Friday, December 31, 2004

Bush Quickly Boosts Aid To Tsunami Victims

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — The United States is pledging $350 million to help tsunami victims, a tenfold increase over its first wave of aid, President Bush announced today.

"Initial findings of American assessment teams on the ground indicate that the need for financial and other assistance will steadily increase in the days and weeks ahead," Bush said.

"Our contributions will continue to be revised as the full effects of this terrible tragedy become clearer," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this epic disaster."

***

The newly announced aid came after some critics claimed that the initial U.S. contribution of $35 million was meager considering the vast wealth of the nation.

France has promised $57 million, Britain has pledged $95 million, Sweden is sending $75.5 million and Spain is offering $68 million.

***

To his credit, Bush's newfound generosity should be appreciated by those nations devastated by the tsunami. It is a leadership role, appropriate to the size of the tragedy.

But just imagine what would have happened if Bush had made this statement earlier in the week? Whether it's true or not, the sudden increase in U.S. aid will appear to many as a response to widespread domestic and foreign criticism of the initial meager aid package.

Will anyone in the Bush administration address why the initial aid package was so small? This is an administration that never admits mistakes, and self-evaluation in the public eye is rare. The initial reports, both statistical and otherwise, suggested a level of death and destruction far greater than 9/11. It was clear from the beginning that millions of survivors would face continued peril from lack of food and clean water, and diseases such as cholera and malaria. All that has changed in the days that followed is the death toll.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. "We are all Americans," was the headline on a French newspaper after 9/11. The same feeling should hold true now. It's just a shame that all the good that will come from Bush's increased pledge of aid should be tarnished by an initial (possibly political, possibly intellectual) miscalculation.

Eleven Countries Suffer Their 9/11. Where Is The Leader Of The Free World?

"What price relief? How much should a nation spending $8 million an hour on a war in Iraq spend to stave off starvation, epidemic and yes, even terrorism around the Indian Ocean?"
-- Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's Countdown, Dec. 29.

***

The death toll from the Christmas Day tsumani has now officially broken 120,000, and some are suggesting the number could double, even triple, in the days to come. Entire cities have been destroyed. The World Health Organization reports the number of survivors affected by the disaster without water, without food, without sanitation, without all three, is 5 million.

This is, for 11 nations, their 9/11.

When the U.S.' 9/11 occurred, the leaders of the world stood by our side. "We are all Americans," was the headline of a French newspaper. Who can forget the memorials, the flowers laid, the weeping, around the world?

Americans must have felt a strange sadness watching people look at walls plastered with photos and descriptions of the missing. It was eerily familiar to those days in mid-September, 2001, when countless Americans prayed that somewhere in the rubble, friends, loved ones or co-workers would somehow still be alive.

I wonder if President Bush fully understands how thoughtless he looks, how cold he makes the U.S. look, when he pledges $15 million in immediate aid (and a $20 million line of credit). After all, the daily cost of the war in Iraq is $193 million. The amount we are offering in tsunami relief is less than what is being spent on the presidential inauguration.

(The Pentagon also is spending an unidentified amount to mobilize an additional relief operation, with C-130 transport planes winging their way from Dubai to Indonesia with tents, blankets, food and water bags.)

Bush, interviewed in Crawford, Texas (where else?) was on the defensive, reminding his critics: "(In) the year 2004, our government provided a $2.4 billion in food and cash and humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. ... We‘re a very generous, kind-hearted nation."

You know, when my wife gets upset at me for being a couch-potato, my immediate reaction is to list my most-recent good deed, along the lines of "I took care of the dishes last night ..." It's the desperate cry of someone who knows he is wrong, but doesn't want to admit it.

***

On top of the fact that Bush, and the U.S., come across as not being overly generous during the worst weather-related crisis in 117 years, there's the question of what this says to Muslims worldwide.

"It‘s pretty clear that $15 million on day one was a pathetic display by the United States," said David Phillips, a former State Department advisor and currently on the Council on Foreign Relations. "We needed to set the bar high so that other countries could also be generous. By being dragged to the relief table, we sent the wrong signal. People are dying in these affected populations. And many of those populations are Muslim. If we want to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, we‘re just going to have to do better."

***

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who along with Florida Gov. (and brother of the president) Jeb Bush was dispatched to region yesterday to review the damage, said on Tuesday that U.S. assistance will eventually exceed $1 billion.

But according to MSNBC, "the journey from the $35 million to potentially $1 billion or more in help ... is fraught with bureaucratic twists."

First, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which distributes foreign aid, will have to ask for more money, since the initial $35 million aid package drained its emergency relief fund, said Andrew Natsios, the agency’s administrator.

“We just spent it,” Natsios said in an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press. “We’ll be talking to the (White House) budget office ... (about) what to do at this point.”

Which brings us back to the president, and the need again for leadership.

How hard would it have been for Bush to simply say, "We will join the nations of the world in doing all that we conceivably can to help at this time of devastation"?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Air America and the Repugnant Huckster, Part II: Hypocrisy and the Need to Fight Back

JABBS readers may recall that 10 days ago I wrote about Air America Radio's decision to continue running advertisements for hypnotist Wendi Friesen, even after I and other callers alerted the radio network's advertising department that Friesen shops a CD on her web site fraudulently and dangerously claiming to help "heal" cancer victims through hypnotherapy. (If you missed the original story, click here: http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2004/12/quest-for-advertisers-lands-air.html)

Now an update.

Air America, at least for now, apparently will not change its policy, even though it runs counter to the credo preached by its on-air personalities: transparency and honesty, creating an educated society for a better nation. Friesen, who does not advertise the anti-cancer CD "Heal Your Body" on the radio, does not practice transparency and honesty, and she's counting on an uneducated society to propel sales.

I reached out to lots of folks: JABBS readers, friends and family, a host of anti-scam/anti-quackery web sites, and the doctors and nurses at Hackensack University Medical Center, where I had a successful adult stem cell transplant for acute myeloid leukemia on Dec. 12, 2001.

I've received a lot of positive feedback, and I know that calls have been made to the Air America ad rep, Barbara Brown (646-274-4900, ext. 3087) and her bosses.

But I saw this bit of negative news earlier today. Quantum Thought, an anti-quack blog (with a right-wing tilt) run by Norm Weatherby, posted my plea for help. Additionally, Weatherby posted this:

NOTE: I personally called Barbara Brown to check this out and her opinion was that they will take "any ad that is not patently offensive" (meaning no conservative leaning stuff) and "they could care less what the ad does in leading people to a web site that advocates anything dangerous, etc". In other words folks it's the typical in-your-face liberal response of irresponsibility and cultural depravity. You can bet one thing...if this ad led you to a conservative web site the ad would be jerked immediately. Here's an opportunity to talk to a real crass liberal and let them know what you think of their social irresponsibility. Have fun!

Maybe, for once, the right-wing noise machine will do some good, and flood Air America Radio's phone lines with complaints.

***

After reading Weatherby's post, I left another message for Brown, and one for Air America's general manager for East Coast advertising sales, Leon Clark. (I'm forwarding a copy of this blog post to all of Air America's senior advertising executives).

