Tuesday, November 29, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

From today’s White House press briefing:

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Iraq, yes. In terms of tomorrow, it's an important speech. It's the first in a series of speeches that the President will be making between now and the December 15th elections about our plan for victory in Iraq. We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy to defeat the terrorists and those trying to prevent democracy from advancing in Iraq. And the President believes that the American people should have a clear understanding of our strategy. And that means how we see the enemy and how we define and achieve victory. So as part of the speech tomorrow, we are going to be releasing a document called the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." It's an unclassified version of the plan that we've been pursuing in Iraq, and it will be made available to the American people.

***

As the Center for American Progress asked: Shouldn’t we have had a “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” before the war started?

Furthermore, does this mean that the spin machine that gave us "Mission Accomplished" will finally admit they made a premature declaration of victory?

Hersh: Some Bush Friends Alarmed At How He Perceives Iraq War

CNN'S WOLF BLITZER: Here's what you write. You write, "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding."

Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn't want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.

NEW YORKER'S SEYMOUR HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to -- I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able -- is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years. He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. ...

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Attorney Hopes Time Reporter Can Save Rove From Indictment

A Time magazine reporter who recently agreed to testify in the CIA leak case is seen as the only person who can save White House senior advisor Karl Rove from being indicted.

According to a story in today's Washington Post, Time's Viveca Novak has been asked to provide testimony for Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's two-year-old investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The testimony, regarding a conversation she had with Rove attorney Robert Luskin, will come in the next few weeks.

Rove remains under investigation as to whether he provided false statements in the case. He faces being indicted on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges -- the same charges that Fitzgerald brought against Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

A Post source said that Luskin cited his conversations with Novak -- a friend of Luskin who is not related to the conservative columnist Robert Novak -- in persuading Fitzgerald not to indict Rove in late October, when the prosecutor indicted Libby.

"This is what caused [Fitzgerald] to hold off on charging" Rove, the source said.

Rove has testified that he talked to columnist Robert Novak and Time's Matthew Cooper about Plame's CIA employment. But in his initial conversations with federal investigators and testimony, Rove did not mention the conversation with Cooper, later telling the grand jury he forgot about it and did not intend to mislead anyone. Luskin has worked behind the scenes to convince Fitzgerald that Rove is guilty of nothing more than a faulty memory.

Monday, November 28, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

Is White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan out of a job?

The last time McClellan gave an on-the-record press briefing from the White House press podium was 19 days ago. PR Week recently speculated that McClellan was on his way out, based on scuttlebutt among the White House press corps.

Some liberals may cheer McClellan's departure, but JABBS would never endorse killing the messenger. It's akin to demanding a sports writer be fired because the home team stunk this year. McClellan is that sports writer, and this administration most certainly stinks.

If McClellan has been dumped, it won't be a victory for those battling the Bush spin machine.

When McClellan offered garbage to the media, it was because he was provided garbage by the Bush Administration. When his answers lacked logic, it was because the higher-ups couldn't provide him with any logic.

In a recent example, McClellan told reporters that President Bush never told Palestinian leaders that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. In disputing statements made for a BBC series by Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, McClellan admitted he "didn't travel on that trip," when Bush allegedly made the comments.

Was McClellan lying about Bush? JABBS can't say. But logically, McClellan's statement made no sense. He was only parroting what some higher-up told him to say.

Certainly, there's a laundry list of questionable McClellan statements. He contradicted himself regarding commenting on the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, and appears to have lied when he said conclusively in 2003 that Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was "not involved" in the leak. He contradicted Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about whether a flawed Newsweek article incited violence in Afghanistan. He pretended not to know that U.S. troops in Tikrit had been coached prior to a teleconference with President Bush, even after the coaching had been caught on tape. After Hurricane Katrina, he obfuscated, rather than answer the question: "Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?"

But in each of these cases, it's easy to argue that McClellan was just parroting the administration's official message of the day.

***

If McClellan is dumped, the final straw may have been his written statement attacking a troop withdrawal plan authored by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). McClellan said Murtha was “endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party.”

But even here, was McClellan speaking on his own behalf? Probably not. Did what McClellan say look bad, leading to comparisons to vicious attacks made by Bush cronies in 2000 against another Vietnam War veteran, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)? Absolutely. Soon thereafter, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney read the tradewinds, and backed away from McClellan's comments in an effort to "quell a backlash."

By doing so, they killed their messenger. But no doubt, if McClellan's career really is over, they'll have no trouble finding a replacement.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bush Administration Preparing To Tout Iraqi Troop Preparedness. Too Bad It's Not True.

President Bush plans to give a major speech next week in which he is expected to herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out U.S. forces.

The scheduled Nov. 30 speech in Annapolis, Md., comes on the heels of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applauding the rapid training of Iraqi soldiers, and claiming that the current number of U.S. troops in Iraq probably would not be needed much longer.

Do you smell a spin campaign?

Let's start with the basics. There is no statistical evidence to back up the claims. As recently as late September, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, said very few Iraqi troops had "Level 1" readinees. Senators were not happy to hear that just one of Iraq's 86 army battalions is ready to fight on its own.

When asked when U.S. troops might be able to withdraw, Casey said, "It's not going to be like throwing a switch where all of a sudden, one day, the Iraqis are in charge."

But is it possible that Iraqi troops could have improved by leaps and bounds over the past two months? Don't buy that spin. Although some Iraqi units have sharply improved their capabilities, Gary J. Schmitt, a director at the conservative-friendly American Enterprise Institute, told the Los Angeles Times that "to get a force that is really effective requires a lot more experience than this army is likely to have for years."

So what are we left with? The administration misled us into this war by favoring a political strategy over questionable "intelligence," and now it wants to mislead us out of Iraq by ... favoring a political strategy over questionable "intelligence."

***

The question now is which force is more powerful -- the desire among Americans to win the war, or the desire among Americans to bring home the troops.

With the U.S. death toll recently crossing 2,000, and with new questions about what the administration knew about the credibility of pre-war "intelligence, an increasing percentage of Americans believe that Bush misled the nation into war.

This administration will never admit that it cares about polls. But the reality is that the 2006 mid-term elections are rapidly approaching, and the longer that Bush's overall popularity -- and more specifically, the popularity of his Iraq policy -- remains low, the harder it will be for Republicans to maintain control of the House and the Senate.

The Bush Administration and the conservative noise machine can keep false claiming that the Democrats believe in a "cut and run" Iraq policy. They can keep saying that the Democrats are treasonous. The polls suggest the American people know better.

The truth is that mainstream Democrats -- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, recent presidential nominee John Kerry and Sen. Joseph Biden, the senior party representative on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- have called for a gradual withdrawal, predicated on increased international responsibility and increased training of Iraqi security.

The Bush plan doesn't want additional international help. But everyone agrees that Iraqi troops have to be self-sufficient.

***

It may be up to the Democrats -- and consciencious Republicans like Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- to straddle the difficult political line between supporting a popular strategy to start bringing troops home next year and demanding evidence of Iraqi self-sufficiency before troop withdrawals begin.

What happens if our troops start withdrawing before the Democrat-led coalition believes the Iraqis are self-sufficient?

The irony is that the same conservative pundits who have long claimed Democrats favor "cut and run" would suddenly be advocating such a policy, and spinning that the Democrats are obstacles to a successful Bush war.

