Friday, July 30, 2004

Our Media Suffers From Short-Term Memory Loss

Remember, some three weeks ago, when The New Republic reported that the Bush administration had quietly pressured Pakistani officials to announce the arrest or killing of a high-level Al Qaeda operative during the Democratic National Convention?

Although the story was reported by the major news networks (and I posted it to this blog), no one said boo yesterday when, lo and behold, Pakistani officials announced they had captured Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, one of the United States' 21 most-wanted terrorists.

The announcement was made just hours before John Kerry delivered his acceptance speech.

Amazingly, Ghailani was arrested last Sunday, but word was leaked to the U.S. media only yesterday afternoon.

Is capturing an Al Qaeda operative good news? Of course it is. But the Bush White House -- or the aides or underlings who spoke with the Pakistanis on its behalf -- shouldn't be "politicizing" our national security. The circumstantial evidence -- what happened vs. what The New Republic said would happen -- is disturbing, but sadly not all that surprising.

And wouldn't it be nice to see the cable news geniuses put two and two together once in a while? CNN's Wolf Blitzer read the news of the capture yesterday without thinking twice, even though CNN ran The New Republic story, with several follow-ups, earlier this month. Shouldn't the Wolf Blitzers of the world be paying attention to the news they read?

As another blogger recently suggested, could you imagine a sports reporter showing so little interest or knowledge while covering, say, football? Could you imagine a sports reporter forgetting an accurate prediction of something disturbing -- that had only been made three weeks earlier? I can't either. And yet, this is how the Wolf Blitzers of the world work.

So you have a disturbing policy covered by a disinterested media. Is it any surprise the public is so confused?

David


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Mark Levin Comedy Hour Teases Mrs. Kerry

Poor Mark Levin.

Levin, no doubt bankrupt for ideas to spur on his laughable WABC radio show, turned his attention to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Mrs. Kerry was scheduled to speak last night at the Democratic National Convention, so what better time to throw out a few insults?

Levin says things that he can't possibly believe to be true, but the insatiable appetite of the Rush Limbaugh crowd keeps his ratings up, and WABC turned his "comedy hour" into a two-hour bonanza a few months back.

Yesterday, he scoffed at Mrs. Kerry, who he called a "European socialist" -- surprising, because she's from Mozambique, and was a registered Republican until a couple of years ago. But you know, all those funny accents must sound French to Levin -- if for no other reason than to match the oft-mentioned claim among conservatives that Sen. John Kerry "looks French."

Levin then made fun of Mrs. Kerry's acclaimed track record of a philanthropist, on behalf of the fortunes of the family of her late husband -- Senator John Heinz (R-Pa.). "Give me a billion dollars," Levin shouted, and he'd be an acclaimed philanthropist, too.

Funny stuff. You'd almost think that Levin was jealous.

What's really funny, though, is that Levin's career has been helped along by another rich Pittsburghian -- billionaire conservative loon Richard Mellon Scaife. Levin was the high-profile president of the Scaife-bankrolled Landmark Legal Foundation, which one could argue propelled him to his job at WABC.

Scaife is also the publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which fought a well-funded war against the Clintons throughout the 1990s, fostering myths that Bill and Hillary were murderers, and that Bill was a rapist and a cocaine user, and so on. When Mrs. Kerry said "shove it," she wasn't talking to a reporter, but to the editorial page editor of the same Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

You do the math. Mrs. Kerry insults someone who works for Scaife, and Levin suddenly shoots insults -- albeit ludicrous ones -- Mrs. Kerry's way.

But for all his flaws, Scaife has a track record for being a philanthropist, too -- when he's not giving money to conservative institutes or funding efforts to dig up dirt about the Clintons. Maybe the best-case scenario is for Levin to give up his high-paying job running his WABC comedy show, and instead help spend Scaife's money for the greater good.

David

Monday, July 26, 2004

Bush is Failing Our Troops

I will try to prove that President Bush is a failure in leading our troops, even though it's clear conservative pundits are too busy repeating Bush's false charges against critics of the war to notice or care.

Bush, and the punditry supporting him, have equated criticism of the war as criticism of the troops, a claim they know is fraudulent, and a debating device that is frankly un-American, for it suggests that Americans can only exercise freedom of speech if it's in support of government policy.

Bush and the pundits go further by tricking the public on John Kerry's vote on the $87 billion spending bill for our troops. Bush and the pundits are so desperate to confuse the public on Kerry's vote that they have stooped to "politicizing" the war -- the very charge they falsely charge the Democrats with.

