Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bush, Inside His Bubble, Didn't Learn About Haditha Until A Reporter Called ... Four Months After The Incident


President Bush, it has been said, doesn't read newspapers or news magazines, preferring oral briefings provided by his staff. Like others in the administration, he prefers administration-friendly Fox News Channel. On the road, Bush often speaks before partisan crowds -- some of whom had to take loyalty oaths -- with questioners hand-picked to lob softball questions. At one point, the White House filled a room with interns posing as reporters.

From inside his bubble, Bush can probably rationalize that he is making good decisions, doing everything he can to fight the war on terror. Who will argue?

The problem, of course, is that the real world exists ... outside that bubble. And Bush's lack of knowledge of the world around him can at times be baffling.

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary (and Fox News Channel alum) Tony Snow told reporters that Bush learned of reports that U.S. Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians at Haditha only after reporters asked about it.

Asked when Bush was first briefed about Haditha, an insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, Snow said: "When a Time reporter first made the call."

Time was first to report, in March, that the U.S. military was investigating a dozen Marines for possible war crimes in the November incident. The killings, which included women and children, came after a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine.

Is this competent leadership? Shouldn't the president know abput a major military investigation regarding an incident that could provide additional momentum to the seemingly endless insurgency?

Bush says his administration is doing "everything we can" to fight the war on terror. Clearly, that's just empty spin.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fox News Channel: We Don't Report, So You Can't Decide ...

Fans of Fox News Channel like to suggest the cable network -- a favorite of the Bush Administration -- is not subject to the mythical "liberal media bias."

But in case after case, Fox News simply shills for the administration's viewpoints -- its beliefs in theory, if not in practice -- and cheats, when necessary, to make those views look more palatable. In other words: they don't report, so conservative viewers can't decide.

Consider Fox News' May 18 coverage of the new Al Gore documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth."

As first reported by the website NewsHounds, Fox News' Mike Emanuel -- a reporter, not a pundit -- left out key background information when shilling, er, reporting, on the Gore documentary.

Emanuel noted the film was about "what he [Gore] calls 'the climate crisis." To counter Gore's view -- which is shared by nearly every major objective science institute on the planet -- Emanuel said the premise was disputed by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Hmmm. Sounds like two sides of an argument, right? But what is the Competitive Enterprise Institute? What is the National Center for Policy Analysis? Are these objective scientific non-profits, or corporate-subsidized providers of junk science? Emanuel doesn't report, so Fox News viewers can't decide.

A simple search on Sourcewatch provides the answer. But when you are shilling, you have to leave out key facts to make the reporting "sound" better. Facts are obstacles.

--Funding for the Competitive Enterprise Institute comes from Amoco Foundation, American Petroleum Institute, ARCO Foundation, ExxonMobil, Ford Motor Company Fund, General Motors, Texaco Inc., and Texaco Foundation, among others.

--Funding for the National Center for Policy Analysis comes from DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund, El Paso Energy Foundation, ExxonMobil Foundation and Koch Foundation, among others.

Hardly an objective bunch to discuss global warming, or the Bush Administration's response to that discussion.

As NewsHounds notes: "By withholding this information, Emanuel made it seem like Gore's opponents are disinterested groups taking a different view based on their reading of the 'science' instead of mere shills for rich people whose interests are being threatened."

Maybe that's what has led some conservatives to mock Gore. If you believe in scientific data, you must be a "liberal." You must be a tree-hugger. A Green Party extremist. A socialist. A communist. You must be listening to the Harvard liberals over on NPR. You must be mocked. You must be silenced.

In this twisted reality, facts play second fiddle to politics. Corporate-subsidized junk science is not only given equal standing, but preferred standing -- no matter how manipulated that science is -- to provide a politically and financially palatable result.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

White House Press Corps, Upon Hearing Of Lay's Guilt, Remains Quiet

Ken Lay was not mentioned during Thursday's White House press gaggle with Tony Snow -- which began after Lay, the disgraced former head of energy conglomerate Enron, had been found guilty of fraud and conspiracy.

While no one wants the press to suggest guilt by association, it's obvious that "Kenny Boy" had longstanding ties to President Bush, more than enough reason for the verdict to have come up during the press Q&A.

