Thursday, December 29, 2005

Large Numbers Of Americans Remain Ignorant On Iraq, Al Qaeda And 9/11

Roughly half of U.S. adults are woefully misinformed on ties among Iraq, Al Qaeda, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new Harris Poll.

According to the poll, released today:

-- Only 46% said they knew the following statement to be not true: "Saddam Hussein helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001." Another 30% weren't sure, and 22% believed the statement to be true.

-- Only 42% said they knew the following statement to be not true: "Several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11 were Iraqis." Another 31% weren't sure, and 24% believed the statement to be true.

-- Only 33% said they knew the following statement to be not true: "Saddam Hussein had strong links with Al Qaeda." Another 24% were not sure, and an amazing 41% believed the statement to be true.

In other words, on three key questions regarding ties between Iraq, Al Qaeda and 9/11, a majority of Americans either are completely misinformed, or unsure of the truth -- and thus open to misinformation.

How can this be? The 10-member bipartisan 9/11 Commission last year found "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq collaborated with the al Qaeda terrorist network on any attacks against the U.S.

Specifically, the report says on page 66 that there was “no evidence” of any collaborative relationship between Saddam and 9/11 and no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with al Qaeda in “developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

And yet, people are misinformed, or unsure of the truth?

Let's start with the lengthy number of high-profile speeches from senior Bush Administration officials to make the case connecting Iraq, Al Qaeda and 9/11. Consider this, this, this, and this from 2002 and 2003.

But that's old hat. How can people still be so unclear of the issues, four years after the terrorist attacks and roughly 18 months after the 9/11 Commission's report?

I blame the mysterious "they."

As JABBS has written before, President Bush often talks about the mysterious "they" when talking about the "war on terror." He mixes and matches events involving Al Qaeda and those involving the Iraqi insurgency, blending them as "they" or "them," discussing "their objectives," as if Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency thought as one.

By doing so, Bush simultaneously justifies the Iraq War as part of the greater "war on terror," and (perhaps inadvertently) fuels the right-wing mythmakers who hope someday to find proof tying together Iraq, Al Qaeda and 9/11.

In a national address in June, for example, Bush said this:

BUSH: "Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home."

So, the "they" in Iraq are similar to the "they" that we know as Al Qaeda, in that they are willing to kill Americans. That's the rationale for the war -- or at least it is now. The original rationale was quite different, if you remember. Something about weapons of mass destruction that could be delivered to the U.S. or its allies in 45 minutes. Something about being satisfied with the evidence at hand, lest we wait for "the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

***

It may surprise you to think that there are some Americans continuing to make false claims of ties between Iraq, Al Qaeda and 9/11. But it's true. And there efforts only help to keep Americans in the dark.

According to a Dec. 28 story in the Wall Street Journal, the "media-savvy" and Orwellian-titled Move America Forward is advertising the ridiculous claim that newly discovered documents prove "extensive ties" between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Why haven't you heard about these documents from the media, or even the Bush Administration? According to Move America Forward, the discoveries are conveniently being "covered up."

There are people who believe the earth was created 5,000 years ago. There are people who believe that the Holocaust never happened. There are people who believe men haven't been to the moon. Evidence doesn't matter to these people -- it just fuels more conspiracy theories. If they close their eyes tightly enough and put their fingers deep into their ears, maybe they can avoid the truth. Unfortunately, the people from Move America Forward feel compelled to spread their "alternate truth" to the masses.

The group has raised more than $1 million, mainly in small donations, over the past two years, to get its message out. The Journal said, "The effect of the ads hasn't been measured."

I disagree. The ads are doing their part to keep Americans misinformed.

McCain Belief In "Intelligent Design" Evolving ... Away From The Religious Right

Arizona Republican John McCain's position on "intelligent design" appears to be -- no pun intended -- evolving.

McCain has spoken in favor of teaching intelligent design, or ID, in public schools for several months, taking the popular conservative opinion -- shared by the Bush Administration -- that public school students should be availed of "all points of view."

Modern use of the term "intelligent design" dates back less than two decades, but it has nonetheless grown popular among the religious right. It is a belief that a higher power, rather than evolution, is responsible for the world as we know it today. Scientists and those who believe in separation of church and state believe that if ID is to be taught, it should be left for religious school rather that public school. JABBS has proposed that ID be taught in public schools only if it can be offered side-by-side with Biblical archaeology, which has found that many of the stories of the Bible are just that ... stories.

When McCain spoke about ID with NPR's Tom Ashbrook last month, even he struggled to explain why it was that ID should be taught in science class.

ASHBROOK: And you support the teaching of intelligent design in American schools? Is this an election-ready position?

McCAIN: No, I support the airing of all viewpoints in America, including Marxism, including socialism, including libertarianism, including -- I think Americans should be exposed to all ideas and viewpoints. I don't think they should be excluded. I don't think they should be excluded.

ASHBROOK: How do you put intelligent design in there, make a kind of equation between that and evolution science, and not undercut science itself, John McCain?

McCAIN: Because I believe, my belief, it was a time before time when the hand of God played a key role in the creation of this world. And I'm entitled to that belief. You may not hold it, but that's my belief, that God did create this incredible universe in which we reside, and every day I see manifestations, as Darwin did, of his work. But that does not mean….

ASHBROOK: Why not teach that in a religion class, then? Why in the science part of the textbook?

McCAIN: Why teach Marxism, and why teach socialism, and why teach other theories?

ASHBROOK: They may be welcome, but they're in political science, you wouldn't teach Marxism….

McCAIN: No they're not in political science, they're taught on their own.

***

McCain struggled -- as other ID believers before him -- to come up with a reasonable explanation of how a "belief" fits into a science class. Are Marxism and socialism taught "on their own"? Maybe at the university level. But in lower grades -- the same grades over which the ID debate brews -- those theories are taught in political science or history classes, if at all.

Ashbrook's lead question -- "Is this an election-ready position?" -- along with McCain's difficulty answering questions about ID, may have struck a nerve with McCain's political handlers.

Last week, in an interview with MTV News, McCain's view on ID seemed to evolve into something more appealing to the political middle.

"Every young American should be exposed to every point of view. I'm not saying [intelligent design] should be taught in science classes. But I'm saying young people should be exposed to it. I also believe that God had a hand in creation. I certainly don't believe the Earth was created in seven days. But when I stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and look at that grandeur, I detect the hand of God there in the time before time. I see no reason why students should not be exposed to all theories, recognizing that Darwin's theory's certainly one that is generally accepted in most of the scientific community. I think it's not inappropriate to say there are also people who believe this. Let the student decide."

So, as Ashbrook questioned, now McCain believes that ID should be taught outside science class, and seemingly in a comparative religion class. Hmmm.

McCain proclaims himself to be a conservative -- and liberals who fell in love with him during the 2000 campaign should not think of him otherwise. But that hasn't stopped many conservatives -- especially on talk radio and television -- from being angry with McCain over positions they feel are designed to appeal to the political middle or left -- from appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart to his recent successful push for legislation banning cruel or inhumane treatment of U.S. detainees worldwide.

Maybe the gap exists because McCain doesn't buy into the conservative noise machine spin cycle. Sure, he allowed himself to be used by President Bush on the campaign trail last year -- remember Bush's kiss on his forehead? -- because he knows any road to the White House goes through the conservative-driven Republican primaries.

The appeal McCain has among the middle is that, even while campaigning for Bush last year, he stood up for John Kerry when the Swift Boat Veterans launched their fact-challenged smear campaign. McCain isn't afraid to speak kindly of Kerry or other Democrats, like Ted Kennedy or former president John Kennedy. Unlike the boobs in the conservative noise machine, he understands that a person doesn't become smart just because he calls his opponent stupid.