But that's politics. How about Bush's policies?

Forget the war itself, and the fact that the two main reasons for going to war -- collaboration with Al Qaeda and a prevalence of weapons of mass destruction -- have been proven false. Forget that our troop deployment has done little to slow Al Qaeda, left us no safer in the war on terror, and cost us more than can be imagined in lives, credibility and (least important) the surplus lost because of this administration.

There will always be people who can rationalize the war -- the claim that the world without Saddam is a better place is true, even if the current Iraq is no better than the pre-war Iraq. But I don't want to turn this into a debate about the war. That would play right into the hands of the flag-waving conservatives. Instead, I want to discuss our unfathomable treatment of our troops by this administration.

Consider the following:

1) The Bush administration is doing everything possible to avoid a draft -- no doubt because of the political recriminations that a draft will cause.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "the Pentagon is considering extending the mobilization of National Guard soliders who will soon hit the federal limit of 24 months of active service, defense officials said Tuesday." Last month, "the Army was forced to dip into its pool of Individual Ready Reserve soldiers — troops who are not members of a specific reserve unit but have unexpired obligations to complete their military service — looking for roughly 5,600 to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan." Among those called back up was a 68-year-old Alabama doctor.

2) The Bush administration is failing to pay soldiers on time. What easier way is there to say that Bush is failing our troops? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 95% of soldiers at eight Army Reserve units sent to Iraq and other Middle East bases "experienced significant problems getting paid, creating stress and concern about the financial well-being of their families back home."

The Government Accountability Office reports that some soldiers, in reporting problems getting paid, said those problems lasted for over a year. Progress Report, citing one soldier who reached out to his congressman because he hadn't been paid, quoted the soldier as saying: "How can I, in a combat environment, find out if my 4-month old and my 5½-year-old kids are taken care of? I don't want to be rash, but it was like a slap in the face."

3) The lengthy troop deployments have hurt communities here in the U.S. -- something the Bush administration apparently didn't plan on, and has made no effort to offset.

According to the New York Times: "with tens of thousands of their citizen soldiers now deployed in Iraq, many of the nation's governors complained on Sunday to senior Pentagon officials that they were facing severe manpower shortages. In Arizona, officials say, more than a hundred prison guards are serving overseas, leaving their already crowded prisons badly short-staffed. In Tennessee, officials are worried about rural sheriff's and police departments, whose ranks have been depleted by the guard call-up. In Virginia, the concern is hurricanes; in Missouri, floods. And in a small town in Arkansas, Bradford, both the police chief and the mayor are now serving in Iraq, leaving their substitutes a bit overwhelmed."

4) The Bush administration has allowed unscrupulous insurance companies to offer mandatory insurance and investment advice to troops. Some of the insurers have been cited by the department of justice, and-or have been fined, and-or have been forced to pay back troops, because of deceptive practices. According to Progress Report: some soldiers have been required to attend compulsory briefings which turn out to be misleading sales pitches dressed up as personal finance and savings lectures. The New York Times explains the scam exists in part due to "the axis between Capitol Hill and K Street, where the insurance industry has easy access to Congress, lobbying power and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to generate legislative pressure." For example, "Three members of the House Armed Services Committee have received donations from at least one of the insurance organizations since 1999."

5) The Bush administration's insistence that "only a few bad seeds" were reponsible for the actions at ABu Ghraib should be more than enough proof of how little this administration cares for its troops. This claim, which fails even basic logic -- where did the troops get the whips and hoods and electrodes -- is about as disingenous as a drug dealer who stuffs a bag of pot down the pants of his underage lookout, then claims innocence.

***

The next time President Bush, or one of the empty, cynical conservative pundits says that John Kerry or other leading Democrats have politicized the war or failed to support the troops, remember the above. Those aren't talking points -- those are policies of this administration. All the flag-waving in the world won't make up for the abuse of power this administration has had with regard to our troops.

David

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Psst. There's No Al Qaeda-Iraq Link. Pass it on.

"Recent polls have shown that more than 40 percent of the American public is still convinced that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda and had a role in the terrorist attacks," the Washington Post reports.

How can that be? How can such a higher percentage -- although not as high as the 59% figure I saw about a year ago -- still can be so misinformed?

The 9/11 commission found no evidence of a "collaborative operational relationship between the two. No role for Iraq in attacking the U.S. on 9/11.

