Thursday, May 21, 2009

Former Vice President Dick Cheney Speech On National Security At American Enterprise Institute



Richard B. Cheney
Peter Holden Photography for AEI


On May 21, 2009, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, now a member of AEI's Board of Trustees, spoke at AEI on the serious and ongoing threat terrorism poses to the United States. He was introduced by AEI president Arthur C. Brooks. His remarks as prepared for delivery follow.

Thank you all very much, and Arthur, thank you for that introduction. It's good to be back at AEI, where we have many friends. Lynne is one of your longtime scholars, and I'm looking forward to spending more time here myself as a returning trustee. What happened was, they were looking for a new member of the board of trustees, and they asked me to head up the search committee.

I first came to AEI after serving at the Pentagon, and departed only after a very interesting job offer came along. I had no expectation of returning to public life, but my career worked out a little differently. Those eight years as vice president were quite a journey, and during a time of big events and great decisions, I don't think I missed much.

Being the first vice president who had also served as secretary of defense, naturally my duties tended toward national security. I focused on those challenges day to day, mostly free from the usual political distractions. I had the advantage of being a vice president content with the responsibilities I had, and going about my work with no higher ambition. Today, I'm an even freer man. Your kind invitation brings me here as a private citizen--a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek.

The responsibilities we carried belong to others now. And though I'm not here to speak for George W. Bush, I am certain that no one wishes the current administration more success in defending the country than we do. We understand the complexities of national security decisions. We understand the pressures that confront a president and his advisers. Above all, we know what is at stake. And though administrations and policies have changed, the stakes for America have not changed.

Right now there is considerable debate in this city about the measures our administration took to defend the American people. Today I want to set forth the strategic thinking behind our policies. I do so as one who was there every day of the Bush administration who supported the policies when they were made, and without hesitation would do so again in the same circumstances.

When President Obama makes wise decisions, as I believe he has done in some respects on Afghanistan, and in reversing his plan to release incendiary photos, he deserves our support. And when he faults or mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer. The point is not to look backward. Now and for years to come, a lot rides on our President's understanding of the security policies that preceded him. And whatever choices he makes concerning the defense of this country, those choices should not be based on slogans and campaign rhetoric, but on a truthful telling of history.

Our administration always faced its share of criticism, and from some quarters it was always intense. That was especially so in the later years of our term, when the dangers were as serious as ever, but the sense of general alarm after September 11, 2001 was a fading memory. Part of our responsibility, as we saw it, was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America . . . and not to let 9/11 become the prelude to something much bigger and far worse.

That attack itself was, of course, the most devastating strike in a series of terrorist plots carried out against Americans at home and abroad. In 1993, terrorists bombed the World Trade Center, hoping to bring down the towers with a blast from below. The attacks continued in 1995, with the bombing of U.S. facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the killing of servicemen at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on our embassies in East Africa in 1998; the murder of American sailors on the USS Cole in 2000; and then the hijackings of 9/11, and all the grief and loss we suffered on that day.

9/11 caused everyone to take a serious second look at threats that had been gathering for a while, and enemies whose plans were getting bolder and more sophisticated. Throughout the 90s, America had responded to these attacks, if at all, on an ad hoc basis. The first attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a law enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact--crime scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed.

That's how it seemed from a law enforcement perspective, at least--but for the terrorists the case was not closed. For them, it was another offensive strike in their ongoing war against the United States. And it turned their minds to even harder strikes with higher casualties. Nine-eleven made necessary a shift of policy, aimed at a clear strategic threat--what the Congress called "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place.

We could count on almost universal support back then, because everyone understood the environment we were in. We'd just been hit by a foreign enemy--leaving 3,000 Americans dead, more than we lost at Pearl Harbor. In Manhattan, we were staring at 16 acres of ashes. The Pentagon took a direct hit, and the Capitol or the White House were spared only by the Americans on Flight 93, who died bravely and defiantly.

Everyone expected a follow-on attack, and our job was to stop it. We didn't know what was coming next, but everything we did know in that autumn of 2001 looked bad. This was the world in which al-Qaeda was seeking nuclear technology, and A. Q. Khan was selling nuclear technology on the black market. We had the anthrax attack from an unknown source. We had the training camps of Afghanistan, and dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists.

These are just a few of the problems we had on our hands. And foremost on our minds was the prospect of the very worst coming to pass--a 9/11 with nuclear weapons.

For me, one of the defining experiences was the morning of 9/11 itself. As you might recall, I was in my office in that first hour, when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles an hour. That was Flight 77, the one that ended up hitting the Pentagon. With the plane still inbound, Secret Service agents came into my office and said we had to leave, now. A few moments later I found myself in a fortified White House command post somewhere down below.