So McCain flip-flopped on ID. The religious right will probably be furious, and maybe radio clowns like Mark Levin will have something else to shout about. But McCain knows that the left and most of the middle doesn't accept ID in public schools as an "election-ready position."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bush Administration Should Follow Lead of Iraqi Voters And Reject Chalabi

It's time for the U.S. to part ways with Ahmed Chalabi.

It seemed that even the Bush Administration was through with Chalabi last year, when the FBI began an investigation into whether Chalabi shared with Iranian officials closely guarded information about U.S. methods used to spy on the Iranian regime, as well as notifying Iranian officials that American intelligence had broken Iran's secret communications codes. This after Chalabi shrugged off the fact that the Iraqi National Congress had provided false information to the Bush Administration -- some would suggest it fed the administration information it wanted to hear -- about pre-war Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.

But it's not easy to break ties with the man conservatives once dubbed the "George Washington of Iraq."

Even with the ongoing FBI investigation, Chalabi weaseled his way back into good favor with the administration, holding a round of meetings last month with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. How? With help from BKSH & Associates, a K Street lobbying firm headed by Republican insider Charles Black.

But now, even the Bush Administration should admit that the U.S. folly with Chalabi has to end.

Preliminary results from the recent Iraq election show that Chalabi and the INC are not popular.

During the campaign, Chalabi's campaign posters proclaimed "We Liberated Iraq." Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe many Iraqi voters took the "We" to mean "Me and the U.S.A." And one thing anyone associated with the U.S. should realize is that Iraqis recognize propaganda when they see it.

Iraqis have made clear that they want to be led by Iraqis, not U.S.-backed puppets. The INC scored a minuscule 0.36 percent of the votes in Baghdad, and just 0.34 percent in the Shiite city of Basra. In the violent Sunni province of Anbar, 113 people voted for him.

That has led Chalabi to say that the election results are fraudulent. But that should be a tough sell with Bush and his administration, which has proclaimed the Iraq elections a "resounding success."

Who will win this battle of spin? Will the elections be a success, except for the INC results? Or will the Bush Administration once and for all cut ties with Chalabi and the INC?

***

This is a bad marriage, in which both sides used the other for selfish reasons.

Chalabi and the INC have taken advantage of the U.S. financially -- to the tune of $100 million over 13 years, including $39 million from the Bush Administration. Facts be damned, the INC used the United States to complete its quest of toppling Saddam.

Chalabi doesn't care that he lied to us, perhaps because he knows that the neoconservatives were looking for a "patriot" to embody their belief that the U.S. should topple Saddam, and in doing so would be greeted as liberators.

The neocons may get their wish of a Democratic Iraq, albeit not for the reasons stated by the Bush Administration in the run up to war.

But with multiple excuses to rid themselves of Chalabi -- the FBI investigation, the false pre-war information on Iraqi WMD, the INC's lack of popular support today -- it's time for the Bush Administration to stop taking calls placed on Chalabi's behalf by his Republican lobbyist friends. It's time for them to say goodbye to this selfish loser.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Some In Media Didn't Buy RNC Spin About Bush's Domestic Surveillance Program

After President Bush admitted that he had authorized warrantless surveillance of overseas calls made by U.S. citizens and permanent residents, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Republican National Committee acted swiftly.

The RNC issued a Dec. 21 press release that falsely alleged that Presidents Carter and Clinton had done the same. To make the claim, the RNC used sentence fragments to take presidential executive orders out of context.

(It's possible that the RNC leaked the release to Rush Limbaugh, who seems to have quoted from it on his Dec. 20 show. Or maybe Rush's people tipped off the RNC as to how to spin things?) Regardless, the RNC spin quickly made the rounds among other "conservative media," helped by Matt Drudge's popular (but often fact-challenged) website. In the days that followed, other conservatives repeated the same spin (such as here, here, and here.)

It's hard to say how many reporters took the RNC spin seriously. References to the RNC's take on the Carter and Clinton executive orders was scant -- almost exclusively noted by conservative columnists, rather than reporters.

But what is obvious is that some in the mainstream media took a close look at the RNC's allegations, and compared them with the actual Carter and Clinton executive orders. They quickly realized the RNC was playing hard and fast with the facts, and (surprise, surprise) acted like journalists and stood up for the truth.

Getting the ball rolling was Andrea Mitchell -- normally a high-profile NBC News reporter -- who said this while guest hosting on the Dec. 21 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

MITCHELL: The RNC sent out this press release saying, “Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both authorized search/surveillance without court orders.” The RNC press release goes on to cite an executive order from President Clinton on February 9th, 1995 that says, “The attorney general is authorized to approve physical searches without a court order.” But that actually leaves out a crucial part of the sentence. So let‘s clean that up. The actual executive order from President Clinton reads, “The attorney general is authorized to approve physical searches without a court order if the attorney general makes the certifications required by that section.” And that section refers to a requirement that the attorney general certify that the search will not involve, “The premises, information, material, or property of a United States person.” In other words, U.S. citizens or anyone inside the United States. It‘s the same story about how the RNC is framing former president Jimmy Carter‘s executive order, which is taking it out of context.

The next day, the Washington Post offered a similar debunking of the RNC's misleading release:

The RNC quoted fragments of Clinton's Executive Order 12949, authorizing the attorney general to "approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information," and Carter's Executive Order 12139, authorizing the attorney general to "approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order."

The Clinton and Carter orders, which were published, permitted warrantless spying only on foreigners who are not protected by the Constitution. Bush's secret directive permitted the NSA to eavesdrop on the overseas calls of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The RNC's quotation of Clinton's order left out the stated requirement, in the same sentence, that a warrantless search not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." Carter's order, also in the same sentence quoted, said warrantless eavesdropping could not include "any communication to which a United States person is a party."

And on Dec. 23, Bloomberg Business News columnist Ann Woolner noted the misleading release: "The old saying that truth is the first casualty in war goes a long way toward explaining e-mail that showed up this week from the Republican National Committee."

***

Back in September, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said a long period of reticence by news organizations -- which he dubbed "the 9/11 syndrome" -- ended with Hurricane Katrina.

Maybe he was right.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Some Conservatives, While Discussing Bush's Surveillance Program, Mentioning Dreaded "I" Word

It's one thing when a liberal politician or publication mentions the word "impeachment" in reaction to President Bush allowing and then defending warrantless domestic surveillance.

But some very un-liberal sources are also mentioning the dreaded "I" word.

Consider that un-liberal publication, Barron's. On its website, Barron's Online, this was posted on Dec. 24 by the editors: "Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment."

And on the Dec. 20 edition of NPR's Diane Rehm Show, Bruce Fein, former deputy attorney general in the Reagan Administration, said:

FEIN: On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want – I don’t need to consult any other branches – that is an impeachable offense. It’s more dangerous than Clinton’s lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that … would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant.

On the same show, conservative pundit Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute added:

ORNSTEIN: I think if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed.

***

Also noteworthy were Dec. 16 comments from from Republican Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), who spoke on the Dec. 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. (You can watch the video here.)

Although Barr doesn't mention "impeachment," his tone is nonetheless very clear as he debates Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):

BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it's okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war. The fact of the matter is the law prohibits -- specifically prohibits -- what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn't matter, I'm proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.

Friday, December 23, 2005

White House Website Lists Bush's 2005 "Accomplishments," A Mix Of Empty Conservative Spin And A Padded Resume

The White House website added a page yesterday, "Fact Sheet: President Bush's Accomplishments in 2005."

Can this be the best the leader of the free world can accomplish?

The lengthy list -- a mix of empty conservative spin and a padded resume -- includes a host of things. Accomplishments? Those are few and far between.

Maybe President Bush is still confused about the meaning of "Mission Accomplished" -- the key is that the event has to be accomplished, not planned or proposed or possibly working out if everything goes as planned or proposed.

And as you would expect, the "fact sheet" doesn't list anything remotely negative. Forget illegal wiretapping or questions about propaganda, both here and in Iraq. Reading this "fact sheet," you wouldn't think there was any obstacles left to overcome. If a Democrat created this kind of "fact sheet" imagine how quickly, and viciously, the conservative noise machine would react.

Some examples of Bush's "accomplishments."

-- The President Will Work With Congress To Complete Reauthorization Of The Patriot Act. So, not an accomplishment.

-- Congress Took Action To Reduce Government Spending. This should go on Congress' accomplishments. Although, we all know that the entitlements cut ($39.7 billion) didn't offset the amount of Bush's latest tax cut for the wealthy ($100 billion). I wonder if Bush's rich friends, while making a deposit in a Swiss bank account before flying away for Christmas in the Outback, will think of the poor kid in Topeka eats a ketchup sandwich because his mom can't enforce child support payments from dad.

-- The United States Is Pursuing A Comprehensive Strategy For Victory In Iraq. Is the "accomplishment" that we now have a strategy for victory? After 2,000-plus troops have died? Bush got in trouble once for claiming the Iraq mission was "accomplished" ... maybe this should be nixed from the current list?

-- America Is Fighting Terrorism And Safeguarding The Homeland. The 9/11 Commission gave the White House and Republican-led Congress more failing than passing grades with regard to safeguarding the homeland. Hard to believe that the Bush team is calling this an "accomplishment." And last time I checked, Al Qaeda -- as well as its splinter groups, friends and wannabes -- are not slowing down. In Iraq, there were more terrorist attacks against the U.S.-led troops in November than in January. Osama Bin Laden is still at large. Other than providing empty conservative spin, what exactly did the Bush team do this year?

-- President Bush Proposed A Comprehensive Immigration Reform Plan To Enhance America's Homeland Security. Ah, yes. That's what he did. But it's a proposal, not an accomplishment. I propose that JABBS should have 1 million hits a day. Doesn't mean it's going to happen.

-- We Remain On Track To Cut The Budget Deficit In Half By 2009. Of course, "we" didn't create the $2 trillion-plus deficit of 2001-2005. Bush and the Republican-led Congress did.

-- President Bush Has Called On Congress To Make Tax Relief Permanent. Another major non-accomplishment, and if it is accomplished, it will remain a major non-accomplishment.

-- President Bush Signed Into Law The Highway Bill. Well, this was technically an "accomplishment." It was also one of the most pork-laden pieces of legislation in the history of the country.

-- President Bush Signed Into Law The First National Energy Plan In More Than A Decade. Same "accomplishment," different department. Instead of funding the Packard Museum and the Bridge to Nowhere, the Energy legislation provided more corporate welfare to all of Bush's energy friends. Meanwhile, I'm still paying $2.15 for a gallon of regular.

-- The President Nominated Well-Qualified Candidates To The U.S. Supreme Court. Except for Harriet Miers, who isn't mentioned on the "fact sheet."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

FISA Judges Want Answers On Bush's Domestic Surveillance Program

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson of Utah, the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, is arranging a classified briefing for her fellow judges to address their concerns about the legality of President Bush's domestic spying program.

Several members of the court said in interviews with the Washington Post that they want to know why the administration believed secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails of U.S. citizens without court authorization was legal.

One judge, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said members could suggest disbanding the court in light of the president's suggestion that he has the power to bypass the court.

After all, if the president isn't going to respect the law, why bother adjudicating it?

***

Bush clearly knows that a FISA court order was required to conduct a wiretap.

So why skirt the law?

Bush administration officials believe it is not possible, in a large-scale eavesdropping effort, to provide the kind of evidence the court requires to approve a warrant. Sources knowledgeable about the program said there is no way to secure a FISA warrant when the goal is to listen in on a vast array of communications in the hopes of finding something that sounds suspicious. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the White House had tried but failed to find a way.

"For FISA, they had to put down a written justification for the wiretap," said one official, speaking anonymously to the Post. "They couldn't dream one up."

"There is a difference between detecting, so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it's important to note the distinction between the two," Bush said Monday. But he added: "If there is a need based upon evidence, we will take that evidence to a court in order to be able to monitor calls within the United States."

But the administration didn't "take that evidence to a court," which is why it is in hot water over the issue. Several FISA judges told the Post that they are particularly concerned that information gleaned from the president's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to gain authorized wiretaps from their court.

***

On Monday, one of 10 FISA judges, federal Judge James Robertson, submitted his resignation -- in protest of the president's action, according to two sources familiar with his decision. He will maintain his position on the U.S. District Court.

Other judges told the Post that they do not plan to resign but are seeking more information about the president's initiative.

"Why didn't it go through FISA," said U.S. District Judge George Kazen of the Southern District of Texas. "I think those are valid questions. The president at first said he didn't want to talk about it. Now he says, 'You're darn right I did it, and it's completely legal.' I gather he's got lawyers telling him this is legal. I want to hear those arguments."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bush (In 2004): "A Wiretap Requires A Court Order"

In 2004, President Bush knew what to say about the need for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order when seeking to fight the war on terror.

Too bad actions speak louder than words.

I'm not one to toss around the word "liar." On JABBS, I usually say that something is conservative spin, or a half-truth, or that a particular conservative is being misleading.

But even the most ardent Bush supporter has to recognize a lie. Bush lied at least three times last year when he said that a wiretap to "chase down terrorists" requires a FISA court order -- knowing full well that at the time he was skirting this same law.

"For years, law enforcement used so-called roving wiretaps to investigate organized crime. You see, what that meant is if you got a wiretap by court order -- and, by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example."

-- President Bush, April 19, 2004, remarks on USA Patriot Act

"(T)here are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

-- President Bush, April 20, 2004, remarks on USA Patriot Act

"First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order."

-- President Bush, July 14, 2004, remarks on USA Patriot Act

Documents, Interviews Suggest Pentagon Lying About Iraqi Propaganda

U.S. military officials in Iraq were fully aware that a Pentagon contractor regularly paid Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories about the war, and made it clear that none of the stories should be traced to the United States, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper also conducted interviews with former employees of Lincoln Group, the Washington-based contractor hired to place the stories.

The documents and interviews (surprise, surprise) conflict with assertions by military officials in Baghdad and Washington.

When the propaganda effort was first revealed, the Pentagon distanced itself from the Lincoln Group's activities, suggesting the company violated its contract when it masked the origin of stories placed in the Iraqi press. On Dec. 2, Pentagon officials told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-VA) that all of the published materials were supposed to be identified as originating with the U.S. military but that identification was occasionally omitted by accident.

Remember, when caught doing something wrong, it's always a good idea to blame someone else. When questions arose, for example, that the Bush White House had conducted "covert propaganda" by distributing undocument video news releases to local television stations in swing states, one of President Bush's three responses was to suggest that it was the television stations' responsiblity -- not the government's -- to identify the material as provided by the government.

Last week, Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, changed the military's official talking point on the Iraqi propaganda, saying that a preliminary assessment found that the Army was "operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures."

We'll soon find out whether military spin trumps what the Times discovered. A Pentagon investigation, led by Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, could be completed by yearend. Van Buskirk is also investigating charges that the U.S. military paid Iraqi reporters to produce positive newspaper and television reports.

***

What did the Times discover? The documents and interviews paint a very clear and consistent picture -- suggesting the military had to know that it was engaging in propaganda efforts, a violation of military ethics.

According to the documents and interviews, Lincoln Group employees worked closely with soldiers from the Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad to turn "storyboards" written by soldiers into Arabic news stories and advertisements. A high-ranking Army officer closely monitored the operation, and Lincoln Group documents show that military officials gave the company clear guidelines about which stories to place in Iraqi newspapers.

Iraqi runners employed by Lincoln were used to transport the stories to newspapers and to pay editors amounts ranging from $50 to $2,000 for publication.

Lincoln Group employees kept detailed records of how much they paid to get the stories published. Current and former employees said they were told by military officers that the stories were not to be identified as U.S. government products.

On one occasion, a storyboard was accidentally published in English in a Baghdad newspaper. Military officials in Baghdad dressed down Lincoln Group employees because the error suggested that the material was American in origin. The employees promised it would not happen again.

Lincoln Group records also show that its Iraqi employees often warned their American bosses that the manner in which the news stories were distributed to the Iraqi press was leading some Iraqi editors to suspect U.S. government involvement.

***

The propaganda effort -- one of several the Pentagon is trying in the Middle East, and one of several involving Lincoln Group -- has sparked a backlash among some senior military officers in Iraq and at the Pentagon.

They rightly argue that violating one of the basic tenets of our democracy -- a free press -- could destroy the U.S. military's credibilty in Iraq.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Conservatives Spin That Bush Circumvented FISA Because Of Arduous Paperwork. The Facts Suggest Otherwise

Why did President Bush circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)?

National Review columnist Byron York defended the president as keeping the nation's best interests in mind, describing the process of receiving a warrant from FISA court as arduous.

York writes:

"In 2002, when the president made his decision, there was widespread, bipartisan frustration with the slowness and inefficiency of the bureaucracy involved in seeking warrants from the special intelligence court, known as the FISA court.

'It takes days, sometimes weeks, to get the application for FISA together,' says one source. 'It's not so much that the court doesn't grant them quickly, it's that it takes a long time to get to the court.'"

But York forgets something:

In the case of national emergencies, it's permitted to get a search warrant 72 hours after surveillance is conducted. (In the link, see Section F, Item 2.) The argument for speed doesn't make much sense when warrants can be issued after the surveillance operations have taken place.

David Sirota, writing yesterday on the Huffington Post website, wondered aloud about this spin: "There really is only one explanation that a sane, rational person could come up with: The surveillance operations Bush is ordering are so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror and such an unconstitutional breach of authority that he knows that even a court that has rejected just 4 warrant requests in 25 years will reject what he's doing."

Merging Sirota comments with York's, one would have to assume that a Homeland Security team wouldn't be able to quickly put together the paperwork to gain a retroactive warrant from a lax court. It's a hard sell.

***

If the "arduous paperwork" defense sounds familiar, it's because the Bush Administration used it just a few weeks ago.

According to an Oct. 30 Associated Press report, the administration often has failed to meet homeland security deadlines. Why? The official spin at the time was that there are too many deadlines.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke told the AP that the department goes to great lengths to work with Congress. But, he said, "there is an extraordinarily high number of reporting requirements." The department has to submit 256 reports to Congress every year, Knocke said.

***

How do you get around arduous paperwork? Change the rules.

With control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, Bush could have changed the FISA rules in 2001, when Congress overwhelming supported the USA Patriot Act.

Similarly, rules regarding the number of reports Homeland Security has to file could have been dealt with when the department was created, again with overwhelming Congressional support, in 2002.

But neither of those things happened. Circumventing the rules now, after the fact, isn't the answer.

Robertson Calls Evolution A "Cultish Religion"

On the Dec. 15 edition of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, host and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson called evolution a "cultish religion."

Robertson was reacting to a ruling by a federal judge that it was unconstitutional for Cobb County, Georgia, to require the placement of stickers in biology textbooks, reading: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

That decision is currently under review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Rather than have a serious debate on evolution vs. intelligent design, or even lay out a serious argument in favor of the sticker, Robertson instead turned to smear tactics and name calling.

ROBERTSON: You know, what we have got to recognize just there in this case is that the evolutionists worship atheism. I mean, that's their religion. And evolution becomes their religion. It is a matter of religion. So this is an establishment of religion contrary to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. And the fact that somebody comes along and says, "We are not sure that it's accurate, it's a theory and not a fact" -- how can you say it's a fact? You are talking about 10 to 15 billion years ago. Who was there?

TERRY MEEUWSEN (co-host): Scientifically, you would think that the scientific community would rise to the occasion and say, "Absolutely, let's keep an open mind. Let's continue to discover and search."

ROBERTSON: Yeah, well, a lot of scientists are. More and more are. They are saying there are just too many things that can't be explained by evolution. But, I mean, these fanatics, I mean, it is a religion, it is a cult. It is cultish religion, and whenever you start talking about the origins of life, you now get into religious matter, and theirs is just as much religion. The only difference is that even questioning, questioning that -- the ACLU says even if you question our religion, you are guilty of violating the First Amendment. I mean, give me a break.

***

Without giving Robertson's lunacy too much consideration, how should scientists -- even ones with an open mind -- "discover and search," as co-host Meeuwsen suggests?

Intelligent design suggests a higher power -- not necessarily God -- had a hand in "designing" the universe as we know it today.

The problem? There's no way to scientifically prove the theory. Why? Because it's not a scientific theory. It's a belief system.

And as a belief system -- as something that can be taught in a religious school, or spoken about by a religious leader to a congregation -- the belief system may make a lot of sense. It's not far-fetched to think that in the United States -- one of the most religiously grounded nations on earth -- a vast majority of Americans believe in God, and believe that God created the universe.

But even if the majority of Americans believe this, it doesn't make the belief a scientific theory.

Scientists don't just trust evolution as a scientific theory. They test it. And test it. And they make revisions, such as the discovery last week of ancient bones that show humans lived in northern Europe 200,000 years earlier than previously thought.

There's no way to scientifically test "intelligent design." Robertson probably knows this, but it's easier to smear those that disagree with him.

I wouldn't be surprised if Robertson soon predicts disaster will strike scientists who believe in evolution, much like the apocalyptic warnings he suggested may strike the citizens of Dover, Pa., after they voted their school board out of office for supporting “intelligent design.”

Monday, December 19, 2005

In Light Of Bush Surveillance Program Revelation, Did Gonzales Perjure Himself During Confirmation Hearings?

According to President Bush's radio address Saturday, as White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales personally approved Bush's program for warrantless domestic wiretaps.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requires a warrant or court order to conduct electronic surveillance.

During his confirmation hearings for Attorney General in January 2005, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) asked Gonzales about this precise issue.

In his answer, Gonzales contradicts himself, first saying it would depend on "the national interest that the president may have to consider," then firmly saying the "president is not above the law."

It's possible the first answer may be the basis of conservative spin as Bush's warrant-less surveillance program gets discussed in the days and weeks to come.

Here's the transcript from Gonzales' confirmation hearing:

FEINGOLD: I -- Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I'm asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief? Does he -- does he have that power?

GONZALES: Senator, I — you — in my judgment, you phrase it sort of a hypothetical situation. I would have to know what — what is the — what is the national interest that the president may have to consider. What I’m saying is, it is impossible to me, based upon the question as you’ve presented it to me, to answer that question. I can say, is that there is a presumption of constitutionality with respect to any statute passed by Congress. I will take an oath to defend the statutes. And to the extent that there is a decision made to ignore a statute, I consider that a very significant decision, and one that I would personally be involved with, I commit to you on that, and one we will take with a great deal of care and seriousness.

FEINGOLD: Well, that sounds to me like the president still remains above the law.

GONZALES: No, sir.

FEINGOLD: Again, you know, if this is something where — where it — you take a good look at it, you give a presumption that the president ought to follow the law, that — you know, that’s — to me, that’s not good enough under our system of government.

GONZALES: Senator, if I might respond to that, the president is not above the law. Of course he’s not above the law. But he has an obligation, too. He takes an oath as well. And if Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, there is a practice and a tradition recognized by presidents of both parties that he may elect to decide not to enforce that law. Now, I think that that would be ...

FEINGOLD: I recognize that, and I tried to make that distinction, Judge, between electing not to enforce as opposed to affirmatively telling people they can do certain things in contravention of the law.