Were there "contacts," or attempts at such, between the two? Circumstantial evidence suggests this, but some of the most notable references were essentially debunked by the 9/11 commission. As reported in the latest Progress Report:

Specifically, it found "Lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat, Samir al Ani, probably did not meet in Prague on April 9, 2001. It said surveillance photos taken around the Iraqi Embassy, where the meeting was alleged to have taken place, show no evidence of Atta." The White House has eagerly promulgated this uncorroborated story since 9/11 in an attempt to link al Qaeda with Iraq. Vice President Cheney said the meeting was "pretty well confirmed," and Richard Perle, while Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, said, "Muhammed Atta met (a secret collaborator of Saddam Hussein) prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn't just there for a holiday." The CIA, FBI and Czech intelligence have all debunked this myth in the past.

But even if there were contacts, or attempts at contacts, that doesn't mean that Iraq was behind 9/11. Even if an Al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Al-Zaquari, has resided in Iraq, that doesn't mean Iraq was "harboring" him, or that Iraq was behind 9/11. (Using that rationale, the fact that there were Al Qaeda in the U.S. pre-9/11 could be used to ridiculously suggest that the U.S. was harboring Al Qaeda, and possibly was behind 9/11.)

Why do 40 percent of Americans think this is so? You might recall an earlier JABBS in which I scoffed at MSNBC's Dan Abrams, who looked at a similar poll and essentially suggested Americans were stupid to believe such misinformation. Abrams cited official statements from the president, saying that Iraq was not behind 9/11.

But what Abrams failed to recognize -- and what I think is the real reason 40 percent of Americans remain uninformed -- is that members of the administration, led by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, have made misleading statements about Iraq and Al Qaeda. Statements that may be technically or legally accurate, but that the average listener could easily misinterpret. For example, what would the average listener think when Bush, on the air-craft carrier with the "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him, said that the U.S., in capturing Saddam, had eliminated an "ally of Al Qaeda" and a "patron of terror." Would the average listener think:

a) We have eliminated someone who support Al Qaeda and its terror actions against the U.S.
b) We have eliminated someone who posed a threat much like Al Qaeda -- in that Saddam hated the U.S. and we believe he wanted to do us harm -- and who has a record of offering monetary support for families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

And with the conservative punditry dominating our radio waves, television talk shows and editorial pages -- not to mention the affect such people have on "mainstream" media -- those misleading (but technically accurate) statements by Bush and Cheney get amplified over and over, regurgitated and, no doubt, enhanced.

Why do 40 percent of Americans think Iraq was behind Al Qaeda's attack of the U.S. Because they are listening to the conservatives. They are "true believers" of the Bush-Cheney administration, most likely getting their news from some combination of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News Channel. They are most likely to not listen to alternatives -- such as mainstream media -- because they believe the conservative-driven myth that such news entities suffer from a liberal bias.

Hey, let those 40 percent vote for Bush-Cheney. The rest of us know the truth, and we'll vote accordingly come November.

David

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Air America Loses Credibility With "Bush Twins" Jokes

Randi Rhodes, Air America's response to Rush Limbaugh, poked fun at the "Bush Twins" -- George W.'s daughters -- during her show this afternoon.

Running a pre-recorded bit poking fun at a recent comment by George himself, the announcer noted that the bit was brought to you by the twins, who were then labeled the future axis of evil.

I've said before that for all that Air America has brought to radio -- and I'm a frequent listener -- I'm sometimes bothered when some of the network's hosts cross that line between poking fun and being downright nasty, often via personal (rather than policy) attacks.

Especially in this election season, when anything a Democrat says or does can be used, sometimes several months later, to distract the public (see the Sandy Berger saga), Rhodes and her producers should skip the low road.

About a decade ago, when Rush Limbaugh had a syndicated television show, he made a poorly conceived joke at Chelsea Clinton's expense. The joke was in such poor taste that even years later, it was criticized, most notably by Rhodes' fellow Air America host, Al Franken.

Now, Chelsea was about 12 at the time and the Bush girls are 22. And Chelsea was being nothing other than the first daughter, while the Bush twins have decided to head out on the campaign trail. But those fine lines won't stop the conservative punditry -- Air America basher Bill O'Reilly comes to mind -- from using Rhodes' "joke" at Air America's expense, and ultimately the liberal voice the network represents.

***

Dennis Miller, a former Saturday Night Live performer who now hosts a conservative show on CNBC, has not made a secret who is rooting for this election season. When his show started, the self-described libertarian said he would give Bush a "free pass," and his show has suffered as a result.

