By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
WASHINGTON, D.C.Condi in boots in Paris sent the Republican pols over the top. Coming out of nowhere, the woman who once referred to Bush as her "husband" became an instant front-runner in the '08 Republican presidential stakes. Nobody wants another Bush, certainly not Jeb with his smuggler wife and delinquent children. People love John McCain, but who wants to see him tortured one more time by the right-wing Christian wackos at Bob Jones University? Maybe with Condi, McCain could do it, the pros say, but not alone.
The Republican professionals sniff at Condi, but as the Hotline reports, her fan club has gone nuts, "touting her as a candidate" and "hoping to draft" the secretary of state. There are Condi websites, Condi radio ads, Condi blogs, even a theme song called "Condoleezza Will Lead Us."
A website, americansforrice.com, has well over 100,000 hits. To all of which Rice says: "Oh my goodness, I think no one should count on such things."
By the weekend the conservatives were thinking it over and asking themselves, why Condi? Why not the best? Dick Cheney. He's already running the country and he's the most experienced, best all-around campaigner of the lot, says Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard. "President Reagan was 69 when he took office," Barnes says, and Cheney "hasn't had a serious health problem for years." Barnes adds: "The war on terror, national security, and the struggle for democracy will probably dominate American politics for a decade or more. Bush's legacy, or at least part of it, will be to have returned these issues to a position of paramount concern for future presidents. And who is best qualified to pursue that agenda as knowledgeably and aggressively as Bush? The answer is the person who helped Bush formulate it, namely Cheney."
Condimania momentarily buried the Clintons, although by the Sunday talk shows, they were trying to haul themselves back into the limelight, with Bill saying Hillary is ready, and that tired old front man Joe Biden laying down the family's line on Meet the Press: "Oh, I think she'd be incredibly difficult to beat. I think she is the most difficult obstacle for anyone being the nominee. And by the way, I shouldn't be saying this, an admission against interest. I'm one who doesn't believe that she is incapable of being elected. I think she is likely to be the nominee. She'd be the toughest person. And I think Hillary Clinton is able to be elected president of the United States." Blah, blah.
In the midst of all this, possible presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani sank without a trace. He's too liberal for the partypro-abortion, pro-gay, and thus "hemlock" to most conservatives: David Keene, chair of the American Conservative Union, gave him a kick when he said, "Rudy's people said he would be willing to come and speak, but we said we didn't think he'd fit into the program." He added, "Rudy's office called and said his normal fee is $100,000, but that he would appear for free. I would assume he wanted to come here to boost his conservative credentials, but we didn't think that would be useful." Giuliani Partners said it had not approached Keene's group.
Department of the fence
Building walls and fences to keep out Mexicans and Canadians
While Bush wants to widen the flow of migrant workers into the U.S. and business looks forward to ripping down the trade barriers separating Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, Congress is moving ahead with a plan to give the Department of Homeland Security carte blanche to build Israeli-type barriers shutting off the 1,987-mile border from California to Texas between the U.S. and Mexico, and even to string fencing for 3,950 miles along the Canadian border between Bellingham, Washington, and South Lubec, Maine.
As part of a pending immigration bill, the House recently tacked on language that says the secretary of homeland security "shall waive all laws" that he "determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads" needed to stop illegal border crossings. "If the language becomes law," writes Congressional Quarterly, "the department's secretary could brush aside federal environmental and labor regulations, state property rights, protections, and even local zoning ordinances in order to speed construction of whatever barriers he likes. And the legislation would specifically bar lawsuits that could stop him."
If it passes, the provision will make it possible for the department to complete a 14-mile stretch of barrier between San Diego and Tijuana. This wall has been blocked because of an environmental dispute over marshlands. And it might well revive interest in the all but abandoned scheme to build a 270-mile-long barrier on the Arizona border.
Iraq's missing millions
Ibrahim Jaafari, the prime-minister-to-be in Iraq, is unlikely to hand over the nation's valuable oil assets to foreign companies, but he won't be able to do much about the rest of the Iraqi economy, which was strangled by Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer in rules and regulations benefiting Western business.
A few of these rules, left over from the Bremer occupation period, as collected last year by Foreign Policy in Focus, the independent Washington research outfit:
Order #39: Privatize the country's 200 state-owned enterprises, permit 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses, allow for complete repatriation of profits without tax. No requirements for reinvestment, hiring local labor, or provisioning public services. Labor rights non-existent.
Order #40: Foreign banks can enter the Iraqi market and take a 50 percent interest in formerly state-owned banks.
Order #49: Drop the corporate tax rate from 40 percent to a flat 15 percent. The income tax is capped at 15 percent.
Order #12: Suspension of "all tariffs, customs duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for goods entering or leaving Iraq, and all other trade restrictions that may apply to such goods." Result: A tidal wave of cheap imports wipes out locally made goods.
Order #17: Security firms get full immunity from Iraq's laws.
Bremer created a Board of Supreme Audit, and named a pro-American president and assistants to oversee inspectors in all ministries who in turn oversee government contracts and classified programs.
Having done all this to assure continued American, i.e., Western, control over the Iraqis whom everyone knows are just plain greedy and corrupt by nature, Bremer's crew somehow managed to lose $9 billion in oil revenues meant for humanitarian needs and for rebuilding the country.
Veteran journalist Helen Thomas reported last week that the $9 billion had been transferred to Iraqi ministries, where it disappeared. Stuart W. Bowen, the special inspector general appointed by the U.S. occupation authority, reported the disappearance in January.
The Democratic Policy Committee in Congress held hearings a couple of weeks ago and discovered that there are "a lot of dinars and American dollars" floating around. The money was stashed in the basement of CPA headquarters and released from time to time to contractors. The Dems want Alberto Gonzales, the new attorney general, to launch a grand-jury investigation, which as one might imagine, will happen when hell freezes over.
The loss occurred during the period the U.S. controlled Iraqi oil profits, from May 2003 until June 2004. Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland said that Bowen's audit could not account for "a single penny of the $9 billion." Bremer attacked the Bowen audit, saying it "does not meet the standards Americans have come to expect of the inspector general," and claimed that it was rife with "factual errors."
And Bremer, who set up the procedures which assured U.S.-style regulations, now says the audit doesn't acknowledge how difficult it is to set up Western-style control during wartime. He and officials at the Defense Department shrugged off the loss, noting the Iraqis are used to corruption anyhow.
Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte