Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Why Didn't Bush Discuss Hurricane Relief From The "Western White House"?

The initial reaction to President Bush's outline of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts has generally been positive, although some have questioned whether the president's Rose Garden speech today was a day late.

But one question: Why did the President return to Washington?

I realize this isn't the most important issue, but are we to forget that conservative pundits drilled for weeks about all the work Bush could do at the "Western White House," in Crawford, Texas?

Conservatives defended the president taking some five weeks in Crawford, saying that with all the communication tools at his disposal, and all the administration officials and cabinet members willing to travel to Texas, that Bush was barely taking any vacation at all.

So why did Bush have to travel to Washington to give a speech? Was it to have this photo-op?

I would have assumed that Bush, rather than flying low over New Orleans on his way to the Rose Garden, would have done better to stop in the Crescent City and hold an impromptu press conference -- perhaps rolled up his sleeves and passed out bottles of water -- before trekking back to nearby Crawford to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and the emergency team being assembled to deal with the catastrophe.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What If ...

Does this photo upset you?

The photo comes from an April meeting in Crawford, Texas, between President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The focus of the meeting was oil prices.

As The New York Times reported, the talks "focused on a plan by the Saudis to increase their oil-pumping capacity over the next decade rather than on any short-term efforts to bring prices down."

When the photo was taken, in April, OPEC was charging $48.68 a barrel. But according to an article in the Aug. 28 edition of the Washington Post, "Oil prices reached record highs on the New York Mercantile Exchange last week, hovering below $68 a barrel before the close of trading Friday."

So what has all that hand-holding gotten the U.S.?



What if the United States had an honest dialogue with the Saudis? What if the U.S. stopped coddling the Saudis, and started expecting them to be a true ally, both as a trading partner as well as a partner in the "war on terror."

We know that Osama bin Laden is Saudi, and that the vast majority of the 9/11 suicide bombers were Saudi. What if the U.S. demanded that our hand-holding buddies in Saudi Arabia help finance our bringing Osama to justice?

What if the U.S. demanded that our hand-holding buddies in Saudi Arabia do something about the flow of Saudi "foreign fighters" joining the Iraqi insurgency? At the very least, shouldn't President Bush, when discussing these foreign fighters, tell the American people that more than half are Saudi?

And what if the Bush Administration followed-up, as required by law, on its designating Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for “severe religious freedom violations” pursuant to International Religious Freedom Act?


Here's another related "What If."

What if the U.S. actually had an energy policy that resulted in reduced dependence on foreign oil, giving the U.S. a fallback if our hand-holding Saudi friends failed to come through for us?

Shouldn't we start taking our dependence on foreign oil seriously? The recently passed energy bill has "no magic bullets" to counteract the recent run-up in gas prices, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said last month.

"It's going to take a number of months, if not years, to deal with energy prices," Bodman said at a press conference.

Environmental and consumer groups criticized the energy legislation for doing little to cut U.S. oil consumption, which averages close to 21 million barrels a day, or to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil suppliers.

Among the Democratic proposals killed in the final version of the mutli-billion legislation was a requirement that the White House find savings of 1 million barrels of oil by 2015.

"This bill funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to polluting energy industries, and opens up our coastlines and wildlands to destructive oil and gas activities," Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club, told Reuters.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Santorum Claimed He Questioned Bush's Iraq Policy. Too Bad There's No Evidence To Back That Up

In an interview for an Aug. 20 story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said he has raised various questions about the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq War.

"I still have concerns about our level of activity with respect to fighting the insurgency, and the number of former Baathists who are put in positions of power in the country and their relationships with Iran. I have expressed those concerns publicly and privately," he said.

But now it appears Santorum has been caught in a lie. According to an Aug. 25 story in the Inquirer, Santorum's staffers "cannot locate public statements of the senator questioning the Iraq war." That followed the Inquirer noting in print that "his public statements on those issues could not be found."


Robert L. Traynham, Santorum's spokesman, told the Inquirer that a search of LexisNexis, a news database, and the office's press clippings had not turned up any comments matching Santorum's claim.

Santorum, full of excuses as to the discrepancy between what he claimed he said and the lack of supportive evidence, offered: "I do a lot of interviews on TV, on radio, with print reporters who don't happen to write everything I say."

But uh-oh. As most journalists know, LexisNexis, in fact, includes transcripts from major television and radio networks.

And certainly, as conservatives like Santorum are quick to point out, the "liberal media" frequently reports even small policy difference among Republican leaders. It's hard to believe that the entire media would fail to jump on a story as big as the third-highest-ranking Senate Republican publicly criticizing the war policies of a Republican president.

But that's the spin that Santorum is trying. Facts be damned, he'll probably keep saying it until the issue goes away.


Santorum, in the midst of a tough bid for re-election next year, made his apparently false claims about questioning the administration in response to a charge by Democratic challenger Robert P. Casey Jr. that Santorum has failed to "ask the tough questions" about Iraq.

In truth, Santorum has been a major supporter of the administration's Iraq policy.

Just last week, the Inquirer reports, Santorum said of the war: "(T)his is something we have to do to protect our country. I feel strongly about that."

His reluctance to publicly question Bush has more to do with Santorum's style than his priorities, Santorum aides say. He prefers taking a longer view, and if the war looks grim for several weeks, Santorum won't suddenly protest, Traynham said.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

When President Bush spoke before the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 22, he acknowledged the human toll of the Iraq War in blunt numerical terms -- something he had not done previously.

According to a story in the Aug. 23 Washington Post, the acknowledgment was made to deflect criticism that he has not been sensitive to the human sacrifice created by his policies.

The acknowledgement that the U.S. had "lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom," in Afghanistan, also came on the heels of national attention for Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, who has camped outside the "Western White House" in Crawford, Texas, and helped galvanize the anti-war movement.

Bush's aides told the Post that they have no illusion about quieting the demonstrators in Crawford, but they said the address was aimed at convincing a "broader audience in the country" that "this president recognizes the hardship of war and the sacrifices that are being made," as one senior official put it.

Bush's critics often point out that he has not attended a funeral for any soldier who has fallen in Iraq, and his speeches seldom address specific tragedies that are in the news on a particular day.


The question remains whether Bush actually understands the human toll, or is merely accepting the political decision to acknowledge it. Is this from the heart, or is this just reading a speech designed for political calculation? It's hard to tell from an administration so masterful in the art of spin.

But either way, for those looking for progress from the administration, the president discussing the blunt numbers is "good news."

Friday, August 26, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Perhaps reacting to widespread criticism of President Bush's lengthy stay this August in Crawford, Texas, the Bush Administration is now trying to suggest the president hasn't been on vacation after all.

As reported in an Aug. 24 story in San Bernardino Sun, administration spokesman David Almacy said the reason that Bush is in Crawford, Texas, is due to a previously unreported renovation of the West Wing of the White House.

"He's operating on a full schedule; he's just doing it from the ranch instead of from the White House," Almacy said. "The only week he had officially off was this last week."

Does that mean that Bush hasn't broken former President Reagan's record for most vacation days?

Using Bush's Own Words, Stewart Offers Tour De Force Review Of Iraq Talking Points

If JABBS has a kindred spirit in the world of television, it is Jon Stewart and the rest of the gang at Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

Simply put, Stewart et al have the uncanny ability to make razor-sharp political analysis -- better than just about anything you'll see on a real news show -- entertaining and memorable.

The Aug. 25 edition of the show provides the latest example of why this may the most intelligent and meaningful half hour on television.

The subject was President Bush's talking points on the Iraq War. If you a regular JABBS reader, I'm sure you will agree with Stewart's various points.

STEWART: (Bush) has developed a sophisticated exit strategy ... for getting out of questions about the war. It's a strategy known as repetition, or "repetition." It's one he'd used with great success many times before.

"But Jon," you ask, "how does it work?"


The first step is to let people know you're aware of their questions. Then the president can reduce these nuanced concerns into a simplistic misguided concern that he can easily refute.

BUSH MONTAGE: I also know there's a lot of folks here in the United States that are, you know, wondering about troop withdrawals ... I also have heard the voices of those saying: "pull out now" ... Immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake.

STEWART: See? He knows the concerns that make you look like a pussy. So staying the course in Iraq is the plan. But what about all the violence and chaos we see? Pah! It's not match for a simple eight-letter word. See if you can pick out the one he uses:

BUSH MONTAGE: I am pleased with the progress being made ... we're making progress ... a lot of progress ... I'm please with the progress ... progress ... progress ... Oh I know it's hard for some Americans to see that ...


BUSH: ... we are making progress.


So we're doing the right thing and we're making good progress. So, I guess that means, uh, if I hear you correctly -- we're doing the right thing and we're making good progress -- that soon we'll be able to talk about concrete troop withdrawal?

BUSH MONTAGE: Why would you say to the enemy, you know, here's the timetable ... it makes no sense ... it doesn't make any sense to have a timetable ... an artificial timetable ... there aren't any timetables ... I'm not giving timetables ...

STEWART: One little timetable? No timetables!

Now here's why staying on message with your talking points is difficult: Back when the war began, the talking points for the president centered on weapons of mass destruction. (Laughs) Really drilled that into our heads actually -- it was quite a lot of talk. That doesn't seem to come up so much anymore. But you just know some nasty reporter's always going to ask. So the key for your new war rationale talking point is: delivering them as though the person who asked is retarded:

BUSH MONTAGE: We're defeating them there so we do not have to face them here ... our immediate strategy is to eliminate terrorist threats abroad ... we're fighting the enemy in Iraq ... fighting them in Iraq ... to defeat the terrorists abroad ... so we don't have to face them here at home ... where we live ...

STEWART: (Sarcastically) Duh!

Of course, sometimes, no matter how good your talking points, no matter how many times you repeat them, there are still some dissenters and non-believers. If there only was some way you could shut these remaining people up with some kind of emotional bludgeon:

BUSH MONTAGE: The war arrived on our shores on September the 11th, 2001 ... September the 11th ... September the 11th I made a commitment to the American people ... from September the 11th ... the lesson of September the 11th, 2001 ...

STEWART: You know, if I had a nickel for every time Bush has mentioned 9/11, I could raise enough reward money to go after Bin Laden!

And there you go, talking points. Simple! Catchy!


And there you go. Stewart! Brilliant!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Military Reopens Probe of Tillman Death

The Pentagon's inspector general is reviewing the Army's probe into the 2004 friendly-fire death of former pro football player Pat Tillman.

The new investigation will review a previous Army probe that Tillman's parents and others have strongly criticized.

"The other investigations were frauds," Tillman's father, Patrick Tillman, told the San Francisco Chronicle for an Aug. 23 story.

"People above should have been punished," added Mary Tillman, referring to her son's commanding officers.

Seven soldiers have received administrative reprimands, but no high-ranking officers have been disciplined, in spite of documents showing that Pentagon commanders knew Tillman was killed by friendly fire, but allowed Tillman's family for weeks to mistakenly believe he was killed by enemy fire.


Tillman gave up a high-paying National Football League career with the Arizona Cardinals after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to join the Army Rangers. He spurned the Cardinals' offer of a three-year, $3.6 million contract extension, saying he wanted to serve his country.

He was killed at age 27 on April 22, 2004, in a remote, mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.

Tillman was shot multiple times by soldiers in his unit who told investigators they mistook him for the enemy. Officials in Afghanistan burned Tillman's uniform and body armor. They filed reports saying Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, and ordered other soldiers in the unit not to discuss the incident.

After his death, the Army initially told Tillman's family and the public that he had been killed in combat against Taliban guerrillas, leading troops up a hill under enemy fire. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, and President Bush lauded him as "an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror."

Six weeks later, however, the Army finally corrected the lie, and admitted to Tillman's family that he had been killed by members of his own army detachment.

Three internal investigations were carried out. The parents obtained heavily redacted versions from the Army, and they complained publicly that the documents showed that Pentagon commanders -- including Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command -- had known soon after Tillman's death that friendly fire had killed him.

In June 2005, after Tillman's parents harshly criticized the delay in informing them of the true circumstances of their son's death, the Army apologized.

"While procedural misjudgments and mistakes contributed to an air of suspicion, no one intended to deceive the Tillman family or the public as to the cause of his death,'' an Army statement said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

... Then Robertson (Kind Of, Sort Of) Apologizes For Fatwa, Admits He Was Not "Misinterpreted"

Religious Right leader and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson offered a "clarification" to his fatwa against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez this evening -- which included an apology so full of excuses as to have little value.

In the "clarification," Robertson says he ad-libbed the comment, which he said was made "In my frustration that the U.S. and the world community are ignoring this threat.

"Is it right to call for assassination?" Robertson said in a posting on his website. "No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

Robertson later took credit for giving the government something to think about. "(T)he incredible publicity surrounding my remarks has focused our government’s attention on a growing problem which has been largely ignored."

Robertson also compared himself with "(t)he brilliant Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer," who unsuccessfully stood up against the Nazis.


The "apology" came only hours after Robertson, on today's edition of The 700 Club, denied saying Chavez should be assassinated.

ROBERTSON: Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should, quote, "take him out," and "take him out" can be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time.


Perhaps some leaders on the right, who failed to condemn Robertson's original fatwa, quietly reached out to the televangelist. Or maybe Robertson just came to his senses, and the right can continue to ignore the fatwa, and hope this embarrassing episode fades quickly from center stage.

White House, Religious Right Fail To "Condemn" Robertson's Fatwa

Religious Right leader and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson declared a fatwa on Aug. 22, calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Surprisingly, the Bush Administration and major Religious Right organizations have failed to condemn the comments.

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson said of Chávez on his show, The 700 Club. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Robertson, on his show today, backtracked, claiming he was misinterpreted:

ROBERTSON: Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should, quote, "take him out," and "take him out" can be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time.

Maybe those who should be condemning Robertston choose to live in the alternate universe that allows Robertson's lie to replace the truth. How else can you explain the lack of an appropriate response from Republican and Religious Right leaders?


The tame response from the administration focused on the idea that assassination was not administration policy.

"Certainly, it's against the law. Our department doesn't do that type of thing," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the top administration official to remark. "Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."

Of course, most private citizens don't have their own nationally broadcast television shows, reaching about 1 million people per broadcast. Most private citizens don't have a voice in national politics, either.

Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, called Robertson's comments "inappropriate." He said the U.S. government "does not share his view" and is not plotting to kill Chavez.

And that was about it. No strong words. No condemnation. Please ignore the crazy man on television, and oh by the way, make sure his viewers continue to vote for the GOP.

Robertson has often used his show and the political advocacy group he founded, the Christian Coalition, to support President Bush.)

When has the administration used the word "condemn"? Following terrorist attacks worldwide and suicide bombings in Iraq, for sure. But it also has condemned assassinations, such as the 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, or the 2002 assassination of Haji Abdul Qadir, a vice president of the Afghan Transitional Administration. Just this month, the administration condemned the assassination of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

So, does that mean the world has to wait for a Chavez assassination before the Bush Administration will condemn it? Or is it just that the administration only uses the word condemnation when the victim is a friend of the U.S.? (Something Chavez, officially, is not.)


Also silent were many conservative Christian organizations. Leaders at the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition saying through spokesmen that they were too busy to comment.

It's ironic. They have so much time to comment on other things, such as embryonic stem cell research or what videos are shown at the Lincoln Memorial.


In a separate reaction, liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America sent a letter urging the ABC Family network to stop carrying Robertson's program. The network broadcasts The 700 Club three times each weekday.

In an Aug. 23 statement, ABC Family said the company was "contractually obligated to air The 700 Club and has no editorial control over views expressed by the hosts or guests."

But that's a bogus statement -- in 2003, MSNBC fired controversial conservative talk show host Michael Savage after he referred to an unidentified caller as a "sodomite" and said he should "get AIDS and die."

"His comments were extremely inappropriate and the decision was an easy one," MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines said at the time.

And certainly declaring a fatwa is as serious as anything Savage has to say.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Connecticut Joins Earlier Lawsuits Filed Against Bush Administration Over No Child Left Behind; Other States May Follow

Connecticut sued the U.S. government over the No Child Left Behind education financing law, saying the measure is illegal because it requires more than $40 million in programs without paying for them.

The first-of-its-kind suit was filed by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, with the backing of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican. It follows and expands upon a lawsuit filed in April by the National Education Association on behalf of 10 state unions, including Connecticut, as well as school districts in Texas, Michigan and Vermont.

The Connecticut suit argues that the state is not being adequately reimbursed for the cost of expanding to annual testing from its current schedule of every other year. Officials said that the 2001 law -- a hallmark of the Bush Administration's domestic agenda -- would force Connecticut to spend more than $40 million of its own money in coming years, even though the law specifically bars the federal government from imposing mandates without financing them.

"No matter how good its goals the federal government is not above the law,'' Blumenthal said in an Aug. 22 press statement. "The federal government has failed in implementing them. Unfunded mandates are all too common; these specific unfunded mandates are unlawful.''

The federal government is providing Connecticut with $5.8 million this fiscal year to pay for the testing, Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg told the Washington Post. However, she estimates federal funds will fall $41.6 million short of paying for staffing, program development, standardized tests and other costs associated with implementing the law through 2008.


Connecticut is not the first state to object to the law. Utah passed a measure defying the law, signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman on May 2. Texas' legislature passed a similar measure.

Reacting to Connecticut's suit, Maine officials told the New York Times that they are mulling their own lawsuit, while the Post reports that other states could vote to join the lawsuit.

Blumenthal said other states were reluctant because they had not yet done the studies that could prove that the federal law had caused them to spend state money on federal mandates. He said fear of retaliation by the Bush administration had also made some states reluctant.


The federal Department of Education called the lawsuit "unfortunate" and disputed Connecticut's assertion that Washington has not provided the money to carry out the law's testing requirements, which it defended as reasonable.

"Unfortunately, this lawsuit sends the wrong message to students, educators and parents," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, while failing to address any specific claims made in the suit.


The Connecticut suit argues that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has aggravated the harm to Connecticut by denying state requests for flexibility in complying with the law, including one to continue the state's alternate-year testing program.

Connecticut tests students in grades four, six and eight. Under No Child Left Behind, the state is required starting this school to testing children in grades three, five and seven as well. State education officials say they already know minority and poor children don't perform as well as their wealthy, white peers, and additional tests aren't going to tell them more.

"We in Connecticut do a lot of testing already, far more than most other states. Our taxpayers are sagging under the crushing costs of local education," Rell said in the press statement. She had earlier sought negotiations between the state and the federal government. "What we don't need is a new laundry list of things to do -- with no new money to do them."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Conservatives Love to Discuss Mythical "Angry Left," But Rarely Refer to Actual "Angry Right"

Conservative pundits and political operatives often rally against the mythical "angry left."

"The angry left should not drive the Democrat Party," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said last month, responding to some Democrats calling for deputy chief of staff Karl Rove to be dumped, or stripped of security clearance, following speculation that he leaked the name or identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Before the Iowa caucus last year, Des Moines' conservative radio host, Jan Mickelson, termed Democratic caucus voters the "angry left." At about the same time, Andrew Roth of the conservative Club for Growth wrote a short piece referencing the "angry left." Washington Times columnist Greg Pierce wrote about Newsweek's Eleanor Clift and PBS' Bill Moyers under the heading "angry liberals." Earlier this year, Fox News Channel described Howard Dean as "a champion of the angry left." Michelle Malkin wrote an April column titled "When Angry Liberals Attack." MSNBC host Tucker Carlson referred to those defending a woman appealing a court case she lost as a "bunch of angry liberals" -- although he never makes clear which liberals he means. Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto frequently refers to the "angry left," such as earlier this month, when he cited the "Angry Left Daily Kos site."


Are there angry liberals? Sure. But conservatives give this anger mythic proportions. It's a game they have been playing for more than three decades -- since former vice president Spiro Agnew, working from a 1970 speech prepared by William Safire, told the California Republican state convention about "nattering nabobs of negativism" -- a reference to what conservatives now call "liberal media bias."

Conservatives need to promote concepts such as "angry liberals" and "liberal media bias" to justify the concept of "fair and balanced." If conservatives didn't suggest the "angry left" had mythic strength (able to overtake the Democratic Party, Mehlman and others argue), there would be no need for a conservative response. If conservatives didn't suggest liberal media bias was a problem of mythic proportions, there would be no justification for conservative talk radio, Fox News or the seemingly endless number of conservative pundits and columnists nationwide.


What conservatives don't want to discuss, though, is the "angry right." For example, when Laura Ingraham suggests religious profiling of Muslims is an appropriate response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she overlooks terrorist attacks from the angry right -- such as the Oklahoma City bombing, or the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, or any number of attacks on Planned Parenthood and similar clinics.

This "ignore the angry right" approach has been evident over the past few days, with regard to the response from some locals to Cindy Sheehan's recent anti-war protest outside the "Western White House" in Crawford, Texas.

As Jamison Foser of MediaMatters for America wrote on Aug. 19: "(A) lunatic pulls up to a fence near some peaceful anti-war protestors and fires a gun into the air in an obvious attempt at intimidation the day before another lunatic ran a pickup truck over white crosses and flags commemorating casualties of war, and there isn't nearly as much outrage."

Do a Google search for "Larry Northern" or "Larry Mattage" and you'll find little commentary from the conservative punditry. I did find this Aug. 17 gem from Taranto, who provided something of a defense for Northern, who drove over the crosses: "(A)t the same time it's important to understand what motivates people to do things like this. After all, one man's vandal is another's freedom-fighter." Malkin, describing Northern as a "nutball," used the incident as evidence of liberal hypocrisy and an introduction to another attack against Sheehan.

You see, Northern and Mattage don't fit into the conservatives' pre-conceived stereotype of who is angry. The conservative punditry has no problem telling us about how angry Sheehan is, and how she has allied herself with angry liberals like Michael Moore and the folks at But Northern and Mattage? There is no room for a discussion of the "angry right" among conservative pundits.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What If ...

Today, JABBS begins an occasional series, "What If ..."

Here's today's question:

What if Osama Bin Laden wasn't a Saudi? Say he and his followers of (Russian, Libyan, Cuban, etc..) heritage attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. Assuming all else is equal (protection from the Taliban, a history of attacking U.S. interests abroad, etc.) what would President Bush have done?

There is no right or wrong answer. Liberals, conservatives and moderates -- how do you respond?

Former Aide Terms Powell's 2003 Speech To The U.N. on Iraqi WMD "Lowest Point"

The days leading to Secretary of State Colin Powell's ill-fated 2003 speech to the United Nations on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were almost as problematic as the speech itself.

"I wish I had not been involved in it," said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Powell's chief of staff from 2002 through 2005. "I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life."

Wilkerson is one of several insiders interviewed for the CNN documentary "Dead Wrong -- Inside an Intelligence Meltdown." The program, which airs tonight at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET, pieces together the events leading up to the mistaken WMD intelligence that was presented to the public. A presidential commission that investigated the pre-war WMD intelligence found much of it to be "dead wrong."

A key element of that presentation to the public was Powell's Feb. 5, 2003, speech. Powell was a trusted figure, both at home and abroad -- someone who perhaps had a better reputation and broader appeal than the president himself.

Little did the American people know that the information for Powell's speech was a mish-mash of intelligence reports, some of which had come from sources deemed less than credible.

"(Powell) came through the door ... and he had in his hands a sheaf of papers, and he said, 'This is what I've got to present at the United Nations according to the White House, and you need to look at it,'" Wilkerson said in the program. "It was anything but an intelligence document. It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."

"One of the sources he was given ... had indeed been flagged by the Defense Intelligence Agency as a liar, a fabricator," said David Kay, who served as the CIA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. That source, an Iraqi defector who had never been debriefed by the CIA, was known within the intelligence community as "Curveball."

After searching Iraq for several months across the summer of 2003, Kay began e-mailing former CIA Director George Tenet to tell him the WMD evidence was falling apart. Tenet then called Powell to inform him that various pieces of his U.N. speech turned out to be false.

Wilkerson told CNN: "George actually did call the Secretary, and said, 'I'm really sorry to have to tell you. We don't believe there were any mobile labs for making biological weapons. This was the third or fourth telephone call. And I think it's fair to say the Secretary and Mr. Tenet, at that point, ceased being close. I mean, you can be sincere and you can be honest and you can believe what you're telling the Secretary. But three or four times on substantive issues like that?"

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Santorum Takes A Page From Bush, Avoiding Dissenters At Book Signing

If I were running some sort of liberal version of the New York Post, the headline would be obvious:


No, it's true. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Delaware earlier this month for what was billed as a book signing and discussion, had his security team remove a handful of teen-age girls from the bookstore, when it became clear that they didn't agree with him that women shouldn't work outside the home, or that the government should act like the Catholic Church and discourage birth control.

Santorum espouses those views in his new book, "It Takes A Family" (which no doubt is a play off of Hillary Clinton's tome, "It Takes A Village"). And those views are controversial. Why, some women and girls may find them offensive and backward.

Even if Santorum wasn't interested in hearing the teen-agers out, you'd assume that as a proud Republican, he'd appreciate their right to free speech.

But, apparently, Santorum appreciated more the right to pick and choose who was in his immediate surroundings. Taking a page from the Bush Administration (no pun intended), Santorum decided that there would be no dissenting views at the Barnes & Noble book signing and discussion that night.

According to an Aug. 14 column by Al Mascitti of the Wilmington News Journal, "Rick Santorum's security team felt they were going to be a security threat and asked them to leave," said Amanda Winnington, the community relations manager for the store.

Let me repeat that tabloid headline:


The problems began when one of the teen-age girls joked that Santorum, who is notably against gay rights, should autograph a book penned by a gay author.

"That drew the attention of someone on Santorum's advance team," Mascitti wrote. According to 18-year-old Hannah Shaffer, the woman "called them shameful and said she was disgusted by the reasons they were there, that they should be there to support [Santorum]."

Off-duty Delaware State Police Sgt. Michael DiJiacomo, who was hired for the occasion through a private security service, then told the girls to leave, or face arrest.

When the girls protested that they hadn't done anything, DiJiacomo told them they were under arrest. Stacey Galperin, a University of Delaware student, said that after removing her and friend Miriam Rocek from the store, "He told Miriam to put her hands on the car and kept telling us, 'You're going to embarrass your family, you won't get into college with this on your record.' "

Now before you blow this off as the work of an overzealous security ageny, consider what Hannah Shaffer's mother, Heidi, told Mascitt:i: "What (DiJiacomo) told me was, 'They don't want you there,' that it was all under the direction of Santorum. ... I called Santorum's people and they've denied it to me, but I got the impression they didn't want anyone there who didn't agree with him."

Mascitti said that later, the official policy became that only customers with a receipt proving they had purchased the book -- seemingly those who agreed with Santorum -- were allowed near the senator.

No wonder Santorum doesn't want to run for president. Can you imagine the headlines?


Friday, August 19, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

A major corporation is poking fun at President Bush.

The latest installment of Holiday Inn Express' award-winning "Stay Smart" advertising campaign shows a towel-clad man sitting at Bush's Oval Office desk. When he announces he's balanced the budget, the Bush character asks what accounting firm the man is from, to which he replies that he isn't an accountant, but "I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express."

The ad follows the running joke that staying at a Holiday Inn Express allows its guests to do the impossible. Other ads feature a hotel guest conversing with a dolphin, or performing a delicate surgical procedure with no medical training.

To be sure, this isn't some Michael Moore production. Holiday Inn Express is part of British corporation InterContinental Hotels Group, whose U.S. offices are in Atlanta -- deep in the heart of Red State America.

And I'm guessing InterContinental is pleased with the latest ad: earlier this week, it promoted a key figure who helped guide the ad campaign.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Doctors, HHS Clash Over Need For Higher Co-Payments For Medicaid

A Bush Administration proposal to hike Medicaid co-payments for adults and introduce co-payments for children has drawn fire from doctors.

The debate came at an Aug. 17 meeting of the Medicaid Reform Commission, a federal advisory panel appointed by the administration to help rein in the growth of Medicaid, which provides health insurance to more than 50 million low-income people.

Under current law, adults pay $3 co-payments. Co-payments are not allowed for children under 18. The administration is proposing $5 co-payments for adults, and $3 co-payments for children.

Under the proposal, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, Medicaid recipients would pay $4 billion in additional charges over the next five years. But according to an Aug. 18 story in the New York Times, Dennis G. Smith, a top federal Medicaid official, reminded his fellow panel members that this was not a large amount in the context of a program expected to cost the federal government and the states $2 trillion in the next five years.


Democrats have been leery of the commission, saying it would simply ratify budget cuts proposed by President Bush. Shortly after it was created, Senate Minority Leader Harry Read (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declined the invitation to appoint four non-voting members to the commission, which it said was stacked with as many as 34 voting and non-voting members appointed by Republicans.

"We fundamentally disagree with the premise that this Commission should make recommendations on how to cut Medicaid outlays by $10 billion by September 1. While we need to reduce the deficit, we should not make cuts affecting the most vulnerable Americans in order to finance more tax cuts for the wealthy," Reid and Pelosi wrote in a May 26 letter to HHS Secretary Michael Levitt.

But the panel made clear yesterday that it would not rubber-stamp the Bush Administration proposal.

"If we raise the co-payment, some people will not get the care they need. These are real people," the Times quoted commission member Dr. John C. Nelson, a former president of the American Medical Association.

A person with chronic illnesses who forgoes medicine because of the higher co-payment could end up in a hospital emergency room, which costs much more, said Dr. Nelson, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Salt Lake City.

Dr. Carol D. Berkowitz, a commission member who is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that co-payments of $3 to $5 could quickly add up to substantial costs for a low-income family with four children.

Another commission member, Julie Beckett, said that a $5 co-payment for each drug and doctor's visit "is a lot if you have multiple chronic conditions and multiple needs."


The commission was established in May with the charge of saving $10 billion over five years. It will decide on the administration's proposed co-payment increase in a report to be submitted to Levitt on Sept. 1.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming ...

It took JABBS 332 days to reach 40,000 hits. Today, just 47 days later, JABBS has reached 80,000 hits.

Thanks to Blogcritics, Buzzflash, Crooks and Liars, Democratic Underground, The Opinion Mill and World O'Crap, among others, for highlighting various JABBS posts, and introducing new readers to this blog.

And thanks to our readers, and our lively commenters, too.

You've all helped put JABBS on the map.


Where are JABBS readers? Not just from the blue states.

According to Sitemeter (you can click on it at the bottom of the page, too), JABBS has solid representation from the South -- most noticeably Texas. And it also has readers from outside the U.S. -- on some days as much as 10% of JABBS' total hits, from such far-away places as Australia, Brazil, Chile, England, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Romania, Singapore and South Africa.

I have also noticed that nearly every day, and occasionally several times per day, JABBS gets hits from troops stationed in Iraq.

Again, thanks to all for their continued support.

Lautenberg Asks Bush Administration To Condemn Dobson Comments

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has asked a top White House official to condemn remarks by conservative activist Dr. James Dobson.

On the Aug. 3 edition of his Focus on the Family radio show, Dobson compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi experiments on human beings. Two days later, Dobson, reacting to a letter from the Anti-Defamation League, said he wouldn't apologize for the comments.

Lautenberg wrote to President Bush's top domestic policy advisor, Claude A. Allen, appeared on the Aug. 4 edition of Focus on the Family, but failed to condemn the Nazi comparison.

In Lautenberg's letter to Allen, he urged that Allen and the White House disassociate itself from Dobson's comments.

"I urge you, as a representative of the President, to condemn Dr. Dobson's remarks and make clear that the President doesn't equate embryonic stem cell research with Nazi atrocities," Lautenberg wrote. "The President must send a clear message to the overwhelming majority of Americans who support stem cell research that he respects their views and doesn't hold them in the same moral category as Nazi scientists."

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Armed with a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Johns Hopkins University is leading a new effort to improve the reliability of electronic voting machines.

The project's goal is to design the most foolproof, transparent voting system possible, officials said in an Aug. 15 press statement.

"I don't think with today's technology we can have a voting system that is fully electronic that can be trusted," said Avi Rubin, a computer science professor, who will head the center.

Rubin has been an outspoken critic of computerized voting. In 2003, he co-authored a report that found voting machines from Diebold Elections Systems were vulnerable to hackers, multiple votes and vote-switching.


Given the accusations and mistrust following the 2004 presidential election, JABBS wishes Rubin and the center good luck. Assuming the Federal Election Commission heeds the results, the grant can only be considered "good news."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

WaPo Editorial Nails Bush For Failing As A Fiscal Conservative

"Bush, who had threatened to veto wasteful spending bills, chose instead to cave in. He did so despite the fact that in addition to a record number of earmarks the transportation bill came with a price tag that he had once called unacceptable. The bill has a declared cost of $286 billion over five years plus a concealed cost of a further $9 billion; Mr. Bush had earlier drawn a line in the sand at $256 billion, then drawn another line at $284 billion. Asked to explain the president's capitulation, a White House spokesman pleaded that at least this law would be less costly than the 2003 Medicare reform. This is a classic case of defining deviancy down.

The nation is at war. It faces large expenses for homeland security. It is about to go through a demographic transition that will strain important entitlement programs. How can this president -- an allegedly conservative president -- believe that the federal government should spend money on the Red River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Louisiana? Or on the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan? The bill Mr. Bush has signed devotes more than $24 billion to such earmarked projects, continuing a trend in which the use of earmarks has spread steadily each year. Remember, Republicans control the Senate and the House as well as the White House. So somebody remind us: Which is the party of big government?"