A few minutes later, Brown called me back (actually as I was writing this), and said basically the same thing to me that she said to Weatherby. Air America Radio is in the business of making money, she explained, and there's a "separation of church and state" between the credo of the on-air personalities and the practice of the advertising sales department.I replied that at my company, a very successful financial newsletter publisher, we don't accept ads from companies we know to be dishonest -- i.e. hucksters.

"I'm not telling you not to make money," I said. "I'm saying that you can do the right thing and still turn a profit." To which Brown suggested that someone could find fault with nearly any advertiser. Brown also said that she did not know, at the time she landed the Friesen account, that Friesen was hawking the anti-cancer hypnotherapy CD.

"But that's my point," I said. "Your on-air people browbeat the president all day for not changing his mind after getting new information. But you're doing the same thing."

At that point, Brown said she had to go.

***

So I'm asking JABBS readers, again, to help me with this protest.

Again, I have nothing against the capitalist system. I have nothing against hypnosis CDs. But I do have a problem with Friesen, who advertises her "Heal Your Body" CD this way:

"One of our best selling CDs. Designed for those with cancer, chronic or other serious illness, this program inspires you to choose LIFE, stimulates your immune system to fight, and some say ... creates miracles. Three sessions, one will access your ability to heal, the second will strengthen your immune system, another will cleanse your body of bacteria, viruses and toxins. This process can help to speed the healing of surgery, illness, or even a cold or sore throat."

I find this repugnant, and dangerous for anyone who decides Friesen's $29 CD is a worthy alternative to a trip to the doctor, a biopsy, chemotherapy, etc. Friesen is spewing the lie that hypnosis can help you fight cancer. There is no medical evidence to support that theory, and there never will be. It's a potentially fatal decision to listen to a hypnosis CD hoping it will help your immunity system fight cancer.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Video Suggests Ohio Voters Not Treated Equally on Election Day. Guess Who Got the Short End of the Stick?

A non-profit grass roots organization, "We Do Not Concede"has released a 25-minute video (available at http://www.donotconcede.com) that alleges voter disenfranchisement in heavily Democrat, heavily African-American Franklin County, Ohio, on election day.

Meanwhile, the same organization has scheduled a bus trip for voters contesting the Ohio electorate. The buses will travel from Columbus, Ohio, to Washington from Jan. 4 to Jan. 6. That will apparently be followed by a rally on Jan. 6 in Washington.

"The video footage provides a first hand glimpse of what transpired in Franklin County on Election Day, only in heavily leaning Democratic precincts, including unexplained voting machine shortages, organized campaigns directing voters to the wrong polling places, malfunctioning voter tabulation equipment, election worker confusion and incompetence, and a host of other problems," according to a press release dated Dec. 22.

"We hope this footage will serve as a wake up call to all Americans that the fundamental principles our country was founded upon like ‘democracy’ and ‘equal rights’ are being systematically dismantled by a small group of Republicans who are concerned with keeping power, not preserving liberty," said Zack Kaldveer, Communications Director, We Do Not Concede. "In America every vote must be accurately counted and equally valued, and that’s not what happened on November 2nd. We the people most definitely do not concede."

***

Conservatives who claim there is widepread "liberal media bias" have to be scratching their heads over the lack of coverage of alleged voter disenfranchisement in Ohio on election day, the ongoing Ohio recount, and the apparent resistance to that recount led by county workers, allegedly at the direction of Secretary of State (and Bush Ohio Chair) Kenneth Blackwell.

Makes you think that "liberal media bias" is nothing more than a conservative-driven myth.

Certainly, in all the post-election coverage, if there was widespread "liberal media bias," the Ohio stories would get more coverage than Keith Olbermann and a spare story buried deep inside The New York Times or The Washington Post.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in Ohio, and as has been written on JABBS previously (read our two-part "Obstruction in Ohio" series, about halfway down the page at http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2004_12_01_jabbs_archive.html) Blackwell, with his obfuscation, has only fueled the anger and concern of those who believe fraud occurred in the Buckeye State on Nov. 2.

Democracy can only survive with a free press, not one following the dance steps provided by Republicans at the state and federal level. Americans will not be happy if six months from now, after a Freedom of Information Act request, a consortium of newspapers determines that John Kerry actually won Ohio ... far too late to do anything.

Yet, that's essentially what happened in 2001, when a newspaper consortium determined that, had all the votes been recounted statewide in Florida under the existing state law, Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush. Unfortunately, that "scoop" was uncovered several months too late. Democracy wasn't served then. Perhaps it isn't being served now.

If the Ohio election fraud story is bogus, our top investigative reporters should report that. But if there was fraud in Ohio, the clock is ticking. On January 6, the electoral college vote will be certified by the Congress, and after that, all the protests in the world won't change a thing.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Top 10 Conservative Pundit Quotes of 2004

If you haven't checked out David Brock's Media Matters website (http://mediamatters.org), you really should. Brock, the former conservative hit-man journalist, has led the fight to uncover hypocrisy and hate speech among top conservative pundits on radio and television. And his website led the fight against Sinclair Broadcasting's efforts to force its 62 television stations to run an anti-Kerry propaganda film.

That said, here is Media Matters Top 10 conservative pundit quotes for 2004. Remember, tens of millions of people turn to these "conservatives" daily as their main source of news:

1) Rush Limbaugh (on the Abu Ghraib photos): "I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"
2) Ann Coulter: "[Senator John] Kerry will improve the economy in the emergency services and body bag industry."
3) Tony Blankley called philanthropist George Soros "a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust."
4) Michael Savage: "When you hear 'human rights,' think gays. ... [T]hink only one thing: someone who wants to rape your son."
5) Oliver North: "Every terrorist out there is hoping John Kerry is the next president of the United States."
6) Pat Robertson (on gays and lesbians): "[S]elf-absorbed hedonists ... that want to impose their particular sexuality on the rest of America."
7) Pat Buchanan: "[H]omosexuality is an affliction, like alcoholism."
8) Bill O'Reilly (to Jewish caller to his O'Reilly Radio Factor show): "[I]f you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel."
9) Bill Cunningham (Clear Channel radio host who appeared as a guest on The Sean Hannity Show): The election is over because "Elizabeth Edwards has now sung."
10) Jerry Falwell: "And we're going to invite PETA [to "wild game night"] as our special guest, P-E-T-A -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We want you to come, we're going to give you a top seat there, so you can sit there and suffer. This is one of my special groups, another one's the ACLU, another is the NOW -- the National Order of Witches. We've got -- I've got a lot of special groups."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bush Press Conference: Up is Down, Black is White ...

After reading the transcript of President Bush's Monday press conference, I wanted to pass along a few gems from "Dubya."

Read the man's words yourself. Bush isn't answering questions. He is supplying lengthy sound-bites. He isn't providing leadership, he's reciting carefully crafted scripts. Nothing is wrong. No one has done anything wrong. The administration has never made a mistake. The people working for the president are all "superb."

You wonder how much time Bush spent rehearsing with Karl Rove ...

For example:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Several Republican lawmakers recently have criticized Secretary Rumsfeld. What does he need to do to rebuild their trust?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, when I asked the Secretary to stay on as Secretary of Defense, I was very pleased when he said "yes." And I asked him to stay on because I understand the nature of the job of the Secretary of Defense, and I believe he's doing a really fine job. The Secretary of Defense is a complex job. It's complex in times of peace, and it's complex even more so in times of war. And the Secretary has managed this Department during two major battles in the war on terror -- Afghanistan and Iraq. ... And he's done a fine job, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. ... He's been around in Washington a long period of time and he will continue to reach out to members of the Hill, explaining the decisions he's made. And I believe that in a new term, members of the Senate and the House will recognize what a good job he's doing.

