Monday, October 31, 2005

Administration To Nix Suspension of Federal Wage Law

In the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush issued an executive order to suspend the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which requires federal contractors to pay at least the prevailing wages in the area where the work is being conducted.

But last week the administration yielded to growing bipartisan pressure and agreed to reinstate the workers rights law. The reversal will take effect Nov. 8.

The shift comes days after Rep. George Miller (D-CA) announced that he would use an obscure law to force a congressional vote on the act's suspension early next month. Miller had strong bipartisan support, and was likely to win the vote.

"This wage cut was a mistake from the beginning and never should have been ordered," Miller said. "But today's news is a victory for workers in the Gulf Coast and all over America."

Miller was one of the most vocal members of Congress when the law was suspended, accusing Bush of "using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities."

***

Bush, parroting the language in a letter he received earlier that week from House Republicans, actually claimed at the time that the law needed to be suspended in the name of deficit reduction.

But that was just empty conservative spin. Think about the logic. Instead of adding $125 billion to the federal debt, suspending the act dropped the cost of Hurricane Katrina to what, $120 billion?

An administration spokesman said last week that it was allowed to temporary waive Davis-Bacon, and that its action was due to special conditions. But that, too, is empty spin.

Republicans have long opposed Davis-Bacon, charging that it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy to unions. Rest assured, if the votes hadn't been there in Congress to nix the administration's plans, Davis-Bacon would have vanished forever, just like the surplus Bush inherited from President Clinton.

Bush Has Exhausted His "Political Capital." It's Time For Democrats To Speak Out For An American Majority

Last November, President Bush celebrated a successful re-election campaign by telling reporters: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it."

In barely a year, that political capital has been exhausted. While the Republicans still have the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress, the party no longer has iron-clad control. It's time for Democrats to speak out on behalf of an American majority, and become equal partners in Washington once again.

How did Bush fritter away his political capital? Let's take a look back at the last year:

The president earned his capital by waging what Al Franken calls a campaign of "fear and smears." Under the guiding hand of Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove, the Bush team was able to convince Americans that John Kerry (D-MA) was soft on terrorism, misleading the American people with their "wolves in the woods" advertising campaign, speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney, and the conservative noise machine. Kerry wanted to cut intelligence spending in the 1980s, the Bush spin team cried, conveniently forgetting that Arlen Specter (R-PA) proposed similar cuts in the Senate, and Porter Goss (R-FL) proposed deeper cuts in the House. Kerry got smeared. Goss got promoted to CIA chief.

After the election, Bush pushed a number of ideas, notably Social Security privatization. Americans were told that Republicans were the party of ideas, and Democrats were the "all-criticism, no-solutions" party. But this empty conservative spin was on its last legs.

As JABBS pointed out in June, the house of cards was falling. Republicans broke ranks on judicial filibusters and U.S. treatment of Guantanamo detainees. As Rove and others became further embroiled in Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the administration suddenly seemed to struggle with spin.

The wheels started coming off the bus -- and Bush's popularity sank to new lows -- with the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Conservative Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Trent Lott (R-MS) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) withheld their endorsements, while pundits like Bill Kristol called for Miers' withdrawal. At the same time, there were other embarrassments, like the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the scripted teleconference between Bush and U.S. soldiers stationed in Tikrit, Iraq.

Soon thereafter, Fitzgerald indicted Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, while leaving open the possibility of future indictments against Rove and others in the administration. Some have suggested Cheney himself may be in trouble.

***

Yes, it's only been a year. But then again, when you build a house of cards -- a house built on fear-driven, smear-driven spin -- you have to expect that house to fall.

President Nixon won re-election in 1972, in the midst of a war, with a unified party behind him. His electoral mandate was far greater than Bush's. But Watergate overwhelmed the administration, and ultimately, members of Nixon's own Republican Party told Nixon that the votes were there to impeach him. Nixon instead resigned.

President Reagan won re-election in 1984 in the same lopsided fashion as Nixon. But it wasn't long after that the Iran-Contra Affair took center stage, and Reagan's appointed commission, led by former Sen. John Tower (R-TX), uncovered wrongdoing in the administration and its National Security Council team. Reagan had lost the broad support of the American people, and his second term was ineffectual.

Bush doesn't have to travel the same road.

Unlike Nixon and Reagan, Bush's party has control over both Congressional houses -- at least until November, 2006. Unless Plame-Gate becomes Watergate -- with Republicans agreeing that impeachment is necessary -- Bush's presidency is safe.

But the balance of power has clearly shifted. Just as 14 moderate Senators -- seven Democrats and seven Republicans -- joined forces to sidestep the administration and its lackey, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and preserve the filibuster, it's time for Democrats to join their moderate Republican friends to speak out for the majority of Americans who want their government to work for them.

There are more than enough sane Republicans in the Senate. And even the fringe Republicans -- like Santorum -- are distancing themselves from the Bush spin machine and its ever-shrinking coattails. Bush's popularity has never been lower, even among party faithful.

For conservatives, now is the time to move to the middle. For moderate Republicans, now is the time to make friends across the aisle.

Democrats have not led as legislators under Bush's helm because they haven't controlled the House or Senate -- or the decision-making on what legislation is voted on and when. When Democrats have brought forth legislation, they have had two choices -- find a Republican co-sponsor, or be ignored. Bush's spin team has spent five years saying Democrats have "no ideas," even though they knew better.

The ball remains in Bush's court -- the luxury of having majority rule in politics. But the rules of the game have clearly changed.

It's time for the Democrats to be a unified party, and speak out for an American majority. The Bush spin team won't have the "capital" to stop them.

Friday, October 28, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Now that "Scooter" Libby has resigned, how long will it be until the other main character in the Plame-gate saga, Karl Rove, is also gonzo?

It's a question, no doubt, that may drive some people in the White House crazy over the next few weeks.

Libby To Be Indicted Today; Investigation of Rove's Role To Continue

White House officials braced for the possibility that Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, would be indicted in the CIA leak case this afternoon.

Meanwhile, various reports suggest senior White House advisor Karl Rove would be spared an indictment, but still remain under investigation.

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's office announced it would release information on its 22-month investigation at noon today, and would hold a press conference at 2 p.m. The Associated Press reported this morning that possible charges are obstruction of justice or perjury, along with possible violations of a law barring disclosure of the identity of a covert intelligence agent.

Various television and news agency reports this morning, quoting anonymous sources close to the investigation, said that Fitzgerald might continue investigating Rove. The AP reported that Fitzgerald told Rove's lawyer yesterday that investigators had not completed their probe into Rove's conduct.

It was unclear how Fitzgerald would keep the Rove investigation going since the current grand jury is scheduled to expire at the end of the day on Friday. The New York Times said Fitzgerald was likely to extend its term. But federal guidelines suggest Fitzgerald would have to seek a new grand jury because the current one has served the maximum allowable amount of time.

***

At the White House, aides scrambled to put the finishing touches on a political strategy to respond to the fallout from any criminal charges, including the likelihood of staff changes. A Republican consultant with close White House ties said Chief of Staff Andrew Card had canceled at least two trips in the past week and had met with Bush over the weekend to focus on how to react to the grand jury's decisions.

"These will be very, very dark days for the White House," the consultant quoted Card as saying.

President Bush has praised Fitzgerald's deft handling of the inquiry, which could deflate any later attempts to paint him as a partisan prosecutor over-reaching his mandate.

However, Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Financial Times: "If [Fitzgerald] indicts, they [the White House] will have no choice but to attempt to demonize him. I think that is going to be really, really tough."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws Supreme Court Nomination

Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court this morning.