-- Washington Post, Aug. 15

In Covering Cindy Sheehan, Daily Show Shows Lunacy And Hypocrisy Among Conservative Pundits

It's easy to see why some conservatives -- mostly pundits and their cohorts in the blogosphere -- has been fuming over Cindy Sheehan's vigil just beyond the "Western White House" in Crawford, Texas.

Forget that Sheehan is a mother grieving the loss of her 24-year-old son, Casey, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Forget that she is exercising her first amendment rights.

The conservative punditry doesn't want Americans thinking about dead soldiers or grieving mothers. Instead, they want Americans thinking about guilt by association. Michael Moore has taken up Sheehan's cause, and to conservative pundits, Moore is evil incarnate. And has backed Sheehan. Yikes. That may be even worse. Conservatives look at all the anti-war protesters who have shown up and helped keep Sheehan's name in the news, then joke about Bush's farmer neighbor who fired shots in the direction of "Camp Casey." The conservative punditry look at Sheehan holding up a sign as the president's motorcade drives by, and remind viewers that even Sheehan's husband has deserted her.


The right-wing attack dogs have made the rounds since Sheehan began her protest, working most of the shows on Fox News Channel, and its Fox-lite competitor, MSNBC.

And thank goodness for Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which perhaps better than any news outlet amplifies the lunacy of the conservative punditry. If it can show hypocrisy, all the better.

Here's an unofficial transcript from the Aug. 15 show:

STEWART: The Cindy Sheehan saga has many on the right fuming over her decision to go so public with her anguish.

MICHELLE MALKIN (on MSNBC's Hardball): I do think she has turned her private personal pain into a public circus.

MELANIE MORGAN (on Fox News): She is also a person who has had a political agenda for a lot longer than her son has been dead.

FRED BARNES (on Fox News): She's a crackpot.

STEWART: Yeah, she's a crackpot. I mean, who in their right mind raises an altar boy, eagle scout, honor student marine? What kind of parent was this woman? (Makes cuckoo sound.)

But this is hardly the first time a private family nightmare has become a national political flashpoint. Only a few months ago, the Terri Schiavo case unfolded with a similar narrative. And to his credit, Fred Barnes was just as blunt in his criticism of that grieving family.

BARNES (3/22/05, on Fox News): The parents, uh, of Terri Schiavo rather, I think have a strong moral case.

STEWART: Oh, why I guess theirs was a tragic circumstance you could really get behind.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bush Has His Way: Don't Call It Global SAVE. It's Officially A "War" Again.

Earlier this month, JABBS noted that President Bush continued to use the word "war" to describe our nation's fight against terrorism, even as others in the administration began using the euphemism "global struggle against violent extremism" -- or the Orwellian (or possibly Christian fundamentalist) acronym Global SAVE.

JABBS wondered why this had happened, hoping maybe the president was finally acknowledging the difference between the Iraq War (primarily against insurgents and others who believe they are defending Iraq against a Western invader) and the broader fight against Al Qaeda (who struck the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and have struck a long list of allies since, most recently in London and Egypt).

But the mainstream media seemed not to notice the administration battle over monikers, so JABBS waited for additional information. That information came via an Aug. 11 press conference, and Bush's weekly radio address on Aug. 13.


Does the President like the word "war" better? Yes, according to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Speaking from the "Western White House" in Crawford, Texas, Hadley had this confusing back-and-forth with reporters:

Q Steve, has the President made clear to (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard B.) Myers that he prefers they not use euphemisms for the word "war"? He's not shy about saying the U.S. is a nation at war.

HADLEY: I think you saw the President, today, standing up in front of his national security team, making very clear it's a war on terrorism, how he sees it. You know, everybody has heard it and I think there's actually no disagreement that there's a war on terrorism. It is a terribly important struggle for the United States. And there is obviously -- and to be successful, we have to integrate all elements of national power. And part of that is, obviously, military action against terrorists; and part of it is also, of course, progress in the war of ideas, in spreading democracy and freedom.

Everybody knows that's part of the war on terror, but nobody is under any illusions that it is a war. All you have to do is look at the litany of death and carnage that has occurred before and after 9/11. And, of course, the American people are under no misapprehension about that.


Hadley could have simply given a yes-or-no answer. Does the president want his administration to stop using other euphemisms for "war on terror"? Hadley offers the confusing response that "here's actually no disagreement that there's a war on terrorism." But clearly there had been a disagreement on what to call our fight against terrorism.

Trying to summarize, Hadley offers the gobbledy-gook of "Everybody knows that's part of the war on terror, but nobody is under any illusions that it is a war." What does that mean?

The reporter must have been confused, too, asking this follow-up question:

Q Was the President at all miffed when in recent weeks Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers keep using euphemisms for that word?

HADLEY: Look, the President today and over the last two weeks has made very clear how he sees it. And this is a team that -- Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers don't need any reminder that there's a war going on. And the President made very clear how the issue needs to be framed for the American people, and that's how it's going to be framed.


So, the president calls it a war, and even though Rumsfeld and Myers know it's a war, Bush had to remind them to call it that, too.

Crystal clear, right?


Two days later, President Bush made it clear he will not distinguish the Iraq War from the greater "war on terror."

As he did in his July address to the nation, Bush again mixed and matched who we are fighting:

BUSH: This war on terror arrived on our shores on September the 11th, 2001. Since that day, the terrorists have continued to kill -- in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, Baghdad, London, and elsewhere. ... Because we are fighting a murderous ideology with a clear strategy, we're staying on the offensive in Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror, fighting terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home.

During the July address, Bush at least tried to clarify that the terrorists we are fighting in Iraq have ties to Al Qaeda.

BUSH: "To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents. To complete the mission, we will prevent al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban."

But there was no such clarification on Saturday.


But is it fair to link the Iraqi insurgency with Al Qaeda?

Some facts to consider:

-- A 2004 analysis of detainees in Iraq, reported by USA Today, suggested foreign fighters accounted for only 2% of the insurgency. More recently, the administration has said those numbers are growing, although it hasn't proven that "foreign fighters" can be equated to "Al Qaeda."

-- A June analysis by NBC News suggested that more than half of the foreign fighters who have died were Saudi.

Here's a question: Why doesn't Bush say "Saudi and other foreign fighters," or some such construction, when discussing that piece of the insurgency puzzle? Wouldn't that make sense -- even strengthen his argument that the Iraq War is part of the greater "war on terror" -- considering that the vast majority of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi?

Or is it possible that Bush, too, is prone to euphemisms?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Bush Administration Fails To Follow Law Requiring Action Against Saudi Religious Freedom Vioations

Last September, the Bush administration designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for “severe religious freedom violations” pursuant to International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).

At the time, the action was applauded -- especially given the close ties between the Bush family and the Saudi leadership. But a year later, there's growing concern that the designation was an empty action.

Why? Because under the IRFA, the administration is required to “take action to oppose religious freedom violations” in Saudi Arabia within 90 days of making the designation. There are 15 potential actions the IRFA allows. But almost a year after the designation was made, the Bush administration, by its own admission, has not taken any additional action.

At an Aug. 9 press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli could only quip when asked about the delay:

QUESTION: Speaking of reform, about five months have passed since the deadline concerning a U.S. response to the finding that Saudi Arabia is a Country of Particular Concern because of restrictions on religious freedom. I suppose that we're going to have to wait a little longer to find out what the conclusion of your deliberations is.

ERELI: At least long enough for me to find an answer to the question.


Why was the designation, and subsequent action, needed?

The federally funded U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom "has been recommending that Saudi Arabia be designated a CPC since the Commission was formed in 1999. This has been based not only on the Saudi government’s violations of religious freedom within its own borders, but also based on reports of its propagation and export of an ideology of religious hate and intolerance throughout the world,” said Commission Chair Preeta D. Bansal.

Other nations with the same designation: Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan.


The administration had been pushed last year, in part, by a Senate resolution introduced by Susan Collins (R-ME) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) in August, 2004.

Perhaps it's time for those two to lead the Senate in a new resolution -- demanding that the Bush Administration follow the law.

Of course, the Bush Administration could indefinitely delay the required action. The Commission, after all, expires in 2011.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

TSA To Consider Ending Ban On Scissors, Razor Blades, Small Knives, Ice Picks, Throwing Stars and Bows And Arrows

File this under "Worst Ideas Ever."

The new head of the Transportation Security Administration, Edmund "Kip" Hawley, recently asked his staff to propose changes to the way the agency screens 2 million passengers daily.

The staff's first set of recommendations, detailed in an Aug. 5 memo and reported Aug. 12 by the Washington Post, includes a proposal to lift the ban on various carry-on items such as scissors, razor blades and knives less than five inches long. The proposal also would allow ice picks, throwing stars and bows and arrows on flights.

Hawley, rather than throwing the suggestion aside, and-or questioning the logic behind it, instead will allow further disussion of the proposal this month, the Post reports.


If it bothers you that the TSA is spending your tax dollars to consider ways to make us less safe, consider the reasons behind it.

The Post reports that the "TSA is struggling with new cuts in the screener workforce imposed by Congress while its new leaders hope to improve the agency's poor reputation among air travelers by introducing more customer-friendly measures."

Let's look at that factoid:

1) Why did Congress cut the screener workforce? I don't know. Perhaps it was a misguided response to recent reports that the TSA has been guilty of rampant waste and fraud. Hey, it's important for our government to crack down on such things as the $500,000 spent on art, silk plants and other decorations for a new operations center, but cutting employees whose sole charge is to protect airline passengers does nothing to reduce waste and fraud. Certainly the government should realize that there's a difference between paying for bad employees and cutting needed staff, right? Using that logic would be like dumping your car because of a flat tire.

How could President Bush have approved the TSA budget? What are his priorities as he tells Americans, over and over, that "we're safer" under his helm?

2) How is it "customer-friendly" to allow scissors, razor blades, small knives, ice picks, throwing stars and bows and arrows on flights? Is there a great need to cut things, shave, pick ice, practice martial arts or target practice on a moving flight? Would you allow these things into an elementary school? Would you allow them into a packed stadium? Of course not. It would make no sense -- those things serve no purpose in those settings. Equally, they serve no purpose on an airplane.

Not surprising, the Post was able to find at least one security analyst to praise the agency's proposal, saying that security screeners spend too much time trying to find nail scissors and not enough time focused on today's biggest threat: a suicide bomber boarding an airplane.

K. Jack Riley, a homeland security expert at Rand Corp., said hardened cockpit doors, air marshals and stronger public vigilance will prevent another 9/11-style hijacking. "Frankly, the preeminent security challenge at this point is keeping explosives off the airplane," Riley said.

Maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but when did screening for sharp objects and screening for explosives become mutually exclusive searches?

We all complain about long lines, but I have to figure the majority of air passengers would rather wait five more minutes in line to know that the TSA has done its best to keep ice picks and other sharp objects off their flights.


Why isn't there money for airport screeners and high-tech machines? Maybe the government just has other priorities.

For example, President Bush just signed a $286 billion federal highway bill that included an estimated $23 billion of pork -- for projects like upgrades to the National Packard Museum in Ohio. Similarly, the recently passed energy bill has been criticized for being laden with pork and corporate welfare. (Maybe, after seeing all that pork, that's why President Bush can consider it an achievement to forecast "only" a $333 billion federal deficit for the current fiscal year. Hard to believe Bush ran in 2000 as a "fiscal conservative.")

How can anyone ok spending for pork, and at the same time allow the TSA to face budget cuts for its screener workforce, and lack the necessary equipment to screen for explosives?

Hey, if the money can't be had for homeland security by cutting pork, wouldn't most Americans be willing to fork over $3 or $5 per ticket -- or whatever the nominal cost is -- to keep the dumped screeners aboard, pay for the additional equipment, and better ensure airline safety?

Aw hell, the TSA probably doesn't think that's being "customer friendly."


The TSA, no doubt because of its reduced screener force, is also looking for ways to reduce the number of people it has to screen.

The memo recommends no longer patting down certain categories of passengers, such as members of Congress, airline pilots, Cabinet members, state governors, federal judges, high-ranking military officers and people with top-secret security clearances.

While that may seem reasonable, other suggestions are more questionable. For example, the memo suggests screeners also would not have to pat down "those persons whose outermost garments closely conform to the natural contour of the body."

But let's remember that not every bomber straps explosives to their chest. For example, consider where convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid put his bombs. Couldn't a person wearing a thick sweater -- conforming to the natural contour of the body -- in theory have a similar-sized explosive and waltz onto an airplane?

It gets worse. The system currently flags passengers who book one-way tickets or modify travel plans at the last minute. The new TSA plan would give TSA managers assigned to each major airport the option to de-select such passengers?

What possible reason would there be for de-selecting such a passenger?

Right. They want to be "customer-friendly."


Douglas Laird, former head of security for Northwest Airlines, was one security expert who recognizes the stupidity of the various TSA proposals.

For example, Laird said exempting certain categories of passengers from security screening would be dangerous because trusted groups have occasionally abused the privilege.

"In an effort to be customer friendly, they're forgetting that their primary requirement is to keep airplanes safe," Laird said.

Friday, August 12, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Should Hillary Clinton run for president? JABBS has no opinion. But the fine print below this bumper sticker speaks volumes about what to expect if she does.

"Counter Clinton" Group Nixes Plans To Build Libraries

A group that had hoped to build "Counter Clinton" libraries in Little Rock and Washington has abandoned its plans.

But if you don't like the Clintons, you can enjoy angry diatribes for a little longer on the group's web site. Seems that will go bye-bye soon, too.

The group was headed by Houston businessman Richard Erickson, but included a cast of characters whose lives revolve around their hatred of the Clintons. Those include:

-- Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who was a manager in Clinton's House impeachment trial

-- Dick Morris, Clinton's former strategist who resigned after revelations of an affair with a former call girl, but who has found new life as a Clinton basher on conservative television and radio shows.

-- Former FBI agent Gary Aldrich, whose fact-challenged 1997 best-seller, Unlimited Access, dredged up old rumors about the Clintons. Aldrich's book was published by Regnery Publishing, which over the years has offered a laundry list of conservative rant books.

-- pundit and former Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-NY), who of late has taken to calling the mainstream media the "Hillary War Machine."


Erickson, in an e-mail to the Associated Press, was stratightforward. "I'm giving up," he wrote. "I was very passionate about this, but also very naive as far as fundraising procedures go."

The AP reports today that in a separate e-mail to Barr, Erickson wrote: "I cannot continue, in good conscience, to ask well-meaning people to donate to what they believe is a good cause, when the money will most likely be consumed in administrative and legal expenses."

Fund-raising efforts were already struggling when the group had its biggest bit of notoriety, a July segment on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which rightfully mocked the group's mission.


The group, in spite of occasional appearances on Fox News Channel and elsewhere, also wasn't able to make a dent in the success of the actual Clinton Presidential Center, in Little Rock, which has drawn more than 400,000 people since opening last November.

Other conservatives have bashed the center for failing to acknowledge low points of the Clinton presidency, even the conservative Washington Times acknowledged that the center "includes small alcoves dedicated to numerous themes and scandals, including Mr. Clinton’s Whitewater hearings and impeachment trial." Still others, including Morris, have made unfounded claims of financial impropriety regarding the library by the Clintons.

Should Hillary Clinton make a run for the presidency in 2008, no doubt the individual Counter Clinton-ites will find their way onto Fox News and other outlets, to promote their anger and to spread fact-challenged rumors about the Clintons.

The libraries may never see the light of day, but the movement lives on.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Check out the top editorial cartoon in today's on-line edition of USA Today. (It also appeared in today's print edition.)

Drawn by Mike Smith of the Las Vegas Sun, the cartoon pokes fun at how news stories are spun positively, even when the facts speak otherwise.

Eight Months Later, Civil Liberties Watchdog Group Remains "Toothless, Underfunded Shell"

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, ordered by Congress last year to protect individual rights that might be violated by the USA Patriot Act or other government actions during the "war on terror," has failed to meet.

According to an Aug. 4 story by Reuters, a growing chorus of Democrats and Republicans are criticizing the Bush Admistration's lack of support in getting the board up and running, calling it a "toothless, underfunded shell."

Asked why the board has failed to meet, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) charged, "It's not a priority for the administration."


The intelligence reform law of December 2004 called for the oversight board in response to a recommendation from the Sept. 11 Commission, which feared increased governmental powers needed to fight terrorism could erode civil liberties.

But almost eight months after its inception, the panel still only exists on paper. Critics say the main reason for the delay was President Bush, who took six months to appoint four Republicans and one Democrat to the board -- even though other, more complex recommendations from the commission were acted on more quickly.

White House officials have said the board would address the commission's concerns, and get the resources needed to do the job. But those sentiments appear, thus far, to be little more than empty spin.

One problem is money. The Bush Administration requested $750,000 to fund the panel. Congress doubled that figure to $1.5 million -- but that still leaves it with less funding than what the new federal highway bill allocates to construct a garage on the campus of Lipscomb University, a private school in Nashville affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

By comparison, the Department of Homeland Security's internal watchdog office has a $13 million budget.