There in the bunker came the reports and images that so many Americans remember from that day--word of the crash in Pennsylvania, the final phone calls from hijacked planes, the final horror for those who jumped to their death to escape burning alive. In the years since, I've heard occasional speculation that I'm a different man after 9/11. I wouldn't say that. But I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.

To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. We decided, as well, to confront the regimes that sponsored terrorists, and to go after those who provide sanctuary, funding, and weapons to enemies of the United States. We turned special attention to regimes that had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, and might transfer such weapons to terrorists.

We did all of these things, and with bipartisan support put all these policies in place. It has resulted in serious blows against enemy operations: the take-down of the A.Q. Khan network and the dismantling of Libya's nuclear program. It's required the commitment of many thousands of troops in two theaters of war, with high points and some low points in both Iraq and Afghanistan--and at every turn, the people of our military carried the heaviest burden. Well over seven years into the effort, one thing we know is that the enemy has spent most of this time on the defensive--and every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed.

So we're left to draw one of two conclusions--and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event--coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come.

The key to any strategy is accurate intelligence, and skilled professionals to get that information in time to use it. In seeking to guard this nation against the threat of catastrophic violence, our Administration gave intelligence officers the tools and lawful authority they needed to gain vital information. We didn't invent that authority. It is drawn from Article Two of the Constitution. And it was given specificity by the Congress after 9/11, in a Joint Resolution authorizing "all necessary and appropriate force" to protect the American people.

Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn't serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people. 

In the years after 9/11, our government also understood that the safety of the country required collecting information known only to the worst of the terrorists. And in a few cases, that information could be gained only through tough interrogations. 

In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.

Our successors in office have their own views on all of these matters.

By presidential decision, last month we saw the selective release of documents relating to enhanced interrogations. This is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public's right to know. We're informed, as well, that there was much agonizing over this decision.

Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.

Over on the left wing of the president's party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they're after would be heard before a so-called "Truth Commission." Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals. It's hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors.

Apart from doing a serious injustice to intelligence operators and lawyers who deserve far better for their devoted service, the danger here is a loss of focus on national security, and what it requires. I would advise the administration to think very carefully about the course ahead. All the zeal that has been directed at interrogations is utterly misplaced. And staying on that path will only lead our government further away from its duty to protect the American people.

One person who by all accounts objected to the release of the interrogation memos was the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta. He was joined in that view by at least four of his predecessors. I assume they felt this way because they understand the importance of protecting intelligence sources, methods, and personnel. But now that this once top-secret information is out for all to see--including the enemy--let me draw your attention to some points that are routinely overlooked.

It is a fact that only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You've heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Muhammed--the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.

We had a lot of blind spots after the attacks on our country. We didn't know about al-Qaeda's plans, but Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and a few others did know. And with many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we didn't think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all. 

Maybe you've heard that when we captured KSM, he said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer. But like many critics of interrogations, he clearly misunderstood the business at hand. American personnel were not there to commence an elaborate legal proceeding, but to extract information from him before al-Qaeda could strike again and kill more of our people.

In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations. At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America's cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men.

Even before the interrogation program began, and throughout its operation, it was closely reviewed to ensure that every method used was in full compliance with the Constitution, statutes, and treaty obligations. On numerous occasions, leading members of Congress, including the current speaker of the House, were briefed on the program and on the methods. 

Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.

I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about "values." Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.

Those are the basic facts on enhanced interrogations. And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What's more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.

The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise. But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy. When just a single clue that goes unlearned, one lead that goes unpursued, can bring on catastrophe--it's no time for splitting differences. There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance.

Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy. Apparently using the term "war" where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated. So henceforth we're advised by the administration to think of the fight against terrorists as, quote, "Overseas contingency operations." In the event of another terrorist attack on America, the Homeland Security Department assures us it will be ready for this, quote, "man-made disaster"--never mind that the whole Department was created for the purpose of protecting Americans from terrorist attack.

And when you hear that there are no more, quote, "enemy combatants," as there were back in the days of that scary war on terror, at first that sounds like progress. The only problem is that the phrase is gone, but the same assortment of killers and would-be mass murderers are still there. And finding some less judgmental or more pleasant-sounding name for terrorists doesn't change what they are--or what they would do if we let them loose.

On his second day in office, President Obama announced that he was closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. This step came with little deliberation and no plan. Now the President says some of these terrorists should be brought to American soil for trial in our court system. Others, he says, will be shipped to third countries. But so far, the United States has had little luck getting other countries to take hardened terrorists. So what happens then? Attorney General Holder and others have admitted that the United States will be compelled to accept a number of the terrorists here, in the homeland, and it has even been suggested US taxpayer dollars will be used to support them. On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President's own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating into their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental. 