Friday, November 25, 2005

McCain, Chafee Join Democrats In Calling For Review Of Bush Administration's Pre-War Statements

Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have joined Democratic leaders in suggesting Senate investigators should interview senior Bush administration officials about their statements regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein before the war.

Other Republicans who may agree with the need for a review remain on the sidelines. The reason? Fear of a backlash from the party base, should they seek a 2008 presidential run. Unlike McCain -- also a likely 2008 candidate -- other Republicans wouldn't want to run as "mavericks."

According to The Hill, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) said he would reserve judgment on whether senior administration officials should testify before the intelligence panel. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is also expected to run for president in 2008, deferred comment for now.

***

Senate Democrats have called for an evaluation of pre-invasion statements about the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons capabilities by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is pressing for some of those officials to be interviewed as part of that evaluation process and has argued that a thorough report cannot be written without interviews, but Republicans have so far resisted.

But McCain, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said he would not endorse questioning President Bush or Vice President Cheney. Instead, he would target cabinet secretaries and key undersecretaries, like Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who played an important role in the months before the war in analyzing Iraqi intelligence for the White House.

That shouldn't be surprising, because ever since Bush created the bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission last year to investigate pre-war intelligence failures, McCain has made it clear that he thought the intelligence community failed Bush.

"The president of the United States, I believe, did not manipulate any kind of information for political gain or otherwise," McCain told The Boston Globe the week that the commission, which included McCain, was announced.

***

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) appears to be the main Republican running interference for the adminstration, with a boatload of excuses as to why interviews should be on the back burner.

He said Senators should first wait for the Senate Intelligence Committee to complete its much-delayed report on prewar intelligence. And Feith? Roberts doesn't want to investigate him until the Department of Defense inspector general has finished a review.

It's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem, according to The Hill, because Democrats want the interviews to factor into the report.

But there may be a more basic reason for Roberts' protests: "Republican strategists fear the prospect of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz trying to justify statements they made about the Iraqi threat using hazy intelligence," the newspaper reports.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.

The entire $3 million cost of Darwin, which opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on Nov. 19, is instead being borne by wealthy individuals and private charitable donations.

The failure of American companies to back what until recently would have been considered a mainstream educational exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George W. Bush's most vocal supporters, over all walks of life in the United States.

"It is a disgrace that large companies should shy away from such an important scientific exhibition," said a trustee of another prominent museum in the city.

-- London Daily Telegraph, Nov. 20

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Iraqis Call for U.S. Troop Withdrawal, Mimicking Language Bush Used in January

Paging the spin team! Paging the Iraq War spin team!

On Monday, Iraqi political leaders called on the U.S. to set a timetable for withdrawal from the country.

What a quandary. When the Democrats ask for a timetable, conservatives know what to say: offer the empty spin that no one supports a "cut and run" policy. It doesn't really matter if the Democrat is Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), asking for a quick withdrawal now, or John Kerry (D-MA) who last year called for a gradual withdrawal -- predicated on increased international responsibility and increased training of Iraqi security. The Bush Administration and their conservative friends know to call it "cut and run," as if spin will somehow help the troops, end the insurgency, or bring Iraqi self-sufficiency.

But the Iraqis are not the Democrats. So what should the Bush Administration or its conservative friends do after Iraqi leaders -- Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis -- called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country, mimicking language used by President Bush in an interview earlier this year with the New York Times.

That's a lot harder to spin.

***

In January, Bush told the Times that if asked by the new Iraqi leadership, U.S. forces would leave the country. To be fair, Bush told the correspondents -- including Bush partisan Elisabeth Bumiller -- that he expected Iraq's first democratically elected leaders would want the troops to remain.

"(I)t seems like most of the leadership there understands that there will be a need for coalition troops at least until Iraqis are able to fight," he said.

Now, the Iraqi leaders, including interim Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, are calling for a withdrawal timetable, predicated on a trained Iraqi security force able to defend the country's borders and end terror attacks. Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr suggested U.S.-led forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year.

When the Democrats called for withdrawal, predicated on Iraqi self-sufficiency, conservatives labeled it "cut and run." Now the Iraqis are making the same suggestion.

What will the spinmeisters do?

So far, it's hard to find anyone in the Bush Administration commenting on the Iraqi statement. But one friend of the administration was quick to comment. Ahmed Chalabi, Iraq's deputy prime minister and key source of flawed pre-war "intelligence," said the Iraqi withdrawal request "does not reflect the wishes of the Iraqi people."

Of course, the same has been said of Chalabi.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Denver Residents, Alleging First Amendment Rights Were Violated, Sue White House Event Planners

Denver residents Leslie Weise and Alex Young allege in a lawsuit filed this week that their First Amendment rights were violated when they were removed from a March 21 "town hall meeting" with President Bush, because of a bumper sticker on their car.

It's the latest battle over First Amendment rights. The question, argued in several different cases around the country, is simply: Do Americans have the right to dissent? Do Americans have the right to attend political events if there's a chance they will dissent?

First Amendment issues have popped up around the country over the past year. A Wisconsin man was arrested last year for holding up a sign as a presidential motorcade drove by. A married couple was removed from a Bush event last summer in West Virginia after revealing anti-Bush T-shirts. A Utah man was visited last fall by the Secret Service for an anti-Bush bumper sticker on his car.

This spring, the Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps, one depicting Bush with a gun pointed at his head. And just last month, a Washington State woman was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt.

It makes me think of a speech given by Michael Douglas' character, President Andrew Shepherd, at the end of the 1995 film, The American President:

DOUGLAS: America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

I doubt that movie gets played much at the current White House. This is, after all, an administration that stages events -- like the Orwellian-named "town hall meetings" -- with pre-screened audiences signing loyalty oaths.

***

The Colorado suit was filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union against White House event staffers Michael Casper and Jay Klinkerman. It accuses Casper and Klinkerman of detaining Weise and Young and ejecting them from the event at the direction of federal officials.

After the event, the Secret Service told Young and Weise they were ejected because of "No more blood for oil" bumper sticker on their car, the suit says.

Weiss and Young say they had tickets to the event discussing Social Security and had no intention of disrupting it.

"He's the president of all Americans. He should feel comfortable talking to all of us," Weise told the Denver Post.

Weise's words are simiilar to those offered by Jeff Rank, one half of the married couple arrested last July in West Virginia after revealing T-shirts at a Bush event with Bush's name crossed out on the front. The shirt worn by Jeff's wife, Nicole, had the words "Love America, Hate Bush" on the back and Jeff Rank's had "Regime change starts at home" on the back.

"What is at stake here transcends politics," Jeff Rank said. "What is at stake is the right of all Americans — Democrats, Republicans and Independents, all Americans — to peacefully voice their dissent to their government."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Rumsfeld Forgets Administration Talking Points During Odd Interview About Iraq and Terrorism

It was as if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had forgotten his talking points.

Speaking on ABC's This Week, had a very strange response to last week's call from Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to withdraw all U.S. troops within six months.

Rumsfeld told host George Stephanopoulos yesterday that talk of withdrawal tells insurgents that "if they wait, they prevail, and they'll be able to turn that country into a haven for terrorism."

