Saturday, July 30, 2005

MSNBC (AKA Fox News-Lite) To Add Another Conservative To Nightly Line-Up

MSNBC will shift Tucker Carlson's low-rated talk show out of prime-time in much of the country to 11 p.m. EDT, with ex-Fox News Channel anchor Rita Cosby filling his time slot.

Since its debut June 13, the bow-tied conservative's show has averaged 201,000 viewers, 25 percent fewer than its time-slot predecessor, "The Abrams Report," had in May, according to Nielsen Media Research.

MSNBC reminded reporters yesterday that Cosby scored an exclusive interview with Jermaine and Tito Jackson on her first day at MSNBC last month. She will begin "Rita Cosby: Live and Direct" Aug. 8.

***

So, if you're scoring at home, that's:

-- Hardball, hosted by faux liberal Chris Matthews

-- Countdown, hosted by actual liberal Keith Olbermann

-- Live and Direct, hosted by Rita Cosby, formerly of Fox News.

-- Scarborough Country, hosted by former conservative congressman Joe Scarborough

-- The Situation, hosted by mainstream conservative Tucker Carlson

***

Rick Kaplan has engineered the change at MSNBC -- The Situation was the first show he created -- and thus far, he hasn't helped the network escape cellar-dwellar status.

How low were Carlson's ratings? How about 10% of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and 17% of CNN's Larry King Live? Ouch.

But here's the dirty secret Kaplan won't admit. None of MSNBC's right-tilting shows (and I include Hardball in that category) do well in the ratings. They all get clobbered, no matter how many RNC talking points they recite, and no matter how many right-tilting panels they showcase.

Memo to Kaplan: People on the left side of the aisle watch television, too.

Instead of creating Fox News-lite, shoot for balance. Take Bill Moyers' advice and, rather than retreading the same mix of pundits over and over, introduce guests at the "grassroots level," as Moyers puts it.

Maybe we'd all learn something, and MSNBC might finally get some viewers.

Psst. Are We Supposed To Forget The "War On Terror?"

Not only is the administration not using the term "war on terror" anymore -- apparently, they don't want to discuss it much either.

In today's weekly radio address, here was the extent of President Bush's comment on terrorism:

"We're also spreading freedom, because free countries are peaceful. And we're staying on the offensive against the terrorists, fighting them abroad so we do not have to face them here at home."

I would have expected more, given that we are barely a week removed from a terrorist attack in Egypt, and a second failed effort to attack London's mass tranist system.

***

Earlier this week, the Bush Administration began using the phrasing "global struggle against violent extremism" -- forming the Orwellian (or possibly Christian fundamentalist) acronym Global SAVE -- instead of "war on terror."

The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club.

I think there's a more practical reason, though. The U.S. can lose a war, which has a beginning, middle and end. It's harder to pinpoint losing a global struggle against violent extremism -- which seemingly can last generations.

Vietnam, you might remember, was not legally a "war" but a conflict.

***

But whatever the administration wants to call our fight against terrorism, it amazes me that Bush didn't speak about it more in this morning's address, given the news of the last several hours from London and Rome.

Certainly, it is a positive that Scotland Yard tracked down and seized the three remaining suspects from the failed July 21 effort to launch a second round of London mass transit terror attacks. Elsewhere in London, Scotland Yard rounded up several other suspects related to the recent terrorist attacks in the city.

Or, Bush could have spoken about Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, sentenced Friday to 75 years after a New York jury found him guilty of conspiring to support and attempting to support Al Qaeda and the Palestinian extremist group Hamas. He also was convicted of actually supporting Hamas but acquitted of supporting Al Qaeda.

***

The news of the past few days is just a small piece in the larger fight against terrorism. And maybe the White House is afraid that by discussing a few successes -- especially another country's successes -- that it will lead to discussion of all of our country's failures, most notably its failure to capture Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

I don't know if that's the reason. But, given that we are not far removed from the terror attacks in London and the Egyptian seaside -- both possibly tied to Al Qaeda, or splinter groups -- I think Americans should expect more than two empty sentences from their president.

Friday, July 29, 2005

... And Then Frist Flip-Flops On Stem Cell Research Funding

That was quick.

A day after blocking several bills that would increase federal funding for stem cell research, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) abruptly flip-flopped, and now says he advocates such funding.

"It's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science," Frist said on the floor of the Senate this morning.

Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon who opposes abortion, said modifying Bush's strict limitations on stem cell research would lead to scientific advances and "bridge the moral and ethical differences" that have made the issue politically charged.

"While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitation put into place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases," the Tennessee lawmaker said in his speech.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is fighting cancer, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Frist's talk "perhaps the most important speech made on the floor this year, and perhaps the most important speech made in many years. ... It has an enormous impact."

The chief House sponsor of the bill, Representative Michael N. Castle, Republican of Delaware, told the New York Times: "His support is of huge significance."

Bush has threatened to veto legislation for expanded financial support for stem cell research. A bill to finance more stem cell research has passed the House, but has been stalled in the Senate. Frist's support could push it closer to passage and set up a confrontation with Bush.

***

Most mainsteam media, in reporting on Frist's speech this morning, failed to point out yesterday's events.

Of the handful of articles I checked reporting on Frist's speech, only the Boston Globe seemed aware of yesterday's events.

"As recently as yesterday morning, Frist rebuffed Democrats' attempts to force an immediate vote on the House-approved bill, saying he would allow such a vote only after reaching an agreement to bring up a range of other measures that are related to stem cell research. That drew a harsh rebuke from Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has been consistently lobbying Frist to change his mind and support the bill," the Globe reported.

The Times noted: "Last week Mr. Castle accused the White House and Mr. Frist of "doing everything in their power to deflect votes away from" the bill. On Thursday night, Mr. Castle said he had written a letter to Mr. Frist just that morning urging him to support the measure."

***

What made Frist change his mind so abruptly?

Various newspapers suggest that Frist may have thought twice about the ramifications of a medical doctor coming down, once again, on the side of conservative spin instead of science.

"The move could also have implications for Mr. Frist's political future. The senator is widely considered a potential candidate for the presidency in 2008, and supporting an expansion of the policy will put him at odds not only with the White House but also with Christian conservatives, whose support he will need in the race for the Republican nomination. But the decision could also help him win support among centrists," the Times reported.

Frist also received pressure from several leading Republicans, including Specter and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), to bring a stem cell research bill to the Senate floor, in spite of Bush's stated intent to veto any such legislation.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Frist Strikes Again, Defying Public Support, The House and Fellow Republicans To Uphold Bush's Fight Against Stem Cell Research

It's been a heck of a week for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).

Two days after serving as the Bush Administration's lackey to derail a bipartisan effort to set rules for the treatment of enemy prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other military detention camps, Frist, a medical doctor, weighed conservative spin vs. medical science in the debate over stem cell research, and guess what? Spin won.

Frist denied a request this morning to address a bill, after Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) made a motion to bring the bill to the Senate floor.

The House version of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act passed with a 238-194 vote May 24. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), would violate President Bush's Aug. 9, 2001, executive order that allows federal funding only for research on stem cells derived from embryos destroyed before that date.

Bush has maintained that he would veto any legislation that tried to end the ban. Rather than risk an embarrassing confrontation -- should the bill have passed the Senate -- Frist did his duty as Bush's lackey, and prevented it from being debated.

Bush's opposition, supported by Frist, in the name of the religious right, is because he opposes spending taxpayer money "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.

***

"We are disappointed that the Senate is leaving for its August recess without addressing this vital issue," said Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which represents 95 nationally-recognized patient groups, scientific societies and academic research institutions. "A majority of the American people support stem cell research, a majority of the House supports stem cell research, we are confident a majority of the Senate support stem cell research, and are dismayed they have not yet gotten an opportunity to express that support."

***

Frist's move came just two days after Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) told the Associated Press that Bush has “drawn a line in the sand that's not pro-science. We don't want to be the party that's anti-science."