NBC’s chief legal correspondent, Pete Williams, said the move was exceptional, noting that only seven of 150 nominations have been withdrawn in the history of the court.

Miers had been expected to respond today to a new set of questions from senators after her first responses were criticized by Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), and senior Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Various members found her answers to the first questionnaire to be "inadequate," "insufficient" and "insulting."

The committee had scheduled Nov. 7 confirmation hearings for her, but Specter and Leahy said Miers’ answers to their original questions were “incomplete” and “insufficient,” one of several setbacks Miers faced over her nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Miers has been criticized by some conservatives for not having a record of conservative judicial philosophy on issues like abortion and affirmative action. At the same time, some had questioned an aggressive White House strategy to win over religious right leaders.

While none of the Senate’s 55 Republicans had announced opposition to her, a number of Senators, including Sam Brownback (R-KS), Trent Lott (R-MS) and Rick Santorum (R-PA), had withheld endorsements, with Brownback suggesting he was leaning against voting for her.

Meanwhile, groups like Concerned Women of America had called for her withdrawal.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Brown Resigned Last Month In Disgrace. So Why Does Chertoff Keep Paying Him?

Michael Brown resigned as FEMA Chairman on Sept. 12, but he's still on the Homeland Security payroll, and apparently will be for another few weeks.

After the resignation, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff agreed to extend Brown's $148,000 contract by 30 days. Earlier this month, he agreed to a second 30-day contract extension, not long before telling Congress he didn't "endorse" Brown's pass-the-buck defense of his actions before, during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), whose coastal district was among the hardest hit by Katrina, told the Associated Press that the contract extension is an insult to taxpayers, particularly those Gulf Coast residents "whose lives were in danger in the aftermath of that storm because of Mike Brown's incompetence.''

"I've got tens of thousands of people living in two-man igloo tents tonight, and less than a quarter of the people who have asked for FEMA travel trailers have gotten them,'' Taylor said. "And at the same time they can find $140,000 a year to pay this incompetent son of a gun; that's ridiculous.''

***

What is Brown doing?

When he first had his contract extended, it was so Brown could "consult" -- although on what was not clear, given his disastrous handling of Katrina.

Today, Brown told the AP that he was retained to finish reviewing Freedom of Information requests about the Katrina response -- although seemingly that duty could be handled by Brown's successor, acting director R. David Paulison.

Brown also said he is participating in agency reviews of the response to "see what needs to be done to make it work better.'' But do taxpayers really want Brown -- whose testimony suggested he was in serious denial -- making suggestions on how FEMA should react in the future?

When someone gets fired on NBC's show, The Apprentice, they leave the building, hop a cab, and one can assume vacate New York altogether. Shouldn't the U.S. government have the same standard?

While Interviewing DeLay, Was MSNBC's Cosby "Fair and Balanced?" Jon Stewart Didn't Think So, Either ...

When Rita Cosby became the latest in a series of "journalists" to move from Fox News Channel to MSNBC (aka "Fox News Lite"), JABBS was among those to protest.

How many conservative hosts does MSNBC need, JABBS and others asked. And when will MSNBC's programming chief, Rick Kaplan, realize that adding the conservative scraps from other channels is no way to hike MSNBC out of last place in the cable television chat wars?

Conservative bloggers protested. Cosby was no conservative, they said. She's apolitical, they said. It's wrong to assume that every Fox "journalist" is conservative, they said.

Blah, blah, blah.

If Cosby's Oct. 21 interview with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is any indicator, then Cosby's interview style is far from "fair and balanced."

In the wake of DeLay's indictment on conspiracy and money laundering charges -- and his now famous smile for his mug shot -- Cosby was "soft and mushy."

Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show -- a show that isn't afraid to astutely comment on the daily failures of the "mainstream media" -- highlighted this awful interview on Oct. 25. Here's a partial transcript:

STEWART: Why the big grin? Why the smile? Why is he smiling in his mug shot? DeLay explained to MSNBC's "Throaty McHuskington."

COSBY: The mug shot, the famous mug shot now. You‘re smiling in it.

DELAY: Yes.

COSBY: Why?

DELAY: Well, that‘s how I feel. I mean, this — this is not getting me down. I have a certain sense of peace and — and joy about this.

STEWART: Peace and joy! Now, that's a hardass. As long as someone's going to jail, DeLay's happy. Even if it's him, he doesn't care. Peace and joy, baby. But like the true journalist that she is, Cosby wouldn't take "peace and joy" for an answer.

COSBY: But you seem to feel you are target number one.

DELAY: Well, I don‘t know about that. ...

COSBY: ... How painful has this been for you personally and for your family?

DELAY: Oh, it hasn‘t been painful for us. ...

COSBY: ... But is this one of the worst periods for you?

DELAY: Well, you know, the worst — I don‘t know. ...

STEWART (imitating Cosby): How about this interview? Bad? Painful? Is anything painful? What if I were to grab your scrotum?

You know, uh, obviously I'm not Rita Cosby, but if I could give her any piece of advice for this interview: continue this line of questioning. It's bearing fruit.

COSBY: You were forced to resign as Majority leader. Personally, how...

DELAY: Step aside.

COSBY: Step aside.

COSBY: How heartbreaking was that for you?

DELAY: Oh, it didn‘t really bother me.

STEWART: He has no emotion! Leave him be! Nothing can harm this man!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

U.S. Military Death Toll Reaches 2,000 In Iraq

The U.S. crossed a milestone few would have imagined when President Bush's spinmeisters declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq reached 2,000 today.

For a better idea of how many U.S. casualties there have been, check out this short movie. Needless to say, it's highly critical of the Bush Administration -- as we all should be when it comes to this war. The reasons behind the Iraq war amount to the second-greatest intelligence failure in U.S. history -- surpassed only by our inability to stop the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Each U.S. death is a reminder of that failure by our so-called "leaders," who tried to convince the world of some tangential relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden -- a relationship that never existed.

Democrats Question State Department Nominee's (Lack of) Experience

Ellen Sauerbrey, a Bush crony nominated to head a key State Department post, was grilled today by Senate Democrats over her lack of relevant experience.

The State Department's refugee and migration program needs a chief with experience handling crises of displaced people, Democrats said during Sauerbrey's confirmation hearing today before the Foreign Relations Committee.

"It doesn't appear that you have very specific experience," said Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL).

"I don't think we see the requisite experience that we've seen in other nominees" for the job, added Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

***

JABBS first wrote about Sauerbrey's obvious lack of experience earlier this month.

Has Sauerbrey helped Bush? Sure. She was Bush's Maryland state campaign chairwoman in 2000. And no doubt she has been a loyal conservative activist and member of the Republican National Committee.

But she has no experience mobilizing responses to humanitarian emergencies.

"This is not a position where you drop in a political hack," Joel R. Charny of Refugees International in Washington told the Los Angeles Times. The international relief group opposes Sauerbrey's nomination.

"I don't want to say this is Michael Brown redux," he said, referring to the Bush crony who recently resigned as FEMA chairman. "But what qualifications does she have to deal with the core issue of refugees? The answer is none."

Kathleen Newland, director of the independent Migration Policy Institute, said former Bush appointee Arthur Dewey, former Clinton appointee Julia Taft, and earlier bureau heads had deep field experience before being named to the job. Contrast that with Bush's FEMA leadership, where Brown and two top deputies had no relevant experience.

"The refugee bureau has not been a spot for political appointments," Newland told the Times. "This is not a position for on-the-job learning."

