2.25.2002

December 14, 2001

WASHINGTON LETTER


Reticence on a Failure of Intelligence May End

By R. W. APPLE Jr.


hree months after the deadly surprises of Sept. 11, in a society where finger-pointing is a way of life, the nation's intelligence agencies have largely escaped condemnation for not having seen what was coming.

That may change when Congress holds hearings on the subject, probably next year, but so far surprisingly few people inside government or out have been willing to accuse the agencies of falling down on the job. And there has been no chorus of voices calling for the head of George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence.

Why?

It is not as if there were no precedents for the attacks in New York and outside Washington. The World Trade Center itself was attacked by Islamic extremists in 1993, the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in 1998, and a hole was blown in the side of the destroyer Cole in Yemen only last year.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said not long ago that Washington had picked up "lots of signs" that terrorists were planning a major attack in the United States. Several are reported to have originated with European allies. But General Powell added, "We never got the fidelity or information we would have liked." Meaning, presumably, that the data were too vague.

Such was the case, most historians agree, 60 years ago. In the fall of 1941, radio intercepts and other intelligence indicated that war with Japan was imminent, but it was not clear where. Many thought that the Philippines were the likely first target. As a result, no specific warning was sent to the ill-fated senior commander at Pearl Harbor, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel.

Defenders of today's intelligence and security agencies — chiefly the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — argue that it is never possible to know for certain which of thousands of threats they uncover should be taken most seriously. President Bush, whose father once led the C.I.A., shares that view, and recently said the United States has "the best intelligence we can possibly have."

Representative Porter J. Goss, a Florida Republican who leads the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, goes so far as to deny that any intelligence failure took place.

Mr. Goss, a former C.I.A. officer, is seen by many people in Washington as a habitual defender of Mr. Tenet, but he rejects the idea that he is a "slavish adherent" and promises thorough hearings.

Others are far more critical. Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, the ranking minority member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has said that the intelligence agencies were "caught flat-footed" and insisted that "there had to be some evidence, somewhere, of something being planned." He has also spoken of "a stunning intelligence failure."

Two explanations have been put forward for the intelligence problems. One is a lack of language skills — an echo of the war in Southeast Asia, when few in government spoke Vietnamese or Cambodian. The F.B.I., charged with the main counterterrorism responsibility, had to make a public appeal after Sept. 11 for people fluent in Arabic, Pashtun and other languages.

Second, the agencies have been accused of relying too heavily on "sigint" — intelligence gathered electronically — and not enough on "humint" — intelligence gathered on the ground. Rob Simmons, a freshman Republican representative from Connecticut, who served in the C.I.A. himself, is one of those contending that the ranks of spies have been unduly thinned.

Hundreds were fired in 1979, in a Carter administration shake- up, and in the Clinton administration, barriers to the recruitment of criminals and others of dubious background were set up. Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said they must come down. In critical areas, he said, "We aren't going to find the kind of guys we need in monasteries."

Mr. Graham has promised "a thorough and thoughtful investigation." But it is still too soon, he said recently, because extensive hearings now would divert the agencies from doing their job. Once the possibility of fresh attacks by "sleepers" already in the United States has diminished, the time will be ripe, he has told his colleagues.

Regardless of the timing, politics may inhibit the search for truth. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to risk being accused, in the present climate, of doing or saying anything unpatriotic.

Playing the blame game, said a senior Republican senator, "could easily blow up in our faces."

Furthermore, the record of the Clinton administration is at least as vulnerable as that of the Bush administration, so most Democrats will be loath to lead any partisan charge.

I thought this an interesting review of the Gingrich-Falwell-Mellon axis during the 90's. Long, but rewarding. Pete

February 24, 2002

Ding, Dong, the Cultural Witch Hunt Is Dead
By FRANK RICH




Illustration by John Kascht
Brock, repentant reporter-fabricator, under the Big Tent of 90's cultural conservatism with, from left: Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Henry Hyde.

These days we look back at the projectile name-calling and nonstop sexual revelations that defined Washington's all-consuming culture war of the 1990's and ask: What in hell was that all about? Like the reigning sitcom of the time, ''Seinfeld,'' it may have been about nothing, or at least very little -- and with a Lilliputian cast of characters to match. In retrospect, the archetypal figure of 90's Washington may not have been one of its many aspiring Woodwards and Bernsteins or a great man or woman of state (were there any?) who will some day get the David McCullough treatment, but a gossip-mongering schlemiel who is already halfway to being an answer on ''Jeopardy.''