"I don't think you can do it for a million and a half," Shays told Reuters.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) have written the White House expressing concerns about the board's budget, as well as delays in setting it up.

"As we work to make America safer, it is equally important that we are careful to preserve the very liberties that we seek to protect," Collins told Reuters. "The board is critical in this regard."


There are also questions about what whether the board will have teeth.

"(It) is a very watered-down board without the kinds of powers which I believe are necessary to provide credibility and authority, such as independent subpoena power," Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Sept. 11 commissioner, told Reuters.

Shays, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and other lawmakers have proposed an amendment granting the panel greater independence and powers, including subpoena authority.

Right now, Maloney said, "It does not have teeth. It does not have enforcement. It does not have strength behind it."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Documentary film-maker Kent Bye is attempting a new type of citizen journalism.

His "Echo Chamber Project" is an "investigative documentary about the how the television news media became an uncritical echo chamber to the Executive Branch leading up to the war in Iraq."

The twist: it's an "open source" project, meaning that Bye is sharing transcripts and footage from his documentary with anyone who wants to use it or remix it with other footage as they see fit.

A preliminary video of the Echo Chamber Project is available on, a non-profit initiative that provides free storage space and bandwidth.


Before devoting himself to documentary film-making, Bye worked as a radar systems engineer within the military industrial complex for 4 1/2 years. While working as an engineer, Bye produced two narrative 16mm films, and directed his first feature documentary called Handicamp.

Since then, the Maine native has worked with the Maryland Film Festival, Silverdocs Film Festival, MicroCineFest, and Johns Hopkins Film Festival as a film screener and photojournalist.


We wish Bye good luck (and welcome him to use JABBS as a resource). If he's successful in helping give the mainstream media a kick in the pants, that would certainly be good news.

Bush, With Three-Plus Years To Go, On Verge Of Breaking Record For Most Presidential Vacation Days

If all goes as planned, President Bush next week will break Ronald Reagan’s all-time high for most presidential vacation days.

According to the Washington Post, with three and a half years left in his second term, Bush had already spent 319 days in Crawford -– almost 20% of his time in office -- upon arriving at the so-called Western White House last week. Reagan, another president famous for his ranching retreats, spent 335 days on vacation spread across eight years.

So, assuming he doesn't cut his vacation short, Bush will break Reagan's record on Aug. 19.

This probably is not as big a record as say, breaking Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. And it's certainly not as newsworthy as say, bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.

Still, the White House is trying to spin the vacation as a busy time for the president. Why? In a recent article, The Houston Chronicle offered this insight: "White House officials are touchy about criticism of Bush's traditional August break, because most Americans don't get five weeks of vacation a year, nor do they have access to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where Bush sometimes spends weekends. So they call the ranch the Western White House."

It doesn't help matters when television news -- objective or partisan -- show images of Bush cutting tree stumps, biking or golfing. There will be images of Bush having sweat-laden meetings with Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, too. Anyone who has ever taken a "working vacation" knows how these things work: there's always time for a good, long round of golf.


Why the long vacation? The Guardian speculates that it's because of the continued drumbeat from Democrats regarding the ongoing investigation into White House leaks of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name or identity. That investigation has apparently centered on senior White House officials Karl Rove -- dubbed "Bush's Brain" -- and Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

And this is an exceptionally long vacation. The Guardian reports that Bush's five-week vacation may be the longest retreat in at least 36 years. By comparison, the president spent 27 days at his ranch in August 2001, another 27 days in August 2002, and 29 days in August 2003, and 14 days in August 2004.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Is CNN Marginalizing Robert Novak?

Is the Robert Novak era at CNN coming to an end?

Novak has appeared on the network since 1980. But in recent months two of Novak's politically oriented shows -- the weekday Crossfire and weekend The Capital Gang -- have been canceled. Last week, Inside Politics, which occasionally featured Novak, was pulled in favor of The Situation Room, the network's new three-hour, late-afternoon news show.

For the time being, Novak won't be seen on any of CNN's remaining shows. CNN has pulled him off the air indefinitely, following an Aug. 4 outburst on Inside Politics.


Novak's outburst happened 10 minutes before the end of the show in the midst of an exchange among Novak, host Ed Henry and liberal analyst James Carville. They were talking about the possible Senate candidacy of Florida congresswoman Katherine Harris when Carville needled Novak and tried to interrupt.

"He's got to show the right-wingers that he's got backbone," Carville said. "Go ahead, the Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching. Show them you're tough."

Novak, shown on the screen sitting next to Carville, waved his right hand and replied: "I think that's bull----, and I hate that. Just let it go." While Henry addressed another question to Carville, Novak stood up, walked off the set behind Carville -- fully visible to viewers -- and apparently pulled off his microphone.


The veteran conservative pundit and columnist has been under fire in recent months for his role in the identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Novak's column identified her, and questions surrounding administration leaks -- Novak indicated he learned Plame's identity from two "senior administration officials" -- led to an ongoing investigation being conducted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Novak's refusal to discuss the matter publicly has drawn criticism from many quarters.

Henry later told Reuters that "I had told him in advance that we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case. He was not here for me to able to ask him about that, and hopefully we'll be able to ask him about that in the future."

But Novak said his outburst, and subsequent suspension, had nothing to do with Henry's planned question.

"That had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing," Novak said. "I was sorry he said that."

However, New York University Journalism Professor Jay Rosen's blog quotes an e-mail from reporter Scott Heiser of Financial Times, which said that Novak walked out of an Aug. 1 Young America’s Foundation National Conservative Student Conference, when a question came up about the Plame investigation.


Regardless, the question has to be asked: Is CNN trying to marginalize Novak?

Certainly, with Novak unwilling to comment on the Plame-leak story, the conservative pundit has essentially marginalized himself on one of the top political and journalism stories of the year.
CNN, and its website, have covered Novak's involvement in the Plame-leak story as aggressively as any other news outlet.

CNN's decision to rid itself of yellfests like Crossfire may mean that the network is growing tired or partisan arguments posing as information on what is supposed to be a "news" network. Perhaps the latest brouhaha will serve as an excuse for CNN to reduce Novak to an occasional commentator, or to end its 25-year relationship altogether.

Military To Investigate Nearly Duplicate Quotes In Recent Press Releases

The Pentagon is seriously investigating how nearly identical quotes, both attributed to anonymous Iraqi men, made their way into July 13 and July 24 press releases.

"This is an egregious error that reflects a lack of rigor in the development of these press statements," Di Rita wrote in a memo to top military commanders and senior civilian officials at the Pentagon, dated July 29 and later reported by the Washington Post.

That's an upgrade from comments made on July 24 by Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, spokesman for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, who called the near-duplication an "administrative error," while the Pentagon re-issuied the latter news release, minus the anonymous quote.


Officially, the Pentagon still claims the quotes are authentic, although that seems to stretch the bounds of coincidence.

Note the similarities:

The July 24 news release, on a car bomb that killed 25 near the al-Rashad police station, read: "'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) and all of Iraq. They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified."

The July 13 news release, on a car bomb that killed several children, read: "'The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the children and all of Iraq,' said one Iraqi man who preferred not to be identified. 'They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists."


Regardless, in his memo, Di Rita said that going forward, anonymous quotes are prohibited. He also laid out rules for who can issue news releases: unit commanders, their deputies or public affairs officers.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings Dies After Brief Battle With Lung Cancer

JABBS takes a time-out to remember Peter Jennings, who passed away last night after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was 67.

Although Jennings was often chastised by conservative critics, the journalism industry will fondly remember his four-decade career with ABC, punctuated by some stellar spot news and investigative reporting.

Although he may best be known today for his work over two decades as anchor of ABC's World News Tonight, Jennings' career was first distinguished with his work as a foreign correspondent.

On the scene at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Jennings was perfectly placed to cover the hostage-taking of Israeli athletes by an Arab terrorist group. He and a crew hid in the athletes' quarters for a close-in view of the drama.

He established ABC's bureau in Beirut, and won a Peabody Award for a 1974 profile of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

Upon his return to the anchor desk in 1983, Jennings' international experience served him well on stories such as the first Gulf War and the terrorist bombing of an airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland. Jennings also led a documentary team at ABC News, which struck a chord in 2000 with the high-rated spiritual special "The Search for Jesus."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Dobson (Surprise, Surprise) Won't Apologize For Comparing Embryonic Stem Cell Research With Nazi Science

On the Aug. 3 broadcast of the Focus on the Family radio show, James C. Dobson compared embryonic stem cell research with Nazi science experiments.