JABBS: Will members of the Senate and House recognize that Rumsfeld is doing a good job? Sure, the majority of conservative Republicans will obey the party line. (Note: I edited this Bush answer and the others that follow. There was no mention of the Q&A Rumsfeld conducted with National Guard troops, for which he was criticized. A full transcript of the press conference is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041220-3.html)

Q Any lessons you have learned, sir, from the failed nomination of Bernard Kerik? As you look forward now to pick a new Director of the Homeland Security Department, and also as you pick a Director of National Intelligence, any lessons learned in terms of vetting?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me say that I was disappointed that the nomination of Bernard Kerik didn't go forward. In retrospect, he made the right decision to pull his name down. He made the decision. There was a -- when the process gets going, our counsel asks a lot of questions and a prospective nominee listens to the questions and answers them and takes a look at what we feel is necessary to be cleared before the FBI check and before the hearings take place on the Hill. And Bernard Kerik, after answering questions and thinking about the questions, decided to pull his name down. I think he would have done a fine job as the Secretary of Homeland Security, and I appreciate his service to our country. We've vetted a lot of people in this administration. We vetted people in the first, we're vetting people in the second term, and I've got great confidence in our vetting process.

JABBS: Kerik's world has just collapsed. His personal failures, which the media was able to uncover within days of his nomination, was a major black eye to the administration's vetting process. Did Bush learn any lessons? Of course not. In his conservative world, he can blame "liberal media bias" for taking Kerik away from him. And if that doesn't work, the conservative noise machine will be happy to substitute Rudy Giuliani, a pro-choice, pro-gay rights Republican who recommended Kerik to Bush. If they needed a final straw to make sure Giuliani has no future role in their national Republican party, the Kerik blow-up was it.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You talked earlier about the importance of spending discipline in the federal budget, but you went your entire first term without vetoing a single spending bill, even though you had a lot of tough talk on that issue in your first term. And I'm wondering, this time around, what are you going to do to convince Congress you really are serious about cutting federal spending? Will you veto spending bills this time?

THE PRESIDENT: Here's -- here's what happened. I submitted a budget and Congress hit our number, which is a tribute to Senator Hastert and -- I mean, Senator Frist and Speaker Hastert's leadership. And then we came up with a budget that we thought was necessary, and we took it to the leadership and they accepted the budget. And they passed bills that met our budget targets. And so how could you veto a series of appropriations bills if the Congress has done what you've asked them to do? ... But overall, they have done a superb job of working with the White House to meet the budget numbers we submitted, and so the appropriations bill I just signed was one that conformed with the budget agreement we had with the United States Congress. ... And we're working very closely with members of Congress as we develop the budget. And it's going to be a tough budget, no question about it, and it's a budget that I think will send the right signal to the financial markets and to those concerned about our short-term deficits. As well, we've got to deal with the long-term deficit issues.

JABBS: Another non-answer. The Congress and the President have done a superb job a) agreeing to budgets; and, b) creating massive deficits of escalating size, which in terms of actual dollars (not percentage of the nation's gross domestic product) have set new records for fiscal irresponsibility each year Bush has been president. The question asked if the president would be "serious" about cutting federal spending. Bush says he will be, but fails to say how. And given his track record, why should anyone believe these "spend-and-spend-some-more Republicans"? After all, those "long-term deficit issues" didn't create themselves. Bush can't blame anyone but his own party, so he doesn't -- making it sound like the big, bad deficit came about by itself, and like a sheriff in a John Wayne movie, he's the man to kill it.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wonder whether I could ask you two central questions about the war on terrorism. The first one is, do you have a sense of where Osama bin Laden is, and why the trail on him seems to have gone cold? And, secondly, how concerned are you by the reports of torture, to use your word, the interminable delays to justice, for the detainees held in Guantanamo, and how much that damages America's reputation as a nation which stands for liberty and justice internationally?

THE PRESIDENT: Right, thank you. If I had to guess, I would guess that Osama bin Laden is in a remote region on the Afghan-Pakistan border. But I don't have to guess at the damage we have done to his organization. Many of his senior operators have been killed or detained. Pakistan government has been aggressive in pursuit of al Qaeda targets in Waziristan.
And I appreciate the work of President Musharraf. ... And al Qaeda is dangerous, no question about it, but we've got a good strategy, and it's a strategy that requires cooperation with other nations, and the cooperation has been great when it comes to sharing intelligence and cutting off finances, and arresting people, or killing people. We'll stay on the hunt.

JABBS: The U.S. doesn't know where Osama is, but we've got a good strategy in dealing with Al Qaeda? Should someone remind the president that Al Qaeda committed eight attacks on the U.S. and its allies pre-9/11, and more than 30 since? Why has the trail gone cold? Good question, but the president doesn't know, and therefore doesn't answer. And have we cooperated with other nations? That's hardly a "slam dunk."

THE PRESIDENT: In terms of the second part of your -- oh, the damage. Look, we are a nation of laws and to the extent that people say, well, America is no longer a nation of laws -- that does hurt our reputation. But I think it's an unfair criticism. As you might remember, our courts have made a ruling, they looked at the jurisdiction, the right of people in Guantanamo to have habeas review, and so we're now complying with the court's decisions. We want to fully vet the court decision, because I believe I have the right to set up military tribunals. And so the law is working to determine what Presidential powers are available and what's not available. We're reviewing the status of the people in Guantanamo on a regular basis. I think 200 and some-odd have been released. ...

JABBS: Let's review some facts Bush doesn't want to mention. Alberto Gonzales, Bush's nominee for Attorney General, convinced the Bush administration that the Geneva Convention did not apply to its actions at Guantanamo. Gonzales argued that the Geneva Convetion was obsolete, and that by not following it, the Bush administration improved its "flexibility" in fighting the war on terror. In other words, the official U.S. position was that it did not have to follow international law. Furthermore, Bush, during the debates, said the U.S. would not participate in the International Court of Justice. As for those who have been detained for two-plus years (some of whom have subsequently been released), realize there have only been a handful of convictions on anything related to "terrorism." This in spite of a Pentagon decision this year to boost its conviction rate by allowing "hearsay evidence" -- statements that, according to the Future of Freedom Foundation, might not have been made under oath, might be false, or might have been induced by duress or threats of violence, bribery, or blackmail. Why the lengthy detentions, the allowance of hearsay evidence, etc.? The Bush administration doesn't want to say. But one could assume that if they had the evidence to convict, they would have done so, and that the detentions are more for show, or for psychological benefit, than for providing any actual value in the greater "war on terror" against Al Qaeda. The U.S.' "guilty until proven innocent" policy at Guantanamo goes against the very freedom we say we are fighting for, and the Bush administration should be ashamed for its abuse of power in the name of the "war on terror."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"Mission Accomplished"? It's Time For Bush To Level With Americans

BAGHDAD -- An explosion tore through a soft-sided mess tent where U.S. soldiers were eating lunch Tuesday at a military base near the northern city of Mosul, blowing a hole in the ceiling and leaving the floor littered with trays of food and puddles of blood. Officials said at least 20 people were killed in one of the most devastating attacks against Americans in Iraq since the start of the war.