David Brock, you may recall, was the bullying reporter for the late, not-so-great American Spectator who labeled Anita Hill "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty" and later broke Troopergate, the pioneering expose (much of it culled from clandestinely paid "sources") into Bill Clinton's Arkansas Kama Sutra. In his latest incarnation, Brock is turning expiation for these and other past sins into a second career that has played out like a striptease over the past few years. He set out on this path in 1997 by writing an article for Esquire, "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man," in which he started to recant "The Real Anita Hill," his best-selling and often fictionalized hatchet job that duped many reviewers (including one at The New York Times) with its lavishly footnoted gossip, half-truths and slander. Next up is a new book, a memoir titled "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative," that goes further still by serving as a mea culpa for an entire era, not just himself. In it, he not only takes back the falsifications in his reportage on Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Clintons (among others) but even offers an apologia for the over-the-top excesses of his Esquire apologia, which was accompanied by a photo of Brock in full martyr monty, lashed to a tree, his chest bared, eager to be burned at a stake.

Though I've had my own journalistic battles with Brock, I've never met him. He may be best observed at a distance. He calls his new memoir a ''terrible book'' in its very first sentence, but he's wrong about that as he has been about so much else during his bizarre, chameleonlike career. His book is terrible only in the sense that it takes us back to a poisonous time. Whatever critics may make of it when it's published next month, it may be a key document for historians seeking to understand the ethos of the incoherent 90's. It is also easier to warm up to than the rest of the Brock canon, much of which was written in spittle-spewing blind rage.

The Brock of ''Blinded by the Right'' is instead humorously circumspect. There's an Albert Brooks-in-Broadcast News'' moment when he describes how he tried, as a rising young conservative talking head, to imitate the ''magnificent half-recline'' of William F. Buckley's television posture only to ''nearly fall off my chair.'' To ingratiate himself with a conservative elite presided over by the likes of Arnaud de Borchgrave, a self-styled journalistic grandee in the toadying employ of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon at The Washington Times, Brock writes of endeavoring ''to look like an old fogy in training, donning a bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses and, ludicrously, puffing on a pipe and occasionally even carrying a walking stick.'' A Commentary action figure, in other words.

Brock's publisher has billed Brock's confession as a memoir ''in the tradition of Arthur Koestler's 'God That Failed,''' but what makes the book an apt postscript to the dim decade it describes is how little it has in common with Koestler's disavowal of Communism, or Whittaker Chambers's ''Witness,'' or the rest of the vast modern literature of ideological about-face. Ideology, like goodness, had little to do with the politics of the 1990's. The cold war was over, Clinton embraced a centrism that was echt Rockefeller Republican, prosperity was on the march and nothing serious seemed at stake (or so we thought at the time). Brock's book can't recount an ideological journey because there's little evidence he was a committed conservative in the first place -- or that many of his ambitious allies were, either -- any more than he (or the Clintonistas he now aligns himself with) is a committed liberal now. And that's the point.

His story exemplifies a decade of post-ideological drift and spitball politics in Washington: a cynical, highly pragmatic struggle over power more than ideas that opened with the Thomas-Hill confrontation of 1991, reached its climax with the impeachment drive and now seems to have been interred with so much else in the rubble of Sept. 11. It was a time of take-no-prisoners mudslinging, in which the Republican right, with no Communists to unmask, found a new kind of enemy within that it tried to bring down by means of a disingenuously holier-than-thou moral crusade fueled by a gossip machine of which Brock was an early and influential cog. The hottest partisan battles revolved around Long Dong Silver and Paula Jones, not Stalin.

For the right, the principal means of battle was a kind of cultural profiling that slick (and entirely secular) political operatives adapted from their allies in the religious right. If Anita Hill could be painted as nutty and slutty, if the Democratic leader Tom Foley could be called gay (even if he wasn't) and if Bill Clinton could be branded as a pot-smoking libertine from Day 1 of his presidency, then liberals in general and Democrats in particular could be dubbed, as Newt Gingrich would have it, ''the enemy of normal Americans,'' responsible for every moral breach in the nation. In Gingrich's formulation, ''The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness.'' On his way to becoming speaker of the House, he even grandfathered Susan Smith's 1994 drowning of her two children in South Carolina into 60's hedonism, as an example of the ''pattern'' of ''the counterculture and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.''

There wasn't much intellectual content to this debased and often histrionic line of cultural attack; it was to a serious debate over values what McCarthyism was to anti-Communism. But the triumph of Reaganism and the passing of its architects from the front lines left a vacuum that had to be filled. As Brock explains: ''Political movements arise from the spadework of intellectuals, not politicians. The older generation of conservative intellectuals who had framed the political culture that brought Reagan to power and sustained his administration -- the Norman Podhoretzes, the Charles Murrays, the theorists of supply-side economics at the Wall Street Journal editorial page -- were spent. Whatever one thought of their ideas, they were serious thinkers, and there was no one of their caliber to replace them.''

Their noisiest successors, the prominent younger conservatives of Brock's Washington generation, had little aspiration to do any intellectual heavy lifting of the sort once conducted by a Buckley or Irving Kristol, whether in book form or in the pages of small-circulation journals like The Public Interest. Rather than fight (or work hard) in the trenches of the academy whose political correctness they professed to loathe, the new conservatives preferred to become what might be called welfare deans; they collected academic-sounding titles that required intellectual output in almost inverse proportion to their financing by right-wing foundations. A Richard Mellon Scaife-financed talk-show bloviator and cut-and-paste writer like William Bennett, rather than a practicing, untelegenic intellectual like James Q. Wilson, was the role model. Even Brock, with no advanced degrees or particular expertise in the subject, was early in his career christened John M. Olin Fellow in Congressional Studies at the Heritage Foundation. The main aspiration of his Washington pack was to churn out quick, slashing character assassinations or screeds (for which ''The Real Anita Hill'' and Rush Limbaugh's ''Way Things Ought to Be'' became the ur-texts) and to achieve celebrity in the new medium of cable TV news, a phenomenon whose rapid growth in the 90's, like that of the Drudge-fueled Internet, paralleled the rise of the mudslinging right and was essential to the dissemination of unsubstantiated dirt.

By his own account, Brock has lied so often that a reader can't take on faith some of the juicier newsbreaks from the impeachment era in his book, including his portrayal of the murky role supposedly played by Theodore Olson, now the Bush administration's solicitor general, in the doomed ''Arkansas Project,'' in which The American Spectator spent millions of Scaife's dollars to try to link the Clintons to any and every sexual shenanigan, drug scheme and murder that ever happened within hailing distance of Little Rock. What makes Brock's tale effective is his insider's portrait of a political slime operation, much of it comic from even this slight historical remove, about which the facts already exist for the most part on the public record -- and sometimes on the legal record as well. (For what it's worth, his accounts of events in which I figured are accurate.)

The literary antecedent for ''Blinded by the Right'' is less ''The God That Failed'' than Julia Phillips's scorched-earth memoir of Hollywood, ''You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.'' But Brock, unlike Phillips, can write, and he seems to have expelled much of the bile that marked his past writing. In his portrayal, there are some honorable and principled conservatives who cross his path -- John O'Sullivan of The National Review (which had the guts to pan ''The Real Anita Hill''), Tod Lindberg of The Washington Times, the writer Christopher Caldwell -- and there's a humanity to some (though not all) of the gargoyles and lunatics who outnumber them. R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the editor who exploited Brock's ''investigative journalism'' to increase exponentially The American Spectator's circulation and then overreached to the point of losing his magazine altogether, is such a colorful, self-destructive and at times generous eccentric that it's hard to hate him even as he plays editorial muse to all the Clinton-haters. He's a nut, perhaps, but with a soft Dickensian center.