The administration has found that it's easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo. But it's tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America's national security. Keep in mind that these are hardened terrorists picked up overseas since 9/11. The ones that were considered low-risk were released a long time ago. And among these, we learned yesterday, many were treated too leniently, because 1 in 7 cut a straight path back to their prior line of work and have conducted murderous attacks in the Middle East. I think the President will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.

In the category of euphemism, the prizewinning entry would be a recent editorial in a familiar newspaper that referred to terrorists we've captured as, quote, "abducted." Here we have ruthless enemies of this country, stopped in their tracks by brave operatives in the service of America, and a major editorial page makes them sound like they were kidnap victims, picked up at random on their way to the movies. 

It's one thing to adopt the euphemisms that suggest we're no longer engaged in a war. These are just words, and in the end it's the policies that matter most. You don't want to call them enemy combatants? Fine. Call them what you want--just don't bring them into the United States. Tired of calling it a war? Use any term you prefer. Just remember it is a serious step to begin unraveling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11.

Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a "recruitment tool" for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It's another version of that same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves."

It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so. Nor are terrorists or those who see them as victims exactly the best judges of America's moral standards, one way or the other.

Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them.

As a practical matter, too, terrorists may lack much, but they have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion, our belief in equal rights for women, our support for Israel, our cultural and political influence in the world--these are the true sources of resentment, all mixed in with the lies and conspiracy theories of the radical clerics. These recruitment tools were in vigorous use throughout the 1990s, and they were sufficient to motivate the nineteen recruits who boarded those planes on September 11, 2001.

The United States of America was a good country before 9/11, just as we are today. List all the things that make us a force for good in the world--for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences--and what you end up with is a list of the reasons why the terrorists hate America. If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don't stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for--our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

What is equally certain is this: The broad-based strategy set in motion by President Bush obviously had nothing to do with causing the events of 9/11. But the serious way we dealt with terrorists from then on, and all the intelligence we gathered in that time, had everything to do with preventing another 9/11 on our watch. The enhanced interrogations of high-value detainees and the terrorist surveillance program have without question made our country safer. Every senior official who has been briefed on these classified matters knows of specific attacks that were in the planning stages and were stopped by the programs we put in place.

This might explain why President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate. What value remains to that authority is debatable, given that the enemy now knows exactly what interrogation methods to train against, and which ones not to worry about. Yet having reserved for himself the authority to order enhanced interrogation after an emergency, you would think that President Obama would be less disdainful of what his predecessor authorized after 9/11. It's almost gone unnoticed that the president has retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances. When they talk about interrogations, he and his administration speak as if they have resolved some great moral dilemma in how to extract critical information from terrorists. Instead they have put the decision off, while assigning a presumption of moral superiority to any decision they make in the future.

Releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States. The harm done only begins with top secret information now in the hands of the terrorists, who have just received a lengthy insert for their training manual. Across the world, governments that have helped us capture terrorists will fear that sensitive joint operations will be compromised. And at the CIA, operatives are left to wonder if they can depend on the White House or Congress to back them up when the going gets tough. Why should any agency employee take on a difficult assignment when, even though they act lawfully and in good faith, years down the road the press and Congress will treat everything they do with suspicion, outright hostility, and second-guessing? Some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs. They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy.

As far as the interrogations are concerned, all that remains an official secret is the information we gained as a result. Some of his defenders say the unseen memos are inconclusive, which only raises the question why they won't let the American people decide that for themselves. I saw that information as vice president, and I reviewed some of it again at the National Archives last month. I've formally asked that it be declassified so the American people can see the intelligence we obtained, the things we learned, and the consequences for national security. And as you may have heard, last week that request was formally rejected. It's worth recalling that ultimate power of declassification belongs to the President himself. President Obama has used his declassification power to reveal what happened in the interrogation of terrorists. Now let him use that same power to show Americans what did not happen, thanks to the good work of our intelligence officials.

I believe this information will confirm the value of interrogations--and I am not alone. President Obama's own Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Blair, has put it this way: "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country." End quote. Admiral Blair put that conclusion in writing, only to see it mysteriously deleted in a later version released by the administration--the missing twenty-six words that tell an inconvenient truth. But they couldn't change the words of George Tenet, the CIA Director under Presidents Clinton and Bush, who bluntly said: "I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us."

If Americans do get the chance to learn what our country was spared, it'll do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogations in the years after 9/11. It may help us to stay focused on dangers that have not gone away. Instead of idly debating which political opponents to prosecute and punish, our attention will return to where it belongs--on the continuing threat of terrorist violence, and on stopping the men who are planning it.

For all the partisan anger that still lingers, our administration will stand up well in history--not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them. And when I think about all that was to come during our administration and afterward--the recriminations, the second-guessing, the charges of "hubris"--my mind always goes back to that moment.