***

If confirmed by the Senate, Sauerbrey would head an agency with a $700-million annual budget that has responsibility for coordinating the U.S. government's response to refugee crises during natural disasters and wars.

The bureau coordinates with private and international organizations, such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to help set up refugee camps and to ensure sufficient food and other aid. It has helped confront refugee crises around the globe, including in war-torn Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in southern Asia after the December tsunami.

Funnily, the Washington Times offered and editorial endorsing Sauerbrey, saying "the facts simply don't bear it out" that Sauerbrey is an unqualified crony.

So what qualifications do the Times cite? How about this gem: "Mrs. Sauerbrey was a regional U.S. census manager who hired and oversaw 300 people in three urban counties. ... We hope the critics who say she "has no experience administering the types of large-scale programs" that the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration runs are reading this."

Right, that qualifies her to head a U.S.-based international effort and a $700 million budget.

You know, I once helped coach a men's softball team. Using the Times formula, that makes me a reasonable candidate to fill the opening managing the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Monday, October 24, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Among conservative books in the works are these sour titles: ''Can This Party Be Saved?" and ''Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy."

-- Boston Globe, Oct. 24

A Conservative Icon Says "The Days Of The Blank Check Have Ended." Does That Mean The Party's Over? We'll See ...

Most conservatives have stood with Bush from the beginning. Those of us who know him like him. We’ve swallowed policies we might otherwise have objected to because we’ve believed that he and those around him are themselves conservatives trying to do the right thing against sometimes terrible odds. We’ve been there for him because we’ve considered ourselves part of his team.

No more.

From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming. The days of the blank check have ended because no thinking conservative really wants to be part of a team that requires marching in lock step without question or thought, even if it is headed by the president of the United States.

-- David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, Oct. 17

***

Does that mean the party over?

Nearly five years after Bush's questionable presidency began, maybe conservatives are finally catching on. Do a search for reaction to what Keene said, and you see a lot of conservatives sitting on their hands. Sen. George Allen (R-VA), on yesterday's edition of NBC's Meet the Press, didn't give an answer to Tim Russert's simple question: "Do you share that view?"

Sure, it isn't politically correct at this juncture to completely jump ship. But some well-known Republicans -- like Sens. Santorum (R-PA), Lott (R-MS), McCain (R-AZ), Hagel (R-NE), Graham (R-SC) and Brownback (R-KS) -- have publicly disagreed with the Bush Administration on a variety of issues, most recently the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, fiscal responsibility after the hurricane, Social Security privatization and federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

But Keene's statement takes this disagreement to a whole new level. Keene voices something that maybe a lot of Republicans have privately been feeling. He's had enough of Bush's B.S.
***

It's a good time to abandon ship. After all, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) may be in trouble. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) may be in trouble. Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley (and maybe several others in the administration) may be in trouble.

But, it's just as possible that all of the above will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. Read the conservative blogs, or listen to the conservative pundits, and you hear that Frist did nothing wrong, DeLay is the victim of a partisan witch hunt, and at worst, Rove and Libby will be found guilty of obstruction of justice and-or perjury, rather than anything directly related to the treasonous act of exposing a covert CIA operative. (Although that sort of crime didn't prevent conservatives from seeking Bill Clinton's impeachment, for perjuring himself about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, even though Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation found no wrongdoing tied to the Arkansas land deal that gave the investigation its name.)

***

But if Keene is correct -- if the days of the "blank check" are over -- then regardless of who is convicted and who is innocent, the party's singular voice, and the might that comes with it, could very well be over.
Maybe Keene is reacting simply to the Miers nomination. Maybe he realizes that Bush, with a popularity rating of barely 40%, has no coat-tails heading into next year's mid-term elections. Maybe he's just tired of a president who hasn't acted like a fiscal conservative. Or a president who has increased the size of government. Or a president who told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (wrong), that the Iraq War would pay for itself through oil revenues (wrong), and that our mission was accomplished (wrong).

The American people voted for Bush, twice, in part because of the conservatives ability to speak with one voice, and to demonize Al Gore and John Kerry as being outside the mainstream. Gore was portrayed as a liar, and Kerry was portrayed as aloof and undeserving of his war medals. The mainstream media, played like fools, went along with this scam, repeating the canard that Gore claimed to invent the Internet, and laughing at him when he talked about learning from his father on the family's Tennessee farm. Four years later, the media gave equal billing to the Swift Boat Veterans, even after it was clearly shown that the Swifties were backed by the same friend of Rove, Robert Perry, who backed the false attacks against John McCain (R-AZ) in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and even after it was clear that the Swifties "truth" was little more than hearsay and partisan-driven rumors. Meanwhile, "liberals" like Maureen Dowd wrote again and again about Kerry being aloof, with Dowd in one column altering a Kerry quote to help repeat the stereotype.

During the last elections, polls showed that Americans preferred to have a barbecue with Bush, or let him run their family business. Even as he crafted policies that favored corporate America or the individiual, the American people were led to believe that Bush was a "regular guy" who was looking out for their best interests -- an image helped greatly by a cohesive Republican Party with a well-crafted message, repeated over and over in the mainstream media.

If Keene is correct, that well-crafted, singular voice won't continue. And Americans will be better off for it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Senate Commerce Committee Backs Legislation To End Undocumented Propaganda

The Senate Commerce Committee has given unanimous consent of the “Prepackaged News Story Announcement Act of 2005."

The legislation requires that all prepackaged, government-produced news stories -- which are designed to be indistinguishable from those created by independent news organizations -- include disclaimers notifying the audience that the government produced or funded the news segment. Click here for a copy of the bill as reported.

The Committee unanimously approved a substitute amendment, negotiated by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John Kerry (D-MA) and Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), replacing the "Truth in Broadcasting Act," which was introduced by Lautenberg and Kerry earlier this year.

The amended legislation includes the following provisions:

·- Establishes that prepackaged news stories produced by the government must include a clear notification to the audience that the United States Government prepared or funded the segment.

-· Defines “prepackaged news story” as a complete, ready-to-use audio or video news segment designed to be indistinguishable from those produced by an independent news organization.

--Instructs the FCC to determine the circumstances under which the disclaimer may be removed or modified.

·- Clarifies that the bill’s provisions do not apply to the government’s authorized, legal intelligence activities.

***

The legislation is moving forward on the heels of a decision from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, which earlier this month found that the Bush Administration's use of pre-packaged news stories -- most notably undocument video news releases used by the Education and Health & Human Services Departments -- were "covert propaganda," and in violation of "governmentwide" anti-propaganda rules.

President Bush has offered three different opinions on the administration's use of propaganda, most recently suggesting that rather than the government disclosing itself as the author of propaganda, "it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, 'this news clip was produced by the federal government.'"

Passage of this legislation would make the government responsible for its actions, rather than Bush's pass-the-buck scenario.

Fitzgerald Apparently Ready To Indict Rove, Libby, Hadley

As he concludes his investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is focusing on whether senior White House advisor Karl Rove, and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors, lawyers involved in the case told the New York Times.

Among the charges that Fitzgerald is considering are perjury, obstruction of justice and false statement -- counts that suggest the prosecutor may believe the evidence presented in a 22-month grand jury inquiry shows that the two White House aides sought to cover up their actions, the lawyers said. There may be others in the government who could be charged for violations of the disclosure law or of other statutes, like the espionage act, which makes it a crime to transmit classified information to people not authorized to receive it.

Rove and Libby have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy, the lawyers said. Some lawyers in the case said they were persuaded that Fitzgerald had all but made up his mind to seek indictments.

