Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Coast Guard Memo On Port Transfer Counters Bush Administration Spin

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) yesterday released an unclassified version of a document showing that the U.S. Coast Guardlocated in the Department of Homeland Security — “cautioned the Bush administration that it was unable to determine whether a United Arab Emirates-owned company might support terrorist operations.”

That would counter the spin from various Bush Administration undersecretaries that the transfer of six U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World is a "routine" matter that no one is "second-guessing."

It also countered what White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday:

MCCLELLAN: This was a transaction that was closely scrutinized by national security experts who are involved in these decisions and by our intelligence community. The intelligence community provided an assessment. The Department of Homeland Security also worked to make sure any national security concerns were addressed by entering into an agreement with the company and requiring some additional security assurances before it moved forward.

***

Why was the Coast Guard concerned? Here's what the document said:

"There are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for DPW or P&O assets to support terrorist operations, that precludes an overall threat assessment of the potential DPW and P&O Ports merger. The breadth of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential vulnerabilities."

And what are the "intelligence gaps"?

-- Operations: What is the security environment at all the DPW and P&O port or terminal operations; to include the methods of conveyance and the personnel management of related ports and terminal operations?

-- Personnel: What are the backgrounds of all associated personnel working for or associated with DPW and P&O?

-- Foreign Influence: Is there foreign influence on DPW or P&O operations that affect security and other major decisions? If so, what countries and to what degree?

In other words, the U.S. doesn't really know all that much about Dubai Ports World, in spite of the fact that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial base, and the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

***

McClellan also threw out this bit of spin yesterday:

MCCLELLAN: But this was a consensus of all the relevant departments and agencies — there are some 12 altogether — that are part of that Committee on Foreign Investment.

That sounds impressive, but we know that at least three cabinet secretaries on the committee -- Treasury Secretary Snow, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff -- didn't know about the deal until after it was announced.

Exactly how did Homeland Security "address" the Coast Guard's concerns, if Chertoff didn't even know about the deal? Is this another example of the Bush Administration cherry-picking information to rationalize its action -- ignoring "second guessing"?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Alternate Universe Of Conservative Pundits

On this morning's edition of Fox News Sunday, conservative pundits Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol labeled Democrats who oppose the transfer of six U.S. ports to a United Arab Emirates-owned company "demagogues," but refused to criticize like-minded Republicans.

Kristol added that Democrats were "idiots" for the way they are handling the issue. Krauthammer suggested Democrats were pursuing the issue because they were too naive to make a distinction between "moderate" Arab countries and unfriendly Arab countries.

But even when prompted on the subject, both Krauthammer and Kristol refused to criticize Republicans opposing the transfer. In their alternate universe, the debate over the port transfers is between Congressional Democrats and the Bush Administration.

This hypocritical stance has become a regular spin line for conservative pundits.

On Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes last week, host Sean Hannity questioned Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) as to why he was opposing the port transfer -- not on the merits of the argument, but because it created an opening for the "Clinton, Schumer, Kerry Democrats" to loudly oppose the deal.

Meanwhile, syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham last week discussed at length how Democrats were being opportunists, only concerned with improving their collective chances during mid-term elections this November.

This is what passes for "debating the issue" among the conservative media. If Congressional Democrats and Republicans agree to oppose the Bush Administration, Democrats are wrong. Republicans? Nothing to see here ... nothing to see.

Now It's Three Cabinet Secretaries Who Approved Port Transfer, But Now Claim Not To Have Known About Deal Until After It Was Announced

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has joined the list of high-ranking Bush Administration officials -- including President Bush -- who claim to have not been aware a United Arab Emirates-owned company was seeking to operate terminals in six U.S. ports.

The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States approved the deal on Jan. 17. The committee is made up of 12 senior government officials, including the Treasury, State, Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce secretaries and the Attorney General.

But three of those secretaries -- Chertoff, Treasury Secretary Snow and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- claim they didn't know about the deal transferring operations from British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to Dubai Ports World until it was made known by the media.

The various agencies are defending the lack of notification by calling the transfer a "routine" matter that no one is "second-guessing." This in spite of the fact that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial base, and the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

Given the firestorm from both sides of the political aisle, I wonder if anyone in the Bush Administration will think twice the next time.

Specter Joins DeWine In Trying To Legalize Warrantless Surveillance (Although No Republican Will Admit Warrantless Surveillance Is Illegal)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) is proposing legislation that would force the federal government to obtain permission from a secret court to continue warrantless surveillance.

Specter's proposal would bring the four-year-old National Security Agency program under the authority of the court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Specter's plan could put him at odds with an administration-supported bill proposed by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) that would exempt the NSA program from the surveillance law.

But these questions remain: Will Congressional Republicans -- regardless of which legislation they support -- finally acknowledge that warrantless surveillance is illegal? Will they admit that the White House spin that the Bush Administration has "inherent authority" to conduct warrantless surveillance is false?

Because those of us in the reality-based universe remain perplexed by this conundrum: If legislation is necessary to make warrantless surveillance legal, then doesn't that mean that warrantless surveillance is currently illegal?

The Republican-led Congress should know that covering up the White House's illegal activity will not play well with voters come November. Republicans acknowledge they have insufficiently investigated the Bush Administration. But their inability to admit the obvious when it comes to warrantless surveillance is bordering on ridiculous.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chair Of House Energy Committee Fuming At Citgo's Low-Cost Heating Program For Poor

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched an investigation last week into possible antitrust violations by a major oil company.

Barton isn't probing whether oil companies like ExxonMobil, which had record profits last year, are doing anything wrong. Instead, Barton is investigating a program started by Citgo last year to provide discounted heating oil to low-income communities.

In a Feb. 15 letter to Citgo, Barton demanded that company officials produce all records, minutes, logs, e-mails and even desk calendars related to the program, which began last year in Massachusetts and the South Bronx, and has since expanded to low-income communities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island.

Local politicians have welcomed the program, so why is Barton so upset?

Because Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government, and conservatives are famously angry with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, one of the most strident opponents of the Bush administration. Late last year, you may recall, conservative Christian leader Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Chavez, before backing away from the statement.

Beyond that, Barton is a top recipient of campaign donations from the energy industries -- a traditional ally of Republicans. In 2004, Barton was second only to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) in contributions from the oil industry, and since joining the House in 1989, he's received $1.9 million in campaign contributions from oil, gas and electric companies.

So the question is, who is Barton actually defending? Is he working for his constituents in Texas, or is he working for his campaign coffers?

***

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at Barton's callousness.

The Republican-led Congress has failed to provide adequate funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In FY 2005, funding only allowed for 5 million Americans received assistance, out of 32 million eligible.

Last year, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was to increase funding for the energy assistance program. One problem: neither the House nor Senate ever followed through by appropriating the money.

Maybe if low-income Americans turned record profits and filled Republican coffers, Congress would pay attention to them.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bush, Rumsfeld, Snow Each Claim They Knew Nothing About Port Transfer Until After Deal Was Approved

Although the Bush Administration is strongly defending a deal for a state-owned Dubai company to manage major U.S. ports, key members of the administration are saying they didn't know about the deal until after it was approved.

It makes you wonder how the administration came to approve Dubai Ports World buying British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which runs six U.S. Ports.

President Bush, who has threatened to veto legislation blocking the transfer, apparently was unaware of the deal until it had already been approved, the White House said yesterday.

So if Bush wasn't behind the deal, who was?

We've been told the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States gave the approval. But the committee chairman, Treasury Secretary John Snow, told reporters yesterday he was not involved in deliberations until after the transaction was approved.