To put things in perspective, suppose that on the evening of 9/11, President Bush and I had promised that for as long as we held office--which was to be another 2,689 days--there would never be another terrorist attack inside this country. Talk about hubris--it would have seemed a rash and irresponsible thing to say. People would have doubted that we even understood the enormity of what had just happened. Everyone had a very bad feeling about all of this, and felt certain that the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville were only the beginning of the violence.

Of course, we made no such promise. Instead, we promised an all-out effort to protect this country. We said we would marshal all elements of our nation's power to fight this war and to win it. We said we would never forget what had happened on 9/11, even if the day came when many others did forget. We spoke of a war that would "include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success." We followed through on all of this, and we stayed true to our word.

To the very end of our administration, we kept al-Qaeda terrorists busy with other problems. We focused on getting their secrets, instead of sharing ours with them. And on our watch, they never hit this country again. After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed.

Along the way there were some hard calls. No decision of national security was ever made lightly, and certainly never made in haste. As in all warfare, there have been costs--none higher than the sacrifices of those killed and wounded in our country's service. And even the most decisive victories can never take away the sorrow of losing so many of our own--all those innocent victims of 9/11, and the heroic souls who died trying to save them.

For all that we've lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the men known as high-value terrorists, I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims. As for those who asked them questions and got answers: they did the right thing, they made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.

Like so many others who serve America, they are not the kind to insist on a thank-you. But I will always be grateful to each one of them, and proud to have served with them for a time in the same cause. They, and so many others, have given honorable service to our country through all the difficulties and all the dangers. I will always admire them and wish them well. And I am confident that this nation will never take their work, their dedication, or their achievements, for granted.

Thank you very much.

Richard B. Cheney, the forty-sixth vice president of the United States, is a trustee of AEI.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Report Shows Air Quality Improved During Bush Administration By James Osborne

A recent report from a Washington think tank shows that levels of numerous gases linked with air pollution, like carbon monoxide, have fallen off since 2001 and air quality in the U.S. has improved significantly over the last decade.


May 20, 2009

As the Obama administration considers further steps to fight air pollution, a recent report from a Washington think tank shows that air quality in the United States has improved significantly over the last decade.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research analyzed data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and concluded that levels of numerous gases linked with air pollution have fallen off since 2001.

Among the findings: Carbon monoxide decreased by 39 percent, ozone by 6 percent, and sulfur dioxide by 32 percent.

"Pick any category you want and pollution levels are generally lower than they were seven years ago," said Steven Hayward, the policy analyst who authored the report, titled "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," for the conservative think tank.

"(Environmental groups) said air pollution was out of control, but this was always more about politics than it was fact," Hayward said.

Environmental groups agree that tremendous progress has been made since the 1980s, when cities like Houston and Los Angeles were thick with smog and acid rain devastated lakes and forests across the U.S.

But they add that the progress reflects "strong legislation," and they say the nation needs more of it.

"The reason we've had success over the last 40 years is because strong laws like the Clean Air Act work on pollution," said John Walke, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"But we have a long way to go. We've learned more. The science is better today than it was in 1980 or 1990. We now know we need stronger definitions of clean air to truly protect Americans.

"Over 150 million Americans live in areas with unhealthy air," Walke said. "If we can pass effective laws, we can reduce the problem."

In an e-mailed statement, the EPA said that it has seen success by a number of measures, but there are still key areas of the country "not meeting EPA's air quality standards."

President George W. Bush drew the ire of environmental groups throughout his eight years in the White House, perhaps the loudest in 2003 when he announced that he would end a Clean Air Act program that required older power plants, refineries and industrial sites to install pollution control devices when they expanded their operations.

But in looking over the data on air quality from the Bush years, Hayward notes that levels of most air pollutants decreased at a faster rate than they did during the Clinton administration.

"Mostly of it's technological change. Quite a bit of it's been forced by regulation, but a lot of it has been the marketplace," Hayward said. "The EPA has models that project an 80 percent decline in auto emissions. Nothing Bush could have done was going to change that."

Responding to Hayward's report, the EPA said it did not correlate drops in pollution levels to specific presidential decisions.

"Air quality regulations and progress overlap administrations," the agency said in a statement. "For example, ozone reductions that began in the East in 2004 resulted from a rule the agency issued in 1998."

Jeff Holmsted, a high-ranking official at the EPA from 2001-2005 and now an attorney with the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, acknowledged that the decrease in air pollution over the last eight years owes much to efforts of past administrations. But he called the statistics a vindication of Bush's environmental policy, which he said did away with cumbersome regulations while still protecting the environment.

"I think among people who actually understand how the regulatory process works, they, in private, would acknowledge that we accomplished a lot," Holmsted said.