The argument doesn't make any sense.

"They'll" is short for "they will." It's the future tense. So, one could reasonably argue that Rumsfeld's words could just as easily mean "they are not currently able to turn that country into a haven for terrorism."

Iraq is not currently a haven for terrorism? Has Rumsfeld not been paying attention ... to the official statements of the Bush Administration?

***

In yesterday's news, you have word -- although deemed "not credible" by the administration -- that a gunfight in the Iraqi city of Mosul took the life of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The U.S. has a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi's head. Why? Because it believes he's a terrorist. From where is he launching his terrorist attacks? The administration says Iraq.

But even when al-Zarqawi is not mentioned, the administration has -- at least since it couldn't find weapons of mass destruction -- made Iraqi terrorism a central argument for why we're fighting in Iraq.

For example, President Bush said this in his prime-time June 28 speech to the nation:

BUSH: Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate.

Seems pretty straightforward. But that was one of the few straightforward sentences Bush delivered that night. Maybe Rumsfeld was confused as Bush discussed terrorists and "their objectives," as if Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency thought as one. Maybe he got lost as he heard the president use the mysterious "they" or "them" 39 times to describe the blended "terrorists."

***

Still, the administration talking point about terrorism in Iraq goes back to when the administration outlined its pre-war "intelligence" on Iraq.

You may remember Bush's infamous speech in Cincinnati, in October, 2002. That was the speech in which Bush first used claims made by captured Al Qaeda commander Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- eight months after the Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a report stating that it was "likely" that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading” his debriefers.

In that same speech, Bush said this about Iraq and terrorism:

BUSH: Over the years, Iraq has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror organization carried out more than ninety terrorist attacks in twenty countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans.

Of course, a lot of things in that speech turned out to be untrue. Maybe Rumsfeld didn't pay attention to the spin then. Maybe he's not paying attention to the spin now.

***

At another point in the interview with Stephanopoulos, Rumsfeld said, "I didn't advocate invasion."

This bit of revisionist history contradicts several other accounts. For example, CBS News, citing notes by Pentagon officials, reported that Rumsfeld told his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq hours after the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.

And CBS' version of history is supported by the former White House terrorism czar, Richard Clarke, who has said that days after the September 11 attacks, Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, despite questions over Iraq's links to Al-Qaeda.

In 2002, Newsweek reported Rumsfeld was "the most visible and certainly the most colorful frontman for attacking Iraq."

Are we to believe that in an administration that frowns upon dissenting views about Iraq -- look at what happened to Clarke, former chief weapons inspector David Kay or Army Chief of Staff Eric Shineski after they disagreed with the administration -- allowed its Defense Secretary to have a dissenting view about pre-emptive war against Iraq?

That's as preposterous as Rumsfeld's statement yesterday.

This is what happens when Karl Rove gets distracted -- people in the administration forget what the official talking points are ...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Check out this cartoon about the recent false testimony from our nation's top oil executives.

As JABBS wrote last week, "Getting caught lying is always embarrasing." Although not vulnerable to perjury charges, the oil executives could be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making ''any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.

Perhaps that's why advertising firm Edelman is working with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s primary lobbying group, on a spin campaign for the industry.

Reform Jewish Leader Blasts Religious Right's "Monopoly On God"

The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a "monopoly on God" while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, took his place alongside other "religious left" leaders, saying that "religious right" leaders preach that "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said to a receptive audience during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through today.

He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism -- Orthodox and Conservative are the others -- the Reform movement is the only one that supports civil marriage for same-gender couples.

"We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. "Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry."

***

Yoffie also urged lawmakers to model themselves on presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who famously told a Houston clergy group in 1960 that a president should not make policy based on his religion.

Contrast Yoffie's words about Kennedy with President Bush, who recently tried to win support for Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers on her evangelical Christian background.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stewart Throws Cheney's "Own Words" Back At Him

John Kerry (D-MA) was right when he responded to Vice President Dick Cheney's Nov. 16 attack against critics of the White House's handling of pre-war intelligence by saying “it is hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq” than Cheney.

Kerry may speak for the 57% of Americans who believe that Bush "deliberately misled" the nation when making the case for war. But it's easy for the conservative noise machine to marginalize Kerry -- perhaps by calling him French or making fun of his wife's riches.

Far more people, no doubt, will remember the brilliant commentary about Cheney's attack delivered last night by Jon Stewart and the writers at Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

Cheney, in his talk before the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a conservative policy group, said of White House critics: "We're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. ... We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them."

That bit of empty conservative spin was just too big a bullseye for The Daily Show writers.

Here's an unofficial transcript of what Stewart said:

STEWART: The Vice President, Dick Cheney, emerged from his bunker yesterday in a fighting mood.

CHENEY: The suggestion that's been made by some U.S. Senators, that the President of the United States or any member of this administration, purposely misled the American people in pre-war intelligence, is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

...

STEWART: So, if the president and the vice president didn't intentionally mislead us, then our intelligence apparatus failed entirely. I guess, Vice President Cheney, that's the saddest part of this whole thing.

CHENEY: The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods, day in and day out.

STEWART (imitating Cheney): I mean, do you know how hard it is for the troops to hear the president deny and criticize? I mean, it's one thing for the soldiers to be literally attacked --- bombs and bullets. But, to see us figuratively attacked -- words -- I mean, people, there's only so much they can ...

Bring it home, Brother Dick!

CHENEY: We're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. ... We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them."

STEWART: All right, so here we go, let's see who's made some of the most damaging untrue statements about the war:

(pulls giant lever, as giant slot machine images begin behind him)

CHENEY (August 22, 2002): There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

CHENEY (May 30, 2005): I think they are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

CHENEY (March 16, 2003): My belief is, we will in fact be greeted as liberators.

(On screen, in giant letters: "JACKA$$")

STEWART: We'll be right back ...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Congress Wants Cheney's Energy Industry Friends To Tell The Truth. They're Looking To Launch A Spin Campaign

When top oil executives appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month, committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) rejected calls that they they be sworn in and forced to testify under oath.

Funny thing about testifying free of any pledge of honesty. It gives people a clear conscience to lie.

And that's what the oil executives did.

During the oath-free testimony, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked: "Did your company or any representatives in your companies participate in Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force in 2001, the meetings?"

Here's how they answered:

''No," said ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

''No," said Chevron chairman David J. O'Reilly.

''We did not, no," said ConocoPhillips chairman James Mulva.

''To be honest, I don't know," said BP America chief executive Ross Pillari, who came to the job in August 2001. ''I wasn't here then."

''But your company was here," Lautenberg replied.

''Yes," Pillari said.

Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, who has held his job since earlier this year, answered last. ''Not to my knowledge," he said.

In truth, each of the companies had participated.

A White House document shows that the company executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force in 2001. The document, obtained this week by the Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co., and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex to develop a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

The task force's activities drew allegations by environmentalists, who said they were shut out of the task force discussions while corporate interests were present. The meetings were held in secret, and the White House would not release a list of participants. The task force was made up primarily of Cabinet-level officials.

***

Getting caught lying is always embarrasing.

