Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Does the Bush Administration really believe in human rights? 

This is an item from the past, but I'm bringing it up again today because I met two people who did not know about it. The "it" to which I refer is the 2001 "Massacre at Mazar" in Afghanistan, and the complicity in it of members of the US armed forces. The information about the massacre and US complicity was presented in a documentary film that was shown around the world, but got very little notice here in the United States as far as I can tell. More about that later. In my search for information to give my colleagues who expressed surprise about the incident, I went to the website of 1997 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). (One of the other co-winners was an organization to ban landmines founded by Vermonter Jody Williams. What a terrific state to live in!) PHR did an investigation of the mass graves in Afghanistan and concluded that some were recent and may be the sites of the massacre eye witnesses had described.

On the PHR site, I got sidetracked by the organization's report on conditions in Sherbarghan Prison in Afghanistan following US intervention there. Not surprisingly, the conditions were not good -- e.g., dysentery and pneumonia were killing prisoners rapidly because medicines and decent living conditions were lacking. Disappointingly, the United States abandoned its responsibilities there, turning responsibility for conditions at the prison back to the Northern Alliance, which was neither inclined nor equipped to treat the former Taliban humanely as required by the Geneva Convention. The report concluded that prison conditions violated standards of international human rights, and noted the United States obligation to improve conditions there as a matter of international law:

"In the end, the United States cannot wash its hands of responsibility for prisoners whose fate from the start it has been in a position to influence or determine. The military campaign in Kunduz included the participation of the United States. Access to the prisoners and their disposition until very recently had been controlled by the United States. Finally, and perhaps of most importance of all, it is known by the United States that the forces having current physical custody of the prisoners have no capacity to provide the material supports essential to meet the standards of the Convention, whereas the United States does have such capacity. The Conventions cannot be fairly interpreted to permit a party to it to avoid responsibility for prisoners of war by ceding custody to an ally without the capacity to respect the Convention."

This action reminded me once again that Bush does not actually believe in human rights for all human beings. His actions are inconsistent and never fully explained or justified. For example, he expressed horror at the mass graves filled with victims of Saddam Hussein, and rightly so. But only silence and retreat has followed the revelation of mass graves in Afghanistan after thousands of prisoners in US/Northern Alliance custody went missing in 2001. And that leads me to the Massacre at Mazur.

If you are scratching your head and know nothing about it, don't feel silly. It did not get a lot of press here in the United States. Democracy Now! did air the documentary made about the incident. You can find out more about it yourself by checking the links below (the PHR website has its original report, complete with photos, of the sites it inspected in Afghanistan). You can also always google "Afghanistan documentary massacre Mazur" and come up with lots of places to look for information.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article3267.htm (this has not only text, but clips from the documentary that Democracy Now! aired)


Check out the PHR report on prison conditions and other good stuff on its site at:


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Truth About The Rigases Is Finally Coming Out 

I would love to be in the courtroom watching the trial of John, Tim, and Michael Rigas. John Rigas, Tim and Michael's father, is the founder of Adelphia Communications Corporation, one of the nation's largest MSOs, at least as of a couple of years ago. The testimony recounts numerous instances of self-dealing and fraudulent accounting, done at the direction of Tim or John Rigas. The lead prosecutor shares a name similar to mine, and I am, frankly, a little envious of her prosecution because I know what it is like dealing with their deception. Let me explain.

John Rigas never sent me the maple candy I bought when I visited the company at its headquarters in Coudersport, PA in August of 2000. He said he'd have it sent to my office, but it never arrived. I left the government position I was in at the time a month later to take another job in another branch of government. I am assured by my former colleagues that the candy never made its way to Montpelier as promised.

Now I know why I didn't get the candy and why my check to his farm, Wending Creek Farm was cashed -- John was so hard up for cash that he had to make up guests to stay in the Cancun condo to charge to Adelphia. Apparently, my few dollars were also desperately needed. Why else would the candy not have arrived?

In my former executive branch position, I became very familiar with the way the Rigas family ran the cable company that John Rigas founded years ago. While members of the Rigas family were in control of Adelphia, the cable company's local operations were managed by the family from far away Coudersport -- managed by the family to such an extent that a family member had to approve virtually every decision. That alone was a problem for a company as large as Adelphia had become by the mid to late 1990s. But there were worse problems than merely tight control from family headquarters. As the testimony is New York is making clear, the Rigases were less than trustworthy. Ok, I'm being kind.

In a 1992 letter to then Vermont Governor Dean, John Rigas touted the fiber optic cable network he was building around the State of Vermont. It was a primary reason the state Public Service Board granted so many licenses to Adelphia to operate in Vermont during the 1990s. As John Rigas said in his letter to Gov. Dean:

"As you could probably tell, we are very excited about our statewide fiber optic project. When completed, the interconnect will be of great value to the state, the business community, and our cable subscribers. We would welcome your suggestions on how it could best be used to benefit the Vermont public."

For a rural state like Vermont, this network was great news. John Rigas obviously knew that, and his company cited the network as grounds for granting approval of Adelphia's purchase of a small Vermont cable company in the late 1990s. I represented the public in that case (and many other cases involving Adelphia thereafter -- thus the funny coincidence with the prosecutor in New York). While approval of that sale was pending before the Public Service Board, the company sold the network to an affiliate. The sale of the network to another company was never disclosed to the Board or to the agency I represented before the Board in that late 1990s transaction.

When it was discovered that Adelphia no longer owned the network, the company tried to claim that it was none of the state's business. The company stonewalled inquiries about the details of the transaction, and I had to resort to questioning a witness about it live before the Board during a hearing on the company's license renewal petition and my agency's prosecution for illegal behavior. When the Board inquired about it, obviously surprised that the transaction had taken place without being disclosed to the Board in advance considering the prior acquisition approval based on its ownership of the network, the company witness testifying on Adelphia's behalf purportedly didn't know the details. In an unusual move, the Board ordered the company to produce a witness that could answer its questions the following day to testify about the matter. The move was unusual because Board procedure requires that all witnesses be disclosed long before the hearing, and each witness's testimony must be prefiled in well in advance. Anyway, I digress.

In its final order, the Board found that Adelphia had obstructed justice for its stonewalling and failure to disclose the sale of the promised fiber optic network. It also found many other illegal actions by the company, which could almost certainly be traced back to the Rigases. The bottom line was that the Board fined the company over $500,000 for its obstruction of justice and other unlawful behavior. The Board also required the company to post a $1 million bond to secure its future legal compliance in Vermont, not a requirement imposed regularly or lightly. It shows you how deceitful the Rigases were in their dealings with the state in my opinion.

(Notably, when we were trying to negotiate with the company in good faith we'd often find out that responses to our proposals were delayed because the Rigases had to attend a Buffalo Sabres hockey game. John owned the team. Well, I correct that, I think Adelphia ultimately owned the team, he just pretended to. I'm not sure. Not sure the other shareholders would have liked their choice to have fun watching the hockey team courtesy of Adelphia, instead of trying to negotiate with state regulators who were threatening to pull the company's license and/or impose substantial fines.)

The thing is, I do believe that neither John nor Michael Rigas understands that what they've done is wrong, even if not criminal (I don't know enough about the specific charges to opine credibly about that). I think they are just clueless. John Rigas was a benevolent man -- he just didn't understand that it wasn't ok to be benevolent with other people's money. Maybe he didn't get that when a company is publicly traded, even though you own most of the stock doesn't mean you get to use the company's money for yourself or for whatever purposes you choose without accounting properly for it. Who knows. But, I have no doubt they intended the acts they committed. I just don't think they get the difference between right and wrong. That's just my opinion based on my years of experience dealing with them through Adelphia.

(What I wonder from time to time is whatever happened to the company's corporate counsel, Randall D. Fisher, who acted as officer and legal counsel during the time the Rigases were stonewalling us in Vermont and ripping off the company John founded? No one ever mentions him. I can't believe he didn't know anything about what was going on. Maybe he is cooperating with my namesake Leslie in NY. I'd love to know.)

The Vermont Public Service Board order I refer to is on the Board's website at:


One more thing: If Congress had allowed the states to regulate cable rates, I am confident that the Rigases would not have been able to get away with much of what they did. Our team would have ferreted out bogus charges long, long ago I am virtually certain. At least scrutiny would have made it more difficult for the Rigases to get away with so much for seemingly so long.