What makes history that seemed ugly at the time play like farce now is the almost unending hypocrisy of so many of Brock's circle in journalism and politics. Those who led the charge against the morality of Anita Hill, Bill Clinton and the rest were almost to a man and woman living in glasshouses of their own, whether pursuing sex, alcohol, abortion or some combination thereof. The checkered ''family values'' of the likes of Gingrich, Scaife, Dan Burton, Henry Hyde, Bob Livingston and The Wall Street Journal's anti-Clinton polemicist John Fund, among many others, are now part of the historical record. Clarence Thomas's history of regularly renting pornography in the 1980's -- documented by the Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson (Abramson is now the Washington bureau chief of The Times) in their book ''Strange Justice'' -- also stands virtually unchallenged, now that Brock has withdrawn his previous rebuttal of it. It's particularly hilarious that The Washington Times was the paper of record (and of frequent employment) for this whole pious crowd, given that its owner, Moon, with his mass weddings of mostly strangers, probably took more direct action to undermine the institution of marriage in America than any single person in the 20th century, the Gabor sisters included.

For a political movement that wanted to police sexual ''lifestyles'' and was pathologically obsessed with trying to find evidence that Hillary Clinton was a lesbian, the New Right of the 90's was, in Brock's account, nearly as gay as a soiree in Fire Island Pines. Even before Brock publicly acknowledged his own homosexuality at the height of his fame, he tapped into a Washington subculture of closeted conservatives that seemed to hold forth everywhere from The American Spectator to the closest circles around Gingrich and Kenneth Starr. There is, of course, a long history of usually closeted gay men, some but not all of them public homophobes, on the American right, including Roy Cohn, J. Edgar Hoover and such top Reagan-era operatives as Terry Dolan, Marvin Liebman and even Jesse Helms's political consultant, Arthur Finkelstein. The same goes for such intellectual patron saints of conservatism as Chambers and Allan Bloom. But that's just the short list. When Brock revealed his homosexuality, he expected to be hit with bigotry from his publicly antigay allies, but to his surprise was at first more often hit on instead. At a party at his Georgetown home, ''the house that Anita Hill built,'' he had to eject a conservative columnist ''after he pushed me onto a bed, into a pile of coats, and tried to stick his tongue down my throat.'' There is also, among others, ''the closeted pro-impeachment Republican congressman, who had pursued me drunkenly through a black-tie Washington dinner offering a flower he had plucked from a bud vase, condemning Clinton for demeaning his office.'' It all plays like slapstick out of ''The Birdcage.''

Why would a conservative movement so obsessed with vilifying homosexuality as a subversive ''lifestyle'' contain so many homosexuals? Looking at his own past, Brock writes, ''The doctrinaire absolutism, the thunderous extremism, the wildness of expression -- these qualities were not uncommon among other closeted right-wing homosexuals I had known. . . . At the bottom of my rage there must have been a loathing not of liberals, but of myself. By giving voice to their hatred of Anita Hill, I was trying to force the conservatives to love a faggot whether they liked it or not.'' Certainly after reading Brock's account, you're left feeling that too many of those protesting about homosexuality are protesting too much -- not necessarily because they're gay themselves in the manner of the cliched militaristic neighbor of ''American Beauty'' but either because they may be angry to discover that their children are (as in the case of Phyllis Schlafly) or, most conventionally, because they may be politically jealous of the clout of the tight-knit cliques of gays on their own team. (The numerous gays in ''the seniormost ranks of the Reagan administration called themselves the 'laissez fairies,''' writes Brock.) A similarly self-destructive overcompensation -- the eternal Jimmy Swaggart syndrome -- seemed to be at work among the straight right-wing womanizers, like Gingrich, who led the charge against Democratic hedonism while engaging in their own.
February 24, 2002

What's clear now is that David Brock's mea culpa for this era may also be its epitaph. The holier-than-thou cultural profiling used by Gingrich, Brock and their peers in the Hill-Thomas-Clinton era is in serious decline as a political tool. The proximate causes of its demise can be found in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. The televised testimony by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to the effect that America was attacked in part because it gives safe harbor to ''the pagans and the abortionists and the gays and the lesbians'' was renounced by virtually the entire country, up to and including Rush Limbaugh and President Bush. Cultural profiling took an equally dramatic hit when the first leader to emerge in the postattack aftermath proved to be a walking compendium of the attributes that horrified the lifestyle police of the Clinton years: Rudolph Giuliani, a married man who publicly abandoned his wife for a mistress and chose to live in the household of a gay couple. He was a Republican, besides. So was one of the attack's first heroes -- Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player believed to be one of those who fought the hijackers for control of Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania. Suddenly the pre-Sept. 11 game of ''gotcha'' with Gary Condit (another hypocrite who piously supported the impeachment inquiry) seemed to belong to a vanished age.