Coleman had advocated legislation similar to a bill authored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), which would have quashed Bush's ban and allowed federal funding for research utilizing 400,000 frozen embryos created since the 2001 ban. But the bill also never saw the light of day today, because of Frist.

Meanwhile, another Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is suffering from Hodgkin's disease, recently said he would attach the language of HR810 to the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services.

For Some in the Government, This is Progress ...

An audit by the Justice Department’s Inspector General found that the FBI has yet to review more than 8,000 hours of audio wiretap recordings related to counterterrorism investigations. While the Inspector General, Glenn Fine, said none of the recordings are associated with “high priority” investigations, he went on to stress that the FBI “has no assurance” that they do not contain information that could be crucial for pursuing terrorists. Few were happy with the report.

“It sounds very much like business as usual,” said Lee Hamilton, the former cice chairman of the September 11 Commission, “and business as usual is unacceptable.”

The new revelations add to reports last September that the FBI had failed to translate "more than 120,000 hours of potentially valuable terrorism-related recordings."

-- Center for American Progress, July 28

Bipartisan Effort to Regulate Detainee Treatment Derailed By Frist

Senate Republicans led a bipartisan effort to push legislation regulating the treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody.

Then the Bush administration pushed back.

Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), in his continuing role as designated Bush-Cheney lackey, derailed the bipartisan effort to set rules for the treatment of enemy prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other military detention camps by abruptly stopping debate on a $491 billion defense bill.

The unusual July 26 move came after several senators beat back an effort by Frist to block amendments setting standards for military-prisoner interrogations.

Frist jumped through hoops to derail the amendments after the White House indicated its intent to veto the defense spending bill if it contained such amendments, and after Vice President Dick Cheney met last Thursday with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Warner (R-VA), urging them to back off.

Rather that risk debate and (gasp) votes in favor of the amendments, Frist pulled the defense spending bill from consideration. The two amendments likely would have received substantial Democratic support and had a strong chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

By delaying action on the legislation, possibly into September, Frist put off potentially embarrassing defeats for the Bush Administration. But his failure to block the amendments outright -- he needed 60 votes to cut off debate under Senate rules but mustered only 50 -- means the Senate will have another opportunity to vote on military-detainee amendments later this year.

***

Frist's last-ditch moves frustrated senators from both sides of the aisle, including McCain, a co-author of two of the three amendments under consideration.

"It just doesn't make sense to leave defense authorization," McCain was quoted by Knight-Ridder. "We need to make sure that every member of the Department of Defense understands the procedures that are being used in interrogation and we don't have a repetition of Abu Ghraib."

McCain had been working with Graham and Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to respond to widely publicized cases of prisoner abuse. They proposed to set specific standards for the treatment of foreign detainees.

The three submitted an amendment on July 25 that would have required that the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation cover prisoners in military custody. Then, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced an amendment that would prohibit cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners and would require the United States to abide by the Geneva Convention and other international agreements on the treatment of prisoners.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) also had an amendment that would have set up an independent commission to study reports of abuse at military detention facilities.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Conservative Media (Surprise, Surprise) Trying To Discredit Plame

Conservatives can't make the "Who leaked Valerie Plame's identity?" story go away.

So instead, they've tried to diminish its importance. They've suggested Plame wasn't covert, but a recently leaked 2003 memo put that falsehood to rest. They've said that senior White House officials Karl Rove and Lewis Libby merely repeated information from reporters, but as more leaks come from testimony given to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, that argument increasingly lacks credibility.

And of course, they've tried to discredit Plame's husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, though what Wilson said in a 2003 New York Times editorial, or whether he assisted 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, is irrelevant to Fitzgerald's prosecution of White House leaks.

The latest salvo from the conservatives is a New York Post story that made the rounds this morning, and which no doubt you'll be hearing a lot about from talk radio today, and probably from at least one of Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews tonight.

The story, from Hardball favorite Deborah Orin but based on information on Time magazine's web site, offers the following scandal: Plame gave $372 to America Coming Together, an "anti-Bush group," for two tickets to a concert starring Bruce Springsteen.

"It's the first revelation that Plame participated in anti-Bush political activity while working for the CIA," Orin writes.

Oh my goodness!!! Stop the White House leak investigation!!! Plame is a Democrat!!! How scandalous!!!

But, as Orin notes late in the story, "CIA rules allow campaign contributions."

So, maybe it's not so scandalous after all.

But certainly the Wilsons are trying to hide the fact that they supported the "anti-Bush group," right? Nope. Wilson told Time that the anti-Bush concert was "great."

***

"CIA rules allow campaign contributions, but the fact that Plame gave money to the anti-Bush effort is likely to raise eyebrows," Orin writes.

Really? Let's see. Plame's career was ruined, and perhaps her life was put in jeopardy, because her cover was blown. Who blew her cover? There's mounting speculation that it was Rove and-or Libby -- two men who continue to work for the Bush Administration.

Would Orin -- speaking on behalf of the eyebrow-raising community -- actually expect Plame and Wilson to continue to support Bush?

And the last time I checked, the CIA was not a political body. As has been made clear in recent days, the Bush Administration has lots of critics in the intelligence community. Seemingly, many of these people voted Democrat in 2004 -- if for no other reason than to protest the administration's handling of the Plame leak.

***

Orin has one more scandalous detail in her story -- one that will no doubt be repeated many times in the days to come among the "conservative media."

She writes: "America Coming Together is one of the anti-Bush activist groups bankrolled by Bush-opposing billionaire George Soros."

Scandalous! Plame can be tied to Enemy #1 among conservatives, financier George Soros. Remember, any time a conservative wants to discredit something from the left, they will look for a tie to Soros. Anti-Soros rhetoric increases ratings, and takes people's eye off the ball.

And once again, the story line is that a special prosecutor is investigating White House leaks of a covert CIA agent. The same special prosecutor is likely investigating whether White House officials perjured themselves in their testimony.

Hopefully, the conservative media won't be able to keep the scandalous "Plame Buys Concert Tickets From Soros" story afloat for very long.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

P.R. Firm That Helped Allawi Now Promoting Al Jazeera

The Bush Administration can't be happy about this.

Al Jazeera International has retained public relations firm Brown Lloyd James to help build its image in the U.S. wtih advertisers, and potentially news "consumers." Set to launch in 2006, Al Jazeera International will be the 24-hour English-language news channel run by the Qatar-base company, according to a July 25 story in PR Week.

It's perhaps the polar opposite of the work Brown Lloyd James did in 2003, when it was one of two firms hired to raise the profile and build political support for one-time CIA employee and Bush Administration ally Iyad Allawi, during his successful 2003 bid to become Iraqi prime minister.

Unlike other law and lobbying firms which focus on Republican clients, it would appear Brown Lloyd James' main concern is profit, not politics.

Of course, the Bush administration has long been incensed by Al Jazeera, calling it "Osama Television" for broadcasting tapes from Osama bin Laden and having what it sees as an anti-U.S. attitude, especially with regard to the Iraq War. The administration last year created an alternate, pro-U.S. network, Al-Hurra.

U.S. Military in Iraq Caught Posing Propaganda As News

The U.S. military is calling it an "administrative error," but others are suggesting it was caught posing propaganda as news.

The military issued a news release on July 24, following a car bomb, that included a quote from an unidentified Iraqi man. But the quote was almost identical to one used in a July 13 release, following a separate car bomb.

Here's the kicker: After questioning from the U.S. news media, the military re-issued the July 24 release, minus the quote. Problem solved! Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, spokesman for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, told CNN that the quote was an "administrative error," and said the military was investigating.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

Even if the quotes were absolutely identical, the "administrative error" theory might not hold water. We'd have to assume that our military accidentally pulled a quote from July 13 and stuck it into a July 24 release. Doesn't make a lot of sense.