Confusing the war on terrorism 

All this talk about Condi and Richard Clarke is starting to drive me crazy for lots and lots of reasons. One of course is that Condi and the WH are using lawyerly reasoning to say that she just can't take an oath to tell the truth because it would set a bad precedent. Nonsense in my view, particularly since she blabs all over the place about what she and the President have done on the war on terrorism. She's waived the executive privilege in my view.

Anyway, the other thing that is really bugging me is that it is a given that Bush and Condi believed the threat to the US was from nation-state terrorism. Ergo the so-called Axis of Evil, Condi's position piece in the 2000 Foreign Affairs journal, and the direction from the Pres to the DOD to plan for an invasion of Iraq not too long after 9-11.

Jeffrey Record makes this point in his piece called Bounding the War on Terrorism which is available free online at www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/ report/2003/record_bounding.pdf It is essential reading in my view to get an understanding of how this administration has conflated the threat from Al Qaeda with nation-state terrorism. They are two different things and must be addressed differently. Argh!

Monday, March 29, 2004

Today's notable quote 

I'm still working on the secrecy issue, fun has a way of interfering with my serious pursuits ;-). Anyway, I found this bit by James Madison that I thought was particularly relevant to the issue:

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

Knowledge is power. Arm yourself.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Accepting responsibility 

Check out Michael Oreskes's piece on accepting responsibility in today's NYT Week in Review section. Sadly, he opines that today's political climate makes it more difficult for a President to accept responsibility for the bad stuff that happens on the President's watch. In contrast to this President, Ronald Reagan took responsibility for the death of the marines in Lebanon in 1983. As much as I did not like Reagan's policies, I respect his courage and integrity to take responsibility for the results of that attack.

While the political climate may explain why Bush resists taking responsibility for failures in the execution of his policies (e.g., invading Iraq to combat terrorism has created more terrorism), it doesn't excuse it in my view. In 2000, Bush ran on a platform of restoring integrity to the White House. I have yet to see that happen.

It's gorgeous and sunny here this morning. 'Nuff ranting for now, there's yard work to be done in the small patch of yard with no snow anymore!

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Climate change and the free market 

Naysayers of the existence of climate change (a/k/a global warming) seem, in my personal experience, to generally believe in the wonders of the free market to regulate business. The Bush adminstration's refusal to recognize the fact of climate change is directly related to his free market policies, a basic tenet of which is that government regulation is bad, very, very bad (credit to Seinfeld).

Well, it may be time for Bush to admit that global warming is a pressing issue that must get the government's atttention. And, it is the free market that he is going to have to confront to continue his persistent denial about the problem.

Swiss Re -- one of the world's leading reinsurers -- is serious about global warming.

Here's an excerpt from a company news release:

"Today, global warming is a fact. The climate has changed: visibly, tangibly, measurably. An additional increase in average global temperatures is not only possible, but very probable, while human intervention in the natural climatic system plays an important, if not decisive role."

The company has developed a strategy to address the problem. The first strategy is to protect the climate to prevent warming from accelerating to a point that humans may no longer be able to adapt. Second, in the company's words, "society as a whole must learn to anticipate changeable climates." (Swiss Re News Release)

You can get an Adobe Acrobat copy of the report entitled, "Opportunities and Risks of Climate Change." It was published in 2002. Just visit the website below and go to the page on climate change.

It is worth taking a look at what this company has to say. Unless you consider reinsurers to be whacked-out pinko leftists or something like that, it's hard to dismiss what Swiss Re has to say about climate change and its future impact on us all (particularly all my nieces and nephews) if we -- the United States in particular -- don't do something about it.

Swiss Re website: www.swissre.com

What to respond to a post?

Right now, this is one-way; I get to rant, put info on here I think people ought to know, opine, whine, etc. If you want to respond to something I've posted, feel free to email me at lescadwell@yahoo.com. Friends and family may also email me at other email addresses I have if you wish. If you'd like me to post what you said, I'll gladly do so. I do not intend to identify anyone other than by first name or initial, unless you want me to. Let me know.