"I involved myself in it as it came to my attention over the course of the last three or four days. I got involved in it after the approval process," Snow said.

And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also a member of the committee, said at a Tuesday briefing that he didn't find out about the sale until nearly a week after it was approved.

"I am reluctant to make judgments based on the minimal amount of information I have because I just heard about this over the weekend," he said.

How can this be? We've been told the committee unanimously approved the sale. How is that possible if the committee chair and a key member of the committee didn't know about it?

Can anyone in the administration take responsibility for this approval?

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The Bush administration signed off on transferring control of six U.S. ports to a United Arab Emirates-owned firm, Dubai Ports World, after it was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The interagency committee is headed by Treasury Secretary John Snow. The New York Daily News notes that Snow's former employer, the CSX rail firm, sold its own international port operations in 2004 to -- you guessed it -- Dubai Ports World.

Of course, Snow had already joined the Bush Administration when the CSX-Dubai Ports deal was done. "I learned of this transaction probably the same way that members of the Senate did -- by reading about it in the newspapers," he told reporters yesterday.

Still, should the connection between Snow and Dubai Ports be ignored?

"It always raises flags" when administration officials have ties to a firm, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) told the Daily News.

In Ohio, Another Loss For "Intelligent Design" Proponents

In the latest blow for proponents of "intelligent design," the Ohio Board of Education voted last week to eliminate a passage in the state's science standards that opened the door for the teaching of the controversial belief.

"It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about science," said board member Martha Wise, who pushed to eliminate the passage.

Intelligent design is a controversial belief that argues that a higher being designed the complex universe. The belief has been championed by conservative Christian leaders as an alternative to evolutionary theory worthy of being taught in public schools. But it has been fought by supporters of separation of church and state, who see intelligent design as a thinly veiled way to teach religion in public schools.

Intelligent design proponents have also recently lost fights in California, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Still, a number of state legislatures are considering bills to allow intelligent design to be taught in public school classrooms.

Pending anti-evolution legislation currently includes: Alabama SB 240, Arkansas HB 2607, Georgia HB 179, Kansas SB 168, Michigan HB 5251, Mississippi SB 2286, Missouri HB 1266, New York 8036, Ohio HB 481, Oklahoma HB 2107, Pennsylvania HB 1007, South Carolina SB 909, Texas HB 1447 and Utah SB 96.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the various bills are designed to either discredit evolutionary theory, encourage teachers and students to explore intelligent design or other "alternative" theories, or promote the manufactured "controversy" over evolution.

"There is no significant controversy within the scientific community about the validity of evolution," wrote the AAAS board. "Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science."

So then why are so many states considering anti-evolution legislation? Because, like the U.S. Congress, most state legislatures have Republican majorities. And those Republican majorities are far more likely to be beholden to the religious right -- the main proponent of intelligent design.

In an effort to show that many religious individuals believe in scientific theory, a pro-evolution group called Clergy Letter Project announced it had gathered signatures from 10,000 clergy members in support of teaching evolution.

"Science is absolutely neutral with regard to religion," the Rev. George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, said on Sunday, during the AAAS national science conference in St. Louis.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hannity, Discussing Gumbel's Comment Against The GOP, Relies On False Claims. (And He's A Hypocrite, Too.)

On last night's edition of Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, conservative pundit Sean Hannity asked why the mainstream media isn't "outraged" over a comment last week from sports commentator Bryant Gumbel.

Gumbel, remarking on his HBO show Real Sports that he never watches the Winter Olympics, said, “So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.”

But in spite of Hannity's question, the media has hardly rallied to defend Gumbel's comments. For example, a USA Today columnist said Gumbel's comments "don't ring true." A Knight-Ridder Newspapers columnist implied that Gumbel's comments were racist. A columnist for the Annapolis (Md.) Capitol agreed. The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch called Gumbel's comments "harsh."

Of course, Hannity doesn't really care about the "paucity of blacks" at the Turin Olympics. The reason he brought up the Gumbel comment was to launch a defense of the GOP, and to imply that the "liberal media" is giving Gumbel a free pass because they hate President Bush.

So Hannity relies on a false claim -- no "outrage" against Gumbel -- to refute the notion that the GOP has a "paucity of blacks." On that point, Hannity said last night that Gumbel's comment was "not accurate" and not "productive."

But, in fact, the Bush Administration has a "paucity of blacks" when compared with the Clinton Administration.

While Bush has made several high-profile appointments of blacks, most notably Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell as successive Secretaries of State, a 2004 analysis of the 2,800 political posts that form an administration found that blacks held 7% of administration jobs under Bush, compared with 16% of administration jobs under President Clinton.

In other words, Hannity makes a false claim in order to make ... another false claim.

***

Beyond relying on false claims, Hannity is a hypocrite.

Which is worse: Gumbel's comment about the GOP, or conservative pundit Ann Coulter's "joke" that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned?

Even if you think the two comments are of equal concern, would you be surprised to find out that Hannity, while outraged over Gumbel, said nary a word about Coulter?

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said at a January speech at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

Coulter appeared on Hannity & Colmes the next night, but neither Hannity nor guest co-host Bob Beckel asked Coulter about her "joke."

Bush Threatens To Veto Legislation Blocking Transfer Of U.S. Ports To Dubai Firm

In his five-plus years as president, George W. Bush has not once vetoed a piece of legislation.

With Republicans in control of Congress, it would take extraordinary circumstances for Bush to feel the need to veto legislation. But certainly, Americans would know how passionately Bush felt on a given subject, if he was willing to overrule his own party's Congressional leadership.

And now we may be at such a crossroads. For President Bush is once again threatening his debut veto -- in order to support the takeover of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports by a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.

The president yesterday defended his administration’s earlier approval of the sale of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to Dubai Ports World, despite concerns from both sides of the aisle that the deal could increase the possibility of terrorism at American ports.

“If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward,” Bush said.

What's wrong with the United Arab Emirates? Some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial base. The UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. Critics from both parties say a port operator complicit in smuggling or terrorism could manipulate manifests and other records to frustrate Homeland Security’s already limited scrutiny of shipping containers and slip contraband past U.S. Customs inspectors.

But Bush asked Americans to trust his judgment, and why shouldn't we? We were greeted as liberators in Iraq, right? Right before we found all those weapons of mass destruction. And Osama Bin Laden has been captured, right? And we're following that roadmap to a two-state solution, now that the Palestinians have had elections. Everything has gone just as the Bush Administration said it would, right? Asking for our trust may have worked in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes, but doesn't work with the majority of Americans today.

So it shouldn't be completely surprising that multiple pieces of bipartisan legislation are being written in the House and Senate to block the transfer. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, said yesterday the state will file lawsuits in federal and state courts opposing the agreement. A company at the Port of Miami, a subsidiary of Eller & Co. Inc., sued last week to block the deal in a Florida state court.

***

Bush has threatened the veto before, showing passion for some very questionable ideals.

-- In October, Bush threatened to veto the Senate's 2006 Defense spending bill because it included an amendment that would mandate uniform standards for the treatment of military detainees by banning "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners by the military.

After it seemed the entire nation disagreed with him, Bush relented.

-- Bush has threatened to veto legislation for expanded financial support for stem cell research. With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) now behind such legislation, a showdown is possible later this year.

-- Last fall, Bush threatened to veto legislation that would have reversed new Environmental Protection Agency rules to give power plants flexibility in how they reduce mercury emissions.

But Bush got a break, as the legislation failed 51-47.

-- Last summer, Bush threatened to veto the pork-laden federal highway bill if it came in over-budget.

But even after the legislation was passed some $30 billion over Bush's line-in-the-sand, he signed it into law. What a fiscal conservative!

***

So again we sit at the crossroads. Bush has laid down the gauntlet. For now, Congressional Republicans appear upset at the idea of our ports being run by a government with as many ties to terrorism as, say, Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Will Republicans stand firm and fight their party's leader? Will they succumb to late-night arm-twisting from Vice President Cheney and Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove? Or will Bush be forced to put his veto stamp where his mouth is?

With mid-term elections less than nine months away, and with Bush's popular support hovering at about 40 percent, this is a battle worth watching.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Stewart Zings McClellan

"They are trained to provide false information. ..."

-- Scott McClellan, describing Guantanamo Bay detainees, Feb. 16.

"... McClellan added, 'I however, am a natural.'"

-- "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, describing McClellan, Feb. 21

Mortgage Obtained By Santorum May Have Violated Senate Ethics Rules

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and his wife received a $500,000, five-year mortgage for their Virginia home from a private bank which makes loans to those with at least $250,000 of investments, which the Santorums did not have at the time the loan was made.

News of the mortgage, reported simultaneously by the liberal American Prospect magazine and the Philadelphia Daily News, is raising eyebrows at a time when Santorum is the Republicans' point man on ethics reform in the Senate. Government watchdogs suggest the loan could be in violation of Senate ethics rules if Santorum received something a regular citizen could not.

Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who heads Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, told reporter Will Bunch that "anytime he gets something that a regular person couldn't get, that's an improper gift" - regardless of any fees or the interest rate.

Philadelphia Trust Co., a private Philadelphia bank run by a major Santorum campaign donor, advertises itself as working for investors with liquid assets of at least $250,000. On its Web site, it states that its "[b]anking services are available only to investment advisory clients whose portfolios we manage, oversee or administer."

But a review of annual financial-disclosure forms filed by Santorum showed that in 2002, the year he obtained the mortgage, his investments were less than $140,000. The same disclosure forms show he has never held an investment portfolio with Philadelphia Trust.

So how did he receive the mortgage?

A Santorum spokeswoman said Santorum "applied for the mortgage using the standard application process that Americans must go through when applying for a mortgage and received a market-driven rate for their second home in the Washington, D.C., area." But that doesn't answer the question of why.

A bank director, Karen Iacovelli, also would not answer questions in detail, but when pressed on whether the bank does loan business with non-investment customers, she said, "Yes and no -- it's a judgment call."

That "judgment call" may have been made because officials at Philadelphia Trust have been generous supporters of Santorum since the bank opened its doors in 1998.

Federal records show the company's executives, directors and their spouses have donated $24,000 either to the senator's campaign or to the America's Foundation PAC. Of that total, $13,000 came from Philadelphia Trust CEO Michael Crofton and his wife.

Whether the mortgage causes Santorum problems with his Senate colleagues is hard to tell, as the Republican-controlled Congress rarely comes down on its own. But it may hurt Santorum's bid for re-election. He trails opponent Bob Casey by double-digits, according to a variety of recent polls.

Bush Flip-Flops On Increasing Pell Grants

President Bush's fiscal year 2007 budget freezes Pell Grants for the fourth consecutive year at $4,050.

That's unfortunate for needy college students, especially as the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education estimates that between 2001 and 2010, 4.4 million low- and moderate-income academically-qualified students will forego college because of cost.

It should be noted that Bush has repeatedly said he wants to increase the size of Pell Grants. But he failed to deliver on even the marginal $100 per year increase he spoke of.

So once again, some children will be left behind.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Harry Whittington, the GOP fund-raiser who was felled by a blast from Dick Cheney's shotgun, apologized on Friday for the stress the accident had caused the vice president over the past week.

"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week," Whittington told reporters outside Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.

I wonder if White House Senior Advisor Karl Rove, who called his friend Katharine Armstrong before she reported the shooting to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, also put in a call to his friend Harry Whittington.

After all, with Cheney's popularity painfully low, Rove no doubt believes the vice president could use some public sympathy.

Chertoff Said He Knew Brown Was Failing During Katrina, But Didn't Tell Bush ... Or Brown. How Did He Expect FEMA To Avoid Failure?

Which was more important, helping the people of the Gulf Coast survive Hurricane Katrina ... or Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown's feelings?

Based on his interview today with NBC's Tim Russert, you'd have to conclude that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was more concerned with Brown's feelings. Perhaps that's a piece of the puzzle as to why the federal government so badly managed last summer's disaster.

Maybe, instead of worrying about keeping "people's spirits up," Chertoff should have been working with Brown to come up with solutions to the myriad of problems that occurred in the days following the storm. Perhaps the death toll might not have been as high if Chertoff had worried less about giving "brutal assessments about people’s performance."

Given what we know now about Chertoff's incompetence, isn't it time President Bush ask Chertoff to resign?

From today's edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

CHERTOFF: Thursday night, I began to — I asked myself, “Are we dealing with a situation where it’s not just the inherent, overwhelming challenge, but that maybe, despite good intentions, Mr. Brown is really not up to this.

RUSSERT: “Mike Brown not up to this.” The very next day, the president came down to the Gulf region, and here you are on the screen — right of the screen in the purple shirt, Mr. Brown in the middle, the president on the left. And this is where the president uttered these now-infamous words. Let’s listen.

(Videotape, September 2, 2005)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: The president is saying he’s doing a heck of a job; the night before, you’re saying, “I don’t think the guy’s up to it.” Why didn’t you tell the president?

CHERTOFF: Well, again, I never get into conversations with the president. But I do think the context of that remark is that Brown had been up for, you know, practically every night for the last few days. I think whatever my judgment was about whether his skills were matched to the challenge, I think certainly everybody believed at that point he was doing his best. And I think this is really an effort to kind of buck the troops up, recognize the fact that everybody was really exhausted and working hard. And the fact is, we were in the middle — still very much in the middle of the event, and we needed to keep people’s spirits up, so I think you’ve got to look at this as — in the context of a recognition that everybody was really exhausted and overwhelmed by the nature of the challenge.

RUSSERT: Was it an attempt to spin the American people? Things on the ground were in such stark reality to what the official pronouncements coming out of the government were?

CHERTOFF: No, I think — I think, you know, when you are in a disaster, you actually look people in the eyes, and you see how they’re working their hearts out. And even if it — if they haven’t done the kind of job that you wish they could have done. As a human matter, I think you want to reach out, you want to, you know, pat them on the back, you want to buck them up. I don’t think that’s the time to start to engage in finger pointing or in — in, you know, giving brutal assessments about people’s performance.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

DeWine Wants Administration Critics To "Get Beyond" Question Of Whether Warrantless Surveillance Is Illegal

The White House announced its support for proposed legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to exclude President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

As spokesman Trent Duffy told the White House press corps: "The President believes that he has the authority necessary, but of course we're willing to work with the Congress if they feel that further codification of that would be necessary."

So the White House's spin is that it isn't doing anything wrong, but if Congress wants to say so, they won't stop them? Does this make any sense? If the White House thinks it's not violating FISA, then it should tell Congress that legislation is unnecessary.

But of course, the legislation is necessary, because warrantless surveillance violates FISA, which says the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

DeWine, speaking on Fox News Channel last night, made it clear that he wants to move "beyond" the discussion of what's legal and what's not.

DEWINE: You know, there’s been some controversy about whether or not this program is legal or is not legal. I think we need to get beyond that. And the vast majority of American people believe these calls need to be listened to. But we don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional. So I think we need to put that beyond us.

This is classic conservative spin. The White House should determine for the entire country when enough questions have been asked -- even when illogical or contradictory answers have been provided.

We should "put this behind us," like we were told to do with the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. It's time to "move on," as we were told to do with Vice President Cheney's accidental shooting of a fellow quail hunter. No one should play the "blame game," we were told after the government failed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

And if not, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and the rest will accuse administration critics of hating Bush, coddling terrorists, and so on.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"We Are Divided By Those Who Think With Their Head, And Those Who Know With Their Heart"

Stephen Colbert, of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, probably has never seen or heard of JABBS.

But he knows why we're here. We're here to fight "truthiness."

If you haven't heard of truthiness, it's defined as: "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true."

Sound familiar? Perhaps because truthiness is so rampant in the spin the Bush Administration and its cohorts in the conservative media feed us daily. Maybe that's why truthiness was selected by the American Dialect Society as the word of the year for 2005.

Here's how Colbert, satirizing Bill O'Reilly, describes it:

COLBERT: And that brings us to tonight's word: Truthiness.

Now I'm sure some of the word-police, the "wordanistas" over at Websters, are gonna say, "Hey, that's not a word!" Well, anybody who knows me knows that I am no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen.

Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I want to say it happened in 1941, that's my right.

I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. Because face it, folks, we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats or Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.

Consider Harriet Miers. If you think about Harriet Miers, of course her nomination's absurd! But the President didn't say he thought about his selection, he said this:

President Bush: "I know her heart."

Notice how he said nothing about her brain? He didn't have to. He feels the truth about Harriet Miers. And what about Iraq? If you think about it, maybe there are a few missing pieces to the rationale for war. But doesn't taking Saddam out feel like the right thing...right here in the gut?
Because that's where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen...the gut.

Did you know that you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head? Look it up. Now, somebody's gonna say "I did look that up and its wrong." Well, Mister, that's because you looked it up in a book. Next time, try looking it up in your gut. I did. And my gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.

Now I know some of you may not trust your gut ... yet. But with my help you will. The "truthiness" is, anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news ... at you.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bush Is Satisfied With Cheney's "Firearms Mishap," But Questions Remain ... For Tucker Carlson?

"The President is very satisfied with the way this matter has been addressed. I think that at this point, what we are doing is looking forward to the future, not looking back to the past," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, at this afternoon's press briefing.

Apparently, President Bush is satisfied that Vice President Cheney's shooting accident was disclosed in a timely fashion. When asked, McClellan offered the above. Asked again, he advised the reporter to ask Bush himself.

The White House is moving on, and people shouldn't expect otherwise. The four days that it took for Cheney to speak publicly on the subject were long days for Washington Republicans.

Yet, in some circles, questions remain. And while the empty conservative spin is to suggest that this entire episode has been caused by a Cheney-hating White House press corps, none other than conservative pundit Tucker Carlson remains bothered by those unanswered questions.

Bush may not be curious, but Carlson, on last night's edition of his MSNBC show The Situation, was very straightforward in when talking with former Bush deputy assistant Brad Blakeman.

Carlson's beef: the beer Cheney told Fox News Channel's Brit Hume he ingested at lunch, roughly four hours before he accidentally shot 78-year-old GOP fundraiser Harry Whittington.

Here's a piece of the transcript:

CARLSON: (T)he question of whether the vice president was drinking before he shot, even one beer, I think is significant, because you‘re not supposed to do that.

BLAKEMAN: Well, that‘s not so. It‘s—it‘s a situation where the—the vice president admitted he had one beer at lunch five hours prior to the incident. And as a matter of law and as a matter of science, that one beer could not have had an impact on the vice president one way or the other.

CARLSON: I don‘t know that we know it was five hours before the incident. I don‘t think in his interview today, unless you‘ve spoken to him separately, I don‘t think he was that specific. But we don‘t — and of course, because you know, we don‘t have a blood alcohol reading from the vice president after the shooting, we don‘t know exactly what was in his blood. But we do know that it is considered totally unacceptable — and I‘m sure you know this and I can tell you if you don‘t — to drink before shooting. People just don‘t do it, and they don‘t do it because it‘s a very dangerous sport and it gets more dangerous if you drink.

BLAKEMAN: It depends when you ingested the drink. And if you ingested the drink five hours or four hours even before shooting, one beer, it cannot have an deleterious effect on you as a matter of science. It‘s completely out of your system.

CARLSON: That‘s interesting. I don‘t think that that‘s settled science. And I ...

BLAKEMAN: I have it right here with me.

CARLSON: Let me just finish my sentence. I don‘t think that we know that what medications the vice president is on. I think we know that he is on some medications to respond to the coronary problems that he‘s had. And it‘s not clear what effect the mixture of beer with those medicines has. And I guess my question to you, Brad, is why take the chance? The reason people don‘t drink before they hunt — and they‘re really uptight about it in most hunts. I mean, they say you can‘t drink period until you put the gun down for the rest of the day. And the reason they do that is why take the chance? Why did he take the chance? Why do this?

***

Is Carlson on a (no pun intended) wild goose chase? Or is this story worth pursuing?

Consider that Katharine Armstrong -- who Cheney allowed to break the story via the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, rather than via a statement from his office to the White House press corps -- offered three different versions of what alcohol was available to the Cheney-Whittington hunting party.

She told Scripps Howard News Service: “No one was drinking.”

She told NBC News: “There may be a beer or two in (the coolers), but remember not everyone in the party was shooting.”

CNN reported that she never saw Cheney or Whittington “drink at all on the day of the shooting until after the accident occurred, when the vice president fixed himself a cocktail back at the house.”

Of course, none of those quite match up with what Cheney told Fox News Channel.

Meanwhile, the sheriff's report claims that when Whittington was interviewed on Monday, the interviewing officer said Whittington “explained foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt.” Today, Whittington’s doctors again had “no comment” about whether blood tests have revealed any alcohol in his blood. No blood test was ever given to Cheney.

So, while Bush is "very satisfied" with the information available, questions remain. And if the White House has its way, those questions will remain unanswered.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Four Days Late, Cheney Acknowledges Shooting, Then Offers Spin, Spin, Spin

Vice President Dick Cheney today accepted full blame for shooting a fellow hunter, but defended his decision to not publicly disclose the accident until the following day.

"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry (Whittington)," Cheney told Fox News Channel's Brit Hume, in his first public comments since the shooting Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Cheney has been under intense political pressure to speak out about the shooting incident, which has become a public relations embarrassment and potential political liability for the White House. Until Wednesday, Cheney had refused to comment on why he withheld information about the shooting, which prolonged the controversy and made him the butt of jokes.

Cheney was, as Hume later described, "unapologetic," about his decision to delay releasing news of the accident, and to allow the ranch owner, Katharine Armstrong, to release the news to a local newspaper, rather than take the more established route of releasing a statement to the White House press corps.

Cheney offer a questionable excuse for delaying releasing information to the press, but makes no effort to defend having Armstrong release the news to the local newspaper. Perhaps even he can't spin that one.

CHENEY: (W)e really didn’t know until Sunday morning that Harry was probably going to be okay, that it looked like there hadn’t been any serious damage to any vital organ. And that’s when we began the process of notifying the press.

HUME: Well, what — you must have recognized, though, with all your experience in Washington, that this was going to be a big story.

CHENEY: Well, true, it was unprecedented. I’ve been in the business for a long time and never seen a situation quite like this. ...

HUME: Well, did it occur to you that sooner was — I mean, the one thing that we’ve all kind of learned over the last several decades is that if something like this happens, as a rule sooner is better.

CHENEY: Well, if it’s accurate. If it’s accurate. And this is a complicated story.

HUME: But there were some things you knew. I mean, you knew the man had been shot, you knew he was injured, you knew he was in the hospital, and you knew you’d shot him.

CHENEY: Correct.

HUME: And you knew certainly by sometime that evening that the relevant members of his family had been called. I realize you didn’t know the outcome, and you could argue that you don’t know the outcome today, really, finally.

CHENEY: As we saw, if we’d put out a report Saturday night on what we heard then — one report came in that said, superficial injuries. If we’d gone with a statement at that point, we’d have been wrong. And it was also important, I thought, to get the story out as accurately as possible, and this is a complicated story that, frankly, most reporters would never have dealt with before, so —

***

So there's the official excuse. The story was "complicated."

So of course, it made more sense to allow a neighbor to relate the story to the local newspaper, where a weekend reporter who normally covers health and fitness took the call, and got the scoop of a lifetime. Certainly, a reporter at a newspaper with a circulation of 88,000 would be better able to handle a "complicated story," than the White House press corps, which in theory includes some of the most prestigious reporters in the country.

Even Hume -- about as administration-friendly reporter as Cheney could find -- seems to have a hard time swallowing Cheney's spin.

It's pretty clear, if not before then certainly from this interview, that Cheney has no love for the White House press corps, and saw no reason to include them in the "process."

DeWine To Propose Legislation Authorizing Warrantless Surveillance

Senate intelligence committee member Mike DeWine (R-OH) tells the Washington Post in today's issue that he is drafting legislation that would "specifically authorize" warrantless surveillance by excluding it from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

By doing so, the executive branch would no longer be violating FISA, which says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

Under DeWine's plan, the executive branch would regularly brief a small, bipartisan panel drawn from the House and Senate intelligence committees. The surveillance program would require congressional reauthorization after five years to remain in place.

It's almost comical, if you think about it. You have Attorney General Alberto Gonzales saying that President Bush has "inherent authority" to conduct warrantless surveillance. If you believe Gonzales, no legislation is necessary.

Yet, DeWine's legislation would be the third time such legislation has been considered since 2003.

If legislation is necessary to make warrantless surveillance legal, then by default, doesn't that mean that warrantless surveillance is currently illegal? Or can the Republican Party have it both ways -- with the Bush Administration offering various arguments for why they aren't breaking the law, while Congressional Republicans pass legislation to make sure?

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Let's pretend for a moment that the Department of Defense can defend the $1.1 billion of contracts with public relations, advertising and media firms it paid out from fiscal years 2003 to 2005.

Check out page 56 of the report released Feb. 13 by the Government Accountability Office:

Four defense commissaries -- Dugway, Fort Wainwright, Memphis NAS and Lemoore -- contracted to spend a combined $11,764 to "provide and maintain in-store radio for background music."

Haven't these guys heard of an electronics store? The most expensive radio offered by Best Buy, for example, sells for $249.99.

I'm sure DOD has some tough requirements for "in-store radios," but the price variance among the four commissaries is startling. Dugway spent $730. The other commissaries spent between $2,088 and $5,706! Even taking into consideration size differences at the commissaries, it seems someone didn't do a great job of price shopping.

Maybe if somone had gone to an electronics store, DOD would have had enough money remaining to buy a U.S. soldier in Iraq some decent body armor.

Senior White House Officials Urge Cheney To Make Public Statement On Shooting

Vice President Cheney's tepid public response to the accidental shooting of a fellow quail hunter is prompting senior White House officials to press Cheney to publicly address the issue, several prominent Republicans told the Washington Post yesterday.

The Republicans said Cheney should have immediately disclosed the shooting Saturday night to avoid even the suggestion of a coverup and should have offered a public apology for his role in accidentally shooting Republican fund-raiser Harry Whittington.

Cheney has avoided public comment on the shooting other than to release two short statements. The first stated that he would be issued a warning for not paying a $7 hunting fee in Texas. The second, released Tuesday, detailed when he learned of Whittington's worsening condition -- Whittington suffered a heart attack earlier in the day as a result of one of Cheney's pellets -- and said his "thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family."

"I cannot believe he does not look back and say this should have been handled differently," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who is close to the White House.

"If I read Dick Cheney right, he's got to be just devastated" by the shooting incident, said Robert H. Michel, a former House Republican leader from Illinois and a longtime friend. But Michel said he is mystified that the vice president has not come out in public to express his feelings.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

O'Beirne Misrepresents Facts To Defend Cheney

On tonight's edition of Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, conservative pundit Kate O'Beirne relied on misrepresentations in order to defend Vice President Cheney.

O'Beirne's purpose was to rail against the White House press corps. The press corps, she and host Sean Hannity agreed, were unnecessarily angry and "had their feelings hurt" because Vice President Cheney allowed didn't reveal via an official statement that he had shot a fellow quail hunter on a ranch in Corpus Christi, Texas.

O'Beirne, of the National Review, also made it clear that she felt that the reason this was even a story was because the press corps was out to "get" Cheney, presumably because of his politics.

But co-host Alan Colmes exposed that half-truth, noting that Reagan Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, and former Reagan and Bush advisor David Gergen had also suggested Cheney was wrong. (Colmes didn't note that former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer also agreed.) O'Beirne could only weakly mutter something about Fitzwater and Gergen not being as angry as the press corps.

(Also noteworthy: National Review’s John Podhoretz said today that the Cheney hunting accident was a “a very big deal,” and that it was “disturbing as well that there was a news blackout that lasted nearly a day about this serious incident.” Maybe O'Beirne considers Podhoretz a liberal?)

In describing the course of events, O'Beirne said the ranch owner, Katharine Armstrong, contacted the local newspaper at 8 a.m. Central Time. That's a half-truth. Armstrong did contact the Caller-Times at that time, but the reporter she sought wasn't available. So she called back at 11:30 a.m., at which time she reached another reporter, who filed a story at 2:30 p.m., which then made it onto the wires at 3:30 p.m.

Finally, O'Beirne agreed with Press Secretary Scott McClellan's decision to not reveal that the shooting victim, 78-year-old Republican fund-raiser Harry Whittington, had suffered a heart attack as a result of one of Cheney's "peppered" bullets.

McClellan claimed that it was up to the doctors to reveal that, even though the news had already been reported on the wires. He later said that he wasn't asked the question -- thus truly serving his role as a "press" secretary.

In this case, the truth didn't really matter. When Colmes protested, O'Beirne and Hannity agreed that only Colmes would continue to treat the story seriously.

Perhaps it's time for people to stop seriously treating O'Beirne -- a regular on Fox News, MSNBC and NBC talk shows.

Daily Show Offers Its Take On Cheney's "Firearms Mishap"

On last night's edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, viewers were presented with one of the best bits of political humor in the show's very funny history:

JON STEWART: I'm joined now by our own vice-presidential firearms mishap analyst, Rob Corddry. Rob, obviously a very unfortunate situation. How is the vice president handling it?

ROB CORDDRY: Jon, tonight the vice president is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Wittington. According to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face.

STEWART: But why, Rob? If he had known Mr. Whittington was not a bird, why would he still have shot him?

CORDDRY: Jon, in a post-9-11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak.

STEWART: That's horrible.

CORDDRY: Look, the mere fact that we're even talking about how the vice president drives up with his rich friends in cars to shoot farm-raised wingless quail-tards is letting the quail know 'how' we're hunting them. I'm sure right now those birds are laughing at us in that little 'covey' of theirs.

STEWART: I'm not sure birds can laugh, Rob.

CORDDRY: Well, whatever it is they do … coo .. they're cooing at us right now, Jon, because here we are talking openly about our plans to hunt them. Jig is up. Quails one, America zero.

STEWART: Okay, well, on a purely human level, is the vice president at least sorry?

CORDDRY: Jon, what difference does it make? The bullets are already in this man's face. Let's move forward across party lines as a people … to get him some sort of mask.

For Cheney, A Moment Not Unlike Nixon or Clinton

Vice President Cheney made a mistake Saturday when he "peppered" Republican fund-raiser Harry Whittington, during a quail hunt on a ranch in Corpus Christi, Texas.

But he made a bigger mistake by not admitting the mistake, and instead allowing the news to come via the ranch's owner, Katharine Armstrong, who called the local daily newspaper, the Caller-Times. And that mistake was compounded by the ridiculous press conference held yesterday -- two days after the fact -- by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Q And you're satisfied with the way --

McCLELLAN: You can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job.

Q Well, it's not really a hindsight issue here. I mean, the Vice President made a decision about how the public should be notified that basically is at odds with the standard practice of how the President's own press operation and this White House notifies the public; isn't that right?

McCLELLAN: Well, again, this was handled by the Vice President's Office. The Vice President thought that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to give that information out, since she was an eyewitness.

Q But let's just be clear here. The Vice President of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper, and not the White House press corps at large, or notify the public in a national way?

McCLELLAN: Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it's going to be news and all of you all are going to be seeking that information.

***

There are various theories you can throw out as to why Cheney took this unusual and unprecedented way to have the unusual (though not unprecedented) shooting be revealed.

One theory was thrown out to McClellan:

Q Was there any consideration, to your knowledge, that the information should be delayed in order to avoid it becoming red meat on the Sunday talk shows on Sunday?

McCLELLAN: Not that I know of. In fact, she reached out to the local paper that morning -- I don't know what time, but I was told she reached out that morning.

In truth, Armstrong reached the Corpus Christi newspaper at 11:30 a.m. Central time, or after the Sunday talk shows. The story was filed on-line at 2:30 p.m. Central time, and picked up by the wire services an hour later.

But I would venture that Cheney wasn't in cahoots with Armstrong about when to call the local newspaper.

I'd throw out the theory that Cheney, who some consider to be the most secretive vice president ever, was hoping that no one would find out about the shooting.

Remember, there was no press corps at the ranch. The fellow hunters were key Republican supporters. If Armstrong hadn't called the local newspaper, how would the media find out?

My thinking is that Cheney didn't want to face the embarrassment of having the incident be repeated over and over on news, talk and late-night shows (which ultimately occurred). Furthermore, I think it shows how little regard Cheney has for the White House press corps. Cheney, like his boss, doesn't like press conferences, preferring to speak to partisan crowds. Cheney has requested loyalty oaths from speech attendees -- he's not eager to speak before a vigorous press corps.

***

Americans are a forgiving people.

President Nixon may have prevented the course of events that led to his impeachment if he had come clean early with the American people, and admitted that people in his inner circle had committed wrongdoing. The Washington Post may not have allowed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to continue digging -- assuming the Watergate burglars and a couple of superiors had met justice.

President Clinton may not have been impeached if he had come clean with the American people. Instead of saying, "I did not have sex with that woman," Clinton could have admitted his tryst. Yes, he would have faced some sparring from the Republican Party (and perhaps from his own), but the American people would have quickly forgiven him, and impeachment would likely not have gained traction in Congress.

Cheney will not face a serious call of resignation or impeachment for either of his acts -- the shooting, or the failure to communicate with the press. But he should do the right thing and make a short statement, acknowledging the obvious, apologizing for quickly failing to disclose the shooting, and asking for forgiveness.

It's the right thing to do. And who knows -- maybe Cheney's popularity will rise from a hard-to-believe 19%.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Insight, A Conservative Magazine, Says Bush Administration "Bracing" For Impeachment Hearings

"The Bush administration is bracing for impeachment hearings in Congress," reports Insight, a sister publication of the conservative Washington Times. "A coalition in Congress is being formed to support impeachment," an administration source told the magazine.

Why? Because of growing concern that the administration circumvented the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

As reported by JABBS, the list of Republicans who are questioning warrantless surveillance is growing. If enough Republicans side with the Democrats, impeachment becomes a reality.

Administration sources told Insight that the charges are expected to include false reports to Congress as well as President Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency to engage in electronic surveillance inside the United States without a court warrant. This included the monitoring of overseas telephone calls and e-mail traffic to and from people living in the United States without requisite permission from a secret court.

"Our arithmetic shows that a majority of the committee could vote against the president," a source told the magazine. "If we work hard, there could be a tie."

"Impeachment proponents in Congress have been bolstered by a memorandum by the Congressional Research Service on Jan. 6," the article says. "CRS, which is the research arm of Congress, asserted in a report by national security specialist Alfred Cumming that the amended 1947 law requires the president to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of a domestic surveillance effort. It was the second CRS report in less than a month that questioned the administration's domestic surveillance program."

Frist, Serving Red Meat To Potential 2008 Primary Voters, Will Seek Constitutional Amedment Barring Same-Sex Marriage

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) told a partisan crowd that he plans to bring to the Senate floor a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage.

Frist, speaking on Feb. 10 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, said the amendment is needed to protect the majority of Americans, whom he said oppose same-sex marriage, from "the whims of a few activist judges" who seek to "override the commonsense of the American people."

Frist, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, may be trying to throw red meat to the conservative wing of his party -- the people most likely to vote in the primaries. Frist has distanced himself from President Bush on some issues of late, such as federal support for embryonic stem cell research. Fighting same-sex marriage would be an easy way for him to regain conservative credentials.

It's just a variation of a theme conservatives have pushed for years -- people in the "heartland" should care more about the legal recognition of a same-sex couple in Massachusetts than about crumbling schools, boys coming home from Iraq in caskets, jobs being outsourced or their inability to obtain affordable health care.

"Protect" Americans? What's more important for a poverty-level family in Tuscaloosa or Topeka -- having a job and being able to afford food and medicine, or the fact that Tim and Larry just got married in Worcester?

Let's set aside Frist's empty conservative spin, and take a look at the facts.

Massachusetts is the only state that issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

So when Frist complains about "a few activist judges," he meant that literally. (Note: "activist judges" is conservative code for "liberal judges." Conservatives never complain about activist judges who are conservative, such as new Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.)

Vermont and Connecticut recognize civil unions. Four states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to formalize relationships through domestic-partnership registries.

Meanwhile, 18 states define marriage in their constitutions, many in amendments approved since 2003, when a Massachusetts court opened the door to same-sex marriages there. Other states could follow suit and try to pass referendums defining marriage in their constitutions. But it hardly seems to be a front-burner item for much of the country.

Why? Because the country is split on its support of same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions or the need for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

-- A Pew Research poll from July found that 53% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. But the same poll found that 53% of Americans support same-sex civil unions.

-- A Boston Globe poll from May found that 50% oppose same-sex marriage, but only 45% support a constitutional amendment.

-- A USA Today/Gallup poll from May found 56% of Americans opposed to same-sex marriage, and 53% favoring a constitutional amendment.

Interestingly, when given a choice of supporting same-sex marriage, same-sex unions or no legal recognition, less than 50% of Americans chose"no legal recognition" in polls conducted by ABC News/Washington Post (40%), CNN/USA Today (45%), and CBS News/New York Times (41%).

But hey, you know that the facts won't get in the way of Frist and other conservatives trying to convince voters in Tuscaloosa or Topeka that they should care more about same-sex marriage in Massachusetts than the issues directly affecting their lives.

It's Frist who wants to "override the commonsense of the American people."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More Republicans Join Bandwagon Questioning Warrantless Surveillance

The list of Republicans in Congress publicly questioning whether President Bush's warantless surveillance program sidesteps of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act continues to grow.

The latest to suggest a law has been violated include Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who told the New York Times that the more she learned about the program, the more its "gray areas" concerned her.

That makes 12 Republican Senators who have publicly questioned the program. The other 11 are: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, as well as Sam Brownback of Kansas, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, Larry Craig of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Dick Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

Also distancing herself from the president is Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), the chairwoman of the subcommittee that oversees the National Security Agency, who earlier this week called for a full-scale Congressional investigation. Wilson was joined by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) in calling for an investigation.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Where In The World Is Tom DeLay? (Hint: The Last Place He Should Be)

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was given a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers.

DeLay, it should be noted, has a long history with Abramoff, dating back to Abramoff's lobbying in the mid-1990s to stop legislation to improve labor laws on the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth in political union with the United States of America, but currently not subject to various U.S. laws, such as the minimum wage and use of child labor.

A decade ago, former Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK) wrote legislation that passed the Senate, but DeLay successfully prevented similar legislation from reaching the House floor.

"Allowing Tom DeLay to sit on a committee in charge of giving out money is like putting Michael Brown back in charge of FEMA Republicans in Congress just can't seem to resist standing by their man," said Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

National Review's O'Beirne On The Wrong Side Of Free Speech Debate

Two seemingly disaparate stories -- Muslim anger over anti-Muslim cartoons in the Danish press, and eulogies offered at Coretta Scott King's funeral -- provided an unusual forum for a discussion on free speech on Tuesday's edition of MSNBC's Hardball.

On each story, the bulk of the show's guests came out strongly in favor of free speech. The Danish cartoons, even if repugnant, should be protected. Political speech at a funeral for a political figure should not be frowned upon.

Consider what MSNBC's Tucker Carlson said about the Muslim protests:

CARLSON: (I)t seems to me it‘s the role of the United States government at that point to help teach the rest of the world the lesson about the freedom of the press, the ability in a free society to disagree with one another without killing each other, the rights of minorities to express their views.

Consider what the Washington Post's Colbert King said about the eulogy:

KING: Of course, that legacy was non-violence. And you can‘t come to a funeral where you eulogize Coretta Scott King and not talk about non-violence, and the presence of violence in the world. You can‘t come to a celebration of the life of Coretta Scott King and not talk about civil liberties and the infringement on her civil liberties by her own government. You cannot do that and be true to the King family.

But with each story, one guest came out against free speech. These guests wouldn't say they supported censorship, instead offering the spin that people should be more "responsible" or "appropriate." In other words, self-censorhip.

Osama Siblani, publisher of Arab American News, wasn't defending the riots, but he did suggest that there should be limits on freedom of speech.

SIBLANI: I think that freedom of speech comes with responsibility and accountability. I think the Danish newspaper does not practice responsibility, nor do they practice the accountability. ... Perfect example of an abuse of freedom of speech.

Siblani is a Lebanese emigrant who came to the U.S. at age 21 and began publishing his newspaper six years later out of Dearborn, Mich. He should have a better understanding of freedom of speech and freedom of the press -- freedoms he takes advantage of each day.

The same could be said of National Review editor Kate O'Beirne, who made it clear that she found political eulogies "inappropriate" at King's funeral.

MATTHEWS: Was there something inaccurate in what they said, either (former President Carter) or Dr. (Joseph) Lowery?

O‘BEIRNE: It doesn‘t matter. It doesn‘t matter if they were reading factual material to make a cheap political point. It totally is contrary to the spirit and we‘re not talking about Coretta Scott King and the incredible legacy of the Kings and her incredibly dignified life, which this runs counter to, I might add.

Ironically, Martin Luther King Jr. offered comments in 1959 that suggest that he would have been proud of the political tone of the eulogies for his wife:

KING: And every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?"... I'd like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness.

***

It shouldn't be surprising that O'Beirne implied there should be limits on speech -- speech that she finds offensive.

Conservatives have a long history of trying to stop people they find offensive. It was conservatives who were offended, and thus sought to stop people from seeing the movie, Brokeback Mountain. Conservatives who were angered, and thus lobby against NBC's short-lived drama The Book of Daniel. Conservatives who were offended, and thus fought to silence a video featuring SpongeBob SquarePants.

And Carlson, who spoke eloquently of free speech and a free press when discussing the Danish cartoons, told Dr. Lowery on Wednesday's edition of his MSNBC show, The Situation, that his eulogy "seemed like bad manners," and questioned whether President Carter's eulogy was "appropriate."

***

JABBS is firmly in support of free speech. A favorite movie moment is the 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."

Some conservatives don't understand that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If Bush Had "Inherent Authority" For Warrantless Surveillance, Why Did Justice Department Seek Congressional Approval?

"Whatever the limits of the president’s authority given under the authorization of the use of military force and his inherent authority as commander in chief in a time of war, it clearly includes the electronic surveillance of the enemy," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), while speaking (not under oath) on Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Assume for a moment that Gonzales is right, and that President Bush had the authority to do whatever was necessary to stop Al Qaeda from striking the U.S. again -- even circumventing existing law that says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

Then why did the Justice Department consider getting Congressional approval -- after the fact?

LEAHY: But here you also said, “We’ve had discussions with the Congress in the past, certain members of Congress, as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat. We were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.” That’s your statement. All right. Who told you that?

GONZALES: Senator, there was discussion with a bipartisan group of leaders in Congress, leaders of the Intel Committee, to talk about legislation. And the consensus was that obtaining such legislation — the legislative process is such that it could not be successfully accomplished without compromising…

LEAHY: When did they give you that advice?

GONZALES: Sir, that was some time in 2004.

LEAHY: Oh, three years later. You mean you’ve been doing this wiretapping for three years and then suddenly you come up here and say, “Oh, by the way, guys, could we have a little bit of authorization for this”? Is that what you’re saying?

But Gonzales had no answer to that, so instead he returned to his official, illogical spin line: "It's always been our position that the president has the authority, under the authorization to use military force and under the Constitution."

And the 2004 meeting with select members of Congress wasn't the only time the Justice Department considered legislation to allow warrantless surveillance.

A year earlier, the Justice Department considered including a provision to cover warrantless surveillance in "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003" -- but the legislation was later abandoned by the department.

''These proposals were drafted by junior staffers and never formally presented to the attorney general or the White House," department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos told The Boston Globe last month.

And maybe Scolinos is telling the truth. But it would seem that at the very least, the seed was planted that maybe it'd be a good idea to legalize the concept of warrantless surveillance -- leading the Justice Department to meet with select members of Congress in 2004.

So again, why do you need legislation if you're not doing anything wrong?

''It's rather damning to their current view that they didn't need legislation," Timothy Edgar, a national security lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Globe. ''Clearly the lawyers at the Justice Department, or some of them, felt that legislation was needed to allow the government to do what it was doing."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gonzales Ducks Question On Whether Warrantless Spying Pre-Dated Congressional Authorization Of "Necessary" Force

Did Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, approve the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program after Congress authorized the administration to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to stop Al Qaeda?

That would be the expected order of events -- you get authorization, and then you act -- but the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday wanted Gonzales, now the Attorney General, to confirm as much on the record.

Unfortunately, Gonzales wasn't interested in answering it when he spoke -- amazingly, not under oath -- to the committee.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Attorney general, I understand. I was here when that attack happened, and I join with Republicans and Democrats and virtually every member of this Congress to try to give you the tools that you said you needed for us to go after Al-Qaeda, and especially to go after Osama bin Laden, the man that we all understood masterminded the attack, the man who is still at large. Now, back to my question, did you come to the conclusion that you had to have this warrantless wiretapping of Americans inside the United States to protect us before the president signed the resolution on September 18, 2001? You were the White House counsel at the time.

GONZALES: What I can say is that we came to a conclusion that the president had the authority to authorize this kind of activity before he actually authorized the activity.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Gonzales Can't Give "Absolute Assurance" Innocent Americans Aren't Being Eavesdropped Upon

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee today about the the merits of warrantless surveillance -- but he failed to assure administration critics.

The day started off poorly, when Senate Republicans voted not to have Gonzales testify under oath. Why? Senate Republicans didn't say.

It's reminiscent of the deal struck by President Bush and Vice President Cheney to not testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission.

Maybe that's the way Republicans work -- they say things, but they don't want to be held accounable. Just note: people only hide when they have to.

Once the hearing began, though, Gonzales proved more capable of spin than substance.

For example, what can Americans make of his comment to Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) that he couldn't give "absolute assurance" that the warrantless surveillance program wasn't resulting in innocent Americans being eavesdropped upon.

BIDEN: Can you assure us, General, you are fully, totally informed and confident that you know the absolute detail with which this program is being conducted? Can you assure us you personally can assure us no one is being eavesdropped upon in the United States other than -- other than someone who has a communication that is emanating from foreign soil by a suspected terrorist, al Qaeda, or otherwise?

GONZALES: Sir, I can’t give you absolute assurance.

BIDEN: Who can?

GONZALES: Certainly General (Michael) Hayden knows more about the operational details of this (program).

Hayden has, in fact, been asked the question at least twice. And on both occasions, Hayden failed to answer "no." Hardly reassuring.

Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Hayden said:

HAYDEN: I can’t get into operational details, but the way we do this is based on the people most knowledgeable of al Qaeda, its communications, its intentions, its tactics, techniques and procedures. And so we really don’t have the time or the resources, the linguists, to linger, to go after things that aren’t going to protect the homeland.

Asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace, Hayden said:

HAYDEN: Chris, this is focused on al Qaeda. The only justification we have to undertake this program is to detect and prevent attacks against the United States. We don’t have the time or the lawful authority to do anything except that.

It might just be a case of politico-speak. Or it might be an ability to give "absolute assurance" that no innocent Americans are being eavesdroped upon.

***

The Washington Post yesterday tried to quantify how many people have been eavesdropped upon as a result of the program. If its math is correct, several thousand innocent Americans have been eavesdropped upon.

After speaking to "knowledgeable sources," the Post reported that about 5,000 Americans in the past four years "have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority." But, "Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears."

And how many of those 5,000 people, and the hundred of thousands of intercepted communications, have led the administration to take the step of seeking a warrant from a federal judge to intercept domestic calls? Fewer than 10 per year.

If you buy the administration spin that one worthy tip to stop Al Qaeda makes the entire effort worthwhile, then fewer than 10 per year -- or about 40 people overall -- is a bonanza.

But it still doesn't answer the question of why the administration had to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

As long-time conservative leader Grover Norquist said in declaring the surveillance program illegal, this shouldn't be a choice between fighting terrorists and upholding civil liberties:

“It’s not either/or," he said. "If the president thinks he needs different tools, pass a law to get them. Don’t break the existing laws."

That, in a nutshell, is what frustrates Bush Administration critics across the political spectrum. We're all in favor of hunting down terrorists, but we don't understand why the Bush Administration needed to break the law to do so.

CBS Radio News Adopts Bushspeak To Describe Surveillance Program

CBS Radio News, the network conservatives love to hate, has adopted a Bush Administration term.

According to the CBS Radio News lead-in, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today was peppered with questions about the administration's "terrorist surveillance program."

Hmmm. Where did I hear that term before?

Oh yeah, when the Bush Administration started using it.

In this game of semantics, realize that the administration doesn't want its sidestepping of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to be called a "domestic surveillance program," since it is only eavesdropping on calls involving an international player.

Meanwhile, liberals don't like the term "terrorist surveillance program," because it's not so much a policy as it is a slogan. How can you be against surveillance of terrorists? (Answer: Liberals aren't, they just want the administration to follow FISA, which says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.)

JABBS moved from "domestic surveillance" to "warrantless surveillance" last month, in part because the debate should be about policy, not terminology.

***

But in spite of its adoption of Bushspeak, CBS Radio News remains in a no-win situation.

Some conservatives will no doubt say, "See, even CBS Radio News understands what's at stake" or some other acceptance of marketing campaign as administration policy. Others will forget the network's use of Bush terminology the next time it says something perceived as anti-Bush.

It's a case of once being accused of "liberal media bias," always being accused of "liberal media bias."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Are Republicans At Risk To Lose Control Of Congress? Ask A Republican ... (Part 2)

TIM RUSSERT: If the situation in Iraq in November of this year is like it is today, will Republicans pay a price at the polls?

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): I think we will.

-- Feb. 5 edition of NBC's Meet the Press

Are Republicans At Risk To Lose Control Of Congress? Ask A Republican ...

Tim Russert, speaking to new House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), on today's edition of NBC's Meet The Press:

This was Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI): “Friends, we’re in trouble. A poll was done last weekend in our 25 most vulnerable districts, and trust me it doesn’t look good.”

And then this from Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN): “Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and the ongoing and disgusting saga of abuse of power and public trust are not made up by the Democrats. We were put in power to be different. What has happened to us? Our entire philosophy is at risk because the American people, and even a large percent of our own supporters, think we have been corrupted as a party. Our re-election numbers are now lower than the Democrats’ were in ‘94. When voters in swing districts were asked, the two things they associated with our Republican Congress were Iraq and corruption.”

Friday, February 03, 2006

Radio Clown Mark Levin Scolds Clinton, Gore, For Law They Didn't Break

Radio clown Mark Levin offered fans his "angry right" persona tonight while defending President Bush's use of warrantless surveillance.

If President Bush is going to be investigated in "Stalinist" style by the Senate, Levin said, then "Bill Jefferson 'BJ' Clinton" and Al "Ya Big Dummy" Gore should also be investigated, too.

Levin's reasoning is that if President Bush broke the law with his warrantless surveillance, then Clinton and Gore broke the law, too.

It's a pleasing attack against those dreaded "hypocrite libs," and I'm sure conservative listeners responded to Levin's "angry right" routine -- complete with the aforementioned examples of wit -- with cheers.

But alas, it's a fact-challenged argument driven by empty conservative spin.

Levin is following the lead of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has also argued that Clinton violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

CLINTON'S ALLEGED CRIME (#1): He conducted a physical search of Aldrich Ames' home in 1993.

The problem with the argument? Prior to 1995, FISA did not cover physical searches. (With Clinton’s signature, the law was expanded to cover physical searches in 1995.)

CLINTON'S ALLEGED CRIME (#2): Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified in 1994 that the President could conduct warrantless physical searches.

The problem with the argument? Again, it was a year before FISA was expanded. Furthermore, Gorelick was arguing that the President could conduct warrantless physical searches in the absence of Congressional action. At no time did she suggest that, after Congress required the President to obtain a warrant, the executive branch could ignore the law, nor is there any evidence the Clinton administration failed to comply with FISA.

How desperate are conservatives like Levin to blame Clinton? The Republican National Committee 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.

As the Washington Post wrote the next day: "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."

Maybe this is what Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove meant when he said in a Jan. 20 speech that "Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world and Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world."

Democrats believe in following the law. Republicans? Not so much.

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