Miller was on the campaign trail in Wisconsin last week, warming up the audience for Bush, and among the "jokes" he told was one suggesting that John Kerry and John Edwards should "get a room" -- a reference to various hugs and other signs of warmth between the men.

Miller may very well have inspired unnamed Bush aides, as referenced by U.S. News & World Report last week, who were quietly speculating that Saturday Night Live should do a John-John version of its "Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoon.

Yes, gay jokes. The GOP can't get enough of them.

On the heels of Kerry having to distance himself from Whoopi Goldberg, for her off-color remarks at Bush's expense at a Kerry fundraiser, why hasn't the media asked Bush to distance himself from Miller? Where's the fury from all those conservative politicians and pundits, so quick to denounce the Kerry "hate fest" that featured Goldberg?

"Fair and balanced" my ass.

David

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Watch Ashcroft Spin Those Patriot Act Convictions!

John Ashcroft released a 30-page piece of propaganda yesterday: "Report from the Field: The USA Patriot Act at Work."

Congress has asked for information about the use of the USA Patriot Act -- indictments, convictions, successes and failures -- as it determines whether to extend provisions that expire next year. Ashcroft has been reluctant to help, and instead issued what amounts to little more than a press release.

The conservative pundits will no doubt harp on a statistic in the report: 310 defendants have been charged with criminal offenses since 9/11, and 179 have been convicted.

Huzzah! You can almost hear Rush and Sean and Laura and Neil and the rest of the gang.

But something to note: The report doesn't make clear what those 310 people have been charged with, or what those 179 people have been convicted of.

Anecdotally, it would appear most of those arrests and convictions are unrelated to terrorism. A report in Newsweek a few months back suggested that two-thirds of the investigations undertaken as a result of the Patriot Act dealt with issues such as drug trafficking and bribery. I'm not suggesting drug trafficking should go unchecked, but the legal system as was certainly allowed for convictions of such crimes.

The report suggests there are two choices: extend the provisions as is (good) or revert to the way things used to be (bad -- boom -- watch out for Al Qaeda!!!) But the sane among us are proposing a third choice -- a middle ground that would better protect civil liberties, without eliminating the benefits of the act (such as improved communication between various law enforcement agencies).

Ashcroft is to busy protecting his turf to consider anything but allowing his fiefdom to reign. The conservative punditry no doubt will agree.

David

Hannity and the Search for "Moderates" (LOL)

Had to pass along this nugget from talkingpointsmemo.com:

Tom Coburn, a former member of the House of Representatives from Oklahoma, who is campaigning to become the Republican party's candidate to replace retiring Senator Don Nickles, recently said he supports the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.

"I favor the death penalty," Coburn told the Associated Press last week, "for abortionists and other people who take life."

***

The good news is, the Democrats have a good chance of winning the seat (as posted in an earlier JABBS).

***

You have to wonder if Coburn's point of view will be expressed at the upcoming Republican National Convention.

Sean Hannity, in his blowhard style, asked on yesterday's Hannity & Colmes: "Where are the moderates" at the Democratic National Convention. Hannity bemoaned John Kerry and John Edwards -- who he frequently labels the #1 and #4 liberals in the Senate -- and all the other "liberals" the party will "trot out" at the convention.

(FYI: The "#1 and #4" rankings are based on a limited number of votes during the current session. Neither Kerry nor Edwards was available for the bulk of votes taken, as both men were busy running for president. A more fair ranking -- not that Hannity would have noticed -- would be to look at their rankings over their Senate careers. Using that measure, Kerry ranks #11, and Edwards ranks #24. In other words, Kerry could be argued as a liberal Democrat, but Edwards is clearly a moderate in the party. And considering Kerry's track record as a fiscal conservative, it'd be tough to accurately label his voting record with a single word.)

Hannity, of course, doesn't want to discuss the GOP convention in such terms. But watch for the bait and switch played out on your television sets next month. The GOP will showcase New York moderates such as Rudy Guiliani, George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg -- people who have almost no voice in the Republican Party's platform. Zell Miller will also be on hand -- the retiring Democratic Senator from Georgia who has lashed out against his party and loyally voted with the GOP since 9/11. Again, Miller's views will in large part not be part of the GOP platform.

Be certain that even George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (and other members of the administration that get to speak -- Colin Powell comes to mind) will put the "compassion" out front and center as they make the case for "compassionate conservativism" or whatever other euphemism they repeat incessantly over the airwaves.

