Friday, March 31, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The FBI, while waging a highly publicized war against terrorism, has also spent resources gathering information on a variety of Americans -- including antiwar and environmental protesters, and activists who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless, the agency's internal memos show.

For years, the FBI's definition of terrorism has included violence against property, such as the window-smashing during the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization. That definition has led FBI investigations to online discussion boards, organizing meetings and demonstrations of a wide range of activist groups.

"They don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but they're spending money watching people like me," environmental activist Kirsten Atkins told the Los Angeles Times.

Atkins' license plate number showed up in an FBI terrorism file after she attended a protest against the lumber industry in Colorado Springs in 2002.

"It certainly seems they're casting a net much more widely than would be necessary to thwart something like the blowing up of the Oklahoma City federal building," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

Rice: History Will Overlook Administration's "Tactical Errors"

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice conceded today that the United States probably has made thousands of "tactical errors" in Iraq and elsewhere, but said it will be judged by its larger aims of peace and democracy in the Middle East.

The U.S. diplomat met loud anti-war protests in the streets and skeptical questions about U.S. involvement in Iraq at a foreign policy salon Friday, including one about whether Washington had learned from its "mistakes over the past three years."

Rice replied that leaders would be "brain-dead" if they did not absorb the lessons of their times.

"I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure," Rice told an audience gathered by the British foreign policy think tank Chatham House. "But when you look back in history, what will be judged will be, did you make the right strategic decisions."

***

Rice's words, while likely heartfelt, reflect a belief system pervasive throughout the Bush Administration: that the ends justify the means.

The philosophy stems from a belief that Americans will better appreciate the administration's actions 50 years from now than the hypercritical liberal media they disdain discussing their actions today. The administration also believes that most historians will look at the big picture, rather than the administration's mis-steps along the way.

Are those assumptions valid? Consider that most average Americans look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency and give him high marks. Historians are more mixed. Some point to our military victories, but others would also point to tactical errors, from newly created domestic programs that failed to spur the economy to a failure to prevent Pearl Harbor to denying European refugees -- including thousands of Jews -- the right to enter the U.S. as fled Nazi Germany.

Fifty or 100 years from now, there may be peace and democracy throughout the Middle East. And average Americans may point to the Bush Administration and say bravo. But will historians come to the same conclusion, or will they see an administration that made thousands of tactical errors in the Iraq War, failed to capture Osama Bin Laden or fully dismantle Al Qaeda -- which was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, not Saddam Hussein or Iraq -- trampled on Americans' civil liberties by expanding federal power through the USA Patriot Act and warrantless surveillance, and in spite of a significant propaganda campaign, did little to secure our borders, or improve the security of airports, sea ports, train stations, and chemical and nuclear plants.

Will historians look and say the ends justify the means? Or will they quote basketball coaching legend John Wooden, who once said, "Never mistake activity for achievement."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Democrats Continue Pushing Debate On Legality Of Warrantless Surveillance

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill yesterday that would put lawsuits challenging the President Bush's warrantless surveillance program on a fast track to the Supreme Court.

With Congress and the Bush administration at odds over the legality of eavesdropping on Americans without court warrants, the legislation could produce a timely ruling by the court on the program's constitutionality, Schumer said. Lawsuits would be heard by a panel of three federal judges, whose decision could be appealed immediately to the Supreme Court.

"We have a system of checks and balances," he said, "and, in this case, when the stakes are so high, the Supreme Court should be the ultimate check."

***

Meanwhile, progress is being made on the Democrats' other effort to put the warrantless surveillance debate front-and-center before the American people.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) yesterday suggested that Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) bill to censure President Bush could get its day before the full Senate, a move certain to ignite an intense partisan showdown with election-year stakes.

***

The Democrats want to force an answer to a central question: Why did the White House claim it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, then undercut that argument by supporting legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" (read: legalize) the surveillance program?

Americans should find it suspect that Republicans have generally opposed investigating the program. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

The proposals by Schumer and Feingold would answer these questions quickly.

Conservative pundits say that Democrats are conducting a witch hunt. And they try to frame the debate as "are you for terrorist surveillance or not," but that's just a bunch of empty spin.

The question should be: Is President Bush above the law, or not? Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said no during his confirmation hearings, knowing at the time that Bush was skirting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Democrats want to fight, and win, the war on terror. But that fight has to be a legal one. Americans can't export democracy and freedom and at the same time look the other way when the White House skirts laws it finds constricting.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Media Buys White House Spin That Bolten Is "Creative" and "Direct," Not "Tired" And "Insular"

If you read the stories on President Bush's decision today to replace resigning White House Chief of Staff Andy Card with Budget Director Joshua Bolten, you'd think running the government was as easy as selling soap.

"Bush ... gave Bolten authority to make further changes in a White House staff that even Republicans have complained is tired, insular and lacking fresh ideas," the Associated Press offered.

But rather than turn to an outsider -- as many Republicans sought -- Bush went in-house. Bolten has been with the administration since its beginning, spending two years as a deputy to Card, and three heading the Office of Management of Budget. If the White House tries to spin that Bolten isn't as "tired" as others who have been in Bush's White House since 2000, should we assume that's because he hasn't worked as hard?

But how about his other attributes.

"Josh is a creative policy thinker," Bush said in introducing Bolten. "He's a man of candor and humor and directness, who's comfortable with responsibility and knows how to lead."

Yet, Bolten wasn't able to "creatively" manage the budget, which grew from $6.59 trillion when he took over OMB in June, 2003, to $8.36 trillion. The debt grew so quickly with Bolten at the helm that the White House had to ask Congress to raise its debt ceiling two out of three years.

If he was more creative, maybe Bolten would have come up with a Luntzian term to describe our out-of-control debt. Something like the "Healthy Budget Initiative" or "Responsible Spending For A New America."

Or, following Bush's lead, he could have called for a "War On Federal Debt."

What about Bolten's "directness?" Bolten twice tried to impose a funding cap on the federal transportation bill (at $256 billion in 2004 and $283.9 billion in 2005.) Congress came up with $286.5 billion in its legislation. When Bolten asked Bush to back up his cap with a veto, Bush said no, giving the go-ahead to one of the most pork-laden pieces of legislation in the history of the country.

Let's face it. No matter how creative or direct a White House Chief of Staff is, it only matters if the man in charge reacts appropriately.

Card, you might remember, was the one who whispered to Bush on Sept. 11, 2001: "The nation is under attack." Bush, you might remember, sat in a Florida classroom for seven minutes, doing nothing.

Amazingly, in the coverage today of Card's resignation, very few print media remembered that piece of history. (Television coverage was more likely to show a clip from the movie Farenheit 9/11.)

Maybe the White House press corps has become too "tired" and "insular," too.

GAO Slips Radioactive Material Past Border Checkpoints

Undercover investigators working on behalf of the non-partisan Government Accountability Office slipped a radioactive substance -- enough to make two dirty bombs -- across northern and southern US borders last year in a test of security at American ports of entry.

Radiation detection equipment at the unidentified sites went off, but the investigators were permitted to enter the United States after using counterfeit documents to deceive customs agents.

Make you feel safe, huh?


A GAO investigation carried out between July and December 2005 by the investigative arm of Congress, identified potential security holes that terrorists seeking to covertly carry nuclear weapons into the United States might be able to exploit.

''This operation demonstrated that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is stuck in a pre-9/11 mind-set in a post-9/11 world and must modernize its procedures," Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), said yesterday in a statement.

A commission spokesman offered a spin line as a response.

''Security has been of prime importance for us on the materials front and the power plant front since 9/11," the commission's spokesman, David McIntyre, told the Associated Press.

Monday, March 27, 2006

In Discussing Feingold's Censure Resolution, Mainstream Media Focuses On Non-Existent Motive

The headline, "Censure Resolution Could Pay Off for Feingold," or variations of that idea, made the rounds in the mainstream media yesterday.

The Associated Press article says:

"While only two Democrats in the Senate have embraced Sen. Russ Feingold's call for censuring President Bush, the idea is increasing his standing among many Democratic voters as he ponders a bid for the party's presidential nomination in 2008.

Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, insists his proposal has nothing to do with his political ambitions. But he does challenge Democrats who argue it will help energize Republicans. ... Feingold said his sole purpose was to hold Bush accountable."

The article does a great job talking about energizing Republicans. It quotes Rush Limbaugh's web site and an article in the conservative magazine National Review. And it found one Democrat, Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is against the censure motion.

What the article doesn't address is a central question: Why did the White House claim it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, then undercut that argument by supporting legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" (read: legalize) the surveillance program?

The article also doesn't find it suspect that Republicans have generally opposed investigating the program. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

Rather than suggest that Feingold wants answers to these questions, the AP instead comes up with a non-existent motive that Feingold clearly shoots down. And headline writers around the country use that non-existent motive to serve as its headline, giving Republicans to argue that Feingold is a political opportunist, with no right to waste everyone's time asking such questions of the Bush Administration?

It's a set-up akin to: Smith Shoots Dog, with a story reading: "Some are suggesting that Smith shot his dog. Smith insisted he didn't shoot his dog, and doesn't even know how to use a gun."

***

Another Republican talking point -- that the average American doesn't care about the warrantless surveillance debate -- would appear to be fact-challenged, following a Newsweek poll from March 16-17, which found that 42% of Americans favor censure.

The poll found that 60% of Democrats favor censure, while just 20% of Republicans favor it.

But think about this. Censure hasn't been debated yet. That happens this week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee meets. And the debate to come will be potentially the first investigation of warrantless surveillance.

It's not far-fetched to think those numbers may change as more Americans become aware of the arguments for censure and against warrantless surveillance -- not through the fact-challenged framing of Rush Limbaugh, but through broad coverage by the mainstream media.

Let's hope the broad media does a better job covering this week's debate than the AP did yesterday.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Top DeLay Aide Had Ties To Abramoff, Suggesting Ties Between Lobbyist And DeLay

A top adviser to former House Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) received more than a third of all the money collected by the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit organization that gained most of its revenue from clients of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to the group's accounting records.

DeLay's former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, who helped create the group while still in DeLay's employ, and his wife, Wendy, were the principal beneficiaries of the group's $3.02 million in revenue, collecting payments totaling $1,022,729 during a five-year period ending in 2001, public and private records show.

From an FBI subpoena for the records, it can be inferred that the bureau is exploring whether there were links between the payments and favorable legislative treatment of Abramoff's clients by DeLay's office.

***

Shortly after Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges, agreeing to cooperate in a federal corruption probe, DeLay amazingly tried to distance himself from Abramoff.

In a letter to constituents, DeLay wrote of Abramoff: "the notion that he was a close friend who wielded influence over me is absolutely untrue."

Questions also have been raised about DeLay's relationship with Abramoff, dating back to mid-1990s trips Abramoff organized for DeLay and others to the Mariana Islands, which -- DeLay would suggest coincidentally -- led to DeLay blocking legislation to end slave labor practices on the islands. DeLay's action went against other Republicans, such as former Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK), who sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.

More recently, DeLay traveled with Abramoff and other lobbyists to Scotland in 2000. He also used the lobbyist's skybox for a donor appreciation event and has accepted contributions from Abramoff and his clients.

Senate To Discuss Censure In Hearing, Giving New Life To Debate Over Warrantless Surveillance

The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing this week on a call by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to censure President Bush for authorizing a warrantless surveillance program.

Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) has opposed censure -- as has the vast majority of the Senate. But although approval of the March 13 censure resolution is highly unlikely, the hearing will most likely serve the purpose of providing a forum for debate of warrantless surveillance.

Democrats have been unhappy with the perceived effort by Senate Republicans to sweep the debate over warrantless surveillance under the rug, culminating with the Senate Intelligence Committee voting along party lines three weeks ago against an investigation of the program. Instead, Congressional Republicans cut a deal with the White House to provide Congressional oversight for warrantless surveillance.

"We have a responsibility to ask the hard questions, to find out what the nature of the program is and whether the president violated the law," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said last week.

***

As JABBS has noted, the White House claimed it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, then undercut that argument by supporting legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" (read: legalize) the surveillance program. While legislation would legalize the program going forward, it doesn't address that the program was illegal for four-plus years.

Republicans have in the past clearly come out against further investigation of the program. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

Americans deserve better, and should hope that the Republicans on the judiciary committee agree to a fair investigation of warrantless surveillance, even if it means determining Bush was wrong.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Rumsfeld Learns From Mistakes, Stops Predicting End Of Iraq War

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined yesterday to predict when U.S. forces would be out of Iraq.

"I've avoided predicting the timing," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

Well, not exactly. In fact, Rumsfeld has made several predictions about how long troops would be needed in Iraq.

Rumsfeld may have tried to spin reporters yesterday, but history tells a different story. You'd think the Bush Administration would learn after five-plus years in office that their public statements are recorded, and can easily be used for comparison and contrast. Guess not.

Before the war began, for example, Rumsfeld made two rather rosy predications about how long troops would be needed in Iraq. In November, 2002, he said: "The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that."

Three months later, Rumsfeld offered a similar statement: "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

With President Bush now saying a future U.S. president and a future Iraqi government would decide when U.S. troops would leave, six days, six weeks and six months have been replaced with six years as a rosy prediction.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

U.S. Soldier Blogs: "I’m Fed Nothing But Propaganda"

It's just one soldier's opinion, and it may not be the most popular one, but all Americans should read the blog, "Fun With Hand Grenades," by an anonymous blogger describing himself as a 23-year-old bartender turned solider in Iraq.

It was during a convesation with his parents that he first learned that some people believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war.

In a March 20 post, "Propaganda," the blogger writes:

Me: “Come again?"

Parents: “Oh, I was saying with gas prices over two bucks a gallon, are you sure you want to get a truck?”

Me: “No, the civil war part.”

That was the first I’d heard about the mosque getting blown up and this was two or three days after it happened. I’m IN Iraq and have no idea what’s going on. A few months back I came to the conclusion that I’m fed nothing but propaganda and now it seems like my theory is dead on.

Later, writing about the military newspaper Stars & Stripes, the blogger writes:

(N)inety percent of the pages that are focused on the war talk about how “great” the Iraqi Army/Police are becoming, how we built some school or water plant and how Haji is so grateful for it, or how such and such a unit found the mother of all weapons caches in some garden in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere. ... I can tell you that this place isn’t Candy Land. Car bombs are going off killing civilians, people are blowing up mosques, the kidnapping and subsequently beheading of people, these fuckers don’t wear identifiable uniforms, and friends of friends are getting killed over here. I personally find it insulting that what little amount of news I’m given isn’t realistic. I feel like the main character in “Clockwork Orange” with his eyelids held open while being brainwashed.

AP Analysis: Bush Loves Using "Straw Men" To Knock "Nonexistent" Opponents

The Associated Press on Saturday provided an astute analysis of the way President Bush rhetorically argues.

The AP's conclusion should be no surprise to JABBS readers. Bush creates fictional "straw men" -- creating the impression that a minority or fringe opinion reflects the views of all of his critics -- that can be easily knocked down.

Some examples:

-- "Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day."

-- "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

-- "There are some really decent people who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

"The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents," according to the March 18 analysis. "In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position. ... Because the 'some' often go unnamed, Bush can argue that his statements are true in an era of blogs and talk radio."

Even so, "'some' suggests a number much larger than is actually out there," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told the AP.

A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views the rhetorical device as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields told the AP. "What's striking here is how much this administration rests on a foundation of this kind of stuff."

Straw men have made more frequent appearances in recent months, often on national security — once Bush's strong suit with the public but at the center of some of his difficulties today. Under fire for a domestic eavesdropping program, a ports-management deal and the rising violence in Iraq, Bush now sees his approval ratings hovering around the lowest of his presidency.

Said Jamieson, "You would expect people to do that as they feel more threatened."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fox News' Cameron Spins For The President, And Bush Happily Plays Along

Fox News Channel's Carl Cameron yesterday became the first White House reporter to use the term "terrorist surveillance program," the Bush Administration's spin line for its warrantless surveillance program.

That allowed President Bush to offer this bit of spin:

BUSH: I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program. That's what they ought to be doing. That's part of what is an open and honest debate.

You have to love when Republicans set up straw men, only to knock them down.

Duh! Democrats aren't against surveillance of terrorists. Democrats are against illegal surveillance of Americans. The program authorized by President Bush in 2001 circumvents existing law that says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

Bush hasn't been paying attention if he thinks Democrats haven't been saying "the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used." Most Democrats fall into two camps -- either denouncing warrantless surveillance as illegal, or seeking to investigate the program to determine if it's legal. (And, although Bush won't admit this, a number of prominent conservatives -- such as Grover Norquist, Norman Ornstein, Bruce Fein, George Will and William Safire -- have suggested the program is illegal, too.)

And Democrats aren't going to go to the American people "and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program." That's just a fact-challenged conservative pipe dream.

What Democrats should do is go to the American people and say:

"We believe in terrorist surveillance. But we also believe the president should follow the laws of the land. The president authorized surveillance without warrants, in violation of established law. If he wanted to change the law after the Sept. 11th attacks, we would have supported him. But that's not what he did. And instead of addressing that problem, the Republicans want you to look the other way. Senator DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, said 'We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional.' Instead, Senate Republicans cut a deal with the White House.

Now they want to convince you that somehow Democrats don't want to capture terrorists. It's all part of their effort to imply that we aren't as patriotic as they are. That we don't care as much about this country as they do. But that's just hokum. It's Democrats who have proposed spending money on port security, on airport security, on rail security, and to protect our chemical and nuclear plants. And it's Republicans who have refused to consider those pieces of legislation on the Senate floor. Ask yourself why?

The Republicans talk about Homeland Security, but you saw how well that department and its FEMA unit handled Hurricane Katrina. The Republicans talk about Homeland Security, but you saw how out of touch the Bush Administration was when a United Arab Emirates-owned company wanted to take over management of our ports. Secretaries Chertoff, Rumsfeld and Snow, and President Bush himself, endorsed the deal, even though they later claimed not to know about it until it became public knowledge. Is this how you want Homeland Security handled?

So, the next time you hear a Republican talk about so-called 'terrorist surveillance,' don't buy the spin. We Democrats only ask that the President follow the established law. And if Republicans can't understand that -- if all they can do in response is cut deals with themselves and spin the American people -- then none of them deserve to lead our nation."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Durbin: Hearings Needed On Warrantless Surveillance

Echoing the words of Senate colleagues, Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday that he would consider a motion to censure President Bush for authorizing warrantless surveillance, but only after a proper Senate inquiry into the program.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Durbin (D-IL) said the March 13 censure resolution from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) was "valuable ... (as) a catalyst to have the kind of hearings and the kind of deliberations as to what lies behind this warrantless wiretap situation."

"I can't rule anything out until the investigation is complete. I don't want to prejudge it," said Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "But if this president or any president violates the law, he has to be held accountable."

Durbin called inquiries by the Republican-controlled Senate inadequate. Like many Democrats, he was unsatisfied after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted along party lines two weeks ago against such an investigation. Instead, Congressional Republicans cut a deal with the White House to provide Congressional oversight for warrantless surveillance.

"We have a responsibility to ask the hard questions, to find out what the nature of the program is and whether the president violated the law," Durbin said.

***

JABBS has argued in favor of the censure -- and believes Americans of all political stripes should stand up in favor of a president following the law. Unfortunately, support for the censure has been minimal, with only Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) signing on to the measure.

As JABBS has noted, the White House claimed it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, then undercut that argument by supporting legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" (read: legalize) the surveillance program.

Republicans have clearly come out against further investigation of the program. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

Americans deserve better. And if that means taking a circuitous route to investigate a seemingly illegal program, so be it. Feingold's censure motion is unlikely to pass, but it hopefully will force the Republican-controlled Senate to do the right thing, and thoroughly investigate the program.

"You've Got Mail" ... But Amazingly, Some In The FBI Don't

Budget constraints are forcing some Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to operate without e-mail accounts, according to the agency's top official in New York.

"As ridiculous as this might sound, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dot-gov accounts," Mark Mershon, director in charge of the agency's New York City office, told the New York Daily News. "We just don't have the money, and that is an endless stream of complaints that come from the field."

Amazingly, FBI spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan tried to spin that cost-cutting was not putting agents at a disadvantage.

Yeah, right. Should we assume FBI agents are just as effective using pay phones, or maybe tying messages to carrier pigeons?

Here's a straightforward question: how can the FBI be short on cash, while the Bush Administration tells us repeatedly it will do "everything we can" to fight terror?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bush Fails To Defend His War In Iraq, His Party, His Administration And His Faith When Asked About "Radical Christianity" And Republicans. Why?

A most curious first question following President Bush's speech today in Cleveland:

Q Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club. My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

PRESIDENT BUSH: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. (Laughter.) Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. And my attitude, of course, was affected by the attacks. I knew we were at war. ...

Bush, as you can see from the above, failed to answer "no." Now ask yourself, why?

With a straightforward, or even defiant answer, Bush could have unequivocably defended Republicans, his administration, and supporters of the Iraq War and his handling of the war on terror.

"No," he could have said. "That's a ridiculous idea, and it saddens me to think that there are some Americans who feel that way about what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq and why."

Or he could have said, "I haven't read the book you're talking about, but if that's the argument the author is making, he's wrong. And I would think many Christians, myself included, would be offended by such an argument."

Instead, Bush pretends he's never heard this criticism before and then launches into a stump speech about the Bush philosophy on a post-September 11th universe. It's a politician's answer, using a linguistic trick that no doubt Bush's speechwriters have made clear to him -- when in doubt, quickly turn to the familiar.

***

Bush's failure to say "no" caught the attention of people on all sides of the political spectrum. No less than Michael Savage, hardly a left-winger, chastised Bush on his syndicated radio show this evening, questioning Bush's intelligence for failing to decisive distance himself from the theory proposed by Phillips, and in turn, the questioner in Cleveland.

Phillips, who helped craft President Nixon's successful Southern strategy in 1968 and wrote The Emerging Republican Majority a year later, has long since distanced himself from the current Republican party's modus operandi. He's clearly against the Bush family, and wrote a book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush to say as much. In the current book, he takes on the ties between the Republican Party and the religious right.

In American Theocracy, Phillips devotes roughly one-third of his pages talking about the ties between the religious right and the Republican Party. With regard to so-called apocalyptic Christians, Time in its review says:

"(Regardless of why the Iraq War began), Bush was ensured a cheering section from those elements of the Christian right fascinated by 'end times' theology -- the belief in Christ's imminent return, and the prospect of Armageddon beginning in the Middle East -- popularized in brimstone best sellers like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind novels. Phillips is convinced that many Americans underestimate the power of that idea among large parts of the electorate. ... (I)t's useful to point, as Phillips does, to polls suggesting that half of those who voted for Bush in 2004 believe in the word-for-word accuracy of the Bible."

Why didn't Bush say "no" when given the chance? Maybe because he knows his popularity is eroding among his party's base, and any slight against a pillar of the party -- the religious right -- can only increase the chances of Democrats taking over Congress in November, and decreasing the chances of him getting much of anything accomplished in his final two years in office.

Let's hope that's the reason. The alternative -- that Phillips is right and Bush was caught unprepared to discuss such things -- is too scary to consider.

Leahy, Jeffords Want Censure Debate To Prompt Second Try At Senate Investigation Of Warrantless Surveillance

Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords are advocating an investigation of President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, as a precursor to a vote on Sen. Russ Feingold's censure resolution.

Feingold's censure motion, introduced on March 13, accused Bush of violating the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The basis of the concern: that the program circumvented rules that say the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before proceeding.

Leahy, a Democrat, and Jeffords, an Independent who often sides with Democrats, are making a second go at having the Senate investigate warrantless surveillance, after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted along party lines against such an investigation. Instead, Congressional Republicans cut a deal with the White House to provide Congressional oversight for warrantless surveillance.

“Sen. Feingold says he intended his resolution to prompt congressional investigations into the president’s actions on these issues. Republican leaders so far have been reluctant to allow that,” said David Carle, a Leahy spokesman. “Sen. Leahy believes in first things first, and the first thing is Congress doing its oversight duty in investigating the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping.”

***

JABBS has argued in favor of the censure -- and believes Americans of all political stripes should stand up in favor of a president following the law. Unfortunately, support for the censure has been minimal, with only Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) signing on to the measure, although other senators, such as Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) have said the censure motion should stimulate continued debate over the program.

As JABBS has noted, the White House claimed it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, but that argument was questionable, especially after the White House supported legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" the surveillance program.

In other words, the White House wanted it both ways -- it wanted people to accept the program as legal, and to pass legislation to make it legal. That may sound illogical, but neither the White House nor Congressional Republicans seemed to care. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

Friday, March 17, 2006

How Badly Has Bush's Popularity Slipped? Just Consult This "Colorful" Map ...

Liberal blog Radical Writ has produced a "colorful" look at how President Bush's popularity has fallen off a cliff since the 2004 presidential election.

The map shows "net approval" -- job approval minus job disapproval. The redder the state, the higher Bush's net approval. The bluer the state, the lower the net approval. The raw data came from SurveyUSA.com.

The map changes every five seconds, as the data set goes from November, 2004 to March, 2006. By the time you get to the most recent data, it becomes pretty clear that Bush's support has eroded in even traditional "red" states.

Another Day, Another Failure For Transportation Security Administration

Security screeners at 21 U.S. airports failed to find bomb-making materials during recent government tests, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Federal agents carrying materials that could be used to make bombs escaped detection in airport screening during tests conducted between October and January.

"In all 21 airports tested, no machine, no swab, no screener anywhere stopped the bomb materials from getting through. Even when investigators deliberately triggered extra screening of bags, no one stopped these materials," the report said. For security reasons, the names of the airports involved in the report will not be released.

Congress requested the investigation from the non-partisan GAO -- the watchdog arm of Congress -- to determine the vulnerability of U.S. airlines to a suicide bomber using cheap and easy-to-obtain materials.

The Transportation Security Administration had no comment on the report but said in a statement that detecting explosive materials and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) at the checkpoint was the agency's top priority. Of course, making something a priority and actually accomplishing a goal are two different things.

***

The findings of the report indicate that even three years after its creation, the TSA remains ineffective.

The TSA has been previously been criticized by the GAO for failing to meet a series of deadlines, for such things as creating a plan to deploy bomb-detection machines at airports. TSA has also been in the middle of turf wars with other Homeland Security agencies, leading to delays on such things as developing anti-tampering technology for shipping containers and deciding which databases to use to track foreigners and cargo entering the country.

The TSA claims it has a lack of man-power, and a lack of training. And it faces too many deadlines. Others say it has been underfunded.

All the excuses in the world won't mean much if the GAO test results are duplicated by terrorists. Homeland Security, itself a frequent target of criticism for ineptitude, should get its act together before it's too late. To steal a quote from Condoleeza Rice, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Abramoff: Republicans Are Lying About Knowing Him

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff said in the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine that he worked closely with many top Republicans, despite their claims to the contrary.

"Any important Republican who comes out and says they didn't know me is almost certainly lying," he said in the magazine's April edition.

Abramoff pleaded guilty Jan. 4 to charges that he and a former partner, Adam Kidan, concocted a fake wire transfer to make it appear they were putting a sizable stake of their own money into a multimillion-dollar purchase of SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet in 2000. Abramoff also pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a probe into his ties with members of Congress and the Bush administration. In his plea, he admitted that he showered golf trips, sports tickets and other gifts on lawmakers in return for actions that would help his clients.

In the article, Abramoff complains that many of those who used to work closely with him now claim that they never knew him.

E-mail and other subpoenaed records will eventually prove that he worked closely with them, he said.

The magazine features photographs of Abramoff with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former President Ronald Reagan, whom he met when he was president of the College Republicans.

***

Does Abramoff know President Bush?

"I had my picture taken with him, evidently," Bush said of Abramoff on Jan. 26. "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. I frankly don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him."

Abramoff said he found it hard to believe Bush didn't remember the 10 or so photos that he and members of his family had snapped with the president and first lady.

Soon after Bush's comments, Abramoff wrote to Washingtonian magazine that he had met briefly with the president almost a dozen times and that Bush knew him well enough to make joking references to Abramoff's family. Abramoff told Vanity Fair that he once was invited to Bush's Texas ranch, where he would have joined with other big Bush fundraisers. Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, said he didn't go because the event fell on the Sabbath.

House Republicans Criticize Watered-Down Lobbying Overhaul

"We need to bring about bold, strong reform," House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) said about pending legislation regarding stricter lobbying rules, discussed behind closed doors yesterday.

But the self-policing measure -- deemed necessary after the recent Jack Abramoff fiasco -- does not include many of the measures House Republicans discussed earlier this year, including a permanent ban on privately funded travel, ending lobbyist-paid meals, and doubling the duration of the so-called revolving door ban on members and staff to two years.

But in spite of the watered-down nature of the reform, the Los Angeles Times reports that House Republican leaders "encountered strong criticism" of the proposed measure yesterday.

Still, House Republicans are expected to come to an agreement quickly. As Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) told the Times, the leadership warned members that the alternative would be for Democrats to propose tougher measures, which Republicans would have to accept or appear to oppose reform.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bush's "Point Man" For Health Emergencies Resigns. Maybe This Time, Bush Can Appoint Someone Qualified

Stewart Simonson, the Bush administration’s “point man for just about every health emergency that may hit our shores, ranging from anthrax attacks to an avian flu pandemic,” has resigned.

Simonson, assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness, had been widely criticized for having no background in medicine, public health, or bioterrorism preparedness.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. said it would be better to have a medical expert serve in his position, rather than a lawyer.

It's hard to argue with Davis' logic, given how much the Bush Administration has talked about a potential avian flu pandemic. To Bush's credit, there's no "Stewie, you're doing a heck of a job," video clip out there.

Simonson joined the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2001 and served as general counsel before becoming assistant secretary. Prior to that, he was legal counsel for then Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, President Bush's first HHS Secretary. Under Thompson, Simonson specialized in “crime and prison policy.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Levin to JABBS: "You're Annoying Me! (Click)"

As part of JABBS' continuing coverage of the debate over President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, I called one of the better-known conservative legal minds in the country: radio host Mark Levin.

Once I identified myself to the call-screener as a "liberal," I was on the air within two minutes. Could Levin explain to me what I saw as an illogical stance by the Bush Administration?

I offered Levin my premise -- a variation of what I have been writing on JABBS:

The White House claimed it had "inherent authority" to conduct warrantless surveillance, but then supported legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" the surveillance program. It ultimately cut a deal with Senate Republicans to provide Congressional oversight for warrantless surveillance. Why?

Levin repeated his basic premise: the White House has "inherent authority" and doesn't need Congressional approval or oversight.

That didn't answer my question, though, so I tried a different tact, even though I was clearly irritating him by daring to ask a follow-up.

So I asked him: Why did the White House cut a deal he felt it didn't need to make? Why didn't President Bush get warrantless surveillance approved in the first Patriot Act, when "he had Congress at his disposal."

But that was too much for Levin, who quickly dismissed me, saying "You're annoying me!" before hanging up. To his listeners, he suggested I was just going around and around in circles, and would never understand his logic -- a point I'd agree with.

***

Conservatives apparently don't want to debate such details. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

Conservatives want the debate to be about homeland security. Are you for it or against it? Do you want to give President Bush the tools he needs, or not?

Some conservatives are quick to point to minutiae when the debate is over whether Bush lied when saying, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," because the flood waters "topped" the levees. When liberals say, "You're missing the big picture: the president and FEMA were caught unprepared in spite of clear warning," these conservatives argue that liberals "hate Bush."

But with the minutiae of warrantless surveillance -- the question of why the administration supported DeWine's legislation, and ultimately cut a deal, and the ramifications of those decisions -- these conservatives take the opposite stance. In this case, they argue that liberals don't see the big picture. When liberals say, "But what about the law?" these conservatives argue that liberals "hate Bush."

In both cases, I think these conservatives are wrong.

Monday, March 13, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The federal judge in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui said today she may dismiss the death penalty prosecution of the al Qaeda conspirator after a federal lawyer apparently coached witnesses on upcoming testimony.

More than a dozen pages of e-mails shown to the court contain a set of messages that "smacks of coaching," which the judge has prohibited.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said it was "very difficult for this case to go forward" after prosecutors revealed that a lawyer for the Transportation Security Administration had violated her order barring witnesses from any exposure to trial testimony.

She also pointed out that this is the second time the government has made an error that infringed on Moussaoui's constitutional rights.

Feingold To Seek Censure Of Bush For Warrantless Surveillance Program. Americans Of All Political Stripes Should Support Measure

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said yesterday that he would ask the Senate to censure President Bush for authorizing a warrantless surveillance program.

Announcing plans to introduce a censure resolution today, Feingold said, "The president must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law and then misleading the country about its existence and its legality."

Feingold, appearing yesterday on ABC's This Week, added: "We as a Congress have to stand up to a president who acts as if the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were repealed on Sept. 11," he said.

***

Finally, someone understands. Now it's time for Americans to rally behind Feingold, and rally behind a president following the law. Americans should call their Senators today and voice their support for Feingold's measure.

Why? As JABBS has noted, the White House claimed it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, but that argument was questionable, especially after the White House supported legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" the surveillance program.

In other words, the White House wanted it both ways -- it wanted people to accept the program as legal, and to pass legislation to make it legal. That may sound illogical, but neither the White House nor Congressional Republicans seemed to care. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

The final straw came last week, when the Senate Intelligence Committee voted along party lines against an investigation of the warrantless surveillance program. Instead, Congressional Republicans cut a deal with the White House to provide Congressional oversight for warrantless surveillance. While that may solve the problem of making the program legal going forward, it doesn't solve the problem of the White House conducting an illegal program since the days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

***

Censure, which the Senate describes as "a formal statement of disapproval," carries no legal penalty. A president has been censured only once, in 1834 — when the Senate, controlled by members of the Whig Party, censured Democratic President Andrew Jackson for seeking to withdraw deposits from the privately run Bank of the United States.

Joe Biden Talks Tough, But Tells The Truth (Part II)

RUSSERT: Senator Biden, what has the port controversy done to the Bush presidency?

BIDEN: It’s sort of stripped away the curtain that there was any competence on, on homeland security.

I heard you on another show with Katie Couric, Tim, saying something in effect that Congress hadn’t done much, either. Back in 2001, (Senate Democrats) introduced legislation for port security and rail security; 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. It’s been repeatedly spurned by the administration. Virtually nothing’s been done. Their priorities are backwards, Tim. Tim, if, in fact, they spent as much money on homeland security as they do one year on Star Wars, we could fund another 13,000 police locally, another 1,000 FBI agents. We could have every container at every port inspected with gamma rays as well as with radiation. We could, in fact, secure our railroads. These guys have priorities that are backwards and they’re dangerously, dangerously incompetent. And this is going to be the next place you’re going to see that incompetence show.

-- Sen. Joe Biden, NBC's Meet The Press, March 12

Joe Biden Talks Tough, But Tells The Truth (Part I)

RUSSERT: Senator Biden, if they don’t get a government together, and we do get out, and we leave chaos behind, is that not a foreign policy disaster for the U.S.?


BIDEN: It is an absolute foreign policy disaster. What I said was that we’re going to have to have a different deployment of the troops. We’re going to have to figure out a containment policy, Tim. You may find a debate begins to ensue: Do we help the Badr Brigade and the Peshmerga deal with the Sunnis? Do we decide to cordon off the north? Do we decide -— it’ll be a different policy. We’re not going to just be able to walk away. It will be a disaster. I -— when I got back from Iraq a little while ago, I went down to see the president, and I sat with the president, and he kept talking about terrorists. And I said, “Mr. President, if every single al-Qaeda personality, every single al-Qaeda operative or anyone like him tomorrow were blown away, you still have a war, Mr. President. This is well beyond terrorists.”

There’s an insurgency, Tim, a gigantic insurgency that has nothing to do with terrorists. It’s a big deal. And there’s no serious — we put these military guys so far behind the eight ball, because we didn’t go in with the 5,000 police trainers that I talked about on your show two and a half years ago and others did, because they said we didn’t need it, because we said we had all the oil we needed when in fact the oil companies told us we needed $30 billion dollars in. These guys are about two years behind the curve. The civilians have done a disservice, in my view, to the military on the ground. We said we needed more troops. Remember on your show, I called for more troops the year we went in? Then John McCain called for more troops. What were we told? “No, the folks on the ground don’t want the troops.” Now what’s coming out, including Bremer? “Yeah, we needed more troops, we wanted more troops.” This has been a debacle. This has been a debacle. The president, literally, this is a test of his leadership. He’s got to unite the international community to bring every pressure possible on these guys or it’s not going to get done.

-- Sen. Joe Biden, NBC's Meet the Press, March 12

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cheney Makes Questionable Reference When Speaking To AIPAC

On Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and once again made the case for the benefits of the Iraq War:

CHENEY: One leader in Lebanon said: “When I saw the Iraqi people voting, it was the start of a new Arab world…The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The “leader in Lebanon” is Walid Jumblatt, a man who in 2004 was quoted celebrating the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and a year earlier was quoted calling President Bush a "mad emperor," and saying the true axis of evil was "oil and Jews."

What an odd reference point for a speech to AIPAC. You have to wonder what the audience would have thought if Cheney had quoted Jumblatt by name.

Why would Cheney quote Jumblatt? Apparently because he is the only Lebanese leader to say something that could be used to support the administration argument that "a liberated Iraq can ... transform that vital region."

Jumblatt gave his quote to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius last month. Soon thereafter, variations of the quote were used by a wide variety of right-of-center pundits, including David Brooks and Daniel Schorr.

But is it the viewpoint of most Lebanese? “I’ve never heard it from anybody except Walid Jumblatt," Jamil Mroue, editor-in-chief of Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper, told The New Republic.

Maybe the administration feels Jumblatt has changed his ways. Or maybe Jumblatt qualifies as a Middle East "moderate" -- a frequent reference point during the recent Dubai Ports World brouhaha. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Jumblatt last month, ignoring his reported comments about the Bush Administration, including describing her as "oil-colored."

Who Pulled The Plug On Dubai Ports World? Kristol Disagrees With Bush

Who pulled the plug on Dubai Ports World's planned acquisition of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. and its management operations at six U.S. ports?

Compare and contrast:

"I’m sure that the decision by DP World was a difficult decision, to hand over port operations that they had purchased from another company. My administration was satisfied that port security would not have been undermined by the agreement. Nevertheless, Congress was still very much opposed to it. My administration will continue to work with the Congress to provide a greater understanding of how these transactions are approved, in other words the process, and how we can improve that process in the future."

-- President Bush, March 10

He made that veto threat then he went on the trip to India and went silent basically. Karl Rove calls the people in Dubai two nights ago and tells them pull the plug on the deal, and I think as a result, the president looks weak, frankly.

-- Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, on Fox News Channel, March 10

Thursday, March 09, 2006

WaPo: Assess The "Legality" Of Warrantless Surveillance

Regarding the ongoing debate over President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, the Washington Post writes today this editorial:

"Two key inquiries ought to guide any new legislation: how FISA is working and what precisely the administration is doing outside of its strictures. The administration has said that the surveillance law is too cumbersome for certain essential national security surveillance. If this is true, the law needs to be updated. But Congress cannot reasonably authorize or limit the NSA's program without knowing what sort of surveillance it encompasses and how it works. ... These questions may sound esoteric, but they are essential to assessing the legality of what the administration has done and how and whether the law should be updated. Much of this inquiry cannot be conducted in public. But it can and must happen -- and briefing members fully is the place to start."

I agree with the above, but the Post errs when it writes: "It would be tragic and dangerous if it became a political football now -- either as a campaign issue for President Bush or a club with which Democrats can pound him."

While bipartisanship would be a wonderful thing in Washington -- too rare during the Bush years -- Congress should not overlook the obvious. President Bush authorized illegal warrantless surveillance for more than four years, and that's activity unbecoming of a president.

The White House wants it both ways -- it wants people to accept its claim that warrantless surveillance as legal, and to pass legislation to make it legal. That may sound illogical, but neither the White House nor Congressional Republicans seem to care. The White House supports legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), who said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

Democrats should pound the president with this issue. But so should any American who respects the idea that the president must follow the law.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Voting Under Way For Koufax Awards ... Please Support JABBS

Voting is under way for the 2005 Koufax Awards.

JABBS was nominated four times for "Best Post." Separately, it was nominated for "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition."

The links above will take you to the appropriate places to vote. Scroll to the bottom and please offer your support for JABBS.

The Koufax Award is the political bloggers' equivalent of an Academy Award. Award winners are chosen by popular vote.

Thanks in advance for your support.

Congressional Republicans Put Party Before Country, Cut Deal With White House For Legislation To Legalize Warrantless Surveillance Program

Congressional Republicans talked tough earlier this year about warrantless surveillance.

At one point last month, JABBS counted 12 Republican Senators who publicly questioned President Bush's program, including several that sought a Congressional investigation of the program.

The basis of their concern: the program circumvented rules that say the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before proceeding.

The White House claimed it had "inherent authority" to conduct such surveillance, but that argument was questionable, especially after the White House supported legislation from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) to "further codify" the surveillance program.

In other words, the White House wanted it both ways -- it wanted people to accept the program as legal, and to pass legislation to make it legal. That may sound illogical, but neither the White House nor Congressional Republicans seemed to care. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

The final straw came yesterday, when the Senate Intelligence Committee voted along party lines against an investigation of the warrantless surveillance program.

Instead, Congressional Republicans cut a deal with the White House. The draft legislation would authorize the president's program in 45-day increments, and would require that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales justify each individual warrantless wiretap to both the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and new congressional subcommittees in both houses of Congress.

That may solve the problem of making the program legal going forward, but it doesn't solve the problem of the White House conducting an illegal program since the days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

***

Americans, regardless of their politics, should be outraged.

It was just a few years ago that President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Republicans voted en masse -- some with glee -- against Clinton. And a few Democrats spoke out against their party's leader, most notably Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), who lectured from the Senate floor about Clinton's "immoral" act.

I wouldn't dare defend Clinton's affair, nor his lying about it under oath. Neither action is becoming of a leader of the free world.

Similarly, it's not becoming of a president to break the law. And logic dictates that if the U.S. needs legislation to legalize warrantless surveillance -- and everyone appears to agree that we do -- then that means that warrantless surveillance, minus legislation, is illegal.

Democratic leaders should be all over the news -- newspaper editiorials, Sunday and cable news/talk shows, talk radio, etc. -- demanding that the Congress immediately acknowledge the facts at hand, and deal with them as they did during the 1990s. That means impeachment proceedings.

And if the Congressional Republicans aren't willing to deal with the facts, and continue with the White House to try to have it both ways in order to protect their own, then Democrats need to tell the American people as much.

Americans should not tolerate Republican leaders putting party before country. It's not leadership to sweep illegal activity under the rug.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"On many a workday lunchtime, the nominal boss of U.S. intelligence, John D. Negroponte, can be found at a private club in downtown Washington, getting a massage, taking a swim, and having lunch, followed by a good cigar and a perusal of the daily papers in the club’s library.

'He spends three hours there [every] Monday through Friday,' gripes a senior counterterrorism official.

Others say they’ve seen the Director of National Intelligence at the University Club, a 100-year-old mansion-like redoubt of dark oak panels and high ceilings a few blocks from the White House, only several times a week."

-- Congressional Quarterly's CQ.com, March 3

Gonzales May Need To Testify Again On Warrantless Surveillance

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ written answers to questions about the Bush administration’s eavesdropping program may require him to testify a second time before the Senate Judiciary Committee, contends Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA).

"There is a suggestion in his letter there are other classified intelligence programs that are currently under way," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter told reporters.

Gonzales disagreed.

"In all of my testimony at the hearing I addressed -- with limited exceptions -- only the legal underpinnings of the Terrorist Surveillance Program," Gonzales wrote last week, using the administration's Orwellian terminology for the program.

At the same time, there's no indication Gonzales tried to address the administration's illogical position of simultaneously suggesting warrantless surveillance is legal, and supporting legislation to make the program legal.

Ironically, Specter is one of three Republicans who plans to propose such legislation, which suggests he believes warrantless surveillance is illegal, in spite of Gonzales' testimony.

***

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is slated to vote today, in a closed session, on whether it will investigate the president's warrantless surveillance program.

With eight Republicans and seven Democrats on the committee, it'll take the defection of one Republican to make an investigation happen. The best bets: Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

The Republican leadership, headed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), helped postponed a scheduled Feb. 16 vote. They're praying hard that no Republican committee members join the Democrats.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Frist Latest Republican Trying To Protect Administration On Warrantless Surveillance

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is the latest Republican hoping to create legislation to legalize warrantless surveillance.

Frist this week formed a Republican-only "working group" to find a way to change U.S. law. According to the Washington Post, no early compromise was reached, and sometimes tense meetings continue among senators and their aides.

Frist joins Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Mike DeWine (R-OH) in this illogical quest -- one that seeks legislation to legalize warrantless surveillance, without admitting that warrantless surveillance is illegal. Senate Republicans are hoping they can make the entire problem go away without facing the question of whether the administration broke the law. As DeWine said, "We don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional."

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. DeWine's proposal has been, illogically, supported by the administration, which has simultaneously spun that the Bush Administration has "inherent authority" to conduct warrantless surveillance, and that no legislation is needed. His proposal would exempt the NSA program from FISA law.

While the Republicans spin their wheels trying to find loopholes and back-door ways to make the administration's illegal program legal, some Democrats are standing up for an honest debate.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said she's interested in robust oversight before any legislation is considered. "Having the White House negotiate with Senate Republicans only, and spring a done deal on the Congress, I think would be a big mistake," she said.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced a bill Thursday to investigate the Bush administration's eavesdropping program with a nonpartisan organization, called the National Commission on Surveillance Activities and the Rights of Americans.

A commission would "shed much-needed sunshine on any unlawful or unconstitutional executive intrusions into the lives of ordinary Americans," Byrd said.

But given recent history, don't expect the commission concept to fly. The Administration has an established history of, at least initially, fighting independent commissions. The administration's remaining lackeys in Congress will do their best to fight on their behalf.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Another Republican Congressman Vows To Fight Port Transfer

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said during a hearing yesterday that "Dubai cannot be trusted” to manage U.S. ports.

Hunter vowed to scuttle Dubai Ports World planned acquisition of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. and its management operations at six U.S. ports.

“They are an international player who can’t be ignored because of their size, money and strategic location," Hunter said. "[But] those are people you do not want close to the security apparatus.”

He also said he would push legislation to block a second Dubai company’s efforts to acquire two U.S. plants that manufacture precision components for military aircraft and tank engines. That deal involves Dubai International Capital's $1.2 billion acquisition of the London-based precision manufacturer Doncasters Group Ltd.

Ignoring administration officials who suggested that the two deals do not pose a national security risk, Hunter called the United Arab Emirates “accommodators.”

Hunter said that in 2003, UAE customs officials allowed 66 American high-speed electrical switches, which are ideal for detonating nuclear weapons, to be sent to a Pakistani businessman with longstanding ties to the Pakistani military. That same year, over U.S. protests, 70 tons of heavy water, a component for nuclear reactors, was sent from China to Dubai. The shipping labels were then changed to mask the transaction, and 60 tons of the heavy water was forwarded to India, where it enabled the government to use its energy-producing reactors to create plutonium for its atomic weapons program, Hunter charged. And two containers of gas centrifuge parts from Pakistan's A.Q. Khan were shipped through Dubai to Iran for about $3 million worth of UAE. currency, Hunter added.

Hunter's comments came one day after Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a vocal critic of the planned port transfer, told CNN yesterday that officials from the Homeland Security and Treasury departments told him weeks ago that their 30-day review of the deal did not look into the question of links between Dubai Ports World and Al Qaeda.

"There was no real investigation conducted during the 30-day period," said King. "I can't emphasize this enough."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Republican Congressman Asserts "There Was No Real Investigation Conducted" Of Ties Between Dubai Ports World And Al Qaeda

A review of a United Arab Emirates-owned company's plan to take over a portion of operations at key U.S. ports never looked into whether the company had ties to Al Qaeda or other terrorists.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a vocal critic of the planned port transfer, told CNN yesterday that officials from the Homeland Security and Treasury departments told him weeks ago that their 30-day review of the deal did not look into the question of links between Dubai Ports World and Al Qaeda.

King said the officials told him after he asked about investigation into possible terrorist ties: "Congressman, you don't understand, we don't conduct a thorough investigation. We just ask the intel director if there is anything on file, and he said no."

"There was no real investigation conducted during the 30-day period," said King. "I can't emphasize this enough."

That contradicts what White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Monday: "The Department of Homeland Security also worked to make sure any national security concerns were addressed."

It also flies in the face of news yesterday that key agencies of the United Arab Emirates may have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda. In the spring of 2002, al Qaeda officials wrote a letter to the UAE government claiming the emirates were “well aware” of the infiltration. The letter, translated by the United States Government, is publicly available on the website of the West Point Combating Terrorism Center.

Perhaps that's why the U.S. Coast Guard, a Homeland Security unit, wrote:"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."

Various cabinet undersecretaries have spun that the port transfer was a "routine" matter that no one is "second-guessing." With each passing day, those comments are looking like outright lies. The question is: why?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bush Lied When Saying, "I Don't Think Anybody Anticipated The Breach Of The Levees"

Four days after Hurricane Katrina hit, President Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans.

But six days of footage and transcripts obtained by the Associated Press show in excruciating detail that federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, and made those concerns clear to President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during an Aug. 29 government-wide briefing.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck on Aug. 29 but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

Federal disaster officials warned Bush and Chertoff before Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, risk lives in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage of the briefings.

Now we know why Bush said "I take responsibility" for failures in dealing with the storm.

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Gregg Takes Lead In Attacking Bush's Homeland Security Budget

Both Republican and Democratic senators took aim Tuesday at the president's proposed 2007 Homeland Security budget in a hearing, saying it fails to live up to Bush's strong warnings about the threat of terrorist attack.

Leading the attack was Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH). It's the latest example of Congressional Republicans taking a stand against the Bush Administration. Over the past few months, Congressional Republicans have come out against a variety of issues, including federal funding of stem cell research, the way the administration handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, warrantless surveillance, and the proposed transfer of ports to a United Arab Emirates-owned company.

This is what happens when the President's approval rating is at an all-time low, and mid-term elections are just around the corner.

"It's a hollow budget and I can't understand it," Gregg told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday. "I've watched the press conferences where the administration says it is committed to border security and domestic defense, and this budget isn't going to get there."

Gregg said the funding priorities of the Bush administration treat border protection like "a stepchild of national defense."

The budget does not fulfill a funding commitment to add 1,500 law-enforcement officers to guard the borders against illegal aliens. Money needed to hire the officers and supply additional beds to house illegal aliens awaiting deportation would come from the administration's proposal to double fees paid by commercial airline passengers from $2.50 per airport stop to $5. The same proposal to increase passenger fees was killed last year by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

"The increase in funding is tied directly to the fee increase, and they know that is a non-starter," Gregg said. "Ted Stevens says it's a non-starter and proved it last year, yet the administration sends up [this] budget."

Gregg had sought to have the White House include border protection funds as part of $92.2 billion in supplemental funding the Bush administration is seeking. But the Bush Administration declined his requests.

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