But the quotes aren't identical. They're almost identical. So the "administrative error" would be that our military accidentally pulled a quote from July 13, altered it slightly, then stuck it into a July 24 release.

An alternate theory, of course, is that the military interviewed the same unidentified Iraqi, who read his July 13 quote for use in the July 24 news release ...

***

How similar are the quotes? You be the judge.

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.

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Today, JABBS introduces "And Now For Something Completely Different."

Some conservative readers say that JABBS is too negative, and that the site needs more good news. This feature tries to address that need. (Of course, JABBS and the conservative noise machine may differ on what constitutes good news.)

And now, for something completely different ...

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said July 25 that he does not intend to seek the presidency in 2008.

"I have six children ages 4-14. And the idea of coming off a race of the intensity that I am engaged in at this point and turning around and running another two-year campaign for president is not something that I believe is in the best interest of my family," Santorum told the Washington Post.

Recent state polls show Democrat Bob Casey Jr. leading the two-term incumbent.

***

In other words:

"My advisors said I might not win re-election in Pennsylvania, and making a 2008 presidential run ludicrous. I don't want to disappoint my wife and have my kids think I'm a loser. Maybe next time I'll think twice before invoking a Nazi reference (when talking about Democratic filibusters) on the Senate floor."

Monday, July 25, 2005

Senate Republicans Pushing Amendments (And Ignoring Bush-Cheney) Regulating Detainee Treatment

Senate Republicans planned to push ahead with legislation regulating the treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody, despite a White House veto threat.

The Bush administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, is working to kill amendments that Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) want to tack onto a bill setting Defense Department policy for next year.

McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, and Graham, a former military lawyer, plan to introduce their amendments this week. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., has been working with McCain and Graham on the legislation.

Senate aides told the Associated Press today that the measures have not been toned down even though White House lobbying against them intensified late last week.

Cheney met with the three Republican lawmakers just off the Senate floor for about 30 minutes Thursday evening. That followed an administration statement that President Bush's advisers would recommend a veto of the overall bill if amendments were added that "interfere with the protection of Americans from terrorism by diverting resources from the war to answer unnecessary or duplicative inquiry or by restricting the president's ability to conduct the war effectively" -- a reference to the McCain/Graham amendments.

Senate aides estimate that nearly a dozen Republicans could be on board — perhaps the largest stand of independence by party leaders since Bush came to office in 2001.

It would also be more than enough GOP support for the amendments to pass. Democrats, who long have criticized the administration on detainee treatment, overwhelmingly favor the amendments as part of a broader legislative package.

***

For McCain and Graham, it's the latest step to put some space between themselves and the Bush White House -- moves that some observers have suggested can only improve their chances should either decide to make a presidential run in 2008.

The two senators, along with Warner, were among the Republican half of the "Group of 14," which in May signed a deal creating a moderate bloc, large enough to derail both Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees and any GOP attempt to employ the so-called "nuclear option" to change Senate rules through procedural maneuvers to prevent the tactic from being used. In creating the bloc, the Republicans sidestepped the Bush Administration's wishes, and over-ruled Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), another potential 2008 presidential candidate.

***

Talk of legislation regulating U.S. treatment of terror suspects has percolated on Capitol Hill since last year when the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq surfaced. Criticism by human-rights groups and lawmakers over the military's detainee camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reached a fever pitch this spring amid fresh allegations of abuse and torture there.

McCain's package of amendments would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army field manual — and any future versions of it — the standard for treatment of all detainees in the Defense Department's custody. It also would expressly prohibit the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody no matter where they are held.

The United States also would have to register all detainees in Defense Department facilities with the Red Cross to ensure all are accounted for. The Pentagon has acknowledged holding up to 100 so-called "ghost detainees," who are not listed in regular prison logs.

McCain supports a pair of amendments Democrats are likely to sponsor prohibiting the United States from exporting terror suspects to countries that are known to torture prisoners, and requiring the United States to register with the Red Cross detainees who are held outside of Defense Department facilities.

Graham's amendment would make law the procedures the Bush administration has put in place for prosecuting cases of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

However, it also would allow detainees to have a military lawyer — not just a military representative — available when appearing before annual review boards. Like parole boards, these panels determine whether the detainee still poses a threat to the United States and, if so, should remain in custody.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The White House has been making a concerted effort to block legislation that would regulate the treatment of American military detainees. The drive started on Thursday, when Vice President Cheney met privately with three senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and warned them to back off pending legislation that would prohibit the cruel and inhuman treatment of captives.

In an ironic and unrelated story, Iran's totalitarian government has openly admitted that its penal system is riddled with abuse -- a problem that the country claimed it has been working to change.

-- Center for American Progress, July 25

Tomlinson Ally, A Leading GOP Donor (Surprise, Surprise) Likely Next Head of Corporation for Public Broadcasting

A leading Republican donor who once suggested that public broadcasting journalists should be penalized for biased programs is the top candidate to succeed the controversial chairman at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Bush-appointee Cheryl F. Halpern has sat on the CPB board for three years and is slated to replace Ken Tomlinson, a close ally, as the agency's head. Besides being a top Republican financial supporter, Halpern sits on the executive board of the right-leaning think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is a board member of the International Republican Institute.

Tomlinson's second one-year term expires in September and he cannot be reappointed.

***

PBS officials declined to comment directly on Halpern's potential succession. But PBS President Pat Mitchell took an indirect shot at Republican-led efforts to address alleged bias by saying in a statement, "Our hope is that the next chairman of the CPB board, no matter who it is, will uphold the charter of the CPB, which is to support the independence of public broadcasting by distributing federal funds and protecting programming from the influences of any and all funding sources."

Tomlinson has been criticized for his over-the-top effort to prove liberal bias at PBS and NPR, at one point paying conservative consultant Fred Mann more than $14,000 to "monitor bias" at the now-defunct PBS show Now, which was hosted by a favorite target of the right, Bill Moyers.

The report Mann produced labeled guests "liberal" or "conservative," but had a funny labeling system, including naming Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as "liberal" for disagreeing with White House policy. The irony is that Now is not directly financed by the CPB.

Tomlinson also got into hot water for lying about whether he was in communication with the White House. E-mails leaked to the Los Angeles Times for a May 2 story showed that Tomlinson last year enlisted presidential adviser Karl Rove to help kill a legislative proposal that would change the composition of CPB's board of directors by requiring the president to fill about half the seats with people who had experience in local radio and television. The proposal was dropped after Rove and the White House criticized it.

***

Halpern and her husband, Fred, have been major financial supporters of Republican candidates for years. At one point during the 2004 elections, Mother Jones magazine ranked the Halperns among the nation's top 100 "hard" money donors (contributions made directly to candidates, not party organizations) and said they contributed a total of $81,800 to, among others, President Bush and Republican Sens. Trent Lott (MS), Sam Brownback (KS) Conrad Burns (MT) and Christopher Bond (MO). The magazine said that 95 percent of their contributions during that election cycle went to Republicans.

At the Senate confirmation hearing on her nomination to the CPB board in 2003, Halpern expressed agreement with Lott after he questioned the objectivity of PBS journalist and commentator Bill Moyers.

"There has to be recognition that an objective, balanced code of journalistic ethics has got to prevail across the board, and there needs to be accountability," she said at the hearing. She agreed with Lott that penalties were justified when balance fails, although she acknowledged that CPB rules prohibit interfering with programming decisions. Neither she nor Lott elaborated on what sort of penalties they favored.

Halpern's political activity and confirmation-hearing comments could make her elevation to chairman as controversial as CPB's recent hiring of its new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee. The appointment of Harrison last month touched off allegations of partisanship by public broadcasting executives, as well as calls by Democrats for Tomlinson's resignation and for an investigation by CPB's inspector general. The inspector general said this week that he has launched such a probe.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Is There A Lazier White House Reporter Than The NY Times' Elisabeth Bumiller?