Hayward began putting out his annual report in 1994 due to what he called "the lack of unity on environmental responsibility in this country."

Every year he combs through EPA data to present what he believes is a more comprehensive portrait of the state of the environment than what the mainstream media have provided following events like the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in 1989.

"Species extinction or nutrient run off from the Mississippi basin, these are big issues that get very little coverage," Hayward said. "It isn't a big catastrophe like a tanker crashing or a hurricane."

Hayward says his biggest gripe is the amount of media coverage given over to global warming.

He acknowledges that carbon dioxide levels are increasing in the earth's atmosphere, but he says there are gaps in global warming data, such as a recent trend toward cooler temperatures.

"We had temperature increases for two-and-a-half decades, but it suddenly seemed to switch a few years ago," Hayward said. "It might just be noise, but a lot longer and we'll have to think about it."

That might rub against the grain of environmentalists like Walke, who say the science behind global warming has improved dramatically over the last five years.

But for Hayward, the number of people that believe something is no indication that it's correct.

"If you look at survey data, what you find is three quarters of Americans think environmental quality is getting worse, but at the same time they tend to think their neighborhoods are getting better," he said. "People just don't have all the information."

Why Government Can't Run a Business: Politicians need headlines. Executives need profits. By John Steele Gordon


MAY 20, 2009

The Obama administration is bent on becoming a major player in -- if not taking over entirely -- America's health-care, automobile and banking industries. Before that happens, it might be a good idea to look at the government's track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible.

In 1913, for instance, thinking it was being overcharged by the steel companies for armor plate for warships, the federal government decided to build its own plant. It estimated that a plant with a 10,000-ton annual capacity could produce armor plate for only 70% of what the steel companies charged.

When the plant was finally finished, however -- three years after World War I had ended -- it was millions over budget and able to produce armor plate only at twice what the steel companies charged. It produced one batch and then shut down, never to reopen.

Or take Medicare. Other than the source of its premiums, Medicare is no different, economically, than a regular health-insurance company. But unlike, say, UnitedHealthcare, it is a bureaucracy-beclotted nightmare, riven with waste and fraud. Last year the Government Accountability Office estimated that no less than one-third of all Medicare disbursements for durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and hospital beds, were improper or fraudulent. Medicare was so lax in its oversight that it was approving orthopedic shoes for amputees.

These examples are not aberrations; they are typical of how governments run enterprises. There are a number of reasons why this is inherently so. Among them are:

1) Governments are run by politicians, not businessmen. Politicians can only make political decisions, not economic ones. They are, after all, first and foremost in the re-election business. Because of the need to be re-elected, politicians are always likely to have a short-term bias. What looks good right now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences even when those consequences can be easily foreseen. The gathering disaster of Social Security has been obvious for years, but politics has prevented needed reforms.

And politicians tend to favor parochial interests over sound economic sense. Consider a thought experiment. There is a national widget crisis and Sen. Wiley Snoot is chairman of the Senate Widget Committee. There are two technologies that are possible solutions to the problem, with Technology A widely thought to be the more promising of the two. But the company that has been developing Technology B is headquartered in Sen. Snoot's state and employs 40,000 workers there. Which technology is Sen. Snoot going to use his vast legislative influence to push?

2) Politicians need headlines. And this means they have a deep need to do something ("Sen. Snoot Moves on Widget Crisis!"), even when doing nothing would be the better option. Markets will always deal efficiently with gluts and shortages, but letting the market work doesn't produce favorable headlines and, indeed, often produces the opposite ("Sen. Snoot Fails to Move on Widget Crisis!").

3) Governments use other people's money. Corporations play with their own money. They are wealth-creating machines in which various people (investors, managers and labor) come together under a defined set of rules in hopes of creating more wealth collectively than they can create separately.

So a labor negotiation in a corporation is a negotiation over how to divide the wealth that is created between stockholders and workers. Each side knows that if they drive too hard a bargain they risk killing the goose that lays golden eggs for both sides. Just ask General Motors and the United Auto Workers.

But when, say, a school board sits down to negotiate with a teachers union or decide how many administrators are needed, the goose is the taxpayer. That's why public-service employees now often have much more generous benefits than their private-sector counterparts. And that's why the New York City public school system had an administrator-to-student ratio 10 times as high as the city's Catholic school system, at least until Mayor Michael Bloomberg (a more than competent businessman before he entered politics) took charge of the system.

4) Government does not tolerate competition. The Obama administration is talking about creating a "public option" that would compete in the health-insurance marketplace with profit-seeking companies. But has a government entity ever competed successfully on a level playing field with private companies? I don't know of one.

