to help change the outcome,” he said, conceding frustration with persistent public disregard of federal and local government campaigns to boost hurricane awareness and preparation.

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In the middle of the night the House passed a bill at the conclusion of the lame duck session known as Adverse Event Reporting legislation for dietary supplements (S.3546). The bill was pushed through the Senate and the House by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), also known as the Hatch-et-man. Many Congressional leaders were hoodwinked by Hatch to back the bill, as he passed around letters of various trade organizations to imply the bill had wide support amongst stakeholders (it does not). Others were most likely bribed with threats to hold other legislation hostage in the Senate unless Hatch-et-man’s bill was passed in the House.

AER legislation will enable doctors to viciously attack vitamin supplements based on Big Pharma propaganda, and with the help of the FDA have effective dietary supplements removed from the market. Despite considerable grass roots pressure the House buckled under to Hatch pressure and AER legislation was ramrodded through in despicable fashion while Americans slept. Americans will pay a heavy toll; the von Eschenbach-run FDA, the AMA, and Big Pharma are quite pleased with this huge legislative victory. So are various traitorous trade organizations within the dietary supplement industry itself that sold you out.

What is AER Legislation and What Does it Mean to You?

The idea put forth by Hatch was that there have been and will be criminal dietary supplement companies and this necessitates the entire supplement industry be subjected to mandatory Adverse Event Reporting so as to weed out the “bad actors.” In his recent Senate testimony Hatch pointed to the problems of ephedra and one bad-apple company, Metabolife, that hid serious ephedra-related adverse event reports from health authorities.

During the last six months it was made very plain, behind the scenes, that anyone in the supplement industry opposing AER legislation would draw the wrath of Hatch-et-man and co-conspirator Tom Harkin (D-IA). The public relations spin from the likes of controlled opposition group Citizens for Health (Jim Turner and Elwood Richard, founder of Now Foods) used to support the bill was to make “safe supplements even safer.”

The growing supplement industry would be demonstrating “maturity” and acting responsibly by accepting these draconian FDA-concocted guidelines for regulation. Anyone opposing the legislation was branded as anti-regulation libertarians, dishonest companies, and fly-by-night operations seeking to scam the unsuspecting public. And if that didn’t work we were all told to accept this legislation now or whatever vitamin-hating Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) will do in the new Congress will be far worse.

Mandatory AER legislation, especially as written, is unnecessary and unwise. It is nothing but an example of expanded government regulation that will reduce the quality of health for Americans. There is already an FDA-voluntary serious adverse event reporting system in place for dietary supplements known as MedWatch. It is easy for a consumer or health care professional to report a serious adverse health event to the FDA via MedWatch. In fact, this voluntary system had over eight hundred serious adverse event reports on ephedra by the mid 1990s and over nineteen thousand by the time the FDA took ephedra off the market, meaning the existing reporting system worked just fine. Who stood in the way of the FDA taking action on Metabolife? You guessed it: Hatch-et-man and Harkin.

Hatch took in $30,500 in campaign donations from Metabolife during the FDA investigation. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the several million of lobbying money taken in by his son, Scott Hatch, as fully exposed in the LA Times back in 2003. The LA Times article explains how Hatch and Harkin (who controlled FDA budget appropriations) chided the FDA for trying to remove ephedra from the market and got in the way of FDA efforts to do anything. It seems the “bad actors” here are Hatch and Harkin. Why do we need mandatory AER legislation for all supplement companies when the source of the problem, politicians for hire, is easy to identify?

Supplement companies have paid Hatch for favors and mob-like protection on a regular basis. Herbalife did it in the early 90’s ($33,750 to Hatch, $129,752 to Harkin) and now XanGo is doing it ($46,200). Paying off a powerful Senator comes in handy when the FDA looks into blatantly false health claims. When asked to comment on the FDA warning letter, Hatch said, “XanGo is well-known in Utah and throughout the supplement industry for its quality products. I know they will take this seriously and work with the FDA to address these concerns.”

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Replacements for Generals Abizaid and Casey

ABC News’ Martha Raddatz Reports: ABC News has learned that the president intends to nominate Admiral William J. Fallon to replace General John Abizaid at Central Command.

The announcement is expected next week, before the president gives his Iraq strategy speech, according to US officials.

Officials also tell ABC that the replacement as MNF-I commander in Iraq (replacing Gen. George Casey) will be LTG David Petraeus. Though Casey was originally staying in position till June, he is expected to leave earlier than expected probably in the next few months.

“The president wants a clean sweep” an official told ABC News.

Fallon, who is in the Navy, is currently head of Pacific Command; he will be overseeing two ground wars, so the appointment is highly unusual.


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