It was around this time last year that the San Francisco Chronicle revealed leaked testimony from 2003 in which baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi admit to using steroids. That, after Bonds and Giambi, and many other ballplayers, repeatedly told the press that they didn't use steroids. Bonds and Giambi assumed their sealed testimony would never get leaked -- that what they said in court testimony would never cross paths with what they said publicly.

When Condoleeza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission last year, she faced tough questioning from Richard Ben-Veniste, specifically regarding the Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing.

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

But then the memo was released, and it became clear that Rice had misled the panel.

No doubt, that scenario took place with the oil executives last week. They gave their non-oath testimony on the energy task force, assuming that the truth would never come out.

***

Bonds and Giambi, as baseball fans know, survived their lie because it came before baseball adopted punishments for steroids use. And Rice? With the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, she was never punished.

The oil executives may not be as lucky.

Although not vulnerable to perjury charges, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making ''any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.

And now that the executives been caught in a lie, Senate Democrats are demanding that they "reappear before lawmakers and testify under oath." In a letter to Senate leadership, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wrote, "When the big oil companies came to Congress to testify about their record profits, we expected that they would tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Today, we learned that this was a standard they were not prepared to meet. This is unacceptable."

***

What a dilemma. It's bad enough that the oil companies made record profits this year. Or that they were beneficiaries of billions in corporate welfare in the recently passed energy bill. Now they have this lie to deal with.

What do corporations do when faced with facts that could leave a sour taste in consumers' mouths? Start a spin campaign.

According to a Nov. 11 story in PR Week, advertising firm Edelman is working with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s primary lobbying group, on a public issues campaign aimed at convincing Americans that the industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in record quarterly profits.

Blue Worldwide, Edelman's advertising unit, has created print advertisements for API that have run in major daily newspapers across the nation, as well as in Roll Call and The Hill.

But industry representatives, including the CEOs of major oil companies who testified at last week's Senate hearing, want to spin that exploration and production costs have swallowed up a significant chunk of those profits.

Others disagree with that spin.

“This is the mother of all booms,” Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit told MSNBC. “They have so much profit, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They don’t know what to do with it."

The reason for the boom is simple. Much of the investment in finding that oil -- and developing the wells and pipelines needed to produce it -- has already been made. So an oil field that was profitable with oil selling for $20 a barrel is much more profitable with oil trading around $60.

Meanwhile, the price of a gallon of gas remains well over $2/gallon -- an uncomfortable number for Americans, and significantly higher than what gas cost before all those task force meetings.

This better be one heck of a spin campaign.

The Alternate Universe of Conservatives

"(Bush) must, as Nixon did with Vietnam and Reagan did with the Cold War, confront the adversaries directly ... without mincing words."

-- Ken Khachigian, former Nixon aide and Reagan speechwriter, Nov. 16


***

This is how the conservative mind works. Forget facts! Embrace spin! Confuse Americans!

Somewhere, Gus Hall is smiling. (And for different reasons, probably Karl Rove, too.)

Taken literally, Khachigian compares critics of the administration -- and let's remember, 57% of Americans believe that Bush "deliberately misled" the nation when making the case for war -- are akin to the communists of North Vietnam or the old Soviet Union.

Wow. What an insult to more than half of the country's intelligence. I wonder how quickly Khachigian can find work in the Bush Administration. With the Plame-gate investigation still under way, there may be some key openings upcoming.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hagel Says Bush Administration "Dividing The Country" With Latest Spin

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) strongly criticized the White House's new line of attack against critics of its Iraq policy, saying that "the Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them."

Some conservatives offer Hagel as some sort of liberal pariah -- Kenneth Tomlinson's crack research team, for example. But that's just empty spin. Others suggest Hagel doesn't represent Republican views, and therefore should be ignored. The response to that empty spin? Does anyone remember how the Republicans fawned over Zell Miller last year?

"To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," Hagel said in a speech yesterday to the Council of Foreign Relations. Arguing that 58,000 troops died in Vietnam because of silence by political leaders, he said that "America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices."

Hagel said Democrats have an obligation to be constructive in their criticism, but he accused the administration of "dividing the country" with its rhetorical tactics.

Hagel's comments came just days after President Bush's Veterans Day speech, when he angrily pointed fingers at "some Democrats and anti-war critics" for trying to rewrite the history of the Iraq War. Others in the administration, such as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have since parroted this talking point.

Some suggest Hagel is being vocal because he is planning a 2008 run for the presidency. But more likely he is one of a growing number of people -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- who have grown tired of the administration's "rhetorical tactics," and now believe that Bush "deliberately misled" the nation when making the case for war.

My guess is that other Republicans will follow suit.

Bush Claims Critics Are Rewriting History. Let's Play A Game Of What If ...

President Bush, in his Veterans Day speech at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, angrily pointed fingers at "some Democrats and anti-war critics" for trying to rewrite the history of the Iraq War.

This is the same president whose administration has given countless reasons for why we needed this war, and whose administration has been wrong nearly every step of the way.

Let's review, with a little game of "What if" ...

What if the White House had listened to a host of opinions, such as U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei, that there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction?

The White House didn't, and it ultimately was proven wrong.

What if the White House had paid attention to caveats in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, instead of making urgent claims about Iraq's WMD -- claims not backed up by the NIE. Or a Defense Intelligence Agency report from 2002 saying that most of Iraq's chemical weapons had been destroyed before 1998. Or a CIA report from early 2003 that the intelligence community has no “direct evidence” that Iraq has succeeded in reconstituting its biological, chemical, nuclear or long-range missile programs in the two years since U.N. weapons inspectors left and U.S. planes bombed Iraqi facilities.

The White House didn't, and it ultimately was proven wrong.

***

Once the decision was made to go to Iraq, what if the White House had respected the opinion of the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shineski, who in March 2003 offered that an occupying force might involve several hundred thousand U.S. troops.

Instead, it respected the opinion of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who said Shineski's estimate was "way off the mark," because other countries would take part in an occupying force. Wolfowitz proved to be wrong.

***

Upon toppling Saddam Hussein's government, what if the U.S. military had immediately guarded Al-Qaqaa weapons depot, where 377 tons of explosives were looted?

Instead, the U.S. military made a concerted effort to protect the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

Is it fair to say that these two events simultaneously armed the insurgency, and left the last impression that the reason for the war was not Iraqi WMD or even Iraqi democracy, but instead Iraqi oil?

***

Once the looting had begun in Iraq, what if the U.S.-led forces had listened to the first head of what would eventually be known as the Coalition Provisional Authority, Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who championed using the Iraqi military to reconstruct Iraq -- akin to a "Works Project Administration," as he told UPI. "We really need to have a massive effort to employ the youth of Iraq," he said.

Instead, the U.S. retired Garner, and replaced him with L. Paul Bremer, who dissolved Iraq's 400,000-strong army soon after American forces overthrew Saddam's regime in April 2003.

The decision is now seen as a mistake because it drove many disaffected officers into the ranks of the insurgency, fearing they had no future in the new Iraq.

It did, however, allow for a host of companies, such as Halliburton, to swoop in and grab multi-billion no-bid contracts to reconstruct the country.

***

This is not "rewriting" history. It's simply documenting all the times -- in "real time," and there are plenty of others -- that the Bush Administration failed to listen to anyone but themselves.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

FEMA Hasn't Honored Pledge To Re-Bid Katrina Contracts

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has failed to honor a pledge made last month to reopen four of its biggest no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work.