The Bush record will be glossed over. Programs that Bush put forth and that received bipartisan support -- only to be underfunded by the administration to the point of uselessness -- will be thrown out as examples of the "moderate" face of the GOP. It's all a sham, as anyone paying attention to the gap between what Bush says and what Bush does can attest. The Tom Coburns of the world are the true voice of the GOP's domestic agenda -- anti-women, anti-gay, anti-black. Whatever benefits the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells and James Dobsons and their hatemongering, fearmongering vision of our nation. The Bush tax agenda is designed to foster an aristocracy -- benefiting those who inherit rather than those who earn their fortune. The "Two Americas" John Edwards speaks of exists, and the hypocrisy is that the GOP dares suggest Edwards is disingenious because he is a poster boy for the American Dream.

And let's not get into the failed foreign policy ...

***

Sean Hannity wants to look the other way, label every Democrat a "liberal" as if liberalism were a disease, and then ask where the "moderates" have gone. He twists the question to fit his agenda -- the "moderates" are represented in the Democratic platform, and many of those labeled by a right-winger like Hannity as "liberal" would consider themselves "moderate." No doubt, the Republican Noise Machine will reverberate Hannity's sentiments until Election Day (whenever that is ...)

It's a game the GOP plays well -- and too often, the Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzers of the world sit by idly, unwilling to contradict the name-calling and bait-and-switch games. The joke making the rounds here is that if the Republicans said the sky was green, the New York Tiimes would need a Democrat to be on the record contradicting that before writing its story of "conflict."

David

Sunday, July 11, 2004

GOP Spins Edwards' Experience and the Media Play Along

When the GOP and the conservative punditry aren't trumpeting John Edwards' wealth, or his background as a trial lawyer, you can be sure they are "questioning" his lack of experience.

After all, Edwards has barely served a term in the Senate. And these are dangerous times, what with all the redundant yet vague terror alerts from Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft.

But is Edwards really lacking experience? The GOP is spinning that point, and the media is eager to lap it up. In an MSNBC "web exclusive," Newsweek and MSNBC contributor Howard Fineman discusses Edwards' lack of experience, saying he can't think of hardly anyone with as little experience.

Except President Bush, but Fineman argues Bush is from a political family. That, he supposes, added to his credentials as a one-term Texas governor back in 2000.

Fineman can't think of anyone else, but then again, our pundits aren't paid to do research. They're paid to think on their feet, debate with vigor, and roll over anytime a GOP spin point comes bobbing along. So while Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell and Bush himself making passing references to Edwards' "troubling" lack of experience, here are a few other names from recent history -- folks who were on a presidential ticket and had about as much experience in public office as Edwards.

-- Thomas Dewey. He had six years experience when he ran for president in 1948. You might remember that was three years after another dangerous time -- WWII.

-- Adlai Stevenson. He had four years expeirence when he became the 1952 Democratic nominee. And he lost to a poltiical first-timer, Dwight Eisenhower.

-- Spiro Agnew. Not a great example, of course, but Agnew had six years under his belt as Maryland governor when he was tapped to run with Richard Nixon in 1968.

-- Geraldine Ferraro. She had six years experience in Congress when she was tabbed as Walter Mondale's veep choice in 1984.

So a mix of winners and losers, Democrats and Republicans, presidential candidates and vice presidential candidates. Only Eisenhower, a war hero, stands out as one who didn't need "political experience" to be deemed worthy of a place on a ticket.

Of course, the average American isn't going to look up this type of history (my thanks to Josh Marshall, the Atlantic Monthly contrbutor and host of talkingpointsmemo.com). But what can be said when someone paid to do some research, someone like a Howard Fineman or one of the cable show hosts, fails to do so?

The result is that the Trent Lotts of the world get a free pass, and the well-organized GOP spin is able to get a foothold in voters' minds.

And for those voters who don't care about Edwards' "troubling" lack of experience, did you realize he's a wealthy trial lawyer?

David

Saturday, July 10, 2004

When Asked a GOP-Framed Question, the Dems Can't Play Along

Steve Jarding, John Edwards' former campaign strategist, was representing the Democrats tonight on Hardball, matching wits with Rick Davis, the former John McCain campaign strategist, and host Chris Matthews.

Jarding in general did a good job standing up for the Kerry-Edwards ticket, and refuting some of the spin from Davis ... except when this question was posed by Matthews:

Matthews asked (and I'm paraphrasing): What would your guy have done after 9/11?

Matthews' follow-up (and I'm again paraphrasing): Would you have gone into Iraq?