Consider this:

"Judge Roberts was born in Buffalo and grew up in Indiana. In high school, he captained his football team, and he worked summers in a steel mill to help pay his way through college."

-- President Bush, announcing nomination of John Roberts Jr., July 19

"The president and Judge Roberts spoke in the sitting room of the White House residence for an hour on Thursday, Mr. Bartlett said, and the president asked him a number of personal questions about his upbringing in small-town Indiana."

-- Elisabeth Bumiller, reporting on the pick for the New York Times, July 20

"John Glover Roberts was born in Buffalo and grew up in Indiana, the son of an executive for the Bethlehem Steel Company and a homemaker. When Mr. Bush presented Judge Roberts in the Cross Hall on Tuesday night, he made special mention of the judge's having worked summers in steel mills, an apparent effort to give him some working-class cachet."

-- Neil Lewis, in a separate story for the Times, July 20.

***

Meanwhile:

"Mr. Bartlett insisted that the president's timing had nothing to do with Mr. Rove and everything to do with giving the Senate adequate time before its recess next week to meet Judge Roberts and deal with the enormous amount of paperwork and logistics such a nomination requires."

-- Bumiller, in her July 20 story

"Bush originally had planned to announce a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on July 26 or 27, just before his planned July 28 departure for a month-long vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, said two administration officials, who spoke on the condition they not be named. The officials said those plans changed because Rove has become a focus of Fitzgerald's interest and of news accounts about the matter."

-- Bloomberg Business News, July 20

***

Conservatives like to talk about the "liberal" New York Times. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a reporter more open to White House spin than the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller.

Bumiller was the author of the laughable "White House Letters" during the 2004 presidential campaign told readers about the president's punctuality, his desire to campaign hard, and the love and support of his family. And no, the Times ran no similar weekly feature on Democratic candidate John Kerry, even as elsewhere in the paper the Times ran stories and editorials about Kerry's aloof and distant nature. (It never dawned on the Times, it seems, that if it had run a weekly insider feature as fawning as Bumiller's coverage of the president, Kerry might not have seemed so distant.)

And yet, Bumiller continues to incompetently cover the White House, repeating White House spin as if it were objective fact. You would think, after the Times single-source (read: the White House) softball coverage during the run-up to the Iraq War -- resulting in a half-page mea culpa -- that Times reporters would know to not simply print White House spin without offering a shred of independent thought.

Bumiller, week after week, proves that theory wrong.

Then again, Bumiller once offered some interest thoughts on how the White House press corps collectively handled the run-up to the Iraq War.

As quoted by the Baltimore Sun: "I think we were very deferential because … it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."

***

The Times should do Bumiller a favor. Rather than have its reporter offer scared-stiff coverage of the White House, the Times should give her the boot, and let her take her rightful place as a White House flak.

Friday, July 22, 2005

White House, DHS Spin Chertoff Comments Comparing Aviation, Mass Transit Needs

Yesterday's attempted terrorist attack on London mass transit -- coming just two weeks after a successful terrorist attack killed 50 -- has once again raised the question of what the U.S. is doing to protect its mass transit systems.

Rather than address that, however, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have instead tried to spin comments made July 14 by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The strategy: Chertoff was misunderstood (by everyone). He really does care about the safety of millions nationwide that use mass transit daily.

Chertoff, you may recall, explained to the Associated Press why mass transit security should take a back seat to aviation security: "A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people," he said, evoking 9/11 imagery. Then, he added words that infuriated urban leaders nationwide: "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people."

Why would Chertoff say such a thing? We have to assume he was following some larger Republican gameplan on how to spend Homeland Security dollars, for on the same day, the Republican-controlled Senate nixed two amendments to increase mass transit spending. Since the Madrid train bombing last year, Senate Republicans have now stopped five pieces of legislation regarding mass transit spending, including two proposed by Republicans.

***

But that brings us to the 24-hour news cycle following yesterday's attack. Seems some in the media wanted to know if now, after yesterday's attempted London attack, did Chertoff stand by his inane comments?

And wouldn't you know it, DHS and the White House, as if coordinating, tried to spin what Chertoff said.

DHS spokeswoman Valerie Smith told The Jersey Journal that the secretary understands the need to provide a well-rounded system of security.

"The Department of Homeland Security is concerned about all risks and vulnerabilities and is at work addressing each of them with the unique solution that each requires," said Smith, noting that part of Chertoff's comments were not included in the AP report.

Yes, when the boss says something dumb, blame the media.

What was the missing comments? I'm assuming it wasn't "Just kidding." But either the Journal doesn't ask, or Smith doesn't say, because the article never follows up on the point. All Smith added to the story was a review of the paltry amount that DHS devotes to mass transit security.
But White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan offered a similar, almost coordinated comment at the July 21 press conference.

After offering the same review of DHS' paltry spending for mass transit security, there was this exchange:

Q The Secretary of Homeland Security stirred some controversy, I think it was last week, when he said that the risks are greater from an airplane than from mass transit. Has the second attack in London made people reconsider that perspective?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you ought to look at the full context of his remarks. I think he was talking in the context of the federal responsibility. Aviation security is solely a federal responsibility. The mass transit systems -- when you talk about subways and trains and things of that nature, that is a shared responsibility of local, state and federal authorities, and that's what he was talking about.

Is that what Chertoff said? I don't think so. McClellan says we didn't understand the "context" of Chertoff's comments. But what context do you need? Chertoff makes it clear -- an airplane can kill 3,000, a subway can kill 30. Pretty straightforward.

And that's why Democrats and Republicans have criticized what Chertoff said. "Michael Chertoff is a very smart guy, but I couldn't disagree more," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, told the AP.

In the wake of yet another terrorist attack on mass transit, the people want answers. Our Republican leadership is giving up spin.

***

This post is also available at Blogger News Network.

Former Intelligence Officers Criticize Bush For Not Disciplining Rove

Former U.S. intelligence officers criticized President Bush this afternoon for not disciplining Karl Rove in connection with the leak of the name of a CIA officer, saying Bush's lack of action has jeopardized national security.

In a hearing held by Senate and House Democrats examining the implications of exposing Valerie Plame's identity, the former intelligence officers said Bush's silence has hampered efforts to recruit informants to help the United States fight the war on terror. Federal law forbids government officials from revealing the identity of an undercover intelligence officer.

"I wouldn't be here this morning if President Bush had done the one thing required of him as commander in chief -- protect and defend the Constitution," said Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst, as quoted by the Associated Press. "The minute that Valerie Plame's identity was outed, he should have delivered a strict and strong message to his employees."

Rove, Bush's deputy chief of staff, told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in a 2003 phone call that former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues, according to an account by Cooper in the magazine. Rove has not disputed that he told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the agency, but has said through his lawyer that he did not mention her by name.

In July 2003, Robert Novak, citing unnamed administration officials, identified Plame by name in his syndicated column and wrote that she worked for the CIA. The column has led to a federal criminal investigation into who leaked Plame's undercover identity.

Patrick Lang, a retired Army colonel and defense intelligence officer, said Bush's silence sends a bad signal to foreigners who might be thinking of cooperating with the U.S. on intelligence matters.

"This says to them that if you decide to cooperate, someone will give you up, so you don't do it," Lang said. "They are not going to trust you in any way."

Johnson, who said he is a registered Republican, said he wished a GOP lawmaker would have the courage to stand up and "call the ugly dog the ugly dog."

"Where are these men and women with any integrity to speak out against this?" Johnson asked. "I expect better behavior out of Republicans."

***

The testimony today came from the same 11 former officers who provided a July 20 statement to congressional leaders, in which the officers said the Republican National Committee has circulated talking points that incorrectly stated that Plame was not undercover when her name was leaked to the press, and thus did not deserve protection.

***

The hearing was called by Democrats in an effort to return public attention to Rove and any role he had in disclosing Plame's identity. It was conducted by by Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee.

Democrats contend they have to hold their own unofficial hearing because the Republican leadership of the House and Senate refuses to conduct an official inquiry into whether the Bush White House leaked information about Plame in an attempt to discredit her husband.

"That's really unfortunate that it has come to that, because when the national security of our country can be affected ... the Congress should act in a bipartisan way to get to the bottom of the matter," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters.

"People think this is a political game of gotcha," Dorgan said, according to Cox News Service. "It is not that at all. These issues are life and death."

Testimony from Rove, Libby and Reporters Apparently Contradictory

Top White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis Libby apparently testified to a special prosecutor that they each learned of CIA Operative Valerie Plame's name from reporters -- which apparently contradicts infromation provided by the reporters.

Bloomberg Business News, relying on sources familiar with the testimony, reported today that Libby, who is Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned Plame's identity from NBC News reporter Tim Russert.

But Russert apparently has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn’t tell Libby of Plame’s identity.

***

Meanwhile, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove apparently told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Novak, who was first to report Plame’s name and connection to Wilson, has apparently said the opposite. In 2003, Novak said: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

There are also contradictions between accounts given by Rove and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. The White House aide mentioned Wilson’s wife — though not by name — in a July 11, 2003, conversation with Cooper, the reporter has said. Rove apparently testified that Cooper called him to talk about welfare reform and the Wilson connection was mentioned later, in passing.

Cooper wrote in Time magazine last week that he told the grand jury he never discussed welfare reform with Rove in that call.

***

The "he said/he said" has to be sorted out by Fitzgerald, part of a broader effort to determine whether Libby, Rove or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation.

The Plame case has its genesis in whether any administration officials violated a 1982 law making it illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a covert intelligence agent.

The CIA requested the inquiry after Novak reported in a July 14, 2003, column that Plame recommended her husband for a 2002 mission to check into reports Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. Wilson, in a July 6, 2003, article in the New York Times, had said President Bush’s administration “twisted” some of the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons to justify the war.

Fitzgerald’s term of service lasts until October, which is also the length of time remaining for the grand jury hearing evidence in the case.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rove's "Popularity" Pays Dividends For Republican Congressman

Speculation over whether Karl Rove helped leak CIA Operative Valerie Plame's name or identity to reporters hasn't hurt his popularity among the faithful.

And, at least for one congressman, the controversy is paying early dividends.

A July 19 Washington fund-raiser for Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA), for which Rove has long been scheduled as the featured guest, became a more desireable event as the controvery surrounding Rove grew.

According to event planners, the fund-raiser was originally designed to draw about 40 people, with tickets at $1,000 for general admission and $2,500 to sit at the "VIP Roundtable Discussion" with Gerlach and Rove.

When all was said and done, though, it was believed more than 100 people attended the reception, with all 15 roundtable seats taken. Apparently, if there had been a way to double (or perhaps triple) the size of the roundtable, the event planners would have had no problem finding takers.

"People want to support Jim Gerlach, and people want to support Karl Rove," event organizer Mike Gula told The Suburban and Wayne (Pa.) Times, for a July 21 article.

***

Gerlach's media consultant, John Brabender, offered another take on the situation -- which sounds a lot more like spin.

"A lot of issues will be discussed about Southeastern Pennsylvania" at the roundtable, Brabender told the newspaper. With Rove present, they know "the information will be taken directly to the White House and shared with President Bush."

Right. That's why people wanted to talk with Karl Rove ...

***

This post is also available at Blogger News Network.

Classified 2003 State Department Memo Gives Clear Indication That Plame Was Covert

A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contains information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the three-page memo's existence in its July 19 edition. A story in today's Washington Post provided greater details.

The June 10, 2003 memo refers to Plame by her married name, Valerie Wilson. According to a source who described the memo to the Post, Plame is mentioned in the memo's second paragraph.

The paragraph is clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as "secret" the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, the Post's sources said. It is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a federal official to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA official if the person knows the government is trying to keep it secret.

Prosecutors attempting to determine whether senior government officials knowingly leaked Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative to the media are investigating whether White House officials gained access to information about her from the memo, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, has testified that he learned Plame's name from Novak a few days before telling another reporter she worked at the CIA and played a role in her husband's mission, according to a lawyer familiar with Rove's account. Rove has also testified that the first time he saw the State Department memo was when "people in the special prosecutor's office" showed it to him, said Robert Luskin, his attorney.

Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, have been identified as people who discussed Plame with Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Prosecutors are trying to determine the origin of their knowledge of Plame, including whether it was from the memo or from conversations with reporters.

***

Meanwhile, eleven former intelligence officers spoke up on behalf of Plame yesterday, saying that leaking her identity may have damaged national security and threatens the ability of U.S. intelligence gathering.

In a July 20 statement to congressional leaders, the former officers said the Republican National Committee has circulated talking points that incorrectly state that Plame was not undercover, and thus did not deserve protection.

There are thousands of U.S. intelligence officers who work at a desk in the Washington, D.C., area every day who are undercover as Plame was when her identity was leaked, the statement added.

"Intelligence officers should not be used as political footballs," the statement read.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bush Offers New Catch-Phrase On Iraq Withdrawal. But Aussie Reporter Knew His Facts

REPORTER JIM MIDDLETON: But the struggle against terrorism dominated. With Australia having committed more troops to Iraq and sending special forces back into Afghanistan, the President made a point of thanking the Prime Minister for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We had a good talk today about the way forward in Iraq. I assured him that our position is one that says, "As the Iraqis stand up, America stands down."

MIDDLETON: But that does not mean withdrawal any time soon, even if the war in Iraq is growing more unpopular in the U.S. as American casualties mount.

BUSH: They'll be there as long as necessary to complete the mission.

MIDDLETON: Two years ago, Mr. Bush declared the combat phase of the Iraq conflict over and Mr. Howard said Australian troops would remain for months, rather than years. Today neither was being held to a timetable.

BUSH: I get asked about timetables all the time here. But the answer is: when the Iraqis are ready to do the fighting themselves.

MIDDLETON: Timetables, said Mr Bush, merely emboldened the enemy. The Prime Minister echoed -- and acknowledged -- a line from (Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to try and put a time limit on our commitment in Iraq -- I'm not. It will be governed by circumstances, rather than by the calendar.

-- Transcript of the July 20 edition of Lateline, on the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Why Was Roberts Announced Yesterday? Just Ask Tim Russert

"President Bush had no control over when Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor would step down. But announcing her successor — and when — was his call.

In doing so in prime time Tuesday, Bush took advantage of his bully pulpit and news media cycles to argue that appeals court Judge John Roberts is the right choice for the nation's highest court.

Analysts said the timing was also designed to take media focus away from the troubles facing Bush's embattled adviser, Karl Rove.

Meet the Press host Tim Russert told anchor Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News that every Republican he had talked to on Tuesday said, 'Thank God the White House is changing the subject.'"

-- USA Today, July 19

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham discussed the Rove leak case on the Imus program. Indeed, Meacham discussed the topic for an excruciating fifteen minutes (and twenty seconds), giving one of the most uninformed presentations we’ve ever seen, on any topic. What would you say if we told you that Meacham didn’t know when Wilson made his trip to Niger — that he thought Wilson had gone to Niger after Bush said his “16 words” in the 2003 State of the Union? Since Wilson’s trip occurred in February 2002 — a full year before Bush made his speech —you’d probably think that we were kidding. But no!

As the wandering, formless segment dragged on, it became abundantly clear; Meacham thought that Wilson’s trip was commissioned post-war, in 2003, as the lack of WMD in Iraq began to emerge as a major issue. (As we’ll see, Meacham even scorned the CIA for failing to send Wilson at an earlier date, “before we had begun a war based partly on this.”)