In the months since the attack on America there have been some efforts on what remains of the Brockian right to revive the old culture wars. The biggest push has been to turn John Walker Lindh into an exemplar of the 60's, much as Gingrich did with Susan Smith. But as the effort to pin Smith's murders on the left failed -- it later turned out that she was the stepdaughter of a Christian Coalition official (and Pat Robertson-for-president supporter) who had molested her from age 15 -- so the pin-Lindh-on-liberals effort has waned.

The case was most prominently laid out on The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a knee-jerk home to cultural profiling of this sort, by the conservative Hoover Institution scholar Shelby Steele, who said the American Taliban recruit exemplified ''a certain cultural liberalism'' to be found in Northern California -- never mind that Steele also lives there (the Hoover Institution is at Stanford University), as did a hero like Flight 93's Mark Bingham (who was from San Francisco). To drive his point home, Steele also invoked Cornel West (though he misspelled his name) and noted that Lindh was a child of divorce, was named after John Lennon, had read ''The Autobiography of Malcolm X'' and went to an alternative school. Unfortunately, to make his case, Steele had to glide by the reality that the anti-American creed of the Taliban was as far removed from San Francisco liberalism as one could imagine -- an antiwoman, antigay fundamentalist sect. Steele also had to ignore the fact that Lindh had spent the first and more formative half of his childhood not in Marin County but in Takoma Park, Md., a Washington suburb, where he and his family were then regular Catholic churchgoers.

It shows the arbitrariness of Steele's case that he would probably have had an easier time arguing that Catholicism turns Americans into traitors -- since at least he'd have another example to go with Lindh in Robert Hanssen, the F.B.I. mole who was one of the most effective spies in American history and a rigorous member of the conservative Catholic sect Opus Dei. But of course that argument would have been as silly as the one Steele did make. Post-Sept. 11, choosing cultural profiling as a political weapon can lead to incoherence, if not absurdity. In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, for instance, one article tried to pin Lindh's defection to the Taliban on the alleged homosexuality of his father (while carefully ignoring the boy's Catholic background) while another tried earnestly to examine Hanssen's defection to the Soviet Union by focusing on his Catholicism.

Most Americans believe that Lindh and Hanssen are each sui generis -- anomalous case studies that cannot be pinned on any particular cultural influence, family constellation, religion or sexual history. That's why the efforts of the last practitioners of 90's cultural profiling fall flat. Most Americans also know by now that for better or worse both Thomas and Bill Clinton are going to be judged by history for what they did in their official capacities, not for what porn they watched or enacted.

This isn't to say that witch hunts ever become extinct in American politics; they only go into remission. But in the meantime, we're so removed from the political fisticuffs that made a star out of David Brock that the landscape is at times unrecognizable. As you watch those on the right look the other way at Rudy Giuliani's sex life, it almost seems as if they are flirting with what they used to hate most -- touchy-feely cultural relativism. You know the ground has shifted when the one prominent legal lion to feel ''empathy and sympathy'' for John Walker Lindh -- and to argue that he be treated not as ''a Benedict Arnold'' but as a ''young kid with misplaced idealism'' -- is Kenneth Starr.


Frank Rich is a columnist for The Times and a senior writer for the magazine.



2.24.2002

President shifting Superfund costs to public
He won't tax industry to rescue cleanup program

Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times Sunday, February 24, 2002



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Washington -- Faced with dwindling reserves in the huge account that gave the Superfund waste-cleanup program its name, the Bush administration has decided to target fewer sites for restoration and to shift the bulk of the costs from industry to taxpayers.

The administration says it is dealing with much bigger and more complex sites, if fewer of them, and that deciding how to pay for the program is up to Congress.

For years, Congress has failed to reach agreement on reauthorizing the tax on industry that used to be the source of money for the Superfund, which was founded in 1980 under the slogan, "the polluter pays."

The trust fund used the special corporate taxes to clean up contamination at so-called orphan sites, or those where the responsible party could not be identified or could not pay, as well as for recalcitrant companies and emergency action.