A perjury charge against Rove stems from him initially not telling the grand jury he talked to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame. Rove only recalled the conversation after the discovery of an e-mail message he sent to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent who trained with Plame and has aggressively criticized the Bush Administration via his blog, posted earlier this week that Hadley also is facing indictment.

"Hadley has told friends he expects to be indicted," Johnson wrote.

***

The possible violations under consideration are peripheral to the issue Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003 to investigate: whether anyone in the administration broke a federal law that makes it a crime, under certain circumstances, to reveal the identity of a covert intelligence officer.

It is still not publicly known who first told the columnist Robert D. Novak the identity of the CIA officer, Valerie Wilson. Novak identified her in a column on July 14, 2003, using her unmarried name, Valerie Plame.

While Fitzgerald could still charge administration officials with knowingly revealing Plame's identity, several lawyers in the case said he was more likely to seek charges for easier-to-prove crimes such as making false statements, obstruction of justice and disclosing classified information. He may also bring a broad conspiracy charge, lawyers told Reuters.

***

Still, the Washington Post reports that the White House is already quietly confronting the looming prospect of a Bush presidency without Rove, his long-time senior advisor.

Initially, the administration plans to undertake a spin campaign. Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, Republicans familiar with the plans told the Post.

Additionally, the White House is already considering how it would fill the gap that would be created if Rove were to resign, although a Republican with close ties to the White House told the Post, "Anyone who talks about that kind of stuff should be shot."

Names apparently already under consideration are budget director Joshua B. Bolten, former Republican National Committe chairman Ed Gillespie or current party chairman Ken Mehlman.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), and ranking minority member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), sent a return letter to Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers on Oct. 19 asking that she resubmit parts of her judicial questionnaire -- the first time many senators and aides could recall the committee sending a questionnaire back to a nominee.

Various members found her answers to the first questionnaire to be "inadequate," "insufficient" and "insulting."

As one example of Miers's questionable answers, she referred to the "proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause" as it relates to the Voting Rights Act.

"There is no proportional representation requirement in the Equal Protection Clause," said Cass Sunstein, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago.

Leahy remarked, "If the questions are not answered or their answer is incomplete, as they have been, then it's going to be a long hearing indeed."

The most recent setback led Specter to opine, "There's been more controversy before this nominee has uttered a formal word than I have ever heard."

-- Center for American Progress, Oct. 20

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chertoff Admits FEMA, Not State And Local Officials, To Blame For Weak Response To Katrina

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's lack of planning, not the failures of state and local officials, was to blame for much of what went wrong with the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told members of Congress today.

The sheer scope of the damage inflicted by Katrina overwhelmed FEMA and exposed underlying flaws in the structure and management of the agency, Chertoff said. The agency's problems stemmed from a failure to restructure and modernize itself, not from a lack of funding, he said.

The assessment contrasted sharply with testimony offered earlier by former FEMA Director Michael Brown. Brown had blamed the "dysfunction" of Louisiana state and local officials for the problems that hobbled the relief effort.

"From my own experience, I don't endorse those views," Chertoff said.

-- Los Angeles Times, Oct. 19

Now can compare the above admission with the Bush Administration's spin effort from last month:

Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisers [Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett], the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina

In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove’s tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.

“The way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials,” Mr. Chertoff said in his (Meet the Press) interview. “The federal government comes in and supports those officials.”

That line of argument was echoed throughout the day, in harsher language, by Republicans reflecting the White House line.

-- New York Times, Sept. 5

Pentagon Reneges Pledge To Pay Bonuses To National Guard and Army Reserve

The Pentagon has reneged an offer to pay a $15,000 bonus to members of the National Guard and Army Reserve who agree to extend their enlistments by six years.

The tax-free bonuses were offered in January to Active Guard and Reserve and military technician soldiers who were serving overseas. At the time, the bonuses were touted "as giving Soldiers in theater who are thinking about getting out another reason to stay in the Army."

“Some people who are sitting on the fence ... are now re-enlisting for the money,” said Sgt. 1st Class David H. Owen, retention noncommissioned officer for the New York National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division at Task Force Danger, Iraq.

And with no end in sight for the Iraq War, the military seemingly needed any advantage it could find to reverse a recent recruiting shortfall.

But three months later, the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs ordered the bonuses stopped -- supposedly because it duplicated other bonus programs offered. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, confirming the bonuses had been canceled, said she didn't know whether they would have to be repaid.

Sort of goes against the whole "be all you can be" concept, huh?

***

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a leading Capitol Hill critic of management of the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Tacoma News-Tribune she didn’t know why the bonuses were dropped.

“This is outrageous,” the senator said in a telephone interview. “It makes me angry that this administration has broken another promise to our troops.”

Murray told the newspaper that, upon learning the bonuses were no more earlier this month, she wrote Thomas Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, asking that he reverse himself and reinstate the bonus program.

But Krenke said the Pentagon would have no comment on Murray’s letter to Hall.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Will Fitzgerald Indict a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy?

With Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald concluding his investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, there is growing speculation that as many as 22 Bush Administration officials are being investigated, apparently including Vice President Cheney.

Indictments are expected to be handed down in the next few days.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent who trained with Plame and has aggressively criticized the Bush Administration via his blog, posted today that a source with ties to someone facing indictment, Fitzgerald is investigating 22 people, including Cheney, his senior advisor Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Seniior Bush Advisor Karl Rove, and National Secuirty Advisor Stephen Hadley.

"Hadley has told friends he expects to be indicted. No wonder folks are nervous at the White House," he wrote.

Johnson's words agree with a story in today's New York Daily News, that said Cheney's name has come up amid indications Fitzgerald may be edging closer to a blockbuster conspiracy charge -- with help from "a secret snitch."

"They have got a senior cooperating witness -- someone who is giving them all of that," a source who has been questioned in the leak probe told the Daily News.

Cheney and Libby spend hours together in the course of a day, which causes sources who know both men "to assert that any attempts to discredit Wilson would almost certainly have been known to the vice president."

"Scooter wouldn't be freelancing on this without Cheney's knowledge," a source told the Daily News. "It was probably some off-the-cuff thing: 'This guy [Wilson] could be a problem.'"

That could be enough to lead Fitzgerald to suggest a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to reveal Plame's identity.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post wrote that Fitzgerald was mulling charges of a criminal conspiracy. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.

Daily Show's Corddry Understands Bush's Scripted Tikrit Teleconference Is Merely Latest Episode of Drama He Knows As "The White House"

The Daily Show's Rob Corddry sees things a different way.

Asked to analyze President Bush's scripted teleconference with soldiers Thursday -- what JABBS calls the "Tikrit Deceit" -- Corddry instead understood that Thursday's events were merely the latest episode in the drama he and other Washington "correspondents" have come to love, The White House.

You have to hand it to Comedy Central's writers. They understand that something's "funny" with treating American soldiers as props for political purposes.

Here's an unofficial transcript from the back-and-forth between "Senior Political Analyst" Corddry and host Jon Stewart on last night's show:

STEWART: It's obviously not news that many of the administration's media events are scripted and prepared. But in this instance, were you surprised that the Pentagon allowed soldiers to be used in that manner, and then for the rehearsal to be seen by the public?

CORDDRY: A little bit, Jon. but it was a nice gesture to the fans. A little peek at what goes on behind the scenes. And a nice bonus for the fifth season DVD of The White House.

STEWART: I don't think I know what you're talking about.

CORDDRY: Well, I'm talking about one of my favorite show, Jon. For all the hype about Desperate Housewives and Lost, The White House is one of the best scripted dramas out there. That new one, Commander in Chief -- total ripoff. Move over, Geena Davis, this fall a man will ... still be president.