Tonight I'm putting together some information on government secrecy because it is an issue near and dear to my heart. I firmly believe that a democracy functions best when government is open, and making public documents secret should be done sparingly and strictly for national security. I recognize the need for executive privilege, but also believe the privilege should extend narrowly to communications between the President and his/her (I can always hope) close advisers. Anyway, more later.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Supreme Court Cases to Watch 

Among the issues that should have made their way to my initial list yesterday were the cases pending before the United States Supreme Court related to the war on terrorism.

The cases and the questions they present are the following:

Rasul v. Bush & Odah v. US: "Whether United States courts lack jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba."

Rumsfeld v. Padilla: The Court is asked two questions in this case:

1. "Whether the President has authority as Commander in Chief and in light of Congress's Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224, to seize and detain a United States citizen in the United States based on a determination by the President that he is an enemy combatant who is closely associated with al Qaeda and has engaged in hostile and war-like acts, or whether 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a) precludes that exercise of Presidential authority. "

2. "Whether the district court has jurisdiction over the proper respondent to the amended habeas petition."

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld: Three questions are presented in this case:

1. "Does the Constitution permit Executive officials to detain an American citizen indefinitely in military custody in the United States, hold him essentially incommunicado and deny him access to counsel, with no opportunity to question the factual basis for his detention before any impartial tribunal, on the sole ground that he was seized abroad in a theater of the War on Terrorism and declared by the Executive to be an "enemy combatant"? "

2. "Is the indefinite detention of an American citizen seized abroad but held in the United States solely on the assertion of Executive officials that he is an "enemy combatant" permissible under applicable congressional statutes and treaty provisions?"

3. "In a habeas corpus proceeding challenging the indefinite detention of an American citizen seized abroad, detained in the United States, and declared by Executive officials to be an "enemy combatant," does the separation of powers doctrine preclude a federal court from following ordinary statutory procedures and conducting an inquiry into the factual basis for the Executive branch's asserted justification of the detention? "

All of these cases are scheduled for oral argument before the Court in April. I keep track via Findlaw.com. Below I've provided link that will take you to a place where you can get copies of the briefs and decisions on appeal to download or view. I'll probably do a quick summary of some of them so folks know what the legal citations are. But to the extent you can read the briefs yourself, I encourage you to do so. The issues are really interesting and vitally important I think. Some of the positions the Bushadministrationn has taken in some of these cases is both surprising and alarming. Make up your own mind by reading the primary sources!

This case is also of interest because it is relevant to the administration's secrecy and separation of powers philosophies:

Cheney v. District Court : This case presents two questions:

1. "Whether the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), 5 U.S.C. App. 1, §§ 1 et seq., can be construed, consistent with the Constitution, principles of separation of powers, and this Court's decisions governing judicial review of Executive Branch actions, to authorize broad discovery of the process by which the Vice President and other senior advisors gathered information to advise the President on important national policy matters, based solely on an unsupported allegation in a complaint that the advisory group was not constituted as the President expressly directed and the advisory group itself reported. "

2. "Whether the court of appeals had mandamus or appellate jurisdiction to review the district courtÂ’s unprecedented discovery orders in this litigation."

That's the case that led to all the scuttlebutt about Justice Scalia not recusing himself. In my view, he just never should have taken the trip. Doing it shows poor judgment and lack of judicial temperment I think.

Here's the findlaw link to the Supreme Court materials:


More on secrecy and declassifying Clarke's testimony

Right on to Josh Micah Marshall! (See his site at www.talkingpointsmemo.com; he's a columnist with The Hill)

Referring to the effort to declassify Clarke's testimony, he notes:

"This is Plame all over again, just with the lights on -- a kind of behavior -- a mix of pervasive secrecy and the use of state power to punish political enemies -- that is literally a danger to the republic. "

Couldn't agree more.

But if the following is true, Bush is continuing to demonstrate he is not fit to sit in the Oval office another term:

"(Bear in mind that top White House aides have told the press that the president personally initiated and is directing this campaign against Clarke. Not outside rabble-rousers, not nefarious aides operating on their own account, but the president himself. This is all his doing, according to his own staffers.)"