Anywhere else, such posers get fired—but that doesn’t happen in our press corps. In our press corps, people like Meacham go on TV to speak with hosts who are even more clueless than they are — to spend fifteen minutes (and twenty seconds) jumbling all the facts of the case. "

-- The Daily Howler, July 19

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bush Selects "Strong Conservative" Roberts For High Court

President Bush on July 19 chose federal appeals court judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be the 109th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and Bush’s first nominee for the high court.

Advocacy groups on the right say that Roberts, a 50-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., who attended Harvard Law School, is a bright judge with strong conservative credentials he burnished in the administrations of former Presidents Bush and Reagan.

While he has been a federal judge, in the District of Columbia, for just a little more than two years, legal experts say that whatever experience he lacks on the bench is offset by his many years arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

***

You didn't really think that Bush was going to select one of the three federal judges offered last week by Democrats, did you?

DHS Protecting Us From Legal Visitors To U.S. But What About The Illegal Visitors?

Travelers legally entering the U.S. will soon have to submit to a one-time 10-fingerscan upon arrival at airports and seaports across the nation.

The plan, announced July 13 by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, is part of the government's move to strengthen the US-VISIT program and boost security efforts to prevent another terrorist attack.

In subsequent visits, the visitors would be subject to a two-finger scan.

"This enhanced use of U.S.-VISIT will dramatically improve our ability to detect and thwart terrorists trying to enter the United States, with no significant increase in inconvenience," Chertoff said.

The US-VISIT program currently affects 115 airports and 14 seaports. The program also currently affects 50 border crossings, and is to expand to 165 border crossings by yearend.

***

In the same speech, Chertoff discussed improving border security, saying: "Understanding the enemy’s intent and capabilities affects how we operate at our borders."

But Chertoff did not mention whether the Bush Administration would fulfill a promise, thus far not met, to increase our border patrol by 2000. My guess is he won't be discussing it in the future, either.

Instead, he offered the sort of vague promises that critics have come to expect from this administration: "(W)e must gain full control of our borders to prevent illegal immigration and security breaches. Flagrant violation of our borders undercuts respect for the rule of law and undermines our security."

***

I'm sure that fingerscanning legal visitors is important. After all, the 19 Al Qaeda terrorists had legally arrived in the U.S.

But shouldn't it be of equal priority to stop those crossing our borders illegally? It's not like there's been a lack of demand from government officials for an improved border patrol.

"We need more agents, and we need to do a smarter and better job," Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said at a March 3 congressional hearing.

Groundwork Set By His Spin Machine, Bush Officially Changes Policy (Again) On Firing White House Leaks

Would President Bush fire a White House leak under any circumstance, or just if a crime has been committed?

The President, and those representing him, have been unclear about this, leading to a lot of misinformation -- from across the political spectrum.

A brief review on the administration's statements regarding the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to the media:

On Sept. 29, 2003, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said of actions against potential leaks: "The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

But the next day, Bush, speaking at the University of Chicago, qualified McClellan's words, saying: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of."

Bush then contradicted himself on June 10, 2004. Speaking at the G-8 summit, he had this exchange with a reporter:

Q Given -- given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?

BUSH: That's up to --

Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

BUSH: Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts.

That led to yesterday, when, during a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Singh, Bush again offered the qualified version of his policy:

Q Mr. President, you said you don't want to talk about an ongoing investigation, so I'd like to ask you, regardless of whether a crime was committed, do you still intend to fire anyone found to be involved in the CIA leak case? And are you displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the Agency on WMD issues?

BUSH: We have a serious ongoing investigation here. (Laughter.) And it's being played out in the press. And I think it's best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don't know all the facts. I want to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who's spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.

***

Now, here's the funny thing. The conservative spin machine wanted you to forget McClellan's comments on firing a leak. It also wanted you to forget Bush's 2004 comments, which offer an equal, unqualified policy for firing.

Instead, the spin machine wants you to remember Bush's 2003 comments -- with the qualified rules on firing a leak.

How do we know this? Because even before Bush's comments today -- his first clear comments on firing policy since the June 2004 exchange -- numerous media outlets offered the qualified Bush policy, skipping over the other statements.

How can that be? How can it be that the CBS Evening News, and the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post -- what conservative mythmakers say are four of the most "liberal" media outlets in the country -- each repeated Bush's "qualified" firing policy comments in the four days prior to Bush's comments July 18?

There's only one conclusion to draw. The White House press corps, even as they cover the leak story, has been told for several days that the president has consistently said he would fire anyone who "committed a crime" in the course of leaking information. And four reporters took the bait, ignoring the White House's flip-flops on the subject.

***

Of course, this is moot if special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald determines that either Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, or another as-yet-unidentified senior administration official knowingly "committed a crime" in leaking Plame's name or identity.

***

This is one of several attempts to qualify whether what Rove, Libby or another senior administration official did.

Here's what you need to know:

Federal law prohobits goverment officials from divulging the identity of an undercover intelligence officer. But in order to bring charges, prosecutors must prove the official knew the officer was covert and nonetheless outed his or her identity.

So what has the conservative spin machine been up to? It's a large shell game, trying to come up with out-clauses for the various suspected leakers -- out-clauses that can potentially allow Bush to say that the leaker did not commit a crime, and thus does not have to be fired.

In the court of public opinion (which one hopes will not sway Fitzgerald):

-- You have Rove lawyer Robert Luskin offering the qualifier that Rove did not "knowingly" disclose information.

-- You have some conservatives suggesting that Plame's wife, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, admitted that his wife was not covert at the time of Novak's column. This story was helped along by a faulty Associated Press story, which took comments Wilson made to CNN's Wolf Blitzer out of context. The AP story was later corrected, but the conservative spin machine has pretended not to notice.

Confused? You don't have to be. All you need to know comes from this July 22, 2003 article in Newsday:

"Intelligence officials confirmed to Newsday yesterday that Valerie Plame, wife of retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity -- at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak."

-- You have conservative spinners suggesting this is a Democratic witch hunt. But that makes no sense, because it was the CIA that asked for the investigation.

From an Oct. 1, 2003, article in the Washington Post:


"The decision to open the investigation was made by career counterespionage section chief John Dion, without the consultation of the attorney general, as is standard practice, the department said. The Justice Department asked the FBI and the CIA to preserve relevant records; requests were apparently not made of the Pentagon or the State Department."

***

Of course, all of this is also moot if Fitzgerald determines that either Rove, Libby, or another as-yet-unidentified senior administration official knowingly "committed a crime" in leaking Plame's name or identity. Stay tuned.

***

This post is also available at Blogger News Network.

Monday, July 18, 2005

More Paid Propagandists? EPA To Pay $5 Million-Plus To Hawk Bush Programs

Don't doubt that the Bush Adminstration believes in propaganda.

In spite of embarrassing revelations that it paid columnists and pundits , released multiple undocumented video news releases (complete with public relations staff posing as reporters and/or "man on the street" interviewees) and showed favoritism to a Texas GOP staffer posing as a member of the White House press corps, the administration continues to look for ways to trick the American people into accepting its policies and programs.

And now comes word that the research office of the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking outside public relations consultants, to be paid more than $5 million over five years, for a handful of jobs, including ghostwriting articles "for publication in scholarly journals and magazines."

The strategy, reported in the July 18 issue of the New York Times, was laid out in a May 26 exploratory proposal notice and further defined in two recently awarded public relations contracts totaling $150,000, includes writing and placing "good stories" about the EPA's research office in consumer and trade publications.

***

JDG Communications of Falls Church, Va., won both awarded contracts. The first, for roughly $86,000 to show whether public relations improves awareness and the reputation of EPA programs.

The other, for roughly $66,000, will have JDG develop a strategy "to support a new unit that will be identifying feature story ideas, creating slant, identifying consumer magazines to target and polishing the final article."