Lay was a long-time fund-raiser for the president, dating back to his runs for Governor of Texas. Enron made its jet available to the Bush campaign in 2000, and contributed to 2001 inaugural festivities. And of course, Lay was part of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force.

A report from the Special Investigations Division of the House Committee on Government Reform found 112 contacts between the Bush Administration and Enron in 2001, including 40 with senior administration officials, prior to Enron's collapse.

But the White House press corps kept quiet, even with breaking news to follow up on and (one would assume) a knowledge of the lengthy ties between Lay and Bush.

It's just another example of how empty the phrase "liberal media bias" is.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The head of the Veterans Affairs Department was kept in the dark about the theft of computer data on 26.5 million veterans.

A Bush Administration official who has followed the episode said Secretary R. James Nicholson was not told about the missing data until the night of May 16, or 13 days after the discs containing the data were stolen in a burglary at the residence of a department employee.

Nicholson issued a statement on Wednesday vowing "a very extensive review of individuals up and down the chain of command" and urging his department's inspector general's office to expedite an investigation of the affair.

It makes you wonder what these Bush Administration secretaries are told in real time, like back in February, when it seemed no cabinet members knew anything about the proposed transfer of port management contracts to a Dubai-owned company until the matter had made headlines.

That issue was pretty serious, as is the issue of stolen veterans data.

Some are suggesting Nicholson should be dumped. I think that's the least of our problems.

Legal Defense Fund Uses Colbert Report Interview To Support DeLay

Although it sounds like a bit for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the legal defense fund for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) thinks it has found an ally in ... Stephen Colbert?

DeLay’s legal defense fund recently sent out a mass email criticizing the movie “The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress,” by “Outfoxed” creator Robert Greenwald. Amazingly, to prove that Greenwald is part of some vast liberal Hollywood conspiracy against DeLay, the defense fund cites Colbert’s interview with Greenwald on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report.

Although Colbert's audience recognizes that Colbert plays a faux-conservative modeled after Fox News Channel's Bill O’Reilly, apparently the legal defense fund didn't get the joke. It's hardly a secret that Colbert mocks conservatives, especially after he was criticized for skewering the Bush Administration and the media during his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. An audio version of the speech has become the most downloaded thing around.

According to the legal defense fund e-mail: "Colbert Cracks the Story on Real Motivations Behind the Movie," because Colbert asked "hard-hitting" questions such as “Who hates America more, you or Michael Moore?”

Maybe the defense fund figures it needs all the friends it can find -- even faux friends. Its website features the full video of the interview, sadly lacking the disclaimer: "Please ignore the audience's laughter ..."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bush Laughs At Gore, Science

Is President Bush likely to see Al Gore's documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth?

"Doubt it," Bush said Monday. He then chuckled -- it's unclear why -- and then his audience laughed with him.

Is there anything more pathetic?

According to the Associated Press, Gore offered to come to the White House any time, any day to show Bush either his documentary or a slide show on global warming that he's shown more than 1,000 times around the world.

But you know Bush won't extend an invitation. Why should he let reams of scientific data get in the way of his industry-sponsored ideas? Is his opinion so weak, so flimsy, that it cannot withstand watching a documentary that disagrees with his conclusions?

Conservatives laugh at Gore. They mock him with myths they created about things he never said. They call him a tree-hugger and sneer, safe within the protective bubble of ignorance. It's politics vs. science. It's name-calling vs. debate. Of course Bush laughed at the notion of listening to Gore -- his ignorance is bliss!

"Why should we set aside the global scientific consensus," Gore said. "Is it because Exxon Mobil wants us to set it aside? Why should we set aside the conclusion of scientists in the United States, including the National Academy of Sciences, and around the world including the 11 most important national academies of science on the globe and substitute for their view the view of Exxon Mobil. Why?"

Monday, May 15, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

“I don’t really believe those polls. ... As I travel around the United States, I see a lot of appreciation for him. A lot of people come up to me and say, 'Stay the course.'"

– First Lady Laura Bush, May 14, on Bush's wretched approval ratings.

SAMANTHA BEE (voiceover images of President Bush at town hall meetings): As he barnstorms across the country to sell his Social Security reforms, President Bush has introduced an exciting innovation: the fake town hall. In these stirring non-debates, pre-screened citizens are free to voice their president's opinions. And pepper him with the toughest of compliments.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN AT TOWN HALL MEETING: I'm very happy to have you as a president. (Applause)

-- Daily Show With Jon Stewart, "Hall Of Same," April 19, 2005

Friday, May 12, 2006

HUD Secretary Either "Broke The Law And Then Lied About It, Or ... Lied That He Had Broken The Law"

"Which is worse," the Washington Post asks this morning, "violating the law or pretending to have done so?"

Those are the choices at hand when discussing HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

(Don't worry: Jackson is a long-time friend of President Bush. No need to count the days until Jackson's firing ...)

Two weeks ago, Jackson said at a business gathering in Dallas that he had canceled a government contract because the contractor criticized President Bush. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president?" Jackson was quoted as saying.

Jackson, a former head of the Dallas Housing Authority, said: "we started this process where every time a businessperson of color came in to see me, I’d tell them, ‘Go down to the (minority small business) office and get registered — then I can work with you." Once you get on the list and get a contract, HUD will "just keep giving you tax dollars.”

Jackson stressed that “HUD provides ‘business opportunities for many in this room to get rich,’” adding that “one contract can make you wealthy.”

A spokeswoman, Dustee Tucker, later offered the Dallas Morning News additional justification for the canceled contract, saying the contractor in question had been rude to Mr. Jackson, "trashing, in a very aggressive way," the HUD secretary and the president.

But amazingly, Jackson now claims that the story of the businessman who lost his contract with HUD because he criticized Bush -- an act which would be illegal -- was a fabrication.

"During my tenure, no contract has ever been rewarded, rejected or rescinded due to the personal or political beliefs of the recipient," he stated. Tucker added that it was "a made-up story," intended to demonstrate how people in Washington "will come in, trash you, trash the president and then ask you for money."

Yeah, right. Or is it possible that for the umpteenth time, a Bush Administration secretary has had a tin ear, getting caught saying something that later can't be defended?

-- Such as when Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization," then a day later, apologized.

-- Such as when DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said that rail security should take a backseat to aviation security becuase "A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people." His spokesperson later said Chertoff was concerned about securing all means of transportation "with the unique solution that each requires."

-- Such as when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "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," then more recently lied, "I've avoided predicting the timing."

-- Or when Rumsfeld was caught in a lie when he was challenged by CIA veteran Ray McGovern. Rumsfeld denied ever saying the U.S. knew where weapons of mass destruction were, and then McGovern read quotes Rumsfeld had given on various Sunday talk shows.

***

When you're caught, what choice do you have but to try to lie your way out of trouble? Pretend you never said something. Say you were misquoted. Try to change the subject. Hope the American people forget.

The Post, talking about Jackson, nailed the main argument: "Whatever his intention in telling the story -- and whether the story is true or false -- it appears to lead to only two possible conclusions: Either Mr. Jackson broke the law and then lied about it, or he lied that he had broken the law. Which of those actions makes him fit to be secretary of housing and urban development?"

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Media Showed Distaste For Colbert, But Looked The Other Way When Bush Joked About Missing WMD

"(D)eciding what's funny is subjective, sometimes a matter of taste (or tastelessness), but increasingly, also, partisan. We bring our politics to everything nowadays, although some may be more open to good satire than others, even when someone on 'your side' is hit.

Still, with the knocks on (Comedy Central's Stephen) Colbert increasing, I have to ask: Where was the outrage when President Bush made fun of not finding those pesky WMDs at a very similar media dinner -- in the same ballroom -- two years ago? It represents a shameful episode for the American media, and presidency, yet is rarely mentioned today.

It occurred on March 24, 2004. The setting: The 60th annual black-tie dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association (with many print journalists there as guests) at the Washington Hilton. On the menu: surf and turf. Attendance: 1,500. The main speaker: President George W. Bush, one year into the Iraq war, with 500 Americans already dead.

... That night, in the middle of his stand-up routine before the (perhaps tipsy) journos, Bush showed on a screen behind him some candid on-the-job photos of himself. One featured him gazing out a window, as Bush narrated, smiling: 'Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.'

According to the transcript this was greeted with 'laughter and applause' from the audience.

A few seconds later, he was shown looking under papers, behind drapes, and even under his desk, with this narration: 'Nope, no weapons over there' (met with more 'laughter and applause'), and then 'Maybe under here?' (just 'laughter' this time). Still searching, he settled for finding a photo revealing the Skull and Bones secret signal.

... The reporters covering the gala were apparently as swept away with laughter as the guests. One of the few attendees to criticize the president's gag, David Corn of The Nation, said he heard not a single complaint from his colleagues at the after-party. Corn wondered if they would have laughed if President Reagan, following the truck bombing of our Marines barracks in Beirut, which killed 241, had said at a similar dinner: 'Guess we forgot to put in a stop light.'"

-- Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher, May 4

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tonight, Severin Offered Fearmongering. What Else Can A Conservative Radio Host Do?

"I want to know who the 30% is."

-- Conservative radio host Jay Severin, on President Bush's popularity, May 8

The sad thing, though, is that even though Severin said he doesn't consider himself among the 30% -- he disagrees with Bush when the president strays from the "conservative" viewpoint -- Severin nonetheless told his listeners to continue voting in droves for Republicans.

Why not show disastisfaction by voting for opposing candidates? Severin fears a world where the Democrats control Congress. Rather than offering his listeners a rational, let alone balanced, view, he turned tonight to fearmongering.

"Do you want a Senate Majority Leader Dianne Feinstein?" Severin asked, apparently overlooking Harry Reid (D-NV), a pro-life Democrat, the current minority leader. "Do you want a Judiciary Committee headed by John Conyers (R-MI)?" he asked, switching from one house of Congress to the other without batting an eye.

Severin then listened to a caller upset that Democrats were opposing Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated earlier today to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA. Neither the caller nor Severin noted that a host of Republicans also oppose Hayden. That would diminish the fearmongering-as-policy debate.

"Who do the liberals want? Dennis Kucinich? Jesse Jackson? Oprah Winfrey?" Severin mocked.

Witness what conservative talk radio becomes when two-thirds of the country oppose the president, and three-fifths want to see Democrats regain control of Congress.

Bereft of ways to defend their party's leadership -- which they admit they disagree with -- all conservatives have left is name-calling. All they can do is jeer and mock, creating fictional versions of Democrats in order to disagree with them.

Real Democratic ideas? They aren't interested. It's bad for ratings to offer rational, let alone balanced, arguments on the issues of the day.

Loyal Soldier Hayden Nominated To Replace Goss As Head Of CIA

The White House today officially nominated deputy director of national intelligence Gen. Michael Hayden to succeed Porter Goss as head of the CIA. Goss resigned Friday.

The move wasn't a surprise. It's another attempt to consolidate power among a very small group of friends and supporters of President Bush, Vice Presidency Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. It's their way or the highway. You're either with them or against them.

Hayden, whose nomination has been roundly criticized by both Democrats and Republicans, has been a loyal soldier.

Hayden was one of the administration's "most forceful" defenders of President Bush's warrantless surviellance program, and was director of the National Security Agency when the program was implemented.

In his Oct. 17, 2002 testimony, Hayden told a congressional committee that any surveillance of persons in the United States was done consistent with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required a court-approved warrant for wiretapping.

In other words, Hayden lied to Congress. That's illegal, and unbecoming of a government official. (Of course, Bush himself told a similar lie about FISA on the campaign trail in 2004.)

Not surprisingly, in 2006 testimony, Hayden agreed with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' defense of the administration's side-stepping FISA. He is, if nothing else, a loyal soldier ... about to get rewarded.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Read Between The Lines: Has The Bush Administration Scared Us Into Looking The Other Way While It Consolidates Power?

Consider two items from the news:

A new report from the libertarian CATO Institute on the Bush presidency: "The pattern that emerges is one of a ceaseless push for power, unchecked by either the courts or Congress, one in short of disdain for constitutional limits."

Meanwhile, former Homeland Security inspector general Clark Kent Ervin writes in his new memoir, “Clearly, the Homeland Security Department has served to make us only marginally safer, and in the age of terror, marginally safer is not enough.”

These are not liberal sources. If anything, these are sources that should be friendly to the goals of a so-called politically conservative administration.

But what does it say that the administration has taken questionable steps -- side-stepping existing laws, failing to adequately protect our borders, pushing to kill Democratic-sponsored proposals on Homeland Security, unnecessarily placing politics into the discussion on domestic terrorists, looking the other way when a country with previous ties to terrorism wants to take over our ports -- while claiming to protect the homeland? Has this administration accomplished much of anything, other than consolidating power at the excecutive branch?