These are reasonable questions to ask, and for as articulate and quick-witted as Jarding was otherwise in this rumble, he was a mush-mouth during the exchange on the war.

The problem, in part, is that Democrats allow themselves to be fenced-in by the GOP-framed question: What about Iraq? Or its variants: What would you do different in Iraq? What would your guy do differently to get us out of Iraq? The question immediately leads to a Democrat talking about international relations and alliances ant the U.N., which leads conservatives to talk about the French and the possibly bogus charges about UN scandals with the oil-for-food program in Iraq.

(A side note: The source of information for that "scandal" charge was Ahmed Chalabi. The same Ahmed Chalabi who the Bush administration charges lied to them about Iraq. The charge is being investigated by former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, but nothing has been proven, and Chalabi thus far has failed to provide ample documentation to prove his charge).

Here's how the Democrats should answer the question (I'll add a couple of responses to what I imagine the Rick Davises of the world would say):

MATTHEWS: What would your guy have done after 9/11?

DEMOCRAT: Chris, we had the world behind us after 9/11. Everyone was saying 'We're Americans, too." A Democratic president would have used that worldwide support to go after and dismantle Al Qaeda, no matter how long and arduous that process was. A Democratic president would have been prepared even to ruffle feathers among some of our allies, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to crush Osama Bin Laden.

MATTHEWS: Would you have gone after Iraq?

DEMOCRAT: Of course not. Six days after 9/11, we knew Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So the war in Iraq would have been unnecessary in fighting the real culprits of 9/11 -- Al Qaeda.

DAVIS: See, these guys want you to believe it would be better for Saddam to be in power and torture ...

DEMOCRAT: That's just spin, Rick, and you know it. Saddam was a horrendous dictator who committed brutal crimes against humanity. And yes, he was a patron of terror in supporting the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. But that battle should have been left for another day, Rick. Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda attacking us. And there's no way you can spin that, Rick.

MATTHEWS: But your man, Kerry, and Edwards, too, voted for the war ...

DEMOCRAT: They voted to give the president the authority to go to war as a last resort. The president didn't do that. And let's face it: the Senate was working off intelligence provided to them by the Bush administration, cherry-picked from flawed CIA intelligence. Now, Iraq has become a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda has committed a seeminly endless series of terrorist acts against our citizens and our allies. That's wrong, and this president should be held accountable.

***

Just once, I'd like to see a Democrat frame his answer around the idea that the guy who attacked us is still at large, rather than allowing the conservatives and their pundit friends -- and the weak-kneed talk show hosts -- to frame the question for them, and thus fence them into a discussion of Iraq and nothing else.

***

One other note: The "First Choice" Bush-Cheney ad (the one featuring John McCain) provides an interesting montage of images that says tons about how Bush-Cheney 2004 continue trying to spin the War on Terror. Watch it closely as we go from an image of an American soldier (presumably in Iraq) to an image of Osama Bin Laden, while John McCain discusses how this president "has not wavered" in the War on Terror.

Unless Osama himself is in Iraq, the message is clear: the war against Osama goes through Iraq.
Think about that, and ask yourself: Why isn't the media being tougher on this administration's continued efforts to claim "ties" or "contacts" between Saddam and Osama? Cheney is still out there, talking to the faithful, about the "long history" between the two.

Were there ties or contacts? The evidence suggests there was attempts, but beyond that, it's not clear. What we do know is that six days after 9/11, the Bush administration concluded that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11.

Instead of allowing the conservatives to frame the question -- Was it a tie or a contact between Iraq and Al Qaeda? Did some Iraqi meet with Mohammad Atta in Prague? Was there any Al Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11?-- why can't the weak-kneed media re-frame the question -- Has the administration proven that Iraq was behind 9/11? Was there proof that Iraq was planning an attack against the U.S., with or without Al Qaeda?

If the media refused to buy into the conservative framing of the question, the answer would be a lot easier for people to decipher.

***

Dan Abrams, the MSNBC host, chastised the American people recently (as written here in JABBS) about continuing to believe that Iraq was behind 9/11. Abrams refused to criticize Cheney or the Bush administration as a whole in its efforts to write legally correct but nonetheless misleading statements, a practice Cheney continues today.

No, neither Bush nor Cheney nor Rice nor Rumsfeld nor Powell said that Saddam was behind 9/11. But when Bush said that Iraq was an "ally of Al Qaeda and a patron of terror," among other statements, it's no wonder more than half of Americans polled at one point thought that was true (it's now closer to 30%).

Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard columnist and conservative pundit, wrote a book about the "connections" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. His main source was documents that were quickly discredited by the CIA as being false. However, Cheney used those same documents to defend his statements tying Iraq and Al Qaeda, and has since praised Hayes' book, and more recently granted Hayes a lengthy interview, citing him as a favorite journalist.

Someone should remind the weak-kneed hosts about that the next time they book Hayes as a guest, or cite a Cheney statement on foreign policy. And maybe some Democrat can remember that the next time he or she is fenced-in about the Iraq and post-Iraq policies of Bush-Cheney.

David

Friday, July 09, 2004

Not Surprisingly, GOP Caught "Politicizing" War on Terror

It's been a key buzzword for the GOP -- that John Kerry and the Democrats are "politicizing" the war in Iraq and what the Bush administration calls the "War on Terror."

As the Washington Post reported in May: "The Bush campaign has repeatedly accused (Kerry) of “politicizing” Iraq. Bush-Cheney chairman Marc Racicot told reporters Wednesday that Kerry is relentlessly “playing politics” and exploiting tragedy for political gain."

In truth, this GOP buzzword is meant to scare the ignorant populace into thinking that Kerry doesn't support the troops in Iraq, or that he's against fighting Al Qaeda. It's an easy term to throw out -- anyone who disagrees with the Bush administration qualifies as "politicizing" an issue. Throw in the fact that Kerry is running for president, and you quickly get the additional claim -- not only is Kerry "politicizing," but he's doing so for "political gain." That's a big no-no with the GOP, or so they say.

So it's ironic, although probably not surprising, to hear the gist of an article in The New Republic today that, if true, is an indicator of true "politicizing" by the Bush administration.

The article offers input from multiple Pakistani intelligence sources, who say they were told to caputre "High-Value" Al Qaeda targets in the last ten days of July -- no doubt so that the Bush administration could trumpet their arrests during the Democratic National Convention.

From the article:

This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials--from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official--have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf's government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a "sanctuary" for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. "The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better," he said.

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections." (These sources insisted on remaining anonymous. Under Pakistan's Official Secrets Act, an official leaking information to the press can be imprisoned for up to ten years.)

A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The Bush administration has matched this public and private pressure with enticements and implicit threats. During his March visit to Islamabad, Powell designated Pakistan a major non-nato ally, a status that allows its military to purchase a wider array of U.S. weaponry. Powell pointedly refused to criticize Musharraf for pardoning nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan--who, the previous month, had admitted exporting nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya--declaring Khan's transgressions an "internal" Pakistani issue. In addition, the administration is pushing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for Pakistan through Congress over Democratic concerns about the country's proliferation of nuclear technology and lack of democratic reform.

But Powell conspicuously did not commit the United States to selling F-16s to Pakistan, which it desperately wants in order to tilt the regional balance of power against India. And the Pakistanis fear that, if they don't produce an HVT, they won't get the planes. Equally, they fear that, if they don't deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan's security establishment in facilitating Khan's illicit proliferation network. One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole."

***

That's "politicizing" the War on Terror, folks.

The question is: Will Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer and the like notice? Or are they too exhausted from dancing and dodging and weaving with the conservative pundits trying to spin John Edwards as a "wealthy," "liberal,""disingeneous," "unaccomplished" lawyer who "pocketed" millions? I'll be watching the chatterboxes tonight, and hoping for the best. Something tells me it will be a long night.

David

Thursday, July 08, 2004

CIA Built Its Case for Iraqi WMD on Selective Hearsay

A startling report in yesterday's New York Times says the CIA selectively used hearsay to promote its "slam dunk" case for Iraq's WMD, and its threat to the world.

According to the Times: "The Central Intelligence Agency was told by relatives of Iraqi scientists before the war that Baghdad's programs to develop unconventional weapons had been abandoned, but the C.I.A. failed to give that information to President Bush."

As uncovered by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which the Times reports is preparing a "scathing indictment" of the CIA, "the agency and the rest of the intelligence community did a poor job of collecting information about the status of Iraq's weapons programs, and that analysts at the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies did an even worse job of writing reports that accurately reflected the information they had."