That money is in addition to the $5 million contract, which has yet to be awarded.

***

Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science magazine and a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, told the Times that he found the idea of public relations firms ghostwriting for government scientists "appalling."

"If we knew that it had been written by someone who was not a scientist and submitted as though it were the work of a scientist, we wouldn't take it," Kennedy said. "But it's conceivable that we wouldn't know, if it was carefully constructed."

***

Is there any doubt that President Bush was lying when at a January press conference, he said of the use of propaganda: "There needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

Want to know what the Bush policy really is? It's essentially "Shoot the messenger."

As Bush said during a Q&A session following an April 14 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "(I)it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, this news clip was produced by the federal government."

***

In truth, the Bush Administration is only taking a page from industry (surprise, surprise), which has been putting public relations polish on scientific work for years.

"We had seen it coming in the pharmaceutical industry and were sort of wary about it," Kennedy, of Science, told the Times. "The idea that a government agency would feel the necessity to do this is doubly troubling."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cooper Breaks Silence, Says Rove Revealed Plame's Identity, But Not Name

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was the first person to tell Time's Matthew Cooper of Valerie Plame's identity, although Rove did not use her name, the reporter said in a Time article today.

Cooper said he told a grand jury last week that Rove told him the woman worked at the "agency," or CIA, on weapons of mass destruction issues, and ended the call by saying "I've already said too much."

He said Rove did not disclose the woman's name, Valerie Plame, but told him information would be declassified that would cast doubt on the credibility of her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who had charged the Bush administration with exaggerating the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs in making its case for war.

"So did Rove leak Plame's name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'WMD'? Yes," Cooper wrote in Time's current edition.

He also wrote that he was not certain what Rove meant by commenting he had already said too much.

***

A top Cheney aide was also among the sources, Cooper said.

Until last week, the White House had insisted for nearly two years that vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby and Rove were not involved in the leaks.

Cooper said on the July 17 edition of NBC's Meet the Press that he spoke to Libby after first learning about Wilson's wife from Rove.

"On background, I asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, `Yeah, I've heard that, too,' or words to that effect," host Tim Russert read from the Time article.

***

The RNC's Ken Mehlman, speaking after Cooper on Meet the Press, called the criticism of Rove from Democrats and the press this week nothing but a “smear campaign” and “outrageous.”

The conversation with Mehlman then turned to whether Rove was a source for Novak, or the other way around.

MEHLMAN: That information says Karl Rove was not Bob Novak's source, that Novak told Rove, not the other way around, and it says that Karl warned Matt Cooper about Joe Wilson not to get too overactive. Karl was right. Joe Wilson was wrong on numerous fronts.

RUSSERT: But Mr. Rove did say to Robert Novak "I heard that, too," and Mr. Novak used him as a confirming source. And, two, Matt Cooper said he learned of her existence as a CIA operative from Karl Rove.

MEHLMAN: Well, Tim, these same stories also suggested that Karl Rove heard the first time about it from another reporter. It suggested that he was not Bob Novak's initial source, and that Bob Novak never said, "I'm asking for corroboration." There was a chat going on. But here's the point. We don't know this stuff. We're prejudging this morning.

***

So is Mehlman -- apparently contradicting Cooper -- suggesting that Rove was not a leak, but others in the administration were?

Russert failed to recall that in an interview from 2003, Novak said administration sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

AP: Empty Bush Address Is Breaking News

They must have the B-staff on duty today at the Associated Press.

Check out this empty Bush statement the AP offered today as "breaking news."

Bush Drops Hints on Supreme Court Choice

WASHINGTON - President Bush gave the nation several clues Saturday about the person he will nominate for a seat on the Supreme Court, except for the most important one -- a name.

In his weekly radio address, Bush said his eventual nominee will be a "fair-minded individual who represents the mainstream of American law and American values."


His candidate also "will meet the highest standards of intellect, character and ability and will pledge to faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our country," the president said.

"Our nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of," he said, without revealing the name that many are anxious to hear.

Bush also discussed his recent meeting with Senate leaders of both parties to discuss the nomination and confirmation process for a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor. The first woman to serve on the high court, O'Connor announced July 1 that she is stepping down after 24 years.

***

So, Bush is going to try to avoid picking an unfair, stupid candidate who won't faithfully interpret the Constittution, and which Americans can't be proud of.

Phew. I'm glad we got that settled.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

File this under the "Republicans have their cake and eat it, too" department:

Q Does the President believe it's appropriate for the RNC to continue to weigh in on this matter? They put out another memo today, with a top-10 Joseph Wilson lies. If indeed it's an ongoing investigation and it's improper for the White House to discuss it, does he think it's proper for the Republican Party to weigh in on it?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: You know, Geoff, I appreciate the question, and as you heard me say yesterday, we are not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation based on media reports. And I'm not going to get into --

Q What about the RNC, though, Scott?

McCLELLAN: No, I said, I'm not going to get into discussing matters relating to an ongoing investigation. We'll let the investigation come to a conclusion, and then I'll be more than happy to talk about it, as will the President.

-- White House press briefing, July 14

***

What else can White House Press Secretary McClellan decide is "relating to an ongoing investigation?"

The Republican National Committee weighs in on the investigation, trying to change the discussion from White House leaks to Joe Wilson's "lies" -- even though RNC Chair Ken Mehlman is resorting to "distortions and falsehoods" to do so.

The White House, of course, has a rooting interest in what Mehlman is doing. And what the RNC does in reaction to the news isn't related to the investigation, just as what Democrats say isn't related to the investigation. If someone in the press corps wants to ask, for example, about a "fact sheet" circulated by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) discussing whether Rove violated his obligations under his "Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement," McClellan should be able to answer -- without giving his official "answer."

McClellan, I realize, is probably following the advice of White House counsel to keep his mouth shut, to avoid making statements that can later be used against him. He knows the press corps is only going to ask so many questions "relating to an ongoing investigation" before they realize that McClellan is a) stonewalling; b) going to turn to a questioner for a new topic; c) wishing that J.D. Guckert were still available to bail him out of tough situations.

After London, Just As After Madrid, Our Republican Leaders Fail To Take Mass Transit Security Seriously

Republicans clearly don't care about mass transit security.

Senate Republicans twice on July 14 rejected amendments to the Homeland Security appropriations bill —- pressed by senators from states with large urban centers -— to increase money for mass transit protection by as much as $1.4 billion.

First, Republicans failed to restore $50 million in rail and transit security grants to state and local governments, slashed by the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committe in May.

You may recall that in the wake of the London bombings, G. William Hoagland, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), told CNN that the Senate planned to restore the $50 million cut. But the Senators must have had short memories -- they failed to restore the grant money when passing the appropriations bill.

Democrats -- who saw their plans to add $3 billion in spending to the FY 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill nixed by Repubicans, which would have included $350 million for rail security -- were hoping that the London bombings would provide a wake-up call to their Republican colleagues.

Robert Byrd (D-WV) authored the other failed amendment, seeking to increase mass transit security spending by more than $1 billion.

He told his colleagues: "The horrific attacks in London a few days ago were eerily similar to the attacks in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004: targeted, coordinated, and timed bombings. Sadly, crowded subway systems and trains have become inviting targets for terrorists. We have witnessed the hysteria and the chaos that these events can trigger. Could it happen here? Of course."

But the Senate, voting along party lines, nixed Byrd's amendment 55-43-2. Only Kent Conrad (D-ND) crossed party lines.

***

Byrd also reminded colleagues of their failure to support two other mass transit security bills last year: "Last October, the Senate passed two bipartisan rail security authorization bills, S. 2273 and S. 2884, that authorized additional funding for securing mass transit and rail systems, but the bills did not make it to the White House. "

S.2273, authored by John McCain (R-AZ) would have authorized more than $1 billion in rail security improvements and require the Department of Homeland Security to analyze rail vulnerabilities. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the bill in April, 2004, but the bill was never approved by the full Republican-controlled Senate.