Another non-liberal who is unhappy with the administration's apparent power grab is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has questioned President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

''There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Specter told the Boston Globe. ''What's the point of having a statute if ... the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?"

And let's not even get into the fiasco that is the Iraq War. The Bush Administration sold that war with half-truths and misinformation, gave Congress only partial information to lock up its support, and ever since has spun, spun and spun some more, hoping that Americans would believe that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was an appropriate reaction to the events of Sept. 11, or the ongoing global fight against Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

Are we safer? Ervin, the former Homeland Security inspector general, says "marginally."

That shouldn't make any American happy, given the cost.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Come November, Will Democracy Be Served?

Looking at the electoral scoreboard come November, I've become something of a depressed Democrat.

The American populace has been loud and clear. They aren't happy with our nation's direction. Depending on the poll -- including one conducted for Fox News Channel -- between 60 and 68% of the country is unsatisfied with President Bush's leadership. A larger percentage has grown tired of Vice President Cheney. Nearly 60% of the nation's voters say they want the Democrats to regain control of Congress.

Scandals plague the Republican Party. By the time voters head to the polls in November, Karl Rove may be indicted, Tom DeLay and former White House Advisor Claude Allen may be punished, other Republicans may be in trouble for playing Casanova at the Watergate Hotel, still more Republicans may be identified in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and still more Republicans may be punished for their ties to the phone-jamming scandal in New Hampshire.

Americans aren't happy about paying $3 for a gallon of gas, remain upset at how FEMA handled Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and scratched our heads at the tin ear the Bush Administration showed at everything from Vice President Cheney's hunting accident to why the administration supported transferring management of U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates.

Even the Bush Administration has stopped pretending the Iraq War -- entered for questionable reasons, a majority of us believe -- will end anytime soon. It's a far cry from "Mission Accomplished," uttered three years ago today. It's a far cry from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's sarcastic quip way back when that the war would take "five weeks or five months," now President Bush is suggesting the war will be ended by a "future president" The war has become the "quagmire" Rumsfeld said it wouldn't, and the American people have noticed.

And thankfully, a majority of Americans don't buy into the conservative-fringe argument that Democrats are rooting for high death tolls, or unsupportive of the troops. Conservatives have little to turn to other than fear, and convincing Americans that Democrats are un-American and/or incompetent (more incompetent?) is a key component of that strategy.

(Psst.: Democrats seek competence in our management of the war, as well as the greater issues of national security. Unfortunately, too many reporters continue to repeat the conservative spin that the Democrats lack a plan.)

***

So why am I a depressed Democrat?

Because in spite of a deck increasingly stacked in their favor, the Democrats face an uphill battle to regain control of either the House or Senate. Forget the will of the people, or the quality of the incumbents. The math just isn't easy.

In the Senate, 33 seats will be on the ballot in November, 17 of them currently in Democratic hands, 15 controlled by Republicans, and one held by Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT). Democrats now have 44 Senate seats and need to pick up seven to gain a majority, six if Vermont independent Bernie Sanders replaces Jeffords. Most analysts say that a huge Democratic turnout, or a particularly weak Republican turnout, could make the difference. Still, the odds suggest the Democrats will make up ground, but not regain control.

Meanwhile, all 435 House seats are on the ballot this fall, and Democrats need to pick up at least 15 to become the majority party and take control of the House. But redistricting by Republicans (some legally questionable) has made it possible for only about 25 seats to be competitive. A revolution, a la the one led by Newt Gingrich (R-GA) 12 years ago, is unlikely.

"If this election comes down to the individual, race-by-race, case-by-case campaigns, like we've seen for the last four cycles, the Democrats don't have enough top-tier candidates to win 15 seats," Amy Walters, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told the Washington Post.

But again, if turnout is huge for Democrats or paltry for Republicans, the Democrats "do have enough second- and third-tier candidates who can ride a wave," she said.

It is what it is. Six months is a lifetime in politics. But for the will of the people to be served, the American people will have to turn disatisfaction with Republican control into a modern-day voter revolt.

Otherwise, it will be more of the same. Or maybe it will get worse.

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