GONZALES: Senator, this president is not -- I -- it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

***

Given his role in circumventing FISA, did Gonzales commit perjury during his testimony?

Cheney, In "Nightline" Interview Tonight, Misleads And Spins About Surveillance Act Rules

Vice President Cheney says that if the U.S. had surveillance capability before Sept. 11, 2001, perhaps there wouldn't have been terrorist attacks that day.

It's a false claim.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requires a warrant or court order to conduct electronic surveillance. And from 1979 to 2002, the FISA court did not reject a single warrant, issuing 15,264.

President Bush's secret, warrant-less domestic surveillance program, which during his Saturday radio address he admitted to personally authorizing, did not give the National Security Agency any new capability. It just circumvented the rules, which say the NSA must obtain a warrant before proceeding.

***

But that doesn't stop Cheney from spinning things.

"And, in fact, it is a program that is, by every effort we've been able to make, consistent with the statutes and with the law. It's the kind of capability [that], if we'd had before 9/11, might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11," he said to ABC's Terry Moran, for a Nightline broadcast to air tonight.

Moran twice asks Cheney whether the administration needs permission from a court to "eavesdrop on communications in America."

Cheney sidesteps in his answer, in an effort to justify the Bush Administration's sidestepping of FISA rules. He twice indicates the Bush program has been reviewed by the Justice Department. He make a vague reference to the program being consistent with the USA Patriot Act. He offers that it has been "signed up to by the attorney general of the U.S."

And that the administration has "briefed Congress on it — just a few members, the leadership — on over a dozen occasions." In other words, the Republican leadership was in the know, and the rest of us were in the dark.

***

So why mislead?

Perhaps Cheney is spinning because he wants to give the conservative noise machine another reason not to blame the Bush Administration for 9/11. The 9/11 Commission placed blame on both the Bush and Clinton administrations, but that's not good enough for most conservatives -- they just want to blame Clinton.

A couple of weeks ago, conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham asked listeners what Clinton did to fight terrorism. "Nothing," she answered rhetorically, then corrected herself to say that Clinton did "bomb an aspirin factory." Then she made a reference to Monica Lewinsky, and laughed.

While that sort of ignorance fuels conservative talk radio, no doubt Cheney's interview tonight will only provide the Ingrahams of the world with more ammunition.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Simone Provides Listeners With Latest "Facts" From Alternate Universe Of Conservative Talk Radio

Liberals get upset when faced with "facts" about Iraq, conservative talk radio host Mark Simone offered his WABC listeners this evening.

The premise, of course, is ridiculous. Simone wouldn't say which liberals, of course, although one can presume he is referring to big-name politicians like Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean. Or perhaps he's referring vaguely to New York and Hollywood "intellectuals."

For Simone, it probably doesn't matter. It's better to portray "liberal" as a dirty word, an amorphous anti-American group.

And which facts?

Simone offered the following:

-- 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces are peaceful. Just four have a problem with insurgents.

-- Iraqi unemployment is down 50% in the past year.

-- Iraqi wages are up 30% in the past year.

-- Iraq's new stock exchange is "apparently" doing well.

Ask yourself, are these "facts" that make "liberals" upset? Or are they half-truths, designed to paint the most positive, Bush Administration-friendly face on the Iraq War?

Let's consider the "other half" of each of these "facts."

-- It's true, just four of 18 provinces have a problem with insurgents. But according to a Defense Department report presented in July to Congress, one of the four provinces is Baghdad, the most populous Iraqi province. And 35% of insurgent attacks occur in that province.

It'd be like saying "the U.S. only has a crime problem in four states out of 50," without noting that the four states are California, New York, Texas and Florida.

What's more important -- the number of provinces with insurgents, or the number of insurgent attacks?

According to a November report from CNN, quoting Pentagon officials, "in October there were about 100 attacks a day." By comparison, a January Boston Globe report suggested a figure of 50 to 70 attacks per day.

-- How about that Iraqi unemployment and wages? Any discussion of unemployment and wages has to start with the fact that the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi Army, increasing the unemployed by 1 million and causing average wages to plummet.

In 2004, a Baghdad University study suggested unemployment had reached 70%, while the CPA placed the number at between 25% and 30%.

Now, according to a report earlier this month from the Associated Press, "Iraq's unemployment rate is estimated to be between 27 percent and 40 percent."

So, for Simone to be correct, he would have to be ignoring the 2004 statistics from the CPA, and instead going with numbers that got great play on Al Jazeera, but others called a "very rough estimate."

-- Is the Iraqi stock exchange "doing well"? Even Simone qualifies this with an "apparently" -- something that would suggest opinion, rather than fact. The stock exchange has been open a whopping two weeks.

***

Simone provided red meat for his listeners. Amorphous groups of "liberals" were upset over "facts" about Iraq.

These bite-size slogans work wonders. Keeping things vague and simplistic, Simone provides legions with water-cooler talking points for days to come. So what if Simone's talking points are half-truths. Don't confuse conservative talk radio listeners with the "facts."

Journalists' Credentials Pulled After Publishing War Photo Of Bullet-Ridden Humvee

The U.S. Coalition Forces Land Component Command in Kuwait pulled the credentials of two embedded journalists from the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va., after publishing a picture of a bullet-ridden Humvee parked in a Kuwaiti camp.

Reporter Louis Hansen and photographer Hyunsoo Leo Kim lost their embed credentials after the newspaper published a Dec. 10 story on the removal of battle-damaged military vehicles.

The rule they broke was not widely known by military reporters, because it had been changed since the start of the Iraq War.

Major Matthew Mclaughlin of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the embedding program, acknowledged to Editor & Publisher that the Army command in Kuwait had issued a new set of ground rules, including tighter photography control.

Military Reporters and Editors (MRE) Vice President Jim Crawley, a military writer with MediaGeneral, was among those protesting the rule change, pointing to photos on the U.S. Army and Marines official websites that clearly show damaged vehicles.

When asked about the military websites posting of damaged vehicle photos, Mclaughlin said he had not seen them. "I think it is (the Army command's) contention that there is a good deal of difference between the photos," he said.

But that sort of spin isn't appeasing the trade group, which plans to urge the Pentagon to review its embed rules next year.

"Our job is not to be stooges of the administration or the Pentagon and be complicit in their attempt to manage the news," Sig Christenson, MRE president and a military writer with the San Antonio Express-News, told E&P. "We are here to tell our readers about the war."

House Committee Chairman Admits Republican Congress Not Sufficiently Investigating Bush Administration

In an interview with the Washington Post, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-VA), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said the GOP-controlled Congress has done insufficient oversight of the Bush Administration.

"Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and underinvestigate their own," Davis said. "I get concerned we lose our separation of powers when one party controls both branches."

It was a rare admission from a Republican. More often, GOP leaders have accused Democrats of partisanship and political stunts when they have asked for investigations of various Bush Administration activities.

But even Davis has a hard time reconciling basic math. Democrats, using House records, said the reform committee had issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, at a cost of more than $35 million. By contrast, the committee under Davis has issued three subpoenas to the Bush administration in the years since.

***

Democrats list 14 areas where the GOP majority has "failed to investigate" the administration, including the role of senior officials in the abuse of detainees; leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame; the role of Vice President Cheney's office in awarding contracts to Cheney's former employer, Halliburton; the White House's withholding from Congress the cost of a Medicare prescription drug plan; the administration's relationship with Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi; and the influence of corporate interests on energy policy, environmental regulation and tobacco policy.

"Republicans have made a mockery of oversight," Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), the reform committee's ranking Democrat, told the Post. "There was nothing too small to be investigated in the Clinton administration and there's nothing so big that it can't be ignored in the Bush administration."

Davis admitted his committee had investigated the administration's handling of bioterrorism defenses and preparing for avian influenza and held four hearings on Halliburton's contracts -- after the House Armed Services Committee refused to do so. Similarly, Davis called hearings on the administration's policy on mad cow disease after Agriculture Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA) declined.