STEWART: But Rob, we're not talking about just a TV show.

CORDDRY: Oh, I know Jon. For me and my fellow White House fans, or "Whities," it isn't just a TV show. We live or die with all these characters.

Like, uh, like on Season Three, uh, when the president, "George W. Bush" -- a competitive, born-again, ex-alcoholic with a Texas twang and a chip on his shoulder -- lands a fighter jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier and yells, "Mission Accomplished." I mean, that is f---ing TV, man!

Although, Jon, although if they're not careful, this thing is going to jump the shark. Like last season, the whole Social Security "B" story. Twelve town hall episodes in a row? C'mon, man. And the dialogue?

(Cut to C-SPAN video):

WOMAN #1: President Bush, welcome to Tampa. We're so happy you're here.

BUSH: Nice to be back. Thank you.

WOMAN #2: I'm very happy to have you as the president.

MAN: What can I do to help you?

(End video)

CORDDRY: Ok, ok. We get it. The president has stumbled on a community of androids. Jon, Star Trek, Season Two, Episode Three. Watch it much?

And what about that "Cheney" character? I mean, he's gone from plausibly evil to cartooney evil.

And I say, for my money, bring back Osama, ok? Guy disappears in Season One ... they never wrap up the storyline. Jon, that's just bad writing.

STEWART: I do think the larger question is, "Why do these events about particular topics have to be scripted at all?" Do you foresee a presidency when they are not scripted?

CORDDRY: Hmmm. Uh, what do you mean, like a Curb Your Enthusiasm thing?

STEWART: Ok, thank you Rob Corddry.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fratricidal Battle Among Conservatives over Miers Continues

Howard Kurtz, in his "Media Notes" column in today's Washington Post, offers this humorous and perhaps enlightening anecdote regarding a tussle between National Review columnist and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, and "Fox News All-Stars" Brit Hume and Fred Barnes.

The battle is over -- what else -- the fight among conservatives over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Kurtz writes:

Former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie says he's detected a whiff of sexism in the opposition to Miers. Fox News anchor Brit Hume has noted that many critics of the Southern Methodist University graduate went to elite Eastern schools.

This prompted Frum -- a proud graduate of Yale and Harvard Law -- to fire back at "Brit Hume's and Fred Barnes' embarrassing repetition of Ed Gillespie's talking points: 'Brawwwwwk-sexism; brawwwwwwk-elitism; brawwwwwwwwk-Harvard; brawwwwwwwwwk; brawwwwwkk; brawwwwwk.'"

Barnes, the (Weekly) Standard's executive editor, says that he thinks Frum's opposition is legitimate but that it is unfair to challenge the motives of those who disagree. "The notion that Brit and I are merely tools of Ed Gillespie or the White House is insulting and wrong," says Barnes, adding that he hadn't talked to Gillespie all week. "That's the kind of thing liberals do."

Hume says it was obvious that his jibe "was considerably tongue-in-cheek, and some of the responses have been notably humorless. Lighten up a little bit!"


***

Isn't it funny how some people can dish it out, but they can't take it?

I mean, do we really need to produce a list of all the times that Barnes has questioned the motives of a Democrat? For example, how many times has he questioned the motives of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). "Sen. Clinton's moves should be seen in light of a 2008 campaign," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal article -- before the 2004 presidential campaign!

And then there's Hume's comment that he was just kidding. Seems that whenever some conservatives get in trouble, they respond with that bit of spin.

When former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization" last year, people took him seriously. A day later, he told the Associated Press: "I was making what I now know was a bad joke; it was a poor choice of words."

On his radio show, Michael Savage sounds serious enough when he calls Muslims "bomb-tossers," but in interviews after the fact suggests this is an example of his "wit." Rush Limbaugh labels women's rights activists "feminazis," then says female listeners shouldn't take him so seriously.

E-mailers can stick a happy face or an "LOL" at the end of a joke. Television journalists -- even "All-Stars," LOL -- don't have that lucury, especially the ones who decide, after the fact, that they were just kidding.

Administration Coached Troops On What To Say To Bush, Then Lied About It

President Bush's teleconference Thursday with U.S. troops in Tikrit, tied to Saturday's vote on the new Iraqi constitution, was far from spontaneous.

It turns out that the teleconference was actually the latest example of the Bush Administration pre-screening questioners to create an event as staged as a Broadway show. As with other "town hall" meetings here in the U.S., it's clear the Bush Administration only wants to feign reality -- just in case the real thing proves to be too difficult.

How do we know about the "Tikrit deceit"? Because reporters caught the administration in the act.

Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, in a tape that aired on CNN, is seen discussing with troops questions that had been "drilled through today."

Worse, no one apparently told White House spokesman Scott McClellan that Barber had been caught on tape. Or more likely, McClellan knew, but chose to create one of those famous "alternate universes" during a second press briefing that day, when he continued to insist no pre-screening had occurred.

Let's take you step-by-step through the "Tikrit deceit":

STEP ONE: Lie at the White House press briefing.

Q: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything...

MCCLELLAN: No.

Q: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth.

-- White House press briefing, Oct. 13

STEP TWO: Barber is caught on tape.

"So here’s what you to be prepared for, Captain Kennedy, is that the president is going to ask some questions. He may ask all six of them, he may ask three of them. He might have such a great time talking to you, he might come up with some new questions. So what we want to be prepared for is to not stutter. So if there’s a question that the president comes up with that we haven’t drilled through today, then I’m expecting the microphone to go right back to you, Captain Kennedy, and you to handle [it]."

-- Barber, speaking to troops, Oct. 13

"The soldiers, nine U.S. men and one U.S. woman, plus an Iraqi, had been tipped off in advance about the questions in the highly-scripted event. Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, could be heard asking one soldier before the start of the event, 'Who are we going to give that [question] to?'"

-- Official pool report, Oct. 13

STEP THREE: Play dumb.

Q Scott, why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the President talked to this morning in Iraq?

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I don't know what you're suggesting.

Q Well, they discussed the questions ahead of time. They were told exactly what the President would ask, and they were coached, in terms of who would answer what question, and how they would pass the microphone.

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, are you suggesting that what our troops were saying was not sincere, or what they said was not their own thoughts?

Q Nothing at all. I'm just asking why it was necessary to coach them.

McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the event earlier today, the event was set up to highlight an important milestone in Iraq's history, and to give the President an opportunity to, once again, express our appreciation for all that our troops are doing when it comes to defending freedom, and their courage and their sacrifice. And this is a satellite feed, as you are aware, and there are always technological challenges involved when you're talking with troops on a satellite feed like this. And I think that we worked very closely with the Department of Defense to coordinate this event. And I think all they were doing was talking to the troops and letting them know what to expect.

Q But we asked you specifically this morning if there would be any screening of questions or if they were being told in any way what they should say or do, and you indicated no.

McCLELLAN: I don't think that's what the question was earlier today. I think the question earlier today was asking if they could ask whatever they want, and I said, of course, the President was -- and you saw --

Q And I asked if they were pre-screened.

McCLELLAN: You saw earlier today the President was trying to engage in a back-and-forth with the troops. And I think it was very powerful what Lieutenant Murphy was saying at the end of that conversation, when he was talking about what was going on in January, how the American troops and coalition forces were in the lead when it came to providing security for the upcoming election, an election where more than eight million Iraqis showed up and voted. It was a great success.

And he talked about how this time, when we had the preparations for the upcoming referendum this Saturday, you have Iraqi forces that are in the lead, and the Iraqi forces are the ones that are doing the planning and preparing and taking the lead to provide for their own security as they get ready to cast their ballots again.

Q But I also asked this morning, were they being told by their commanders what to say or what to do, and you indicated, no. Was there any prescreening of --

McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any such -- any such activities that were being undertaken. We coordinated closely with the Department of Defense. You can ask if there was any additional things that they did. But we work very closely with them to coordinate these events, and the troops can ask the President whatever they want. They've always been welcome to do that.

-- Press briefing later in the day, Oct. 13

***

It's all pretty familiar territory for the administration, actually.

Some Bush apologists might say that the Tikrit deceit occurred because of a fear that someone would ask a politically embarrassing question, given the mounting death toll in Iraq, and the possibility that the U.S.-led troops will be fighting the insurgency for the rest of this decade, and possibly beyond.

But the truth is, this sort of deceit was going on long before Bush's popularity tanked to new lows. This administration has always chosen "alternate universes" instead of dealing with the potential embarrassment of a pointed, but very real question from a disappointed, frustrated or (gasp!) liberal audience member.

During Bush's tour of "town hall meetings" to push Social Security privatization, it was learned that the administration not only chose to have a hand-picked audience listening to a carefully tailored message, but it also wants hand-picked types of people to ask the right questions to help sell that carefully tailored message.

We know this because, again, the administration got caught in the act.

A memo, circulated among Women Impacting Public Policy, illustrated the lengths to which the White House would go to create the right image.

"President Bush will be in Rochester, N.Y., for an upcoming event and has called on WIPP for help," said the memo to New York-area members, which was leaked to the Los Angeles Times for a May 20 story.

The memo went on to solicit several types of people, including a young worker who "knows that [Social Security] could run out before they retire," a young couple with children who like "the idea of leaving something behind to the family" and a single parent who believes Bush's proposal for individual investment accounts "would provide more retirement options and security" than the current system. These people, all to be under the age of 29, would then be called upon by the President, to lob softball questions representing various arguments Bush has been making to sell privatization to younger voters.

WIPP also helped find questioners for a May 19 Milwaukee event. That led to this exchange, recorded by the Times, between a hand-picked questioner and Bush:

"You got any thoughts about Social Security?" Bush asked 22-year-old Concordia University senior Christy Paavola, one of five younger workers who appeared on stage with him at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"Yes," Paavola said. "I don't think it's going to be there when I retire, which is really scary."

Many young people, the president commented, think they are paying into a retirement system that will never pay them back.

He asked Paavola: "Got anything else you want to say?"

"I really like the idea of personal savings accounts," Paavola said.

"You did a heck of a job," Bush told her. "You deserve an A."

***

The administration got caught then, just as it got caught by the General Accounting Office found that the administration paid journalists and created other forms of "covert propaganda" in violation of "governmentwide" anti-propaganda rules -- to tout Medicare and Education programs.

But old habits die hard. And until the American people demand a checks-and-balances occur -- call their Congressman or Senator and say that they will not tolerate such deceit and propaganda in a democratic society -- the administration will, obviously, repeat such actions unabated.

In their "alternate universe," they aren't doing anything wrong.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Santorum, In Latest Move To Distance Himself From Bush, Criticizes "Trust Me" Defense of Miers

Americans "deserve better" than President Bush's "trust me" approach to the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said Friday on a Philadelphia radio show.

"It is what I term the president's second faith-based initiative, which is `trust me,'" Santorum said, mimicking a line used previously by conservative pundit Pat Buchanan on NBC's Meet the Press. "I think, candidly, we deserve better than that."

Santorum added, however, that he had not decided to oppose Miers and hoped to learn more about her views during confirmation hearings.

It's the latest example of Santorum trying to distance himself from Bush -- not so much on policy, per se, but on policy presentation. Last month, Santorum took issue with how Bush had tried to rally Americans behind his Social Security privatization plan.

And let's face it, when a party loyalist like Rick Santorum distances himself from the president, that doesn't bode well for the strength of the president. To steal a line from former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), this is a guy who has carried more water for Bush than Gunga Din, leading him to say some outrageous things about Democrats, such as May 19 on the Senate floor, when he used a reference to Adolf Hitler to describe Democratic complaints about the "nuclear option" to ban judicial filibusters.

Why is Santorum distancing himself from Bush?

Two reasons. One Santorum substantially trails state treasurer Robert Casey in recent polls in his bid for re-election next year. With Bush's own popularity tanking to new lows, it has been very easy for Casey to lump together failed presidential policies with a senator who has led the fight for those policies.

At the same time, conservatives far and wide have come out against Bush's nomination of Miers, who lacks a judicial record. Conservatives like Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Trent Lott (R-MS) have suggested they will not endorse her nomination. Conservative pundits like Bill Kristol and Buchanan have suggested Bush withdraw her nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.

These are strange days indeed for the conservative wing of the GOP.

Friday, October 14, 2005

HHS Hires Advertising Firm That Assisted With Propaganda Last Year

The Bush Administration has hired Ketchum Inc. to oversee its advertising campaign for its new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.

Under the $25 million Health & Human Services contract, Ketchum will produce radio, television, magazine and newspaper advertising. Enrollment for the new benefit begins Nov. 15.

It's nice to have friends in high places.

Ketchum, you may remember, was hired last year by Health & Human Services to produce undocumented propaganda -- a series of undocumented video news releases featuring actors posing as journalists. Separately, Ketchum was hired by the Department of Education to produce similar undocumented video news releases touting No Child Left Behind. Ketchum also arranged a subcontract with Graham Williams Group, headed by conservative pundit Armstrong Williams, to talk up the administration program.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office earlier this month found that the various efforts were "covert propaganda," and in violation of "governmentwide" anti-propaganda rules.

In other words, Ketchum was the administration's accomplice in trying to trick the American people into supporting Bush Administration policies. Its video news release for HHS, supplied to some 40 television stations' news departments, wasn't identified as government-produced. Neither was its video news release for Education. Armstrong Williams didn't identify himself as a paid governemnt spokesman.

***

Perhaps the administration is rewarding Ketchum, after the firm got entangled in its propaganda efforts. In its ruling, the GAO suggested it was the administration's decision to created undocumented propaganda -- albeit with Ketchum as a willing accomplice.

We know that Education asked Ketchum to "create a localized video news feed that features a spokesperson with a localized ‘message’ for each of the 30-target markets." HHS asked Ketchum to do similar work. We know that the Education asked Ketchum to subcontract to Williams.

We also know that the Justice Department justified its propaganda because it was, as President Bush put it, "based upon facts, not advocacy" -- as if his administration would pay a journalist or create a video news release to oppose the administration.

It's that kind of spin that should put a chill down every Americans' spine.

***

Officially, HHS officials say Ketchum got the new work because it already had a multiyear contract to provide public relations services for the department. The firm promised the new ads will not cross the legal line.

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services logo appeared prominently in an eight-page insert in Parade magazine on Sept. 25. A second insert is planned for Oct. 16.

Surveys show that seniors trust Medicare information more if they see it is from the government, Kathleen Harrington, a manager overseeing the education campaign for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the Washington Post, "so it's in the interest of our success to do this and to label everything appropriately."

Let's hope that's not the only reason HHS wants to do things appropriately. Let's hope it, and the rest of the Bush Administration, recognize that undocumented propaganda is the stuff of dictatorships, not democracies that value a free and independent media.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

[Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination is] a big opportunity for those of us who have a conviction, that share an evangelical faith in Christianity, to see someone with our positions put on the court.