A spokesman for U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad said 19 of the dead were American soldiers, which would make it the deadliest single strike against U.S. troops in this country.

A radical Sunni Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for the attack, which officials said wounded about 60 people -- the latest in a week of deadly strikes across Iraq that highlighted the unwavering power of the insurgents in the run-up to the Jan. 30 national elections.

President Bush said the explosion should not derail the elections and that he hoped relatives of those killed know that their loved ones died in "a vital mission for peace."

"I'm confident democracy will prevail in Iraq," he said.

***

Here's a thought: How about President Bush speaking on national television this week to reassure the nation that the U.S. death toll, now at 1,324, won't continue to spiral?

How about the President telling the American people, with real examples rather than empty platitudes, that his administration is taking extraordinary steps to protect our troops, to make sure their Humvees are armored and that their paychecks arrive on time.

It's time for Bush to level with the American people and admit that more troops are needed in Iraq.

***

All we get from the president is praise of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And all we get from Rumsfeld is that the Pentagon is doing the best it can.

Even some leading Republicans -- outside the Bush administration -- are demanding that Rumsfeld be held accountable for the failures in Iraq.

-- Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) offered blistering criticism of the Secretary last week, saying, "I don't like the way he has done some things. I think they have been irresponsible. I don't like the way we went into Iraq. We didn't go into Iraq with enough troops. He's dismissed his general officers. He's dismissed all outside influence. He's dismissed outside counsel and advice. And he's dismissed a lot of inside counsel and advice from men and women who have been in military uniforms for 25 and 30 years."

-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld. During an interview Dec. 13 with the Associated Press, McCain estimated an additional 80,000 Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq. "I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq, including the right kind of troops — linguists, special forces, civil affairs, etc.," McCain said. When asked if Rumsfeld was a liability to the Bush administration, McCain responded: "The president can decide that, not me."

-- "I think there are increasing concerns about the secretary's leadership of the war," Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a Dec. 16 interview with The New York Times. Her comments came in response to Rumsfeld's dismissal of a National Guardsmen's comments on the lack of armored Humvees in Iraq (see JABBS' story, at http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2004/12/soldiers-pepper-rumsfeld-with.html).

-- Also on the heels of the Rumsfeld comments to National Guardsmen came this comment from Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS): "I'm not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld. I don't think he listens enough to his uniformed officers."

***

How poorly did the Pentagon plan? Let's start with the money. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Bush administration will seek another $80 billion in emergency funding after the New Year to pay for the ongoing cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That would push the total cost of war to more than $230 billion. Remember when conservatives leveled John Kerry on radio, television and editorial pages for mistakenly saying that the wars have already cost $200 billion (rather than saying that was a projected cost through the 2004-05 fiscal year)? They sure showed him a thing or two.

How poorly did the Pentagon plan? According to a Dec. 20 Time magazine article, the Pentagon originally said it would need 235 armored Humvees in Iraq. A more recent estimate placed the number at 8,105 -- thirty-five times the original estimate.

How poorly did the Pentagon plan? According to a Dec. 13 story in the Washington Post: "The war's length and intensity has clearly left the Army winded. M1 Abrams tanks, which normally accumulate 809 miles a year, are averaging 3,600 in Iraq, said Modell Plummer, director of sustainment for the Army's logistical staff. Bradley Fighting Vehicles, designed to run 872 miles a year, are also traveling 3,600, as they escort water and food convoys across the country. Humvees, accustomed to doing 2,640 miles a year, are seeing 7,400. In fiscal 2003, the Army's five maintenance depots logged 11 million labor hours and spent $700 million, said Gary Motsek, deputy director of support operations at Army Materiel Command. Last year, with $1.2 billion, they managed 16 million labor hours. In fiscal 2005, they expect to put in more than 20 million. According to the Post article, the maintenance depots could log even more hours if there was sufficient funding from the Army.

***

Isn't it time for Bush to level with the nation, or should the American people continue to receive an administration line that is little more than a public relations campaign? This administration assumes that if it continues with the happy talk, the American people won't notice all the scrambling being done just to keep the status quo in Iraq -- as deadly as that has been for American troops.

It's time for President Bush to reassure the nation, not just with platitudes about how democracy will prevail or how his Pentagon team has done a "spectacular job." He needs to tell the American people of specific plans to increase funding for armored vehicles, for maintenance and repair of existing vehicles, and for troop pay and family healthcare needs.

And then the administration's actions need to match the words. Empty platitudes won't bring back the troops who have died thus far, or prevent more tragedies like the one today.

Call a Padre (Part II): San Diego Residents Support Counting Disqualified Votes

A new poll of San Diego residents finds that they overwhelmingly support counting disqualified ballots in the city's recent mayoral race.

If the majority get their way, that would mean that the write-in candidate, Democratic Councilwoman Donna Frye, would unseat incumbent GOP Mayor Dick Murphy.

The SurveyUSA poll, conducted for San Diego's KGTV, found that by a 60%-37% margin, voters believe ballots that were disqualified should be counted if the voter wrote in Frye's name. The ballots had previously been disqualified because voters had not filled in an oval next to the write-in line. (See JABBS' previous article: http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2004/12/call-padre-san-diegos-gop-mayor-throws.html).


According to the Associated Press, a complete review of disqualified ballots showed that 5,547 voters wrote in Frye's name but failed to fill in the oval -- enough votes to eclipse Murphy's 2,108-vote margin of victory in a three-way race.

***

What's next?

The SurveyUSA poll found that by a 58%-38% margin, San Diego voters believe Frye should proceed with a legal challenge.

Sally McPherson, San Diego County's registrar of voters, had determined that ballots with unfilled bubbles cannot be counted under state election law. A Superior Court judge then upheld her position last month in a challenge filed by the League of Women Voters of San Diego.

"I don't think our position will change -- it will not change," McPherson told the AP after the unofficial tally of disqualified ballots was completed.

According to Frye's web site, http://www.donnafryeformayor.com, Frye is raising a legal defense fund. She has until Jan. 7 to file a legal challenge.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Cramer Vs. Cramer: Why Does a Lifelong Democrat Take Cheap Shots at Fellow Democrats? Maybe to Turn a Profit

I really don't understand James J. Cramer.

Cramer, founder of the TheStreet.com and co-host of CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer, columnist, pundit, author, etc., is a "lifelong Democrat and Democratic Party fund-raiser."

So explain this open thoughts in his column in the most recent New York magazine (Dec. 20-27):

CRAMER: The average blue-state voter drives a Lexus or a Beemer, fancies a vacation in Paris or the Amalfi Coast, and splurges for Hermes ties, Thomas Pink shirts, Chanel perfume, and Louis Vuitton luggage. The average red-state voter drives a Chevy or a Ford, takes trips to Disney World or the Indianapolis 500, and shops at Wal-Mart for Levi's, Russell fleecewear, and American Tourister suitcases."

This, for a column about why we shouldn't fear the weak dollar.

Are you kidding me? Why doesn't Cramer just crank up the Photoshop are create fake images of prominent Democrats in compromising positions? Because that would provide the same value for the American public.