"They said it would embarrass the administration," Davis told the Post.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another Paid Conservative Propagandist?

Doug Bandow, a senior scholar at the Cato Institute and a syndicated columnist via the Copley News Service, took payments from lobbyist Jack Abramoff to write columns favorable to Abramoff's clients.

Bandow acknowledged the payments after he was confronted about the payments by a reporter from BusinessWeek Online. He resigned from Cato, and was given an indefinite suspension by Copley News.

***

How many conservative pundits are on the take?

At least four journalists have been cited in the past year as being paid by the Bush Administration to write favorable items, or make favorable presentations on television, about administration programs or proposals.

Also, conservative pundits Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer helped President Bush on his state-of-the-union speech, then -- without acknowledging their roles -- touted the speech on Fox News Channel.

***

While Abramoff is not part of the Bush Administration, he is nonetheless at the center of a far-reaching criminal corruption investigation involving several members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). Prosecutors are examining whether he sought to bribe lawmakers in exchange for legislative help.

Non-Partisan Congressional Research Service Disputes Bush Spin On Pre-War Intelligence

President Bush and top administration officials have access to a much broader ranger of intelligence reports than members of Congress, a non-partisan congressional research agency said in a Dec. 15 report.

The 14-page report contradicts the empty conservative spin that the Bush Administration and its cohorts in the conservative noise machine have offered as a defense against critics who suggest the administration cherry-picked information to make its case for the Iraq war.

"Some of the most irresponsible comments -- about manipulating intelligence -- have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein," Bush said on Wednesday. "These charges are pure politics."

Because Democrats have long disputed that spin, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, requested the Congressional Research Service report.

As Democrats had argued, the CRS found: "The president, and a small number of presidentially designated Cabinet-level officials, including the vice president ... have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods. ... As a result, the president and his most senior advisers arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the ... intelligence more accurately than is Congress."

The CRS report identified nine key U.S. intelligence "products" that aren't generally shared with Congress. These include the President's Daily Brief, a compilation of analyses that's given only to the president and a handful of top aides, and a daily digest on terrorism-related matters.

If only this report had been made available during last year's presidential campaign. ...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Novak To Leave CNN And Go (Surprise, Surprise) To Fox News

Conservative commentator Robert Novak, a fixture on CNN since 1980 but not seen on the network since swearing and storming off the set in August, will leave the network at yearend.

Novak said today that he will join Fox News Channel as a contributor -- because Fox needed more conservatives to be truly "fair and balanced."

Novak's announcement eliminates what the Associated Press called a "delicate problem" for CNN, which had been criticized for allowing Novak to remain on the air after his involvement in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

CNN clearly didn't want to put Novak back on the air, let alone renew his contract.

Details like that don't faze Novak, though. Like the conservatives he advocates for, Novak spun his pending departure.

"I'm sorry it ended that way but I am confident if it hadn't happened that I would still be leaving CNN," he said, in part because the network was marginalizing him, including canceling his long-running debate show, Crossfire.

Radio Clown Mark Levin Angry With McCain Over Anti-Torture Legislation

Mark Levin, the conservative talk radio host, normally devotes himself to blasting liberals.

But not this week. The radio clown has found something far worse this week. Instead of targeting Hillary Clinton, John Kerry or Nancy Pelosi, Levin has targeted Sen. John McCain -- with a steady flow of pre-screened callers agreeing with him.

Why? Because McCain had the gall to legislate a formal ban on the cruel or inhumane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody anywhere in the world. After resisting the measure for months, and at one point vowing to veto a Defense Department appropriations bill to get his way, President Bush this week flip-flopped, relenting to bipartisan support for McCain's bill.

The White House had argued that existing rules banning torture did not necessarily apply in cases involving foreign suspects being questioned by U.S. operatives on foreign soil. The McCain bill closes that loophole by saying such restrictions apply "regardless of nationality or physical location."

***

Levin is so angry with McCain that he vowed on yesterday's edition of his syndicated show to do anything in his power to prevent the Arizona Republican from receiving his party's 2008 presidential nomination. On tonight's show, he said he would rather vote for his dogs than McCain.

Callers have been equal to Levin's "angry right" shtick. One caller suggested McCain was a "Manchurian Candidate" who had been brainwashed against torture during his five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Levin didn't argue against the caller, who (perhaps inadvertently) referenced part of a whisper campaign used by the Bush campaign in 2000 to sway South Carolina voters against McCain.

Levin argued that McCain -- who remains popular among independents and fans of such shows as CBS' Late Show With David Letterman and Comedy Central's Daily Show With Jon Stewart -- had gotten soft because of his exposure to liberals. The way the radio clown explained it, you would think liberalism was contagious.

***

So why are conservatives like Levin so angry about this legislation?

The White House argued that the legislation was unnecessary because of existing laws banning torture. Last month, CIA Chief Porter Goss said: "This agency does not do torture. Torture does not work." Bush himself insistedlast month: "We do not torture." Fox News Channel anchor Brit Hume, serving in his normal capacity as conservative apologist, argued earlier this week that the much criticized practice of "waterboarding" -- the act of pouring water over a prisoner to make him think he is about to drown -- does not constitute torture.

In other words, either the U.S. isn't practicing torture, or it is desperately trying to spin that idea on anyone who will listen, most notably McCain.

In October, Goss and Vice President Cheney each fought to have the CIA exempted from the legislation, so as to give the president "maximum flexibility" as he fights a "global war on terror."

McCain said no.

Levin and his callers won't soon forget.

White House Press Corps Presses McClellan On An Administration Flip-Flop

Back in September, NBC Anchor Brian Williams said a long period of reticence by news organizations -- which he dubbed "the 9/11 syndrome" -- ended with Hurricane Katrina.

And maybe he was right. Because it seems like the White House press corps has gotten more feisty lately.

The most recent example of this came on Wednesday, when the press corps asked Press Secretary Scott McClellan why it was okay for President Bush to comment on Travis County (TX) District Attorney Ronnie Earle's ongoing investigation into alleged wrongdoing by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), but not about Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Rather than simply accept empty Bush Administration spin, the press corps pressed McClellan, and stated the obvious. They had caught the administration in a dreaded "flip-flop," and they weren't going to accept McClellan's lame defense.

From the press briefing:

Q Scott, the President told Brit Hume that he thought that Tom DeLay is not guilty, even though the prosecution is obviously ongoing. What does the President feel about Scooter Libby? Does he feel that Mr. Libby --

McCLELLAN: A couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were. We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the President chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged. And so I'm just not going to have anything further to say. But we've had a policy in place for a long time regarding the Fitzgerald investigation.

Q Why would that not apply to the same type of prosecution involving Congressman DeLay?

McCLELLAN: I just told you we had a policy in place regarding this investigation, and you've heard me say before that we're not going to talk about it further while it's ongoing.

Q Well, if it's prejudging the Fitzgerald investigation, isn't it prejudging the Texas investigation with regard to Congressman DeLay?

McCLELLAN: Again, I think I've answered your question.

Q Are you saying the policy doesn't apply?

Q Can I follow up on that? Is the President at all concerned that his opinion on this being expressed publicly could influence a potential jury pool, could influence public opinion on this in an improper way?

McCLELLAN: I think that in this instance he was just responding to a question that was asked about Congressman DeLay, about Leader DeLay, and in terms of the issue that Peter brings up, I think that we've had a policy in place, going back to 2003, and that's a White House policy.

Q But that policy has been based in part, in the leak investigation and other things, on the idea that it is simply wrong for a President to prejudge a criminal matter, particularly when it's under indictment or trial stage. Why would he --

McCLELLAN: And that's one -- this is an ongoing investigation regarding possible administration officials. So I think there are some differences here.