5) Government enterprises are almost always monopolies and thus do not face competition at all. But competition is exactly what makes capitalism so successful an economic system. The lack of it has always doomed socialist economies.

When the federal government nationalized the phone system in 1917, justifying it as a wartime measure that would lower costs, it turned it over to the Post Office to run. (The process was called "postalization," a word that should send shivers down the back of any believer in free markets.) But despite the promise of lower prices, practically the first thing the Post Office did when it took over was . . . raise prices.

Cost cutting is alien to the culture of all bureaucracies. Indeed, when cost cutting is inescapable, bureaucracies often make cuts that will produce maximum public inconvenience, generating political pressure to reverse the cuts.

6) Successful corporations are run by benevolent despots. The CEO of a corporation has the power to manage effectively. He decides company policy, organizes the corporate structure, and allocates resources pretty much as he thinks best. The board of directors ordinarily does nothing more than ratify his moves (or, of course, fire him). This allows a company to act quickly when needed.

But American government was designed by the Founding Fathers to be inefficient, and inefficient it most certainly is. The president is the government's CEO, but except for trivial matters he can't do anything without the permission of two separate, very large committees (the House and Senate) whose members have their own political agendas. Government always has many cooks, which is why the government's broth is so often spoiled.

7) Government is regulated by government.
When "postalization" of the nation's phone system appeared imminent in 1917, Theodore Vail, the president of AT&T, admitted that his company was, effectively, a monopoly. But he noted that "all monopolies should be regulated. Government ownership would be an unregulated monopoly."

It is government's job to make and enforce the rules that allow a civilized society to flourish. But it has a dismal record of regulating itself. Imagine, for instance, if a corporation, seeking to make its bottom line look better, transferred employee contributions from the company pension fund to its own accounts, replaced the money with general obligation corporate bonds, and called the money it expropriated income. We all know what would happen: The company accountants would refuse to certify the books and management would likely -- and rightly -- end up in jail.

But that is exactly what the federal government (which, unlike corporations, decides how to keep its own books) does with Social Security. In the late 1990s, the government was running what it -- and a largely unquestioning Washington press corps -- called budget "surpluses." But the national debt still increased in every single one of those years because the government was borrowing money to create the "surpluses."

Capitalism isn't perfect. Indeed, to paraphrase Winston Churchill's famous description of democracy, it's the worst economic system except for all the others. But the inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented.

Mr. Gordon is the author of "An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power" (HarperCollins, 2004).

Get Acorn Out Of Our Pockets, Elections


By PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY | Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Several prominent non-Republicans and ex-Republicans have been all over the media giving advice to Republicans about how they should re-brand themselves and which issues they should talk about. Among this unsolicited advice is that Republicans should stop criticizing Acorn.

Au contraire — Republicans should loudly demand that Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) be cut off from all further handouts of taxpayers' money. After all, didn't Barack Obama promise us an ethical administration and an end to the influence of lobbyists and special interests?

Acorn is one of the most successful lobbyists for taxpayers' money, which Acorn uses for very partisan special-interest activities. Acorn and its affiliated organizations (estimated at 270 related corporations and so-called nonprofits) are under investigation in more than a dozen states for voter registration fraud, and there's no question about which party and which candidate Acorn supports.

Nevertheless, Acorn and its affiliated organizations (disguised as nongovernmental "neighborhood stabilization" organizations) could receive $3 billion (with a B) from Obama's stimulus package and another $5.5 billion from his 2010 federal budget. That is after receiving $53 million of taxpayers' money over the last 15 years.

Nevada charged Acorn groups with submitting thousands of fraudulent voter registration forms in 2008, and illegally setting quotas for its canvassers and paying them bonuses for signing up more than 21 new voters a day. The Las Vegas registrar of voters believes 48% of registrations turned in by Acorn were fraudulent.

Nevada's Democratic attorney general said that Acorn's training manuals "clearly detail, condone and . . . require illegal acts," such as requiring workers to meet voter-registration targets in order to keep their jobs.

Pennsylvania authorities charged seven Acorn workers with falsifying voter registration forms. The voter registrar said that Acorn submitted at least 1,500 fraudulent registrations during last year's presidential campaign.

Washington state fined Acorn $25,000 after several employees were convicted of voter registration fraud in 2007.

Last year, eight national Acorn board members demanded an audit of Acorn's books. The result was that the eight were removed.

Acorn's blatantly partisan activities with taxpayers' and other nonprofit funds make it an appropriate target for a congressional hearing. After first agreeing to hold a hearing, the Democrats then reneged and refused.

Barack Obama has for years had a close working relationship with Acorn, as a community organizer, as the head of a registration effort for Project Vote (one of Acorn's partners), as attorney for a very important lawsuit and relying on it for get-out-the-vote assistance in his 2008 presidential campaign. When he met with Acorn leaders last year, Obama bragged that he "ran the Project Vote voter registrations drive in Illinois."