According to the Senate investigation, the CIA:

-- Misrepresented information
-- Distorted evidence
-- Failed to objectively consider intelligence counter to its basic assumption that Iraq was seeking to produce WMD

So much of what the CIA based its reports on amounted to little more than hearsay -- interviews with Iraqi dissidents or their families, with at least some of the people provided by the now-discredited Ahmed Chalabi. It's a wonder our intelligence couldn't conclude much of anything. Remember when Colin Powell presented at the United Nations an artist's rendering of a mobile bioterror unit? The reason for the drawing was that we had no photos of such units, which have since been shown not to exist. Powell also presented at the U.N. satellite photos of warehouses, with trucks coming and going, as evidence of Iraq's WMD programs. But Powell was only providing Iraqi defector hearsay that the warehouses served that purpose, from the likes of the discredited "Curveball" source, among others. Our troops and weapons inspectors found nothing at those sites upon inspection.

"Evidence that fit that assumption (that Iraq was seeking to produce WMD) was embraced; evidence to the contrary was ignored or seen as part of a clever Iraqi disinformation campaign," the Times reports.

***

Of course, that criticism could be made of the media as a whole. Who can forget when Gloria Borger of CNBC's Capitol Report introduced weapons inspector Scott Ritter as the "last man defending Saddam Hussein" -- mainly because Ritter was telling anyone who would listen that the Bush Administration's claims of Iraqi's WMD threat was wrong.

Strange, isn't it, how Ritter and Hans Blix and the various former CIA agents who came out -- on the record -- prior to the war to account the flaws in the Bush administration's arguments aren't now being trotted out on Hardball and Meet the Press and the like to be given the chance to comment now. These people were right, but the media wants to look the other way. It's as if the news is created in some strange vacuum, in which pundits have no long-term memory of things they said, or ignored.

Instead, cable viewers are treated to the opines of the Joe Scarboroughs of the world, who claim we went to Iraq to liberate Iraqis -- when he knows full well that wasn't the original reasoning given by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell or Rice. Americans are supposed to look forward -- to be "optimistic" to use Bush's favorite word -- instead of looking back at the administration's failure, and thus being overtly "pessimistic."

***

Here's a key part of the Times story (items bolded by me for emphasis):

Yet there were some people inside the intelligence community who recognized the need for better evidence, according to intelligence officials. In 1998, the United Nations withdrew its weapons inspectors from Iraq, severely hampering the C.I.A.'s ability to monitor Iraqi weapons efforts. In response, Charlie Allen, the agency's assistant director for collection, began searching for new sources of information, the intelligence officials said.

He pushed for several new collection programs, including one that called for approaching members of the families of Iraqi scientists believed to be involved in secret weapons programs, the officials said. At the time, the C.I.A. had no direct access to important Iraqi scientists, and using family members as intermediaries seemed like the next best thing.

Beginning in 2000, the C.I.A. contacted the relatives and asked them what they knew or could learn about the work being conducted by the scientists. Officials would not say how or where the relatives were contacted.

The relatives told the agency that the scientists had said that they were no longer working on illicit weapons, and that those programs were dead. Yet the statements from the relatives were never included in C.I.A. intelligence reports on Iraq that were distributed throughout the government. C.I.A. analysts monitoring Iraq apparently ignored the statements from the family members and continued to issue assessments that Mr. Hussein was still developing unconventional weapons, Senate investigators have found.

At the time, C.I.A. analysts were deeply cynical about statements from Iraqis suggesting that Mr. Hussein had no illicit weapons, and assumed that such talk was simply part of an Iraqi denial and deception program, several intelligence officials said.

In response, a C.I.A. spokesman said, the families' statements were "not at all convincing."

"There was nothing definitive about it," the spokesman said. "No useful information was collected from the family members, and that's why it wouldn't have been disseminated."

***

Given the complete failure to find WMD, in spite of significantly more time on the ground than the U.S. allowed the U.N. inspectors before the war, one has to question what the CIA found "convincing."

***

The Times reports that the Senate investigation has found no evidence of pressure from the Bush administration. "The committee has not found any evidence that the analysts changed their reports as a result of political pressure from the White House," the Times reports.

I have to wonder how they've made that conclusion. Is it just simply a lack of documentation? Didn't we hear Richard Clarke tell the 9/11 commission that it was strongly suggested to him that he find a link between Iraq and the events of 9/11? Can't we assume similar pressure might have been applied to CIA analysts?

But beyond that, isn't the question facing the Bush administration not pressure it placed on the CIA to produce doctored reports. Rather, it was the claim that the administration -- and particularly the neocons within, led by Vice President Cheney -- "cherry-picked" information from the CIA to build its case before the American people, and ultimately, the court of world opinion.

David

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