Q There are lots of times when you don't comment on any sort of legal --

McCLELLAN: There are also legal matters that we have commented on, as well. And certainly there are legal matters when it goes to Saddam Hussein.

Q So the President is inconsistent?

McCLELLAN: No, David, we put a policy in place regarding this investigation --

Q But it's hypocritical. You have a policy for some investigations and not others, when it's a political ally who you need to get work done?

McCLELLAN: Call it presidential prerogative; he responded to that question. But the White House established a policy --

Q Doesn't it raise questions about his credibility that he's going to weigh in on some matters and not others, and we're just supposed to sit back and wait for him to decide what he wants to comment on and influence?

McCLELLAN: Congressman DeLay's matter is an ongoing legal proceeding --

Q As is the Fitzgerald investigation --

McCLELLAN: The Fitzgerald investigation is --

Q -- As you've told us ad nauseam from the podium.

McCLELLAN: It's an ongoing investigation, as well.

Q How can you not -- how can you say there's differences between the two, and we're supposed to buy that? There's no differences. The President decided to weigh in on one, and not the other.

McCLELLAN: There are differences.

Q And the public is supposed to accept the fact that he's got no comment on the conduct of senior officials of the White House, but when it's a political ally over on the Hill who's got to help him get work done, then he's happy to try to influence that legal process.

McCLELLAN: No, not at all. Not at all. You can get all dramatic about it, but you know what our policy is. ... I think the American people understand.

Q No, they don't. And the only thing that's dramatic is the inconsistency of the policy and you trying to defend it.

McCLELLAN: No, the policy has been in place since 2003.

***

Ironically, the "9/11 syndrome" began to end not after Katrina, but rather in July, when McClellan changed the rules on commenting on Fitzgerald's investigation. At that point, the press corps battered McClellan with a whopping 33 questions, challenging contradictions and preventing him from falling back on empty Bush Administration spin.

The July episode was the first of several fights. In September, for example, NBC's David Gregory battled with McClellan over whether President Bush still had confidence in the increasingly embarrassing FEMA Director Mike Brown. And the corps didn't back down in October when McClellan suggested that U.S. troops in Tikrit had not been coached, even after video evidence had appeared showing they were.

Yes, the press corps still lets McClellan spin tales unchecked. Just in the last few days, JABBS has noted times when the press corps failed to counter McClellan's fake math on U.S. support for the Bush Administration's "Plan for Victory" in Iraq. And they didn't notice when McClellan mispresented a Bush statement, turning it into a personal attack against war critics.

But even though the press corps can be unprepared to deal with spin -- and other times, doesn't seem to pay attention to significant details when listening to McClellan's spin -- there are signs that the "9/11 syndrome" is ending. And that can only be good news.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Military Investigating Alleged Payments To Iraqi Journalists To Produce "Good News" Stories

The U.S. military is investigating allegations that the American military is buying positive coverage in the Iraqi media is examining a press club founded and financed by the U.S. Army.

The ever-expanding investigation into U.S. propaganda efforts is being headed by Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk. He will look into whether there were efforts to place U.S.-produced stories into the local press without identifying the United States as the source. Paying reporters directly to write positive stories might also violate ethical guidelines.

If true, it doesn't say much for U.S. credibility as a purveyor of democracy, given that one of our nation's founding principles is a free press.

***

The Baghdad Press Club was created last year by the U.S. military as a way to promote progress amid the violence and chaos of Iraq, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman.

The Army acknowledges funding the club and offering "reporter compensation," but insists officers did not demand favorable coverage. "Members are not required nor asked to write favorably," said Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone. "They are simply invited to report on events."

To JABBS' ears, that spin sounds all too familiar.

It's a similar concept to what President Bush said in March, defending the administration's use of undocumented video news releases -- something the non-partisan General Accountability Office labeled "covert propaganda."

BUSH: "There is a Justice Department opinion that says these pieces are OK so long as they're based upon facts, not advocacy. And I expect our agencies to adhere to that ruling."

Amazingly, Bush was suggesting that propaganda created by the government was not "advocacy" -- as if his administration would pay a journalist or create a video news release to oppose the administration.

Similarly, it's hard to believe the Army would pay Iraqi journalists to write "negative" stories about the U.S.-led effort in Iraq.

But, according to Iraqi reporters, the Army is paying Iraqi reporters to avoid actual war coverage and focus on "good news" stories, such as restored sewage plants and newly-opened schools.

Baghdad Press Club members -- 25 to 30 freelance reporters and staff employees for television stations and newspapers -- were paid about $25 for each story and $45 if the piece ran with photos. Television reporters were paid $50 for pieces. That's a handsome amount of money, given that the average Iraqi earns less than $300 per month.

***

The Army spin is also hard to believe because it comes on the heels of an investigation concluded this month by the Los Angeles Times, which obtained documents revealing that the Pentagon is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish dozens of "good news" stories, written by American troops.

The articles are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a Washington-based defense contractor, Lincoln Group. Many are falsely presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists -- such as in Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily owned by friends of Bush Administration ally Ahmed Chalabi.

Van Buskirk is also examining the evidence obtained by the Times.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Q Would you concede right now that it seems pretty clear that the American people don't yet understand what the President's plan is on Iraq?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I think the American people want to win in Iraq. They understand the importance of winning in Iraq. And they also want to see our troops come home. And polls are snapshots in time. We'll let you all do the analysis of what the polls say. The President is doing what he believes is right and what he believes will make America safer for the long-term. And that's why it's so important that we continue to work to achieve victory in Iraq, and he knows we will.

Now, there have been some Democratic leaders that have chosen very irresponsibly to say that we don't have a strategy for victory. I think it's becoming very clear to the American people in these speeches and in the document we put out just a couple of weeks ago that we have a plan for winning, and it is the right plan for winning.


-- White House press briefing, Dec. 13

***

Despite a series of recent speeches spelling out the administration's policies on Iraq, the majority of Americans in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said they do not believe President Bush has a plan that will achieve victory in Iraq.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled said Bush doesn’t have a clear plan on Iraq, compared to 38 percent who said they believe Bush does have a plan for victory.

The poll, released Monday night, was conducted with 1,003 Americans who were interviewed by telephone Friday through Sunday. It has a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Nearly three out of five Americans, 59 percent, said they disapproved of the way Bush is handling Iraq; 39 percent said they approve.

-- CNN poll, Dec. 12

Novak: "I'm Confident The President Knows Who" Leaked Plame's Identity

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush.

"I'm confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh yesterday. "I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

"So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.'"

It was Novak who first revealed that Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA. Wilson had angered the Bush administration when he accused it of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat before the war.

Novak has rarely discussed the Plame affair, which makes yesterday's discussion all the more interesting.

Back in August, Novak swore and then walked off the set of CNN's Inside Politics, just as CNN correspondent Ed Henry was about to ask Novak about his role in Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak. Novak was suspended for his action.

***

Should the media "bug" the president? Do we need to have a "what did you know and when did you know it" moment?

Back in October, George Stephanopoulos dropped a potential bombshell regarding the Plame investigation.(Click here to watch the video):

STEPHANOPOULOS: Definitely a political problem but I wonder, George Will, do you think it’s a manageable one for the White House especially if we don’t know whether Fitzgerald is going to write a report or have indictments but if he is able to show as a source close to this told me this week, that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions.

As the Center for American Progress noted: This would explain why Bush spent more than an hour answering questions from Fitzgerald. It would also fundamentally change the dynamics of the scandal. President Bush could no longer claim he was merely a bystander who wants to "get to the bottom of it."

But that was the beginning and end of any discussion of Bush's (or Cheney's) role in the Plame identity leak.