S.2884, authored by Richard Shelby (R-AL), sought a three-year, $3.5 billion commitment for mass transit security. It suffered a similar fate.

So, if you are scoring at home, the Republican-controlled Senate has had five chances to increase spending on rail security -- three times after the Madrid train bombing, twice more after the London bombings. And they have failed all five times, even when the legislation was authored by their fellow Republicans.

***

Elsewhere in our Republican government, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appeared before the House Committee on Homeland Security and was roundly assailed by Democrats who accused him of neglecting mass transit, especially in the wake of the London bombings.

To make matters worse, he explained to the Associated Press on July 14 why mass transit security should take a back seat to aviation security: "A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people," he said, evoking 9/11 imagery.

Then, he added words that infuriated urban leaders nationwide: "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people."

Clearly, Chertoff doesn't understand the theory behind "mass transit." It's not one little choo-choo train carrying a handful of passengers. In urban centers across America, it's dozens, if not hundreds of trains, subways and buses, each potentially carrying dozens, if not hundreds of passengers.

And as unconscionable as it is to think that terrorists could use an airplane as a suicide bomber, killing thousands, imagine a bus packed with explosives ramming into a building. Imagine the casualties of a train packed with explosives detonated in New York's Pennsylvania Station, which serves several hundred thousand passengers daily, but also sits below Madison Square Garden, or Grand Central Terminal, which serves several hundred thousand passengers daily, and is connected to a hotel and a retail concourse.

Chertoff's statement doesn't make sense for another reason -- daily usage of mass transit is higher than daily usage of airports in many urban centers.

Let's take a look at the numbers:

New York's bus and subway system, which carries a staggering 7 million riders a day, has been the target over the years of at least two alleged attempted terrorist attacks, both of which were stopped before they could be carried out.

"Michael Chertoff is a very smart guy, but I couldn't disagree more," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, told the AP.

Chicago's transit system is the nation's second-largest, serving 1.5 million riders a day. Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kruesi told the AP he was "shocked" at Chertoff's comments.

"They're basically telling us what we should be doing, but they're not funding it, even though the threat is from international terrorism," Kruesi said.

In San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Linton Johnson told the AP that officials were "very disappointed" and "completely stunned" by Chertoff's comments.

BART carries 310,000 passengers a day, nearly twice as many as the San Francisco Bay area's three major airports combined, Johnson said.

"A terrorist can affect more people on a train," he said. "One fully loaded BART train holds more people than a 747."

Meanwhile, Washington's Metro system has an average daily ridership of 700,000 on the subways and 500,000 on buses serving the District of Columbia and its suburbs.

***

Is it just coincidence that the majority of mass transit systems are located in so-called "Blue States" -- California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, etc.

I know it's cynical and blatantly partisan, but I agree with the urban leaders -- with regard to mass transit security, the actions of our Republican leaders don't make sense.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rove, Novak (Apparently) Contradict One Another

Chief presidential adviser Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he talked with two journalists before they divulged the identity of an undercover CIA officer but that he originally learned about the operative from the news media and not government sources, according to a person briefed on the testimony.

The person, who works in the legal profession and spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, told the Associated Press that Rove testified last year that he remembers specifically being told by columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame, the wife of a harsh Iraq war critic, worked for the CIA.


Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

During the July 14 Senate session, an amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill was offered to "deny access to classified information to any federal employee who discloses a covert CIA agent's identity." This seemingly noncontroversial measure was shot down in a 53-44 vote, simply because Karl Rove would quite possibly have been the first official to be subject to the penalty.

Then, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) offered an amendment that would have revoked the national security clearance of any administration official or officeholder who "makes a statement [which is subsequently] used as propaganda by terrorist organizations." Thus, terrorists could determine whose security credentials they would like to be revoked by merely releasing a statement against that politician. This blatantly partisan bill was an attempt to attack Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and others over their comments relating to abuses at Guantanamo Bay, but the bill ultimately reflected Frist's abuse of power. Frist's amendment failed on a 64-33 vote.

-- Center for American Progress, July 15

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bush "Honest and Straightforward"? Majority of Americans Say No.

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Bush’s overall job rating has slipped and that his rating for being “honest and straightforward” has dropped to its lowest point.

Only 41 percent gave Bush a thumbs-up for being “honest and straightforward” — his lowest ranking since becoming president. That’s a drop of nine percentage points since January, when a majority (50 percent to 36 percent) indicated they felt Bush was "honest and straightforward."

What's worse: The survey was taken before the current controversy surrounding allegations that Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters.

The survey, conducted by Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff, was conducted from July 8-11 among 1,009 adults, and which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Democrats Offer Three Possibilities To Replace O'Connor

During a meeting yesterday with President Bush, Democrat Senators offered three candidates to fill the Supreme Court Justice seat being vacated by the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.

According to a story in the July 13 Washington Post, Democrats offered the names of three Hispanic federal judges and suggested that they could win broad Senate support. The three are Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, who was named a district judge by President George H.W. Bush and elevated to the appeals court by Clinton; Edward Charles Prado of the 5th Circuit, nominated to be a district judge by Reagan and named to the appeals court by President George W. Bush; and U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa of McAllen, Tex., nominated by Reagan.

The hour-long meeting in a study off the Oval Office was a first step in communications between Bush and Democrats. The next days and weeks will test Bush's willingness to seek "advice and consent" of Democrats on his nominee. It appears the president wants to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

According to the Post, senators in both parties say they prefer to hold hearings in September. But Bush gave no hint of his timetable and made no promises to share names in advance.

Conflict Of Interest? Industry-Paid Consultants "Volunteering" To Expedite Drilling Requests For Department Of Interior

Five consultants, paid by the oil and gas industry, have been "volunteering" at a Bureau of Land Management office in Utah, with the goal of helping the office deal with a glut of drilling requests in the region.

Can you say "conflict of interest"?

The bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, defended the use of the industry-paid consultants: "As long as the information coming in is without prejudice, we'll take it," the bureau's Bill Stringer, a field manager in the office, told the Salt Lake Tribune for a July 9 story.

But therein lies the conundrum: Can people with an obvious bias provide information "without prejudice." Even Stringer admitted that his office doesn't know if the projects the consultants work on affect companies paying their salaries.

It's reminiscent of a statement President Bush made earlier this year on the use of propaganda: "(T)hese pieces are OK so long as they're based upon facts, not advocacy," suggesting that propaganda created by the government was not "advocacy" -- as if the administration would pay a journalist or create a video news release to oppose the administration.

***

Can industry-paid consultants be objective?

Steve Bloch, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told the Tribune that "it's akin to the foxes guarding the henhouse. These are public lands and there clearly is a quid pro quo expected here, that there is going to be faster permitting, faster approval rates, and instead they really should be taking their time to make sure they're doing it right."

Already, there has been one example where use of the industry-paid consultants has brought questioned results. Four consultants did work on a proposal to drill nine wells in a wilderness area known as the Rock House project. Bloch said the industry-paid consultants' assessment had serious shortcomings. Without blaming the consultants, Stringer agreed there were problems with the assessment, and said the bureau is planning to re-do the work and re-release it for public comment.

***

How did this arrangement come about?

Knowing that the office had a backlog of about 400 permits to drill for oil and gas in the Uinta Basin, and a lack of staff to process that backlog quickly, a handful of oil and gas companies pooled their resources via the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States. The trade group then paid SWCA Environmental Consulting to find people to "volunteer." The "volunteers" began work in February as three-month hires, and have since been extended on a month-to-month basis.

Information about the hirings was obtained by the Tribune via a Freedom of Information Act request.

In a perfect world, Stringer told the Tribune, the arrangement wouldn't be necessary. "But we don't have a perfect world, so what I'm saying is I'll do the best I can with what you give me."

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