The no-bid contracts for temporary housing, worth up to $100 million each, were given to Shaw Group, Bechtel, CH2M Hill, and Fluor right after Katrina struck.

On Oct. 6, acting FEMA chief R. David Paulison declared he was "no fan of no-bid contracts" and pledged to reopen the four deals. But in testimony to Congress on Tuesday, Greg Rothwell, Homeland Security's chief procurement officer, said rebidding will not be done until February.

But the four firms told the Washington Post that they had not been notified of the rebidding other than from news reports following Paulison's announcement. And remarkably, CH2M Hill and Fluor told the Post that their contracts could end in January.

In other words, the "rebidding" is not scheduled to take place until after two of the contracts may be complete.

***

How are no-bid contracts examples of wasteful spending? Consider the much criticized case of Akima Management Services. The politically connected Akima received a no-bid $39.6 million contract to provide temporary classrooms across Mississippi. The classrooms cost FEMA nearly $90,000 each. That is double the wholesale price and nearly 60 percent higher than the price offered by a local company that has a long resume selling modular classrooms.

What makes the situation worse is that the classrooms Akima provided were not secured to concrete foundations, violating a state regulation. The classroom contract has already prompted a lawsuit and a government investigation, the New York Times reports.

"The fact that natural disasters are not precisely predictable must not be an excuse for careless contracting practices," David E. Cooper from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, told Congress last week. Discussing the Akima contract, Cooper said, "We found information in the corps' contract files and from other sources that suggest the negotiated prices were inflated."

Why did Akima get the job over the local player, Adams Hardware and Home Center? Politics.

Akima's majority owner is the NANA Regional Corp. It is represented in Washington by Blank Rome Government Relations, a lobbying firm with close ties to the Bush administration and particularly Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA's parent agency. Akima has 22 federal contracts, mostly with the military. It also has an agreement with the Army to supply modular buildings.

Adams Hardware doesn't have a lobbying firm with a huge retainer and ties to the Bush Administration. It did have a lower bid, though.

Monday, November 14, 2005

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming ...

JABBS took 379 days to reach 80,000 hits. Today, just 88 days later, JABBS has reached 160,000 hits.

Thanks to AlterNet Blogs, Blogcritics, Buzzflash, Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos, Democratic Underground, Huffington Post, Juan Cole and World O'Crap, among others, for highlighting JABBS posts and-or adding JABBS to their blog rolls -- all helping to introduce readers to this blog.

And thanks to our readers and lively commenters. You've all helped put JABBS on the map.

***

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

According to Sitemeter, which has tracked JABBS' hit count almost from the beginning, the site receives solid readership from red states -- most notably Texas and Florida. JABBS also receives hits from house.gov and senate.gov suffixes.

And on most days, JABBS is read by troops stationed in Iraq.

Again, thanks to all for their continued support.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

In his Veterans Day speech, President Bush claimed that members of Congress who voted for the 2002 Iraq war resolution "had access to the same intelligence" as his administration. This is false.

As the Washington Post pointed out Saturday, "Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material."

For instance, in the lead up to war, the Bush administration argued that Iraq had made several attempts to "buy high-strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." The White House sent 15 intelligence assessments to Congress supporting this notion, but according to the New York Times, "not one of them" informed readers that experts within the Energy Department believed the tubes could not be used to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program.

Even Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) -- who has led efforts to delay and downplay the need for investigating prewar intelligence -- confirmed this broader point yesterday.

Asked whether the differences between the intelligence available to the White House and to Congress was a "legitimate concern," Roberts acknowledged that it "may be a concern to some extent."


-- Center for American Progress, Nov. 14

Russert's Republican Talking Points (Er, Questions), Part II

TIM RUSSERT: I showed you the 16 issues (from a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll) where people agreed with the Democrats. There are still a couple where people overwhelmingly think the Republicans are the better party. Here's two: Strong national defense -- look at those numbers: 43 Republican, 22 Democrats. War on terror, 35-26. The Democrats are perceived as the weaker party on those kinds of issues. And that's why they voted for the war when it was popular, it's being suggested. And now, when the war is not popular, they're trying to back off their position.

HOWARD DEAN: We need to make sure that we can -- look, I know what those numbers are, and I think that's a big problem for the Democrats. We need to -- we need to make the American people understand that we are strong on defense, and that the strength of our position on defense is not just that we'll support a robust and muscular foreign policy. It's that we'll tell the truth. Telling the truth has a lot to do with defending America.

***

Do Americans "overwhelmingly" side with Republicans on "strong national defense" and "war on terror?" Of course not. In fact, in both cases, the majority of Americans don't think the Republicans are the best choice.

Republicans received 43% for strong national defense and 35% for fighting the war on terror. Those aren't majorities.

Furthermore, the percentages for Republicans and Democrats aren't close to 100%. Let's add in the remainder in both cases:

-- Strong National Defense. Republicans 43%. Both/Neither 35%, Democrats 22%.

-- War on Terror. Republicans 35%. Both/Neither 39%. Democrats 26%.

Hardly "overwhelming."

Yes, Democrats have to win the spin war in these two categories. But at the same time, Russert -- perhaps looking for something to challenge Dean with, given that Democrats were favored in 16 of 19 categories in the poll -- is clearly portraying the numbers with a Republican slant from the Luntzian school of objectivity.

***

Dean, unfortunately, did not make this case, and as a result he appears to agree that Democrats are weak on defense and terrorism.

How might he have answered?

HOWARD DEAN: Tim, I think its equally important to note that a majority of American's don't think the Republicans are strong on either issue. And let's remember that for the past five years, the Republicans have been framing this debate. They've controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, and as a result they've controlled the agenda on these two very important issues. And their "my way or the highway" approach means that when a Democrat has said, "this is wrong," or "we should try a different approach" -- on issues such as going to Iraq, providing our troops with appropriate protective gear, having enough troops on the ground, working with our allies to build a true coalition, or providing full benefits to veterans --Republicans are misleading the American people when they say Democrats are soft, or worse, they are lying about our patriotism or our support of the troops.

We need to -- we need to make the American people understand that we are strong on defense, and that the strength of our position on defense is not just that we'll support a robust and muscular foreign policy. It's that we'll tell the truth. Telling the truth has a lot to do with defending America.

Another Day, Another Chance For Santorum To Distance Himself From Bush

In his latest step to distance himself from the Bush Administration, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said Saturday that he doesn't believe "intelligent design" belongs in the science classroom.

Speaking at Geneva College in Pennsylvania, Santorum said that while intelligent design -- the faith-driven belief that a higher power, rather than evolution, best explains the complexity of life on Earth -- is a "legitimate issue," that "science leads you where it leads you."

It's a shift from a position Santorum took several years ago, when, in a Washington Times editorial, he wrote that intelligent design is a "legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom."

***

As JABBS noted just a few days ago, Santorum this fall made a noticeable effort to distance himself from President Bush, including on Friday, when he was too busy to attend Bush's Veterans Day speech in Tobyhanna, Pa. Instead, Santorum said the war has been "less than optimal" and "maybe some blame could be laid" at the White House.