***

Did I mention I don't understand Cramer? As a columnist, he takes the (at best) questionable stance of openly admitting to writing stocks in which he has invested, and seemingly hoping that the words he writes will positively affect his portfolio. By comparison, my company forbids me -- a commercial real estate writer -- from owning individual real estate stocks, whether I write about those companies or not. My company doesn't want to face questions of credibility that could arise from obvious conflicts of interest.

But Cramer doesn't bother with such things. In the New York article, for example, he promotes regional bank PNC and Canadian oil and gas company EnCana, in which (in the fine print at the end of the column) he admits to owning stock. It leads me to wonder if just about everything he says or writes shouldn't be taken with a grain of salt. Is it possible, even likely, that the concepts Cramer promotes are designed to help his own interests?

***

In August of last year, Cramer wrote a column in New York pleading that the Democrats should take his economics advice so that they could unseat Bush in the 2004 election.

Why offer such advice? Listen to Cramer's own words:

CRAMER: Three short years ago, the U.S. economy seemed to be a model of growth: The stock market went up every day, pension and 401(k) plans exploded in value, and interest rates, aided by a shrinking federal deficit, marched inexorably down. ... Now jobs get lost monthly, the stock market seems stuck in the mud, mortgage rates just went up eight times in three weeks, and your pension or 401(k) is insolvent or vastly depleted. To make matters worse, the price of oil is sky-high and rising by the moment. The Labor secretary seems bewildered by the job losses; the Treasury secretary can barely be heard among the grim din of a worldwide economic slump.

Of course, in spite of his woeful economic performance, Bush has -- barring a very unlikely set of circumstances in Ohio -- been re-elected president.

But Cramer isn't shouting about how horrible the economy is. In the new issue of New York, he writes: "Maybe it's time to stop worrying and start loving the weak dollar." In the Nov. 29 issue of Real Money, he writes: "Bears better find some new negatives. This weak dollar thing's not working. It has no gravitas. The high oil thing? Boring! The budget deficit thing? If they don't care, I don't care."

Hardly consistent, which makes me wonder what's in Cramer's stock portfolio these days.

Maybe he's just trying to make a buck, and politics be damned, he'll write what he needs to get the job done. If that means trashing his own party by providing a statement that could easily be recycled by every conservative politician or pundit, so be it. The stock market's gone nowhere for four years, and Cramer knows it.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Quest for Advertisers Lands Air America in Bed With Repugnant Huckster

You've probably heard the advertisements.

Get rich quick by speculating on gold or buying foreclosed real estate. Lose weight. Get ridiculously inexpensive life insurance. Improve your resume by receving your college degree online.

Radio stations nationwide often turn to these lesser advertisers to bring in much-needed capital. It's especially true for stations with low ratings, or in weaker advertising markets. Such stations can't charge as much, and this particular class of advertisers can't afford to spend as much.

It's also true for fledgling networks, like ESPN Radio and Fox News Radio a few years back, and more recently, Air America.

Generally speaking, there's nothing wrong with accepting this kind of advertising. Free enterprise is good for the country. Assuming the given station or network has verified the advertiser as legitimate, and as long as buyers understand that something that sounds too good to be true often is, the system works.

***

I listen to Air America most weekdays driving to or from work. And one advertiser that pops up occasionally is hypnotist Wendi Friesen, who has more than 100 products for sale on various web sites.

Now, I have nothing against hypnosis CDs. But if you are familiar with Penn & Teller's Showtime series, you might remember an episode a few months back in which they look closely at some of Friesen's products. Turns out Friesen not only hawks cds for confidence building or smoking cessation, but also ones in which she claims she can help increase breast or penis size.

And, amazingly, she offers a tape that she claims will help you fight cancer.

Her promotional paragraph for the "Heal Your Body" CD:

"One of our best selling CDs. Designed for those with cancer, chronic or other serious illness, this program inspires you to choose LIFE, stimulates your immune system to fight, and some say ... creates miracles. Three sessions, one will access your ability to heal, the second will strengthen your immune system, another will cleanse your body of bacteria, viruses and toxins. This process can help to speed the healing of surgery, illness, or even a cold or sore throat."

I find this repugnant, and dangerous for anyone who decides Friesen's $29 cd is a worthy alternative to a trip to the doctor, a biopsy, chemotherapy, etc.

This hits close to home because I am a cancer survivor. On Dec. 12th, I celebrated my third anniversary of a successful adult stem cell transplant, which cured me of acute myeloid leukemia. Unfortunately, my father, who developed a similar leukemia in 2002, did not have a donor match, and succumbed to the disease after a 10-month fight.

***

I explained all of this to the Air America advertising representative, Barbara Brown (646-274-4900, ext. 3087), saying simply that Air America shouldn't be this desperate. Friesen doesn't advertise the cancer-healing hypnosis CD on Air America -- a get-out-of-jail-free card, apparently, for Air America's decision-makers -- but she offers the product on the web site she mentions in the Air America spot.

I suggested to Brown that if a known neo-Nazi organization was selling guns through an affiliate that advertised on Fox News Radio, people would be up in arms. Guilt by association, perhaps. But parallels could be made between that hypothetical and the Friesen ads on Air America.

Brown, the ad rep who landed the Friesen account, said she understood my complaint. In fact, she said, several of the on-air personalities had lodged a similar complaint.

Two weeks have passed since my 20-minute telephone call, yet Air America continues to broadcast Friesen's ads. So now I'm asking family and friends to call Brown, and I'm asking JABBS readers to do the same.

Bottom line: If I hear an on-air radio or television personality spew lies, I respond by either calling to complain, or posting an item on JABBS. If I see rampant spin appear in a newspaper article, whether it's in the New York Times or New York Post, I complain.

This isn't much different. Friesen is spewing the lie that hypnosis can help you fight cancer (or grow your breasts or penis). There is no medical evidence to support that theory, and there never will be. And while it's a shame that people will waste money hoping that listening to a CD will help them grow their breasts or penis, it's a potentially fatal decision to listen to a hypnosis CD hoping it will help your immunity system fight cancer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Call a Padre! San Diego's GOP Mayor Throws Democracy a Curve

And you thought there were unanswered questions in Ohio.

In San Diego, the mayoral race remains in flux after an unofficial review of disputed ballots showed that the Democrat, Councilwoman Donna Frye, would have beaten incumbent Republican Dick Murphy if all the votes had been counted.

One problem: the San Diego City Council certified the vote count on Dec. 7, and Murphy, not wasting any time, was sworn in two days later.

But a review begun yesterday, requested by five news organizations and a lawyer representing two Frye voters, found at least 4,854 uncounted votes for Frye, more than enough to erase Murphy's 2,108-vote victory. More than 450,000 votes were cast.

"Dick Murphy is now the phony mayor," Scott Barnett, former executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, and a Republican, told the Los Angeles Times. "He already had only about a third of the vote; now there's an incredible cloud over him."

At issue is determining the intention of thousands of ballots in which a voter wrote in Frye's name but did not fill in the small oval next to the write-in line. Election officials had declined to count those ballots, and a Superior Court judge last month upheld their decision, saying that state election law required that ovals be filled in for a write-in to count.

But Frye alleged this morning on the Air America radio show Unfiltered that thousands of votes for Murphy and a third candidate, Republican Ron Roberts, were counted even though voters X-ed or checked the small oval, rather than filling it in. Technically, a strict election law interpretation would suggest those votes should not be counted, either. If that interpretation were in fact followed, Frye asserts she would win anyway.