To make John Roberts’ faith an issue at the coming Senate confirmation hearings would not only be wrong, but a big mistake.

— Sekulow, Sept. 11

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dobson Backtracks, Says "Confidential Conversations" With Rove Not "Incendiary"

James Dobson has entered spin mode.

On the Oct. 5 edition of his Focus on the Family radio show, Dobson discussed "confidential conversations" he had with friends and supporters of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers -- conversations that led him to believe Miers was against abortion rights. In the same show, Dobson offered endorsed Miers' nomination.

"When you know some of the things I know -- that I probably shouldn't know -- that take me in this direction, you'll know why I've said with fear and trepidation (that) I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice," he said.

Not surprisingly, the "confidential conversations" -- later learned to be with embattled Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove -- didn't sit well with Senators from both parties who sit on the Judiciary Committee. There was talk of Dobson being subpoenaed, and that Miers' nomination could be scuttled because of White House assurances of how Miers would vote on abortion rights cases.

Now Dobson is saying the conversations didn't reveal much.

In remarks scheduled for broadcast today on his national radio show, Dobson says that he and Rove did not discuss Roe v. Wade, the controversial Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to end a pregnancy, or how Miers might judge abortion-related cases.

"I did not ask that question," Dobson said. "You know, to be honest, I would have loved to have known how Harriet Miers views Roe v. Wade. But even if Karl had known the answer to that — and I'm certain that he didn't, because the president himself said he didn't know — Karl would not have told me that. That's the most incendiary information that's out there, and it was never part of our discussion."

But Rove did remind Dobson "that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian; that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life; that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion."

In other words, Rove didn't assure Dobson how Miers would vote on Roe v. Wade. No doubt the White House spin machine wanted to make sure that messaage got out, to counter concerns from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But by Dobson's own words, the message he was delivered by Rove is pretty clear. Miers is solidly pro-life. Whether that translates into a vote to overturn or further restrict Roe v. Wade, or whether Miers believes the landmark case is "settled law" remains to be seen.

But I have to believe that Rove successfully lobbying Dobson to endorse Miers banked on his ability to convince Dobson that, in fact, Miers' pro-life credentials would factor into future court decisions. Is that an assurance? It's a fine line, and even with Dobson's spin today, the Judiciary Committee may still ask the question.

Because Miers lacks a judicial record, the White House has been lobbying conservative Senators along these lines -- asking for faith in President Bush's selection in large part based on her religious credentials.

But that hasn't been enough to convince some conservatives. For example, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) has not endorsed Miers -- and may wind up voting against her -- because of concerns he has that Miers believes Roe v. Wade is settled law.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fineman: "People Are Out For Karl Rove Inside That White House"

HOWARD FINEMAN (NEWSWEEK): Right now, my sense, in reporting this, Chris, is that the Bush family, political family, is at war with itself inside the White House. My sense is, it‘s, it‘s, it‘s, it‘s Andy Card, the chief of staff, and his people against Karl Rove, the brain.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: And that runs through a whole lot of things, whether it‘s Harriet Miers or Katrina. But it all starts with Iraq.

And some submerged, but now emerging divisions within the administration over why we went into that war, how we went into that war and what was done to sell it. There are people are out for Karl Rove inside that White House, which makes his situation even more perilous.

My understanding, from talking to somebody quite close to this investigation, is that they think there are going to be indictments and possibly Karl Rove could be among them, if not for the act of the leaking information about Valerie Plame, then perhaps for perjury, because he‘s now testified four times.

And there are conflicts between what Matt Cooper told the grand jury and what Rove evidently told the jury himself. And Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, is an absolute stickler for detail who has no political axe to grind here, other than keeping his own credibility. Having put Judy Miller in jail, having gone to the lengths he had, my understand is, he has got some people here, not only Rove, but perhaps Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff.

MATTHEWS: I also get the sense he reads the law book. He doesn‘t care about the politics.

FINEMAN: That‘s what I meant. That‘s what I meant. He doesn‘t care about the politics.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, you just raised a curtain-raiser for me. I didn‘t even know this.

You believe that the fight between those who may be headed toward indictment, the vice president‘s chief of staff, Karl Rove, there is a war between them and the people who are going to survive them, Andy Card, etcetera.

FINEMAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: But is Andy Card saying now, here‘s his chance to prove the war was wrong? Is that what this — it‘s a shadow fight over that?

FINEMAN: I think it‘s possible. I think it‘s possible. Look, when you are up, you‘re up big time. Karl Rove was the boy genius.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: Karl Rove could do no wrong. But now Karl Rove seems to have been caught overstepping on this.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: And now people are questioning everything about it. And it goes back. If you have to have an organizing principle, it‘s the war in Iraq. That‘s what it is.

-- MSNBC's Hardball, Oct. 10

Monday, October 10, 2005

Lott, Now An Outsider, May Have Inside Track To Replace Frist

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) is picking up strong support from conservatives for a return to the party's leadership, including serious consideration for the top job, being vacated by retiring Bill Frist (R-TN).

Seems Lott has successfully resuscitated his image. How? By successfully portraying himself as an insider's outsider -- someone who can be a team player, but isn't afraid to stand up to President Bush or Frist. And with Bush's poll numbers tanking and mid-term elections just around the corner, Republican outsiders are suddenly in again.

***

It's a far cry from 2002, when Lott had what he called a "little bump in the road."

At the 100th birthday party for the late Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Lott said: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

President Bush said Lott's comments "do not reflect the spirit of our country," and many of Lott's Republican colleagues agreed. Barely two weeks after the racially divisive remarks, Lott stepped down as majority leader, replaced by Frist.

***

Lott, forced from power, became something of an insider's outsider, at a time when the GOP voted en masse for the Bush agenda. But times have changed. Even Frist, the Senate face for the Bush agenda, has recently detached himself from some parts of the Bush agenda (with one eye on a 2008 presidential run).

But Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, another top candidate to replace Frist, has not detached himself from Bush. For example, McConnell endorsed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Lott thus far has not.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania substantially trails state treasurer Robert Casey in recent polls in his bid for re-election next year. That may leave him out of the GOP leadership altogether. Perhaps in response to his own uphill climb for re-election, Santorum has begun detaching himself from the Bush agenda, most noticeably by remarking negatively on Bush's handling of Social Security reform. Like Lott, he has not endorsed Miers.

So, in the ever-changing Senate, Lott may soon find himself back on top.

"His moves over the past year have been brilliant," one associate told U.S. News & World Report. "From his Gang of 14 judicial nominee blueprint, the handling of the Katrina disaster, and now the Harriet Miers nomination, he knows that the American people expect that the Senate should be a check on the administration and not a rubber stamp."

Bush May Veto Defense Bill To Deny McCain Amendment Banning "Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading" Treatment Of Military Prisoners

In nearly five years in office, President Bush has not vetoed a single piece of legislation his Republican-led Congress has supported.

But the White House is threatening to veto the Senate's $440.5 billion 2006 Defense spending bill because it includes an amendment that would mandate uniform standards for the treatment of military detainees. The provision, which passed 90-9, was authored by John McCain (R-AZ).

A Seattle Times editorial wrote that the amendment "to ban 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment of prisoners by the military found a clarity of purpose and voice that eludes the Bush administration."

The Boston Globe, in its editorial, wrote: "Instead of threatening to veto the measure, as his staff has done, President Bush should embrace it as evidence that the military will correct abuses and hold itself to a high standard."

A veto by Bush would almost certainly be symbolic, because the Senate has the votes to override it.