The trust fund has been used to clean up about 30 percent of the 1,551 sites on the Environmental Protection Agency's national priority list, with corporations themselves paying to clean up the other 70 percent. Most companies prefer to pay for their own cleanup because they can do it for less than the government, which is allowed to charge the companies three times the cost, plus penalties.

But the trust fund is running out of money.

Under pressure from the chemical and oil industries, Congress let the corporate taxes expire in 1995. Without them, the trust fund dwindled from a high of $3.8 billion in 1996 to a projected $28 million next year.

President Bush did not reauthorize the taxes last year in his first budget, and his proposed budget for 2003 explicitly states that he will not do so.

"The budget does not propose reauthorization of Superfund taxes," the administration says in an obscure section of the spending bill for Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and independent agencies.

Chemical and oil companies and other businesses had long complained that the taxes were burdensome, costing them collectively $4 million a day or more than $1 billion a year. They also complained that the Superfund program was slow, overly stringent and badly managed and had unfair liability rules.

Still, the taxes were reauthorized under President Ronald Reagan and again under Bush's father. They expired in 1995, and while President Bill Clinton sought to have them reinstated, the House of Representatives, then under Republican control, refused.

The Bush administration's declaration that it will not reauthorize the taxes will substantially shift the costs of maintaining the Superfund trust fund to taxpayers.

In 1994, taxpayers paid $250 million for Superfund cleanups, or about 21 percent of the $1.2 billion fund, with corporate taxes paying $950 million, or about 79 percent.

In 1999, taxpayers paid $350 million, and since then have paid about 50 percent of the cost. Bush proposes that taxpayers pay $700 million, or more than 50 percent of the $1.3 billion fund, in 2003.

"This is shifting the burden to taxpayers, and it is dramatically realigning the purpose of the program, which was to ensure that polluters pay, " said Grant Cope, a lawyer with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Taxpayers are paying more, and fewer sites are being cleaned up."

The lack of money is forcing agency officials to rethink their priorities. In the last two years, the agency has cut the overall number of sites it has targeted for cleanup and completed cleanup at fewer sites than it targeted.

More than 80 were cleaned up in each of the last four years of the Clinton administration, compared with 47 in 2001, Bush's first year in office; 40 are projected to be cleaned up this year and 40 next. The administration had initially projected that it would finish 65 sites in 2001.

Marianne Horinko, assistant administrator of the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said that fewer sites were being added and fewer completed, because the agency had largely finished the $20 million, "garden- variety" sites on its list and was now taking on huge, very difficult cases -- "megasites" costing more than $200 million.

So far this year, the agency has considered the addition of only two sites, both of them large old mines and both of them orphan sites, one in Montana and one in Nebraska.

"That's the future of the Superfund," Horinko said.

Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, recently wrote to Christie Whitman, administrator of the EPA, asking for an explanation by March 6 of "the sudden slowdown." The letter also asks for details of each project that the administration had initially planned and no longer does.

The agency has not made that list public, but various officials said they had been sending out notices saying activity would be delayed.

Myron Knudson, director of the Superfund division based in Dallas, said he had five sites ready to be cleaned up by the trust fund but was not able to start them.

"I'm sending out letters saying there's no money at this time," he said.

Since the Superfund began, 1,551 sites have been put on the national priority list, with 257 sites completely cleaned up and 552 mostly cleaned up, according to the EPA. At most of the sites, groundwater contamination remains a problem that will take years to remedy.

President shifting Superfund costs to public
He won't tax industry to rescue cleanup program

Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times Sunday, February 24, 2002


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Washington -- Faced with dwindling reserves in the huge account that gave the Superfund waste-cleanup program its name, the Bush administration has decided to target fewer sites for restoration and to shift the bulk of the costs from industry to taxpayers.

The administration says it is dealing with much bigger and more complex sites, if fewer of them, and that deciding how to pay for the program is up to Congress.

For years, Congress has failed to reach agreement on reauthorizing the tax on industry that used to be the source of money for the Superfund, which was founded in 1980 under the slogan, "the polluter pays."

The trust fund used the special corporate taxes to clean up contamination at so-called orphan sites, or those where the responsible party could not be identified or could not pay, as well as for recalcitrant companies and emergency action.