***

Murphy, as would be expected, stuck to his guns. "I have no objection to the examination of the ballots, but the bottom line is: Illegal votes don't count," he said at a news conference yesterday at his City Hall office.

"To me it's clear. I'm the legitimate mayor. The state Legislature passed the law that says you must fill in the oval," he added, failing to recognize Frye's charge of the improperly filled in ovals for Muprhy and Roberts. "That's the way it works in America. We are a society that follows the rule of law."

He added that he is not convinced that voters who wrote Frye's name but did not fill in the oval intended to vote for her. "I'm not sure we'll ever know what the intent of those voters were," he said.

***
According to the Times, election law experts say the law is far less clear. The question of whether to count the empty-oval ballots pits two principles of election law against each other: honoring the intent of voters versus requiring compliance with rules."The question is how much knowledge of the process can you require on the part of voters?" said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"Let's face it, this is not a literacy test," Frye told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "This is an expression of the intention of the voter. I feel frustrated, and I feel that a lot of people have been disenfranchised on a technicality."

Frye told the Union-Tribune yesterday that she is undecided what action, if any, to take. She has 30 days from the date of the election's certification, or Jan. 7, to file a legal challenge.

Also, City Attorney Michael Aguirre announced yesterday that his office will issue an opinion on the bubble issue; a spokeswoman told the Union-Tribune it may come by next week.

Obstruction in Ohio? Part II: Blackwell Refuses to Answer Questions

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell yesterday declined to answer 34 questions from Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee regarding alleged election irregularities and anomalies on election day in the Buckeye State.

So once again, it appears that Blackwell has placed partisan politics ahead of the democratic process.

Blackwell, in a letter to the House committee, said that he would only "respond to inquiries from the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Department of Justice, both of which have been authorized by Congress to assess any alleged violations of the Help America Vote Act in any state or jurisdiction."

Blackwell is no idiot. He's hoping the GOP-led Justice Department will agree with him that no fraud occurred in Ohio (and that it would ignore any report from the GAO, which seems to be standard procedure for this administration). By agreeing to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee, one could guess that Blackwell feared the road would be far rockier.

The bigger gameplan that Blackwell has followed so carefully is to delay those who want to recount the votes, want to have the paperless ballot machines independently analyzed, want to know why voters in some districts had to wait until 4 a.m. to cast their ballots while voters in other districts did not (and the partisan divide between those groups of voters), why bipartisan observers were locked out of the Bush stronghold of Warren County during the counting of votes on election night, why "pre-set" totals allegedly appeared to come from voting machines in Miami County, and why voting anomalies occurred between Kerry's vote total and that of local Democratic candidates in several urban counties.

***

In his own way, Blackwell has learned well from the partisan Secretary of State of the 2000 election -- Katherine Harris of Florida. Without re-living that travesty of justice, let it be said simply: no statewide recount ever occurred during the 2000 election cycle, even though that state's law said it should (a move supported by the state Supreme Court, but over-ruled, without legal precedent, by the U.S. Supreme Court). A consortium of newspapers, following a Freedom of Information Act request in 2001, recounted the votes in Florida using five methodologies -- and Al Gore was the victor three times, including after a full statewide recount of votes.

Is Blackwell doing anything illegal in the current election cycle? No, but that doesn't mean he isn't abusing his power as a state official. Would it have been proper for Blackwell to recuse himself, given his role within the state GOP effort to re-elect Bush? That's another question that should be explored. Harris did not recuse herself, of course, and in spite of protests, that decision was never overruled.

Blackwell has placed partisan politics ahead of the best interest of democracy, and how that affects his career remains to be seen. Harris, you may recall, was able to go from Florida Secretary of State to U.S. House member, and toyed with a U.S. Senate run this year. Even if Blackwell winds up a marked man among Democratic Party voters, he may be able to move upward, simply by running for a U.S. House seat in a GOP-friendly district, or perhaps by taking a job in the Bush administration.

That won't please the coalition of those who question whether fraud occurred in Ohio on election day. But Blackwell doesn't care about them anyway.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Obstruction in Ohio? House Judiciary Committee Calls Hearing for Monday

This shouldn't be so difficult.

President Bush, on election night, was given a 136,000-vote advantage in Ohio. Even after counting provisional and absentee ballots, the lead only dimished to 118,000.

By Ohio law, a recount can be called by anyone willing to pay the necessary fees. A coalition led by the Green and Libertarian parties have coughed up the money to do so, and the recount is to begin this week.

Yet, news came on Friday that Ohio Secretary of State (and Bush state campaign official) Ken Blackwell had withdrawn access to two election observers auditing voting records in Greene County, Ohio. (Greene County Director of Elections Carole Garman claimed that she had withdrawn access to the voting records at the direction of Secretary Blackwell.)

That has led John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), ranking member of House Judiciary Committee to request one of the auditors, Joan Quinn, to testify at a hearing scheduled for Monday in Columbus, Ohio. Quinn has agreed to do so, and will present sworn statements from corroborating witnesses.

"Regardless of who ordered the denial of this access, such an action appears to violate Ohio law," Conyers wrote in a memo released to the media. "We have now repeatedly seen election officials obstruct and stonewall this search for the truth. I am beginning to wonder what it is they are trying to hide."

***

It's a good question. Too bad our media has, for the most part, turned a deaf ear to our democratic process.

While the Bush administration prepares for a second term, and delegations prepare to cast votes for the electoral college -- also scheduled for Monday -- there are questions that remain unanswered in Ohio.

And while many people believe that ultimately, Bush will serve his second term and John Kerry will return to life as a Massachusetts senator, it's disturbing to see Blackwell try to abort the Democratic process. His actions -- both before and after the election -- only raise doubt in the minds of Democratic Party (and other) voters, and add to conspiracy rumors and other fears that the presidential election may have been somehow rigged.

***

What are the complaints? David Lytel, founder of ReDefeatBush.com, and a former Clinton official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote the following Thursday in the Baltimore Sun:

In Franklin County, Ohio, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Bush campaign official, distributed voting machines so that Republicans could vote efficiently while ensuring that Democrats had to give up hours of their time waiting in line because of a shortage of voting machines in their districts, thus reintroducing a poll tax that the Constitution forbids. Mr. Blackwell did the same elsewhere. One polling place in Howard County, Ohio, that was under court order to permit everyone in line to cast their vote sent them all home at midnight because the order applied only to Election Day itself.

Warren County, Ohio, closed the vote count to outside observers on the advice of the Department of Homeland Security. This county in suburban Cincinnati is of no interest to al-Qaida but it is the single most important county in the nation to Mr. Bush's re-election, having produced nearly one-third of his statewide margin. Democratic registration improved by one-third from four years ago, while Republican registration dropped by 10 percent. Mr. Bush's performance statewide dropped, too, but despite all the arrows in the other direction, Mr. Bush's vote totals mysteriously increased.

***

Yes, questions remain. I'll be honest, I'd like to see the process wrap up, because our president needs to have the confidence of all of the American people. And if one-third of the voting public -- as some have estimated -- believe fraud may have occurred in Ohio and elsewhere, then confidence will remain lacking.