And what a symbol it would be.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Will Rove's "Confidential Conversations" With Dobson Scuttle Miers' Chances?

Alleged conversations between Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove and Christian Conservative James Dobson may wind up costing Harriet Miers a seat on the Supreme Court.

Ironic, isn't it? Rove was trying to help President Bush by landing a key endorsement from Dobson, a prominent Christian conservative.

On the Oct. 5 edition of his Focus on the Family radio show, Dobson
discussed "confidential conversations" he had with friends and supporters of Miers -- conversations that led him to believe Miers was against abortion rights. In the same show, Dobson offered endorsed Miers' nomination.

"When you know some of the things I know -- that I probably shouldn't know -- that take me in this direction, you'll know why I've said with fear and trepidation (that) I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice."

The Christian Science Monitor later reported that Dobson supported Miers after "extensive lobbying by the White House," while the New York Sun said White House senior adviser Karl Rove did the convincing. Paul Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation and one of the capital's leading conservatives, said Rove placed four telephone calls on Oct. 2 or 3 to Dobson.

Not surprisingly, the "confidential conversations" didn't sit well with Senators from both parties who sit on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the senior Democrat on the Committee, said Miers had told him she'd made no promises as to how she'd vote on any issue that might come before the court, including Roe v. Wade.

"If assurances were given of how any nominee, whether this nominee or anybody else, and somebody gives assurances how they're going to vote in an upcoming case, I would vote against that person,'' Leahy told ABC's This Week.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) said he will investigate whether Rove gave Dobson assurances.


"If Dr. Dobson knows something that he shouldn't know or something that I ought to know, I'm going to find out," he said on This Week. "The Senate Judiciary Committee is entitled to know whatever the White House knew."

Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) said should be called as a witness during hearings next month on Miers's nomination.

"Karl Rove ought to let the public know what kind of assurances he gave James Dobson,'' he said on CBS' Face the Nation.

***

And there's no shortage of non-religious right conservatives who would like to see the Miers' nomination scuttled. If it's because of Dobson's big mouth, so be it.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is exploring a run for president, emerged from an hourlong meeting with Miers on Thursday and
said he was prepared to vote against her.

Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan
said on NBC's Meet the Press that Miers' "qualifications for the Supreme court are utterly non-existent."

"This is a faith-based initiative," he said. "The president of the United States is saying, 'Trust me.' And when you have the decisive vote on the United States Supreme Court, that is not enough."

The Weekly Standard, a bible for dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, today called the choice of Miers 'at best an error, at worst a disaster' which should be reconsidered.

"The best alternative would be for Miers to withdraw," editor Bill Kristol wrote. "Her nomination has hurt the president whom she came to Washington to serve."

Bush Withdraws Questionable Nominee For Deputy Attorney General

President Bush withdrew the nomination of Timothy Flanigan as deputy attorney general, after Senators pressed the Tyco International lawyer for details about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The White House said it took the action Friday at Flanigan's request. With the stalled nomination likely to drag on for weeks or longer, he cited the "uncertainty concerning the timing of my nomination," in a letter to Bush.

Critics of the nomination said they were also troubled by the fact that Flanigan had no experience as a criminal prosecutor and that he helped shape administration policy on the treatment of suspected terrorists in American custody, as deputy White House counsel under Alberto Gonzales. Some had suggested that Flanigan was another example of Bush cronyism.

Flanigan becomes the most prominent Bush appointee to pull his nomination since Bernard B. Kerik withdrew from consideration as homeland security secretary last December.

***

The question remains, though, does it take a stalled nomination process for President Bush to withdraw a poor nominee for a key post?

That wasn't the case with U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. But that was pre-Katrina, and Bush's popularity has dropped precipitously since then, to the point where conservatives are abandoning ship on various issues, and Democrats (gasp) are beginning to feel emboldened.

So if the rules have changed, maybe the Senate should continue standing up to Bush cronyism. Maybe they should fight other unqualified nominees, such as Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, as well as State Department nominee Ellen Sauerbrey and Homeland Security nominee Julie Myers.

Wouldn't that be interesting? Then Bush would have to actually find qualified candidates, outside his inner circle of friends and contributors, for key posts.

***

Flanigan had been scheduled to testify for a second time before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer more questions regarding Abramoff, a former lobbyist for Tyco. As Tyco general counsel, Flanigan supervised Abramoff's activities for the company.

Abramoff, who is under investigation by a Justice Department-led task force over allegations that he overcharged clients and made illegal payments to legislators, was a major fundraiser for Bush's 2004 re-election, and had close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). Flanigan told the committee in a written response to follow-up questions that Abramoff boasted of his contacts with Karl Rove, Bush's longtime senior political strategist.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

McClellan Refutes Palestinian Claim That Bush Said God Directed Him To Invade Iraq, Afghanistan

The White House is denying that President Bush ever told Palestinian leaders that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and to create a Palestinian State.

Responding to comments made by Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath in a BBC series scheduled to air this month, White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush "never made such comments."

But McClellan also admitted he "didn't travel on that trip," when Bush allegedly made the comments. (This point was skipped by most mainstream media.)

In other words, we should trust McClellan on his word, rather than any first-hand knowledge he has. Presumably, McClellan was passing along information he received from someone in Bush's inner circle, who may or may not have been in the meeting.

If this were a court case, wouldn't this be considered "hearsay?"

***

Meanwhile, Shaath stood behind his recollection of the comments. In an interview yesterday with the Times of London, Shaath said he considered the comments "a figure of speech."

"We felt he was saying that he had a mission, a commitment, his faith in God would inspire him ... rather than a metaphysical whisper in his ear," he told the newspaper.

***

The Bush Administration wants to quickly put an end to the controversy. But newspapers throughout the Arab region have already reacted negatively.

For example:

Editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi: "Had those statements come from an ordinary person, he would have been arrested straight away and taken to a lunatic asylum for treatment... Such statements cannot be made by someone who is mentally sound."

Surprisingly, the administration apparently missed an opportunity to be proactive -- rather than wait until a controversy erupted.

A BBC spokesman told the Times of London that the program's content had been provided to the White House in advance, but the Bush Administration failed to respond.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Congressional Waiver Reduces Share of Katrina Contracts Going To Minority-Owned Businesses

Minority-owned businesses say they're paying the price for a decision by Congress and the Bush administration to waive certain rules for Hurricane Katrina recovery contracts.

The result has been far more no-bid contracts going to businesses that have an existing relationship with the government. For example, instead of receiving the 5 percent normally required of federal contract work, minority-owned businesses have received about 1.5 percent of the $1.6 billion awarded by FEMA.

The Department of Labor and FEMA each have said that they suspended affirmative action rules for first-time government contractors doing Katrina work to reduce paperwork and to speed emergency aid.

But the Army Corps of Engineers gave 16 percent of its $637 million in Katrina contracts to minority-owned companies, according to agency records. Hmmm.

Isn't it possible that the Republican-led Congress, Labor Department and FEMA are buying into the spin that you can't have a fair and fast bidding for Katrina contracts?

That may be decided by the Government Accountability Office. On Oct. 4, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-IL) asked the GAO to investigate whether small and minority-owned businesses have been given a fair opportunity to compete for Katrina contracts.

***

The waiver on affirmative action rules coincided with a suspension of a "prevailing wage" law that black lawmakers and business people believe will hurt the disproportionately large number of black hourly workers.

Harry Alford, the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press that the waivers are sending are a bad message. "What they're basically saying to the minority in New Orleans is: 'We'll make it harder for you to find a job. And if you do, we'll make sure you get paid less.'"

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