Santorum, a Senate leader in helping pass Bush's first-term agenda, has made his move as Bush's popularity tanks to new lows. Meanwhile, Santorum continues to trail Democrat Bob Casey Jr. by a wide margin in his run for re-election next year.

But with "intelligent design," Santorum may be reacting to something else.

A federal trial just wrapped up in which eight families sued Dover Area School District in eastern Pennsylvania. The district's school board members tried to introduce teaching intelligent design into the classroom, but the families said the policy violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

No ruling has been issued on the trial, but Tuesday, all eight Dover School Board members up for re-election were ousted by voters.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dean Handles Russert's Republican Talking Point (Er, Question)

TIM RUSSERT: Are the Democrats now trying to embrace Christ, embrace moral values, because they see themselves on the wrong side of that issue?

HOWARD DEAN: Well, first of all, there's a fair number of Jewish Democrats who I don't think are going to embrace Christ. But I think we all embrace the teachings of morality and of embracing people and of tolerance and of inclusion. ... I don't think that people who are not comfortable speaking about their faith should speak about their faith.

But I think we all should speak about our values. I think one of the mistakes we've made is to not understand that most Americans believe that moral values include making sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. The Republicans are cutting the school lunch program. We want to make sure that everybody in America has health insurance. That's a moral value. The Republicans are kicking people off their health care. ... So there is a -- we win when we debate about moral values. We ought to talk about our values.

-- NBC's Meet The Press, Nov. 13

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bush's Veterans Day Speech: Spin and Straw Men

No one should have been surprised by President Bush's Veterans Day speech in Pennsylvania.

As JABBS wrote yesterday, new questions are being raised about whether Bush, Vice President Cheney and others in the White House inner circle made pre-war claims based on information provided by regarding Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured Al Qaeda commander -- information that the CIA and DIA said lacked credibility. This latest revelation backs up earlier news articles that suggest Bush, Cheney and others had made pre-war claims not supported by the National Intelligence Estimate.

It was clear that the White House would "hit back," as anonymous White House aides told CNN on Tuesday. Bush's speech, and the conservative noise machine that followed on various cable "news" channels, served that purpose.

But, in responding to the recent news, the president offered spin and straw men.

Bush, in his speech in Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania., first indicated that he supported free speech:

BUSH: One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war.

But then he qualified that:

BUSH: While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.

And then he provided the straw man:

BUSH: As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory.

It's a crafty piece of speechwriting. The information revealed over the past few days says that the White House inner circle had information in 2002 that was ignored or misrepresented in making the case for war to Congress and the American people. While it supports information revealed nearly two years ago, the newest information, regarding claims made by al-Libi, was only recently made available to the press and the American people in the last few days. But in spite of this, Bush makes the false charge that Democrats are trying to "rewrite" history.

Then, to drive his point home about the devil he knows as the Democrats, he starts questioning his critics' patriotism, suggesting that criticizing White House actions is akin to not supporting the troops. It's a classic example of empty conservative spin. Joseph McCarthy would have been proud.

***

The president's comments yesterday were criticized by Republicans as well as Democrats, which counters the president's spin that he is only being attacked by "Democrats and anti-war critics."

In a speech in Philadelphia, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), criticized how the war has been presented to Americans. Santorum, who has been distancing himself from Bush of late, the White House. Afterward, Santorum said the war has been "less than optimal" and "maybe some blame could be laid" at the White House. "Certainly, mistakes were made," Santorum said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said he agrees with Democrats who are pressing the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to move forward with an investigation into whether the administration manipulated intelligence.

"I was probably the main driver on the Republican side because I thought we needed the answers to whether intelligence was misused, intentionally or unintentionally," Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald.

***

White House officials fanned out to television appearances to reinforce Bush's argument and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman added his voice. He said Democrats who once worried that Saddam was amassing weapons of mass destruction now want an investigation of the intelligence. "Maybe this investigation will reveal that they were brainwashed," Mehlman said in a speech to be delivered Friday evening in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Maybe Mehlman is correct. Maybe the Democrats were given false information by the White House, not the "same information" as the White House, as conservatives claim. Maybe we should stop buying into the spin -- the administration brainwashing -- and actually rely on facts.

As The New Republic reported in 2003: "Senators were outraged to find that intelligence info given to them omitted the qualifications and countervailing evidence that had characterized the classified version and played up the claims that strengthened the administration's case for war."

***

A final note: In reporting the president's charges against "Democrats and anti-war critics," Fox News, CNN and MSNBC each rolled tape of the president, but failed to offer anything resembling equal time for a Democratic rebuttal. And of course, none of the networks offered the rebuttals from Santorum or Hagel.

Fair and balanced? Only for those administration brainwashers ...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Conservatives Want To Spread Blame On Pre-War "Intelligence" Failures. Don't Believe The Spin

When conservatives are asked about the "intelligence" used by the Bush Administration to convince Congress and the American people of the urgent need to fight the Iraq War, the response is almost always spin.

Blame George Tenet (and mention that he was a Clinton appointee). Point out that "everyone" thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Claim that Congressional Democrats were given "the same information" as the Bush Administration. Argue that there's been "no proof" that the Bush Administration manipulated or cherry-picked information in stating its case for a pre-emptive strike.

It's all a bunch of hooey. Wild flailing of arms and a wilder array of claims, all designed to throw blame on anyone but the administration's inner circle.

***

The subject of what the administration knew and when it knew it came up again a few days ago with revelations regarding Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured Al Qaeda commander whose claims about poison-gas training for the Qaeda group by Saddam’s government formed the basis for some of the most dramatic arguments used by senior administration officials in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Is it possible that the administration knew, as early as February 2002, that al-libi was a liar?

At that time, a four-page DIA Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary stated it was “likely” al-Libi was “intentionally misleading” his debriefers and might be describing scenarios “that he knows will retain their interest.” The report was circulated at the time throughout the U.S. intelligence community and that a copy would have been sent to the National Security Council.

President Bush first referred to al-Libi's claims in his Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati where he strongly emphasized Saddam’s ties to international terror groups in general and Al Qaeda in particular. “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” Bush said.

The claim about poison-gas training resurfaced four months later in greatly expanded form during a particularly dramatic portion of then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the UN Security Council that refers exclusively to al-Libi — although he is not actually identified by name.

But according to the newly declassified documents, the credibility of those statements by Bush and Powell were already in doubt within the U.S. intelligence community. While the DIA was the first to raise red flags in its February 2002 report, the CIA itself in January 2003 produced an updated version of a classified internal report called “Iraqi Support for Terrorism.” The previous version of this CIA report in September 2002 had simply included al-Libi’s claims, according to the newly declassified agency document. But the updated January 2003 version, while including al-Libi’s claims that Al Qaeda sent operatives to Iraq to acquire chemical and biological weapons and training, added an important new caveat: It “noted that the detainee was not in a position to know if any training had taken place,” according to the copy of the document obtained by Newsweek.

As Newsweek first reported last July, al-Libi has since recanted those claims. The CIA “'recalled and reissued' all its intelligence reporting about al-Libi’s “recanted” claims about chemical and biological warfare training by Saddam’s regime in February 2004 — an important retreat on pre-Iraq war intelligence that has never been publicly acknowledged by the White House," the magazine reports.