DOBSON: You know, the thing that means so much to me here on this this issue [embryonic stem cell research] is that people talk about the potential for good that can come from destroying these little embryos and how we might be able to solve the problem of juvenile diabetes. There's no indication yet that they're gonna do that, but people say that, or spinal cord injuries or such things. But I have to ask this question: In World War II, the Nazis experimented on human beings in horrible ways in the concentration camps, and I imagine, if you wanted to take the time to read about it, there would have been some discoveries there that benefited mankind. You know, if you take a utilitarian approach, that if something results in good, then it is good. But that's obviously not true. ... I will give our critics this: For the embryos that die, there is no suffering, there is just death. So there is a great difference between the two, but morally they are tantamount to each other because they both result in experimentation on human beings that leads somewhere."

It should be pointed out that Dobson brags about how he has advised the Bush Administration ...


Dobson's "science" doesn't make any sense. It follows the religious right theory, supported by the president, that no taxpayer money should be used "to promote science that destroys life in order to save life."

But that's conservative spin, not science. Stem cells are extracted from embryos that would otherwise be discarded, from places such as in vitro fertilization clinics. There is zero chance that these embryos would have become babies. It's the equivalent of a person offering to donate organs after they die.

The embryos can be manipulated to create various human-blood and tissue cells. Stem cell lines are cell groups extracted from embryos and are capable of reproducing themselves. Advocates say that ultimately, embryonic stem cell research will lead to cures for a variety of diseases, most notably Parkinson's Disease.


On his Aug. 5 show, Dobson said he wouldn't apologize to the Anti-Defamation League for his comments. "And to imply that I need to apologize to the Jewish people for my comments about that is just off the wall. And I reject it categorically," he said.

But that shouldn't come as a surprise. Last October, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) made similar comments. And he never apologized.

In truth, conservatives are funny people. They pick and choose when Nazi references are offensive. They decide which Nazi references demand apologies.

Sessions didn't apologize for his comments. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) didn't apologize after he said on May 19 that Democratic complaints about the "nuclear option" to ban judicial filibusters are "the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying: I'm in Paris, how dare you invade me, how dare you bomb my city. It's mine."

But conservatives were up in arms when on June 14 Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) quoted from an FBI agent's report on the deplorable conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, then said: "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings."


So, don't expect Dobson to apologize. In his mind and in the minds of his followers, he did nothing wrong and he said nothing insulting.

Had he not been a conservative leader, though, the rules would have changed dramatically.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

To Learn About Friday's Jobs Report, You Had To Read An Editorial

The headline in today's New York Times sounded sunny: "Employers in U.S. Add 207,000 Jobs to July Payrolls."

"With the exception of manufacturing, the labor market was strong across the board, offering further confirmation of the economic expansion evident in recent data on consumer spending, industrial production and home sales," reporter Eduardo Porter offered.

Meanwhile, over on the Times' editorial page, readers were given some interesting context.

In "Some Caveats on Job Growth," the op-ed board wrote:

"Since the spring of 2003, when job losses bottomed out, the monthly average has been 152,000. That's enough to absorb the 150,000 or so new workers who enter the labor force each month, and then some. Still, it's not robust. If jobs were being created today at the same pace as in other economic recoveries since World War II, the monthly average would be about 250,000."

Put that way, the "booming" economy that conservatives talk about doesn't sound nearly as ... uh ... booming.

You might recall that during the presidential election, President Bush and the RNC touted 10 straight months of job gains, then 11, then 12 ... even when those monthly job gains were less than 50,000. The soundbite sounded good -- no need for context.

Is this a good economy? Sure. Relatively speaking, it's good. Not great. But certainly good. But it comes at a cost -- a federal deficit projected at $333 billion for 2005, following a $412 billion deficit in 2004.

Some conservatives suggest that deficits don't matter -- that the country will grow its way out of its balance-sheet problems. But which would you rather have: modest job growth and a balanced (or nearly balanced) budget, or modest job growth and the largest annual deficits in the nation's history?


"Average hourly wages of production and nonmanagement workers rose nearly 0.4 percent, the fastest rate since July of last year," Porter wrote in his sunny, front-page assessment of the July job growth numbers.

But over on the editorial page, we learned:

"Average hourly wages rose a surprising 0.4 percent in July, the strongest monthly surge in a year. But they're up only 2.7 percent over the past year, hardly keeping up with inflation. Asked about that yesterday, Secretary (Elaine) Chao replied that overall compensation -- which includes employer-provided health care and other benefits -- was rising faster than the cost of living. That's correct, but somewhat disingenuous. The fact that workers' raises are, in effect, being diverted to cover the exploding cost of benefits is hardly a positive development."


What to make of this? Well, variations of the Times' sunny front-page story were written in newspapers all over the country. And while those stories factually recite the necessary statistics for July, isn't it a shame that to get context, readers have to turn to an editorial?


There was a grear article in a recent issue of New York magazine, in which there was a discussion of the trickle-down effect of each newly minted rich person. Every time someone earns $500,000, economists say, about four jobs are created.

But what kind of jobs? Service-industry jobs -- chauffers, waiters, etc. Most of those jobs pay $50,000 or less, which doesn't get you very far in New York, or most of the other high-flying environments were the super-rich spend their money.

Here's the point: You can look at the job-creation numbers and simply say, things are good. Or you can ask questions: What kind of jobs were created? What kind of wages and benefits do these jobs bring? What effect do these jobs have on the economy?

We live in a soundbite society, but before we congratulate the Bush Administration based on a few statistics, it may make sense to seek some context.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bush Administration Should Learn Lesson From Corporate World

President Bush is clearly a fan of the corporate world. He has said he wanted to run the government like a business, and his budgets have been laden with tax breaks and de-regulation favors for his corporate friends and supporters.

So maybe Bush saw the headline in today's newspapers that Sony Pictures Entertainment must pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the studio of citing a fake movie critic in ads for several films.

The company created "David Manning of the Ridgefield Press" and manufactured quotes that ran in advertisements for the films ''Vertical Limit,'' ''A Knight's Tale,'' ''The Animal,'' ''Hollow Man'' and ''The Patriot."

Officially, Sony Pictures did not admit any liability. But the fact that they are paying the money and offering a $5-a-ticket reimbursement to consumers speaks volumes.


Meanwhile, the president continues to stubbornly suggest that there's nothing wrong with its version of using a fake critic in an advertisement -- the use of government contractors posing as reporters and/or "man-on-the-street" interviewees in undocumented video news releases.

JABBS continues to hammer this point home because, although Congress has been working to put an end to the practice, the Bush Administration doesn't see anything wrong with the practice. In his most recent statement on the subject, in April, Bush acted very presidential, passing the buck on responsibility, and saying that it was up to individual television station producers to realize the VNRs were government-produced, and inform viewers. And if the producers didn't know any better? Too bad. Let viewers be fooled.

JABBS hammers the Bush Administration on this point because the government shouldn't have to deceive the American people in order to win public favor for its policies. That holds true for Democratic or Republican politicians.

Whether the deception comes in the form of a misleading speech, a fake "Town Hall" meeting, a payment to a conservative journalist or pundit, fixing government reports to match administration policy, manufactured quotes in press releases, or an undocumented video news release doesn't matter. They all serve the same purpose, and that purpose is alarmingly, unquestionably wrong. It shouldn't matter whether you are a liberal or a conservative -- you should not want your government to rely on propaganda that you would not accept from totalitarian regimes.


Rather than act proactively, the Bush Administration is, in effect, waiting for Congress and the FCC to clamp down on undocumented VNRs.

The Senate already has passed the so-called Byrd Amendment, sponsored by Robert Byrd (D-WV) which says federal money cannot be used to prepare video news releases “unless the story includes a clear notification within the text or audio ... that the prepackaged news story was prepared or funded” by the federal agency. That amendment is in effect until September, although Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) has said he will try to push to make the amendment permanent.

Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Kerry (D-MA) offered the Truth in Broadcasting Act, would require agencies and the White House to include a disclaimer that is visible throughout the VNR and contains the words “PRODUCED BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.” Broadcasters would be penalized for removing the disclaimer.

That piece of legislation has stalled, as senators await for the Federal Communications Commission to render an opinion on the matter.

The FCC took nine comments on undocumented VNRs on June 22, and took replies to those comments on July 22, but has not yet rendered its opinion on the matter. FCC spokesperson Rebecca Fisher told JABBS that no timeline has been set for such an opinion, although others expect the FCC to act by the fall.

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