The trust fund has been used to clean up about 30 percent of the 1,551 sites on the Environmental Protection Agency's national priority list, with corporations themselves paying to clean up the other 70 percent. Most companies prefer to pay for their own cleanup because they can do it for less than the government, which is allowed to charge the companies three times the cost, plus penalties.

But the trust fund is running out of money.

Under pressure from the chemical and oil industries, Congress let the corporate taxes expire in 1995. Without them, the trust fund dwindled from a high of $3.8 billion in 1996 to a projected $28 million next year.

President Bush did not reauthorize the taxes last year in his first budget, and his proposed budget for 2003 explicitly states that he will not do so.

"The budget does not propose reauthorization of Superfund taxes," the administration says in an obscure section of the spending bill for Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and independent agencies.

Chemical and oil companies and other businesses had long complained that the taxes were burdensome, costing them collectively $4 million a day or more than $1 billion a year. They also complained that the Superfund program was slow, overly stringent and badly managed and had unfair liability rules.

Still, the taxes were reauthorized under President Ronald Reagan and again under Bush's father. They expired in 1995, and while President Bill Clinton sought to have them reinstated, the House of Representatives, then under Republican control, refused.

The Bush administration's declaration that it will not reauthorize the taxes will substantially shift the costs of maintaining the Superfund trust fund to taxpayers.

In 1994, taxpayers paid $250 million for Superfund cleanups, or about 21 percent of the $1.2 billion fund, with corporate taxes paying $950 million, or about 79 percent.

In 1999, taxpayers paid $350 million, and since then have paid about 50 percent of the cost. Bush proposes that taxpayers pay $700 million, or more than 50 percent of the $1.3 billion fund, in 2003.

"This is shifting the burden to taxpayers, and it is dramatically realigning the purpose of the program, which was to ensure that polluters pay, " said Grant Cope, a lawyer with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Taxpayers are paying more, and fewer sites are being cleaned up."

The lack of money is forcing agency officials to rethink their priorities. In the last two years, the agency has cut the overall number of sites it has targeted for cleanup and completed cleanup at fewer sites than it targeted.

More than 80 were cleaned up in each of the last four years of the Clinton administration, compared with 47 in 2001, Bush's first year in office; 40 are projected to be cleaned up this year and 40 next. The administration had initially projected that it would finish 65 sites in 2001.

Marianne Horinko, assistant administrator of the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said that fewer sites were being added and fewer completed, because the agency had largely finished the $20 million, "garden- variety" sites on its list and was now taking on huge, very difficult cases -- "megasites" costing more than $200 million.

So far this year, the agency has considered the addition of only two sites, both of them large old mines and both of them orphan sites, one in Montana and one in Nebraska.

"That's the future of the Superfund," Horinko said.

Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, recently wrote to Christie Whitman, administrator of the EPA, asking for an explanation by March 6 of "the sudden slowdown." The letter also asks for details of each project that the administration had initially planned and no longer does.

The agency has not made that list public, but various officials said they had been sending out notices saying activity would be delayed.

Myron Knudson, director of the Superfund division based in Dallas, said he had five sites ready to be cleaned up by the trust fund but was not able to start them.

"I'm sending out letters saying there's no money at this time," he said.

Since the Superfund began, 1,551 sites have been put on the national priority list, with 257 sites completely cleaned up and 552 mostly cleaned up, according to the EPA. At most of the sites, groundwater contamination remains a problem that will take years to remedy.

Enron's political love connection

Ralph Nader Sunday, February 24, 2002



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Congress is working overtime trying to assure the American public that its long love affair with Enron Corp. is a thing of the past. Present and former Enron executives are being hauled almost daily before Senate and House committees and pummeled by tough criticism from lawmakers who hope their denunciations will be noted properly on the evening television news.

But even a glance at campaign donations in recent years explains politicians' anxiety about separating themselves from Enron's shenanigans. Enron has contributed to the campaign accounts of 71 current senators and 188 current House members, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 1999-2000 election, Enron contributed $2.4 million in individual, PAC and soft money to federal candidates and parties.