In 1995, Obama represented Acorn in a case upholding the Motor Voter Act. That law authorized postcard registration, which proved so useful to Acorn workers in filing false registrations.

In 2008, Obama's presidential campaign reported paying $832,000 to Citizens Consulting Inc., the umbrella group controlling Acorn, for get-out-the-vote efforts in key primary states.

Acorn and its affiliated groups put thousands of get-out-the-vote workers in battleground states during the presidential campaign last year.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., successfully persuaded the House Financial Services Committee to unanimously pass an amendment to the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act prohibiting any organization indicted for voter fraud from receiving federal housing grants. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., then had a tantrum and got the Democrats to remove it.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., tried to prohibit Acorn from getting federal funds through the new Serve America Act. But Harry Reid's Senate killed that constructive idea.

It's not just taxpayers' money that Acorn has had at its disposal. Acorn also has received generous grants from top recipients of federal bailout money. Bank of America (almost $3 million), Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase made big grants to Acorn Housing Corp., one of Acorn's many affiliated organizations.

It is particularly important to expose Acorn's political activities because of its new relationship with the Census Bureau, the agency tasked with compiling the 2010 census.

The count of the U.S. population will determine which states gain or lose votes in both the U.S. House and the Electoral College, and which districts get more federal handouts.

American constitutional government cannot survive if the population count is managed and manipulated by organizations with partisan bias. The importance of a fair and accurate count cannot be overestimated because the count can give one party an unfair advantage and control over America for the next decade.

Yet the Obama administration chose Acorn to recruit counters for the 2010 Census, and they are already canvassing neighborhoods.

An effort by Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., to sever the Census Bureau-Acorn partnership should be supported by all who want honest elections.

Emission Control


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Regulation: The administration announced Tuesday that it wants to increase car mileage standards. That will cause an inevitable increase in carnage on our highways, and could kill a car company or two.

Read More: Business & Regulation

Washington began imposing fuel mileage standards on cars sold in this country in the 1970s, and the urge to regulate has not abated.

Congress last reset the corporate-average fuel economy standard in 2007, passing a bill — signed by President Bush — requiring automakers to increase their fleetwide average, including minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks, to 35 mpg by 2020.

That's not good enough for the White House. It announced Tuesday that it will seek regulatory authority to impose a new standard of 35.5 mpg by 2016 and, for the first time, limits (a 30% reduction) on car greenhouse gas emissions.

The cost of this luxury will be steep:

• An additional $1,300 per car. This makes a new car unaffordable for a large segment of the population. Many will have no choice but to keep their current poor-mileage, heavy-polluting cars on the road, defeating the purpose of the program.

• Human lives. The administration is denying that the industry will have to downsize cars to meet the higher standards, but there's no way around it. Cars will have to be smaller and lighter, making them more vulnerable in crashes.

In 2002 the National Academy of Sciences reported that "the downweighting and downsizing that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of which was due to CAFE standards, probably resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993."

The CAFE standard in 1978 was 18 mpg, roughly half of what the White House wants to require beginning with the 2016 models. How much deadlier will the new cars be? Sadly, we'll soon see.

• The existence of at least one U.S. carmaker. Sam Kazman, general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told us the research-and-development costs for building a fleet that can meet the mileage and emissions requirements will be such a burden that one of the three domestic automakers, which are in failing financial health, might not survive.

Supporters of the harsher standards like to point out that the industry would rather have a single federal standard for greenhouse gas emissions than a patchwork of state standards. (California has tried to establish its own greenhouse gas limits.) That might be so. But as Kazman says, all carmakers are doing is asking for one noose around their necks rather than several.

With this initiative, Washington is yet again trying to force a solution for problems that don't exist — or wouldn't if government would get out of the way.

What's the value of saving 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the program, as the administration claims the standards will? By simply opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to the drill, we would have more far more than that in the pipeline. A U.S. Geological Survey estimate indicates that ANWR could hold as much as 17 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

And what are the benefits of removing 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air? This is a useless exercise. Carbon is a naturally occurring element and a weak greenhouse gas.

Man contributes less than 4% of the total volume of CO2, which itself makes up just 0.038% of the atmosphere. It's a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction.

Americans don't need their government dictating what kind of vehicles they'll drive. Yet Washington is busy taking over automakers and imposing its will on car design. Eventually, every car made in Detroit will have only Reverse and no Drive in its transmission to reflect government's forced direction on the industry.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Now Available! The Reagan Diaries Unabridged


The definitive unabridged edition of the historic and deeply revealing personal diaries kept by Ronald Reagan during his time in the White House

• The abridged edition of The Reagan Diaries was a #1 New York Times bestseller and hit numerous lists across the nation. Harper Perennial will simultaneously publish the trade paperback edition of the abridged edition.