Bush Secrecy

Looks like John Dean has something for me to read on the secrecy in the Bush administration. It's called "Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush." The publisher's blurb I saw on Amazon says something about Bush's tactics of deception. Should make infuriating reading. Can't wait!

(Yeah - I figured out how to do a bold heading at the top of a paragraph. Slowly learning this new medium.)

Oh now give me a break. Sen. Frist and other Republicans in Congress want to declassify Clarke's testimony before the 911 Commission to see if he perjured himself. (See Yahoo News, Politics, US Congress; I obviously don't know how to put links in here yet).

Secrecy is only important if it is politically expedient I guess. Rather than deal with his criticism constructively, our tax dollars are being spent on an exercise whose primary purpose appears to be retaliatory. Let's hope it isn't intended to be a message to other government employees willing to speak like Clarke. (and dont' forget O'Neill, Wilson, and Kwiatowski)

Just a quick note during my lunch break on the issue of background press briefings by officials at the executive branch -- obviously this topic is relevant due to the release of Dick Clarke's background briefing following a Time magazine article in 2002.

I have done interviews with the press in my capacity as a state executive branch employee. The understanding always is that your identity is kept confidential. When something must be put on the record, the interviewer and interviewee agree to do it that way. Most important in light of the criticism launched at Clarke, is that one's personal opinions do not interfere with the message your employer wants to convey. So, even if I disagreed with a particular policy or actions by my superiors, I gave information to the press to help achieve the goal of my superiors. Sometimes that meant not giving information that the interviewer didn't ask for even if I knew it would be relevant and interesting, and emphasizing facts etc. that got the right message out.

Based on what I can tell from Clarke's sworn testimony before the 9/11 Commission, that is exactly what he did. The fact that the information he gave might have contradicted his own opinion at the time is, in my view, irrelevant.

The attempt by the White House and others to impugn Clarke's credibility by publicizing the background briefing is just really lame I think.

More later.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Ok, here are some of the topics that have been on my mind lately and which I'll surely be writing about in the near future. I just have to get a few things off my chest before retiring. So, here's the list:

** The unprecedented secrecy the Bush adminstration has engaged in since taking office, including removing previously public documents from the public domain, and removing important health information from government web sites in an (over) zealous attempt to curb terrorism. The secrecy is antithetical to the open, democratic government we aspire to have in my view.

** The apparent reluctance (or refusal) of Bush to acknowledge error or hold people in his administration accountable for major mistakes or misdeeds, take the missing WMD, the Niger yellowcake claim, and the outing of a covert CIA officer (who specialized in WMD no less!). A leader who refuses to acknowledge error is no leader at all. A US President who refuses to acknowledge error is a danger to the entire world.

** The Bush administration's penchant for allowing politics to trump science (e.g., climate change, abstinence-only education, mercury and air pollution research, etc.)

** Why is Karl Rove still working in the White House if he is an integral part of Bush's relection team as some media have reported? I'll be writing to my Congressional delegation about that one. He ought to leave the White House to go back to campaign politics, his expertise (as he has continued to display while employed at the people's house in DC).

** The unabashed lying and misrepresentation committed by members of the Bush administration, including the Vice President (Mr. "We-know-Iraq-has-reconstituted-nuclear-weapons"), and the President (Mr. "The-US-invaded-because-Saddam-would-not-let-inspectors-back-in.") (On that last one, the press seemed to give Bush a pass on the outright lie that no inspectors were allowed in just prior to the US invasion -- they attributed the statement to an oversight by a lack-of-detail cowboy President.)

On this issue, I've been mulling over doing a little piece demonstrating how Bush could be held accountable for fraud under Vermont's Consumer Fraud Act if the Iraq war were a consumer product and he a merchant. The analogy is pretty good, and it'll be fun to write. (I choose Vermont only because that's the law I know best.)

This is preview of more detailed (and noted) pieces to come. Phew, I feel better. Good night, and peace.

After emailing my father in a tirade last evening regarding Iraqi civilian suffering, I decided it would probably be more constructive if I limited my ranting and raving to this forum. I can relieve my anger (?) and frustration at what is currently going on in the world by writing about it in a public way, but without risking disturbing the peace! (I can be rather emphatic when I'm worked up let's say.) Even if nobody reads it, I think it will be constructive for me.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?