The media has essentially been a bystander throughout the investigation, getting leaks from lawyers observing grand jury testimony -- but it hasn't broken any significant stories independent of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

After Delay, Fitzgerald Apparently Preparing To Indict Rove

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to ask a grand jury investigating the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame to indict Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove for making false statements to the FBI and Justice Department investigators in October 2003, lawyers close to the case told the website RAWSTORY.

Rove failed to tell investigators at the time that he had spoken about Plame to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and conservative columnist Robert Novak, both of whom later cooperated in the case. Novak outed Plame in a July 14, 2003 column.

Neither Rove nor his attorney Robert Luskin has explained Rove’s misstatements to Fitzgerald’s satisfaction, those familiar with the case said.

Eleventh-hour testimony from Time reporter Viveca Novak — who Luskin fingered as a crucial witness in keeping his client out of court — does not appear to have been helpful in dodging an indictment, they added.

At the time, 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 Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

***

Fitzgerald briefed the second grand jury investigating the outing last week for more than three hours. During that time, he brought them up to speed on the latest developments involving Rove and at least one other White House official, the sources said. The attorneys refused to identify the second person.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent who trained with Plame and has aggressively criticized the Bush Administration via his blog, has suggested that National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley also is facing indictment.

An email Rove sent to Hadley in early July 2003 -- when he was Deputy National Security Advisor -- later proved Rove had spoken to Cooper about Plame, a fact that Rove omitted when he was first interviewed by the FBI.

Bush Allows Actual Questions (Surprise, Surprise), But Responds With Same Old Spin

After a speech yesterday before the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, President Bush departed from his normally scripted affairs and took questions from an audience that included potential critics of his administration's Iraq policy, and even (gasp!) Democrats.

Too often, the president has insulated himself, speaking before partisan crowds who had to take loyalty oaths, with questioners hand-picked to lob softball questions. At one point, the White House filled a room with interns posing as reporters.

But just because someone asks a legitimate question of Bush, doesn't mean Bush has to provide a legitimate answer.

Faeze Woodville, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Iran and now living in Stratford, Pa., asked why Bush keeps linking the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to the Iraq war despite no evidence of a direct connection.

Woodville asked a great question. Bush, no doubt providing a scripted answer he's offered many times before, answered by linking the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 to the Iraq War!

It was a tour de force for anyone studying empty Bush Administration spin.

Here's a transcript of that exchange:

Q Mr. President, I would like to know why it is that you and others in your administration keep linking 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq when no respected journalist or Middle Eastern expert confirmed that such a link existed.

THE PRESIDENT: What did she -- I missed the question. Sorry. I didn't -- I beg your pardon, I didn't hear you. Seriously.

Q I would like to know why you and others in your administration invoke 9/11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes --

Q -- when no respected journalists or other Middle Eastern experts confirm that such a link existed.

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. 9/11 changed my look on foreign policy. I mean, it said that oceans no longer protect us, that we can't take threats for granted; that if we see a threat, we've got to deal with it. It doesn't have to be militarily, necessarily, but we got to deal with it. We can't -- can't just hope for the best anymore.

And so the first decision I made, as you know, was to -- was to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan because they were harboring terrorists. This is where the terrorists planned and plotted. And the second decision, -- which was a very difficult decision for me, by the way, and it's one that I -- I didn't take lightly -- was that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He is a declared enemy of the United States; he had used weapons of mass destruction; the entire world thought he had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations had declared in more than 10 -- I can't remember the exact number of resolutions -- that disclose, or disarm, or face serious consequences. I mean, there was a serious international effort to say to Saddam Hussein, you're a threat. And the 9/11 attacks extenuated that threat, as far as I -- concerned.

And so we gave Saddam Hussein the chance to disclose or disarm, and he refused. And I made a tough decision. And knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again. Removing Saddam Hussein makes this world a better place and America a safer country.

***

Woodville later told the Washington Post that she believed Bush ducked her question.

"There is no link, and he knows it as well as I. And I and others in the audience are insulted," she said.

Woodville may have been insulted, but she shouldn't have been surprised.

Monday, December 12, 2005

With Bush Administration, Staying "On Message" More Important Than Telling Truth

We've all heard the story about how George Washington admitted to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree. It's a straightforward story with a clear moral: people shouldn't lie.

I wonder if someday there will be a similar children's story regarding spin.

When members of the Bush Administration is caught telling a lie, misstating a fact, or make a bad prediction, the first instinct isn't to admit the mistake. Rather, it's to spin.

The reason for this is the administration's desire to stay "on message." Unhappy with the way Iraqis are handling the war? Get them "on message" with propaganda. Don't like what your top generals say about Iraqi troop self-sufficiency? Stay "on message," even if it means using creative math.

Back in August, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart provided a brilliant look at how the administration tries to stay "on message" by repeating the same catch-phrases over and over.

And let's face it, "staying on message" has worked wonders for George W. Bush. The "message" in 2000, for example, was to repeatedly ask the nation how many times Florida ballots should be "recounted," when they never were officially recounted in accordance with state law. Bush may never have been the nominee, of course, had it not been for South Carolinians being blanketed by the "message" about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) -- that he was a Manchurian Candidate who had fathered a child with a black New York prostitute.

***

To see a full example of how the Bush Administration stays "on message," take a look at the Dec. 4 edition of Fox News Sunday. Host Chris Wallace gave National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley three opportunities to admit Vice President Cheney made a mistake in May when he said the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes."

But Hadley, the loyal soldier, knows that when faced with admitting a mistake, the first instinct is to spin. The results are almost comical:

Opportunity 1:

WALLACE: Last May, Vice President Cheney said the following, and let’s put it up on the screen if we can, I think the level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they’re in their last throes, if you will, of the insurgency. Since then, 462 American troops have died. The insurgency back in May was not in its last throes, was it?

HADLEY: One of the things the president did in his speech on Wednesday was to try and be clear about who is the enemy, who we’re up against, and he categorized it really in three ways…

Opportunity 2:

WALLACE: But, Mr. Hadley, with respect, I don’t think you answered my question. Was the vice president mistaken last May when he talked about an insurgency in its last throes, given the fact that almost 500 American troops have been killed since then?

HADLEY: The violence is continuing, as I said in my answer to the prior question. We have made clear we thought the violence was probably going to go up in this period.

Opportunity 3:

WALLACE: But doesn’t that undercut the credibility of the administration, first of all, when the vice president talks about last throes, last May, and clearly it turns out it was wrong? And, with respect, there’s an unwillingness for you to admit it was a mistake then. A lot of people say that this administration, even when it’s clearly mistaken, is never willing to say it was wrong. ...Was he wrong when he said that?

HADLEY: Well, look. What I think we can say is that there were indications that we are making progress against the insurgency.

***

What would have happened if George Washington had known the art of staying "on message?"

CAPT. AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON: George, did you cut down this cherry tree?

GEORGE WASHINGTON: Oh, father, must we be consumed with the success or failure of any one tree? Our family owns so much acreage. And yet there are children who starve. Are you suggesting that the fate of one diminuitive tree is greater than of a starving child?


CAPT. WASHINGTON: You have not answered my query, George. I note you are holding an axe in your hand. Is this not proof of your guilt?

GEORGE WASHINGTON: I do not believe that the question of guilt comes into play, father. For cherry trees have no legal rights in the commonwealth. I suppose you would defend this tree in a court of law, seeing as you place its value above that of the aforementioned starving children.

CAPT. WASHINGTON: I suggest no such thing! I merely wish to know whether you chopped down this cherry tree!

GEORGE WASHINGTON: You remain consumed with this one tree, whereas I would prefer to look at the success of all the surrounding trees. Perhaps you would do well to consider providing the fallen fruit of this one tree to the starving children you so willfully ignore!

***

Yes, it's a farce. George Washington's first instinct, as the story goes, was to tell the truth and admit wrongdoing, even for something as trivial as a cherry tree.

But another George, and those who surround him, don't have that same instinct.

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