• The new material in the unabridged edition has never before been revealed beyond a handful of scholars.

When The Reagan Diaries, an abridged selection of the diaries of the 40th president, was published in May 2007, it went to number one on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and became a national bestseller. Now Harper and the Reagan Foundation are proud to present the complete, unabridged diaries from his years in office, 1981 to 1989, in a beautifully designed two-volume boxed set. Visually stunning, the diaries capture the beloved president’s trademark wit, intelligence, and humor for posterity. Sure to become a collector’s item, it is the perfect gift for fans, historians, and political aficionados.

Ronald Reagan was born in 1911 in Illinois. After a career as a television and film star, he was twice elected the governor of California before becoming the 40th president of the United States. He died on June 5, 2004.

Three Modest Health Care Reforms Will Obviate Bureaucratic Quagmire


By PAUL HOWARD AND DAVID GRATZER | Posted Monday, May 18, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Worried about increasing health care costs, Americans understandably want meaningful reforms that make health insurance more affordable. All the momentum currently rests with the Democrats, who are pushing a new, expensive health care entitlement modeled on Medicare or Medicaid. 

But a huge new bureaucracy overseeing health care — which would be the result of such a plan — would cause more problems than it solves. Rather than step into a national health care quagmire, more modest, but important and effective reforms should be considered.

No one disagrees that our health care insurance model needs reform. For those not covered by their employer, health insurance is feverishly expensive. A family plan in New York costs more than $12,000 a year.

But an interstate comparison yields surprising results: a family policy can cost a fraction of that amount in Wisconsin (about $3,000).

Everyone's Covered

Why the extraordinary difference? Partly because in many states, regulations force people to buy coverage for certain conditions or treatments, driving up the price of basic policies.

In 46 states, for example, health insurance must cover chiropractor services; in 13 states, it must cover in vitro fertilization; in 11 states, it must cover acupuncture services. People who want to try to conquer their nicotine habit with a needle in their foot should have that right, of course — but should this service really be required?

Other states have gone further, demanding that no one be refused insurance — a policy known as "guaranteed issue" — and that everyone pay the same price, regardless of age or health status (known as "community rating").

Combining these ideas — as legislators have done in New York and Massachusetts — makes it easy for people to take advantage, waiting until they are ill before getting health insurance. The resulting system is expensive and dysfunctional.

Reduce Regulation

If Washington really wants to get to the root of the problem, it needs to focus on reducing the regulatory burden. There are different ways of doing this, but among the simplest would be to permit people to buy health insurance across state lines, thereby diminishing the impact of the regulations by increasing competition between jurisdictions.

Members of Congress have exempted themselves from these very regulations. What's good enough for them ought to be good enough for the rest of us.

Another major problem is the existing U.S. system of employer-based health insurance and the way our tax code favors wage-and-salary workers. Thus, an executive with a gold-plated health insurance plan will receive his benefits tax-free, but his out-of-work cousin (or his early-retiree brother) who wants a bare-bones policy will be forced to pay in after-tax dollars.

The self employed are not treated equitably by the tax code, either: They get a deduction, but not one equal to the benefit received by wage-and-salary employees.

Why not cap the health insurance tax exclusion and extend it to others who want to pay for their own insurance? And because some would opt out of their employers' plans, this incremental step would start divorcing Americans from job-based insurance — but gradually and on a voluntary basis.

Finally, Americans don't just need competition in health insurance to tame rising costs. They need to take their own health seriously. American health care, as it is currently structured, gives people little incentive to attend to diet, exercise and other health concerns.

Employer-based and government-provided health insurance can offset the financial consequences of bad health habits, since all the people in a corporation pay the same premium regardless of their health status.

Thus, someone who overeats and never exercises may have his diabetic medications subsidized by a health-conscious colleague working two cubicles down the hall. If, as we so often hear, obesity is a major national problem, why not offer an incentive for those who make better choices? One simple approach would be to offer Americans a small tax rebate if their doctor certifies that they have a BMI (Body Mass Index) under 30.

Moving Forward

These three modest reforms — permitting interstate competition among health plans, changing the tax code's treatment of health insurance and offering tax incentives for better personal health — would extend access to affordable private health insurance and help tame rising health care costs. They would also help instill in the system the oldest of American virtues: personal responsibility.

Sure, they may not be as flashy as promising Medicare for everyone who wants it. But these prudent proposals would at least help move the system toward a sustainable future, instead of a costly and inefficient government bureaucracy.

Howard is director for the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute.

Gratzer, a physician, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

This piece is excerpted from an article in the Spring issue of The New Atlantis (