***

This is not the first time that Americans have learned that the administration made urgent claims about the need to go to war -- claims not backed up by the National Intelligence Estimate.

As the Washington Post pointed out nearly two years ago, President Bush and Vice President Cheney on several occasions made what were later learned to be questionable claims in 2002:

-- On Sept. 24, 2002, at the White House, Bush referred to a British government report that Iraq could launch "a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order" is given -- and went on to say, "Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX -- nerve gas -- or someday a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally."

But in repeating the British claim that Iraq's chemical weapons could be activated within 45 minutes, he ignored the fact that U.S. intelligence mistrusted the source and that the claim never appeared in the October 2002 U.S. estimate.

-- On Aug. 26, 2002, Cheney said: "Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon." The estimate, several weeks later, would say it would take as many as five years, unless Baghdad immediately obtained weapons-grade materials.

In the same speech, Cheney raised the specter that Hussein would give chemical or biological weapons to terrorists, a prospect invoked often in the weeks to come. "Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitute as grave a threat as can be imagined," Cheney said.

It would be more than a month later that a declassified portion of the NIE would show that U.S. intelligence analysts had forecast that Hussein would give such weapons to terrorists only if Iraq were invaded and Hussein faced annihilation. "The probability of him initiating an attack . . . in the foreseeable future . . . I think would be low," a senior CIA official told the Senate intelligence committee during a classified briefing on the estimate on Oct. 2, 2002.

-- On Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney said of Hussein on NBC's Meet the Press: "We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon." Cheney was referring to the aluminum tubes that some analysts believed could be used for a centrifuge to help make nuclear materials; others believed they were for an antiaircraft rocket. Such absolute certainty, however, did not appear in the estimate.

-- The October 2002 estimate said: "We had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agents, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal."

But Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union, said : "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them. U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents."

***

Which brings us to the spin. CNN reported on Nov. 8 that White House aides, speaking anonymously, said they hoped to increase what they called their "hit back" in coming days. One main theme: to say that Democrats had access to the same information as the Bush Administration.

This bit of spin has been ongoing for almost as long as it's been known that there were no substantial ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that our inspectors could not find evidence of WMD.

For example, Fox News Channel's chief Washington correspondent, Jim Angle, reported as fact on Nov. 2 that the Democrats saw "the same intelligence reports" as the administration.

ANGLE: Democrats charge administration officials exaggerated the intelligence in order to sell the war, but in late 2002, Democrats, using the same intelligence reports, issued statements almost indistinguishable from the president's.

A Nov. 3 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed, "The scandal here isn't what happened before the war. The scandal is that the same Democrats who saw the same intelligence that Mr. Bush saw, who drew the same conclusions, and who voted to go to war are now using the difficulties we've encountered in that conflict as an excuse to rewrite history."

But this claim is bogus.

As The New Republic reported in 2003: "Senators were outraged to find that intelligence info given to them omitted the qualifications and countervailing evidence that had characterized the classified version and played up the claims that strengthened the administration's case for war."

According to Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), many House members were only convinced to support the war after the Administration "showed them a photograph of a small, unmanned airplane spraying a liquid in what appeared to be a test for delivering chemical and biological agents." The magazine reports that the U.S. Air Force told the Administration it "sharply disputed the notion that Iraq's UAVs were being designed as attack weapons." But Congress didn't know the USAF opinion at the time it voted.

And what about the spin that "everyone" thought that Iraq had WMD? Not true.

The Washington Post reported in 2003 that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations each repeatedly told the Administration it had no evidence that Iraq possessed WMD.

For example, in March 2003, the Associated Press reported that "U.N. weapons inspectors have not found any 'smoking guns' in Iraq during their search for weapons WMD." AP also reported, "U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said his teams have not uncovered any WMD." A month earlier, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said nuclear experts have found "no indication" that Iraq has tried to import high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge enrichment of uranium.

***

Who's at fault when it comes to pre-war "intelligence?"

Conservative pundits and administration spokespeople will spend a lot of time over the next few weeks flailing their arms and pointing fingers at anyone they can. Better to confuse the American people with empty conservative spin that face simple facts. Because there are plenty of facts that suggest that the White House inner circle played games with the "intelligence" at the time, in order to scare Congress and the American people into supporting this war.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Santorum Continues Distancing Himself From Bush

President Bush will appear at a Veterans Day event in Pennsylvania on Friday, minus Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).

It's hard to believe that Santorum -- a lackey who has spent four-plus years pushing the Bush agenda -- is steering clear of the president. But this is not an isolated instance.

"If President Bush was popular, Rick Santorum would be standing right up next to him," said Jay Reiff, campaign manager for Santorum's likely Democratic opponent, Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed Santorum 18 points behind Casey.

As JABBS has been reporting since August, the more Santorum trails Casey in the polls, the more times he tries to suggest that he is not joined at the hip with an increasingly unpopular president.

In August, Santorum said he has raised various questions about the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq War -- although his own staff couldn't find any examples to back up the claim. In September, Santorum took issue with how Bush had tried to rally Americans behind his Social Security privatization plan.

Then last month, Santorum didn't endorse Harriet Miers, Bush's first nominee for the Supreme Court, and criticized Bush's defense of Miers, which essentially consisted of advertising her faith.

Now, Santorum won't make time in his Veterans Day schedule to be seen with Bush.

It's a far cry from in June, when Bush raised $1.5 million for Santorum at a Pennsylvania fund-raiser.

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.

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

More evidence that the Democratic Party's victories nationwide yesterday may mean something.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted from Nov. 4 to Nov. 7 and released yesterday, found that President Bush's approval rating stands at an all-time low of 38 percent. Approval for his handling of the economy (34 percent), foreign policy (35 percent), terrorism (39 percent), and Iraq (32 percent) have all hit rock bottom.

On Iraq, 57% felt that Bush "deliberately misled" the nation when making the case for war, while just 33% of Americans consider Bush "honest and straightforward" in general.

The CIA leak investigation also seems to be dogging the Bush administration, as 79% said that the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, is a "serious matter." On top of that, 78% felt that more people were involved in a leak than just Libby.

***

Maybe the American people are finally seeing the big picture. Certainly, these numbers suggest that Bush supporters, as well as critics, are upset with the Bush Administration's leadership.

Will it last? Americans have notoriously short memories, and Democrats should not become complacent, given the strength and depth of the conservative spin machine.

But this is progress, and has to be considered "good news."

Arabic Language Network Backed By U.S. Under Investigation

Al-Hurra, the Arabic language satellite television network established last year by the Bush Administration to rival Al-Jazeera, is being investigated.

The State Department's Inspector General is overseeing one investigation, which will look into "possible irregularities" with procurement and contracting as well as "concerns that viewing figures might be inflated." The network claims to have 21 million viewers.

Separately, the House Committee on International Relations subcommittee on oversight and investigations is also looking into the Virginia-based network, which broadcasts to 22 countries. A hearing is scheduled for today.

Al-Hurra began televising in February 2004 and has a budget of $49 million for 2005.

If you're wondering why you haven't heard about this story, you're not alone. Other than the New York Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, no other major U.S. newspaper apparently followed up Financial Times, which broke the story. The story did, however, get play in far-off places like Australia and India.