If the President legitimately won in Ohio, so be it. But the more Blackwell pulls strings for his party's leader, the harder it is to believe that fraud didn't occur.

And while our media -- with the notable exception of Keith Olbermann -- snooze at the wheel, and discuss why moral values re-elected Bush (or was it Hispanic voters, or the Florida elderly?), and while Sean Hannity says the president has a mandate and the Democrats shouldn't be such out-of-touch sore losers, while Ann Coulter says liberals are racists for not approving of Condoleeza Rice and Michael Savage says that liberals just hate America, maybe, just maybe something went very wrong in Ohio, and is now that wrong result is being forced through by the GOP. Maybe.

And wouldn't it be nice if our nation's media leaders were to devote as much time investigating this mystery as the right-wingers spent 11 years ago searching for "bimbo eruptions" in Arkansas? It just seems like the Democratic process deserves that much time and effort.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Soldiers Pepper Rumsfeld With Complaints Media Has Failed to Investigate

According to Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, the questions Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heard from National Guard and Reserve soldiers at Camp Buehring in Kuwait Wednesday were "unexceptional."

But I have to figure that the average American listening to these troops from his living room wouldn't use a word like "unexceptional" to describe the complaints -- ranging from a failure to get paid on time to a lack of armor on their Humvees. The average American would use words like "disheartening" or "frustrating" to describe the complaints.

And I would ask: Where has the media been? The television media in particular, with the power to reach out to a national audience, has gotten bored with Iraq. We see things being blown up, we acknowledge some of our guys (and more of theirs) are dying, and then we move on to Scott Peterson or what toys to buy this holiday season.

Many of the questions posed by the troops might have seemed "unexceptional" because they've been voiced before, either during the initial months of the war, or, more likely, during the presidential campaign. John Kerry talked about how the Bush administration didn't have a "plan to win the peace," and Bush responded by falsely suggesting the Kerry would "cut and run" from Iraq, and that Kerry didn't support the troops when he voted against the $87 billion spending spree the president supported (Bush failed to note that the alternate $67 billion spending bill that Kerry supported Bush threatened to veto). Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney implied that a Kerry victory would be a victory for terrorists and their plans to bring nuclear winter to a metropolis near you.

Since Fox News is too busy saying the war is going well, and Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews and Tim Russert are too busy with other issues of the day, let's focus on one key question from the Q&A session.

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, an airplane mechanic with the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked: We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we’ve always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?

His question brought a round of hearty applause, and then Rumsfeld offered this answer:

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I talked to the General coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they’re not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I’m told that they are being – the Army is – I think it’s something like 400 a month are being done. And it’s essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it.

As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe – it’s a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.


***

Rumsfeld's response was filled with spin.

First, let's consider why the Humvees are not armored. The U.S. military began preparing for war in late 2001. Would it not be fair to say that Rumsfeld, although he won't admit it, is guilty of poor planning?

If, as Rumsfeld said, "you go to war with the Army you have," did Rumsfeld either a) rush to go to war before the U.S. had enough armored Humvees; b) fail to anticipate the intensity and size of the resistance to the U.S.-led efforts; or c) both?

Di Rita acknowledged late Wednesday that the military is only producing 15 new armored Humvees a month -- an insufficient number to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, 450 Humvees are being retrofitted with armor. One in four Humvees in the war zone -- 6,530 vehicles -- remain unarmored, leading troops to use "hillbilly armor" -- salvaged metal and armored glass found in landfills.

Why isn't the problem being addressed more quickly?

Although Rumsfeld the problem is not a "matter of money," the Bush administration's budget requests contradict that statement. According to testimony last year from the Army's vice chief of staff, the military needs 8,400 armor kits for Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guess how much President Bush's 2004 budget asked for such armor kits? Zero.

But maybe it's a lack of direction from Rumsfeld. Robert Mecredy, who heads Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Fla., the sole supplier of protective plates for the Humvee vehicles, said it could increase output by as much as 22% per month with no additional investment.

"We're prepared to build 50 to 100 vehicles more per month,'' Mecredy told Bloomberg Business News. It just needs to receive the order from the Army. "I've told the customer that and I stand ready to do that," he said.

Representative Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, cited Mecredy's remarks as evidence Rumsfeld "misled our troops about the reasons for their equipment shortages.''

"Even more outrageous than sending soldiers into combat without the proper protective equipment is offering them false excuses,'' Meehan said in a statement.

The irony is that Rumsfeld himself travels in an armored vehicle when he visits Iraq. Col. John Zimmerman, a leader of Spec. Wilson's unit, reportedly said that he and his troops could not help "fuming" at the sight of the fully up-armored Humvees put on display for Rumsfeld's visit. "What you see out here isn't what we've got going north (to Iraq) with us," Zimmerman said.

***

So the soldiers asked "unexceptional" questions -- but ones that probably caught the vast majority of Americans by surprise.

Will the media fight the good fight and investigate the charges? The administration's response? The progress being made to correct the situation?

Will the media ask what happened to the money in the $87 billion spending bill, which was supposed to support the troops' need for a variety of things, including armored Humvees? Will the media investigate how many deaths in Iraq could be linked to troops in unarmored Humvees being attacked?

Or will the media quickly move along, pacified by empty but comfortable statements like the one made yesterday by President Bush, who said the soldiers' concerns were being addressed. "We expect our troops to have the best possible equipment," he said.

If the media accepts the administration's line as is, then they are the ones who are "unexceptional."

Boston Radio Talk Show Legend Brudnoy Succumbs to Cancer

BOSTON (AP) -- David Brudnoy, one of Boston's most recognized talk radio voices for more than a quarter of a century, died Thursday night, Massachusetts General Hospital officials said. He was 64.

Brudnoy, whose soothing voice could be heard every weeknight in 38 states and in Canada on WBZ-AM since 1986, told listeners last year he was suffering from merkel cell carcinoma, a form of rare but treatable skin cancer. He had already lived with AIDS for more than a decade, beating a viral infection that nearly took his life in 1994.

He died of renal failure from the carcinoma, with his friends at his bedside, according to a statement from the hospital.

In a poignant on-air interview from his hospital bed Wednesday, Brudnoy announced the cancer had spread into his liver and kidneys, and that he was ready to die.

"I am not asking my doctors to do anything illegal," Brudnoy said. "I wish I could but they won't. I will make it through. My head is completely accepting of this. I am absolutely ready."

He left his show in November of last year to fight the cancer, recovered and returned in March, interviewing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in his first night back. His voice was noticeably more hoarse.

"We're guaranteed nothing in life except life itself, and what we get is an adventure, not always a happy one but always a learning experience as well as, like now, a time of fear and maybe even (I hope temporary) despair," he said at the time.

Brudnoy was hospitalized again this month, and his condition deteriorated quickly.

Edward Jordan, general manager of WBZ, said he sat with Brudnoy on Wednesday in his hospital room, and while Brudnoy laughed and joked with him, he said he was "ready to go."

Jordan said he considers Brudnoy, who always treated his listeners and callers with respect, "the best talk host in America."

"So many talk hosts in America are trying to shock someone or trap someone," Jordan said. "He always did his show with such a sense of class. That's what he was right to the end."

Monday, December 06, 2004

Ingraham Supports Profiling Muslims (Just Don't Call it Bigotry)

Laura Ingraham, on her nationally syndicated radio show tonight, offered a startlingly naive line of reasoning.