President Bush raised $114,000 in PAC and individual contributions from Enron in 1999-2000. Enron also donated $100,000 to the Bush-Cheney inaugural ball. Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay contributed another $100,000 to the event.

Since 1989, the Lays have contributed a cool $833,000 to candidates and political parties; Enron spent $2.1 million lobbying the White House and Congress in 2000.

Despite this sorry record of taking the company's money, now the politicians are in full cry about Enron's misdeeds. They resemble watchdogs who sleep soundly through a burglary only to launch into loud barking after the thieves have escaped into the night.

Much attention has been focused on Enron's auditors -- Arthur Andersen LLP - - who allowed the company to present a rosy picture of its operations until mounting debt and phony profits pushed it into bankruptcy.

Congress and the national media feigned "shock and dismay" but Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the financial media have long been aware of major shortcomings among large accounting firms.

During the investigation of the savings and loans collapse in the 1980s, the General Accounting Office released a scathing report on their performance. "They (the auditors) didn't really try to determine what was going on," the GAO concluded. A congressional investigator suggested that "the elephants were walking through the living room and the accountants missed them."

In a hearing on the failed Lincoln Savings (which cost the taxpayers $2.5 billion), federal District Judge Stanley Sporkin asked: "What is difficult to understand is that with all the professional talent involved, why at least one professional would not have blown the whistle to stop the overreaching that took place in this case. . . . Where were these professionals . . . when clearly improper transactions were being consummated?"

Congress adopted a few reforms after the savings-and-loan scandal, but the accounting profession was left largely untouched -- despite its complicity in a financial disaster that forced the federal savings and loans deposit fund into bankruptcy at a taxpayer cost of nearly a half trillion dollars.

In 1999, Congress missed a bigger opportunity to provide financial safeguards, including auditing standards, when it adopted a mammoth financial services bill allowing banks, securities firms and insurance companies to combine under common ownership and form financial conglomerates. Billed as "financial modernization," the legislation was really old-fashioned, corporate- driven deregulation.

While it was pending, I testified before both the Senate and House banking committees, urging that the regulatory system be modernized before giving financial corporations vast new powers. But the committees were more interested in making sure that "financial modernization" met the desires of the banks, securities firms and insurance companies that had given generous contributions to take the federal cop off the financial industry's beat.

It was an ideal moment to push for top-to-bottom reform. Salivating at new profit centers, the big players would have accepted tougher rules and an improved regulatory structure if Congress had insisted that was the price for merging securities, banking and insurance. But Congress, once again a purchased patsy, let the financial industry write its own rules.

The Securities and Exchange Commission needs to be given the authority to license auditing firms -- leaving licensing functions with the 50 states means a crazy-quilt of standards and oversight.

For large corporations, the SEC could assign qualified licensed firms at random to conduct audits, much as judges are assigned in federal courts. No company could shop for its favorite auditor.

In recent years, as Enron illustrates, audit firms have become "consultants" to many companies in addition to carrying out audits for them. This has generated lucrative fees for the auditors and created an obvious conflict of interest.

The consulting fees are wagging the audit dog. Nonaudit fees currently account for 76 percent of total fees paid to accounting firms by corporations with more than $20 billion in assets. The link between auditing and consulting needs to be severed completely.

Congress needs to carry out full-scale investigations of Enron and the accounting industry. But to leave the job as simply another splashy self- serving televised investigation would be a travesty.

Congress needs to atone for its failure to protect the public in the past by ensuring that there will be enforceable regulations against corporate crime,

fraud and abuse in the future. Beyond stronger laws and budgets protecting workers' pensions and savings and investors from corporate looters, Congress must give shareholders and consumers ways to band together in their own advocacy groups.

In 1985, then-Rep. Charles Schumer of New York (now the state's senior senator) introduced legislation requiring financial firms to carry inserts inviting consumers and investors to form their own statewide groups. Instead, Congress decided to ignore this empowerment idea and bail out the crooked savings and loans, still leaving the victims powerless.

As the legendary organizer Saul Alinsky once said, "The only way to deal with organized money is with organized people." If we are really going to redress this costly imbalance of power, that means taking on our members of Congress to make them defend our rights.

Ralph Nader, the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2000, is the author of "Crashing the Party: How to Tell The Truth and Still Run for President" (St. Martins Press).