***

The network is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency in charge of all U.S. government international broadcasting services. Kenneth Tomlinson -- BBG chair and until very recently a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- and Al-Hurra news director Mouafac Harb will be called as witnesses for the hearing, according to Financial Times.

Tomlinson is apparently the key figure. He was ousted by the CPB on Nov. 3 after its inspector general concluded an investigation that suggested Tomlinson used federal money for personal purposes, used Broadcasting Board money for corporation activities, used board employees to do corporation work and hired ghost employees or improperly qualified employees.

The State Department inspector general opened an inquiry in July after Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) forwarded accusations of misuse of money from Broadcasting Board employees.

In recent weeks, State Department investigators have seized records and e-mail from the Broadcasting Board, officials said. They have shared some material with the inspector general at the corporation, including e-mail traffic between Tomlinson and senior White House officials, including presidential adviser Karl Rove.

On Nov. 3, Tomlinson was forced to step down from the CPB after its board was briefed about the conclusions by its inspector general.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

On a night of victories nationwide for Democrats, there were a few "dark spots."

In Ohio, voters rejected a set of measures meant to reform the state's scandal-plagued political system.

"An ambitious effort by opponents and widespread confusion over the complex issues combined to defeat the entire package," the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

Meanwhile, although the Kansas Board of Education voted yesterday to back "intelligent design," there was a silver lining. In Dover, Pa., eight out of eight incumbent school board members lost their bids for re-election to members of the pro-science Dover CARES campaign, who argued that the inclusion of "intelligent design" materials in science classes should be based on scientific, not political or ideological, merits.

-- Center for American Progress, Nov. 9

Election News On Election Night? Not On The Various Cable "News" Channels

At 1 a.m. Eastern time last night, I made the mistake of flipping through television news channels, in an attempt to find out about election results around the country.

I soon became very frustrated.

Fox News Channel offered a repeat of Your World With Neil Cavuto, with the top story "We Are Winning War on Terror!" A reporter parroted a recent Bush Administration talking point that it had thwarted 10 potential terrorist attacks -- a month-old claim that many have criticized as misleading.

On CNN, Larry King's interview with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen, stars of the new movie, "Derailed," was just ending. Instead of the recently dismissed Aaron Brown's nightly news program, on came Anderson Cooper 360, which had a riveting, timely top story -- about how divorce affects families.

On MSNBC, I found a repeat of Rita Cosby's Live and Direct, which led with an effort, including the parents of Natalee Holloway, to have vacationers boycott Aruba.

CNBC had a repeat of The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch. CNN Headline News aired a repeat of Nancy Grace.

The best I could do was a local cable station, News 12, which had results for my home state of New Jersey, but didn't mention the rest of the country.

***

This is what cable news has become. If you want to watch a news wrap-up, you have to stay home during the daytime. In the quest for ratings, "news" networks have established night-time lineups dominated by opinion.

With the demise of Aaron Brown's show, the closest thing to news now is MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann, during which Olbermann often interjects liberal viewpoints as he discusses a handful of top stories. Otherwise, uninformed viewers won't be assisted by most nightly cable news shows.

That's not only frustrating ... it's dangerous. Why? An uninformed society is far more likely to accept spin as fact.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Democrats Retain NJ, Virginia Governorships, As Voters Reject Rove-Inspired Republican Spin

It was a good night for Democrats, and a bad night for Karl Rove-inspired Republican spin.

In New Jersey, a blue state in recent years, Democrat Jon Corzine defeated Republican Doug Forrester.

While that victory was expected, the same could not be said for Virginia, where Democrat Tim Kaine defeated Republican Jerry Kilgore. Kaine, the Lieutenant Governor, replaces Democrat Mark Warner, who some see as a viable presidential candidate in 2008. (State rules prevented Warner, who had 70% approval ratings, from seeking another term.)

It's too soon to tell whether the results of the two races are a precursor for next year's mid-term elections, when Democrats face an uphill climb to regain control of either the House or Senate. But the results do hint that voters may be growing tired of the empty Karl Rove-style spin that helped George Bush defeat John Kerry last November.

***

In New Jersey, Forrester ran television advertisements saying that Corzine, currently a U.S. Senator, had "voted to raise taxes 133 times." Factcheck.org called the advertisement "misleading."

But unlike last fall, when President Bush ran advertisements accusing John Kerry of casting 350 votes for "higher taxes," Corzine did something that Kerry did not: He fought back.

Rather than allow himself to be couched by the empty conservative talking point that he was a "tax and spend liberal," Corzine told voters that Forrester raised property taxes while serving as a mayor and councilman in West Windsor, N.J. A separate advertisement clarified that Forrester's so-called "independent" sources of information for his 133 votes for higher taxes claim -- the Weekly Standard magazine and the National Taxpayers Union -- were clearly conservative entities. He ran another advertisement, just days before the election, saying Forrester was using the "smear tactics" of President Bush and senior White House advisor Karl Rove, because he didn't have a positive record to run on.

Now that's fighting back.

Forrester's negative and misleading advertisements initially closed the gap between himself and the better-known Corzine. Forrester was also helped by a couple of gaffes by Corzine in a debate last weekend. But when the final votes are tallied, Corzine should win by a comfortable margin.

***

In Virginia, the race between Kaine and Kilgore, the former state attorney general, was seen as neck-and-neck heading into the final days.

As President Bush's popularity ratings sunk to new lows , Kilgore knew enough to run on his own merit -- that is to run away from the Bush administration.

As the New York Times wrote today: "Mr. Kilgore has not identified himself closely with Mr. Bush, even skipping the president's recent speech in Norfolk on terrorism."

Bush did make an appearance with Kilgore yesterday, in the heavily Republican Richmond area.

"If you want to keep your taxes low and your economy growing, there's only one person in the race that will do that and that's Jerry Kilgore," Bush spun in a rare joint appearance with Kilgore.

Kaine's advisers told the Times that they were encouraged by Bush's 11th-hour appearance with Kilgore, saying they thought it "could energize as many core Democrats as loyal Republicans."

Still, Kilgore wasn't completely immune from over-the-top negative advertising. In one ad, a grieving father criticized Kaine for voluntarily representing death row inmates in their appeals and said Kaine believed even Adolf Hitler was not a candidate for execution.

A Washington Post poll conducted last week found that two of three Virginia voters said the ads were "unfair," including nearly 75 percent of the self-described independents that both campaigns covet. Even 60 percent of those who favor the death penalty said the ads crossed the line.

Who created such an ad? Republican media consultant Scott Howell, a Rove protege who has worked for President Bush.

Kaine, like Corzine, fought back with facts.

"My faith teaches life is sacred," Kaine, a Catholic, said in a response advertisement. "That's why I personally oppose the death penalty. But I take my oath of office seriously. And I'll enforce the death penalty. As governor, I'll carry out death sentences handed down by Virginia juries, because that's the law."

And as in New Jersey, Virginia voters apparently sided with facts, and rejected Republican spin.

***

Again, it's too soon to tell whether these two races -- in which Democrats held on to hotly contested governorships -- is any indicator for next November.

But in both cases, the empty conservative spin that worked for Bush in 2004 failed for Republican candidates in 2005. Why? Because voters heard a Democrat who quickly fought back with facts. That should be the lesson for 2006.

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