Discussing homeland security, specifically as administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Ingraham said that racial profiling (although she actually meant "religious profiling") of "Muslims" should be allowed. And, she said, it's not bigotry.

Bigotry, the conservative pundit suggested, was actually being promulgated by Osama bin Laden himself, since he only allowed Muslims in Al Qaeda. So, Ingraham reasoned, TSA employees should be free to profile Muslims to protect Americans from terror.

But think about the simplicity of what she is saying: TSA agents should screen for Muslims.

How does one know who is a Muslim? Over 1.2 billion people worldwide are Muslims. Only about 15% of Muslims are Arabs. To screen for Muslims, TSA employees would not just be profiling those of Arab descent, but also every U.S. citizen or foreign tourist who could be described as African, British, French, German, Indonesian, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Chinese and Turkish -- for all of those countries have several million Muslims.

***

Ingraham's guest tonight, columnist Heather McDonald, recently wrote: "What is at issue is religious profiling. By definition—by Usama bin Ladin's own definition when he called on all Muslims to kill Americans wherever they can find them—Muslim terrorists must be Muslim. Because religious identity is not always apparent, however, national origin or ethnic heritage should be available as surrogates. Needless to say, Muslim identity should be at most only one factor in assessing someone's security risk."

McDonald argues the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System should identify Muslims. Fine. That's one-fifth of the planet. Then what?

A reasonable answer would be that the U.S. needs to improve its intelligence, and replace stereotypes with that intelligence. Line up any number of randomly screened Muslims, and there's no guarantee you'll find one with ties to Al Qaeda or terrorism. Replacing intelligence with racial (or religious) stereotypes simply doesn't get you very far in fighting potential terror threats.

Yes, Al Qaeda has Muslims among its ranks. But very little good comes when you stereotype based on the worst elements of any people -- or worse, act upon only those stereotypes. Imagine the uproar that would come if people learned the TSA was profiling Jews (because of the actions of the anti-Palestinian extremists) or Irish (because of the actions of a few anti-British extremists) or any other caucasian people. Now imagine you're a law-abiding Muslim and facing the prospect that the Laura Ingrahams of the world might be voicing the opinion of conservative America, at a time when conservatives run the government.

***

The pros and cons of racial (or religious) profiling have been in the news nearly as long as the TSA has been in existence. In April of 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the TSA for civil rights violations stemming from the wrongful arrest of a Lake Worth, Fla., doctor and Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves.

The ACLU argues that Dr. Bob Rajcoomar was handcuffed and jailed for four hours in 2002 solely on the basis of his skin color and national origin. He was detained at Philadelphia International Airport urs after air marshals subdued an unruly passenger on his plane. According to the ACLU, there was no connection that could naturally be drawn between the unruly passenger and Dr. Rajcoomar.

"His detention had nothing to do with security and everything to do with blatant discrimination," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

***

U.S. laws regarding what air marshals can or cannot do is vague, opening the door for potential abuse.

According to Anita Ramasastry, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington, an air marshal is empowered to make warrantless arrests if the marshal reasonably believes that the arrestee is committing, or has committed, a federal felony offense.

"What constitutes "reasonable belief"? That is root of the present controversy," Ramasastry wrote following the arrest of Dr. Rajcoomar. "At present, air marshals and airline personnel can force a person to leave a plane, or even arrest him, merely because a passenger or a crew member feels uncomfortable with his flying. Inevitably, the passengers affected are those with darker skin, and Middle Eastern or South Asian appearance. Like Dr. Rajcoomar, they may have done nothing at all objectionable, yet still may be punished as a result of racial profiling. "

***

The question of racial (or religious) profiling is certainly one that needs to be discussed, including within any discussion of the TSA and airline safety.

But pundits like Ingraham, playing to the lowest common denominator, would rather take the easy path. On tonight's show, she fielded a call from a like-minded listener -- claiming to be a TSA employee from Houston -- who said that regardless of the TSA rules, he was going to profile for Muslims, facts be damned.

Yes, it's always easy to stereotype, and Ingraham praised him for doing his job.

***

McDonald has suggested that the issue of racial (or religous) profiling is a "hot potato" that most politicians don't want to touch. I agree. Both left and right should be able to agree that the current system is broken.

But simpletons like Ingraham, with their racial (or religious) insensitivity, aren't providing any answers.

Friday, December 03, 2004

What do Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Condoleeza Rice Have in Common? More Than You'd Think ...

In reports yesterday and today, the San Francisco Chronicle has revealed leaked testimony from a year ago in which baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi admit to using steroids (although Bonds said he didn't realize the products were steroidal).

The problem, of course, is that Bonds and Giambi, and many other ballplayers, have said repeatedly to the press that they didn't use steroids. Bonds and Giambi, simply put, were lying to the press and the fans.

Now, you have to figure that Bonds and Giambi assumed their sealed testimony would never get leaked -- that what they said in court testimony would never cross paths with what they said publicly. That's not to excuse their lying -- or their cheating.

Fan reaction has been pretty immediate. The New York newspapers are calling Giambi a bum, and the Yankees are reportedly looking for ways to void his $120 million, multi-year contract. Sportswriters and radio/television pundits are wondering whether Bonds' single-season home-run record will now need an asterisk (he is also close to breaking the all-time home run record), and whether he will now struggle to gain Hall of Fame status.

Not surprisingly, no one is criticizing the Chronicle. No one is blaming its reporters for reporting something that had been speculated on -- but not proven.

***

Wouldn't it be something if the political media and punditry worked the same way as the sports media and punditry?

You may recall that when Condoleeza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission, she faced tough questioning from Richard Ben-Veniste, specifically regarding the Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing.

At the time, Rice didn't anticipate that the memo would be released to the public. She thought that it would remain confidential. So when Ben-Veniste asked her about the contents of the memo, at one point asking a question using the exact phrsaing of the memo, she thought that she could obfuscate, and no one but Ben-Veniste would be the wiser.

But then the memo was released, and it became clear that Rice had, at best, sidestepped the truth. In the same way that Bonds claimed he didn't know the cream he had used was a steroid, Rice claimed that she didn't recognize the information in the memo as being a current threat. Only the most strident Bonds supporters believe him, just as only the most partisan Rice supporters believe her.

But strangely, the political punditry -- driven by the Rush Limbaugh-Sean Hannity-Joe Scarborogh crowd -- turned the tables. Not only did they support Rice -- the New York Post headline following her testimony was "The Lady is a Champ!" -- but they blamed Ben-Veniste for attacking Rice unmercifully.

***

Just imagine if ESPN or Fox Sports were to start attacking the reporters from the Chronicle. It would be ludicrous. They would be defending Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, in spite of the players lying to the public for the past year. They would be blaming reporters for, in effect, revealing that lie.

But that's what the right-wing punditry did after Ben-Veniste questioned Rice, Rice failed to tell the truth, and then the world was able to see the memo and understand how Rice's testimony differed from the facts.

***

One thing that is equal between ballplayers and Bush administration officials -- the punishment is minimal.

The Major League Baseball players association has forced team owners to accept a lax punishment for steroid use. In shorthand, it's currently fivestrikes and you're out, although Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wants to renegotiate the policy before the 2005 season begins.

And Rice? She was promoted to Secretary of State.

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