Monday, July 31, 2006

Increasingly Desperate Santorum Wrongly Links Arab News Network Al Jazeera To Opponent. Now His Spokeswoman Says Mistake Doesn't Matter

In response to a July 20 speech on "Islamic fascism" by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a commentary appeared on the Al Jazeerah website with the tagline "Don't ask Santorum to 'apologize,' folks. Vote Democratic."

That led a host of conservative blogs to gawk loudly. Did an infamous Arab television network just endorse Santorum's Democratic rival, Bob Casey Jr.? Could this be the manna from the heavens Santorum would need to turn around his campaign for re-election, and close Casey's double-digit lead?

Conservatives prayed hard. Santorum's increasingly desperate campaign pushed the story to a reporter from the Allentown Morning Call, and Santorum himself repeated the claim on the July 27 edition of Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor.

One problem. the Morning Call reporter determined that Al Jazeera, the news network, didn't write the commentary. Instead, it was Al Jazeerah, a site launched by Dr. Hassan A. El-Najjar, a professor at Dalton State College, in Dalton, Ga.

Oops!

Santorum hasn't apologized for his mis-statement. Santorum's spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that it doesn't make a difference. "We thought we should share these kind of sentiments." And as far as I can tell, O'Reilly hasn't corrected the mistake, either.

Voters will soon agree. All these desperate stunts from Santorum won't make a difference, once Casey defeats him in November.

New Book Notes That Not Long After 9/11, Bush Twice Took Time Out To Discuss ... The Prospective Ownership Of The Boston Red Sox?

On Friday, I questioned whether, in the midst of a growing crisis between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was appropriate for President Bush to take time out to have a photo-op with the singers from the just-completed season of Fox's American Idol.

Turns out, Bush found time not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for similar moments of questionable appropriateness.

On page 120 of Feeding The Monster, a new non-fiction book about the Boston Red Sox baseball team by Seth Mnookin, there's this tidbit:

MNOOKIN (discussing the events of Dec. 19, 2001): (Prospective Red Sox owner Tom) Werner arrived, fresh from a dinner he'd attended with Katie Couric at the White House. President Bush, who'd gotten to know Werner when Werner owned the Padres and Bush owned the Rangers and had personally lobbied Bud Selig on behalf of (prospective Red Sox owner Joseph) O'Donnell ...

So, not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Bush took time out of his schedule to:

a) Lobby baseball commissioner Bud Selig regarding the planned sale of the Red Sox.
b) Have dinner with prospective Red Sox owner Tom Werner and then-girlfriend Katie Couric.

Yes, this is four-year-old information, albeit information just recently revealed by Mnookin (more on that below). But alongside Friday's visit with the American Idol singers, it paints a better picture of how this president works when some pundits are saying that World War III is upon us.

Maybe it's wrong to think our president should be all-business during crises. In the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with the nation looking to rally around Bush, weren't most Americans envisioning him huddling with his inner circle or his top military leaders, determining how to capture Osama Bin Laden and dismantle Al Qaeda? Or working with the powers that be -- in the days before the befuddlement known as the Department of Homeland Security -- to discuss improving air, rail and port security, border security, and the security of our nation's chemical and nuclear plants? Or meeting with, or writing to, the families of those who had lost loved ones -- especially police officers, fire fighters and other emergency personnel -- in the terrorist attacks?

No one is suggesting the president should be Superman. But less than 100 days after one of the worst points in American history, it bothers me to think the president spent meaningful time on the potential ownership of the Red Sox. And I'm a Red Sox fan.

***

What was discussed at Bush's dinner with Werner and Couric? Who knows.

After conducting several Google searches -- this and this among them -- I found no evidence that Couric referenced her dinner with Bush on NBC's Today Show. A little odd, considering Couric is one of the world's best-paid journalists. The White House also made no reference to the dinner.

We can only imagine.

In addition to discussing baseball, maybe Werner brought up Sept. 11. Mnookin notes on page 101 of Feeding The Monster that Werner was scheduled to fly on American Airlines Flight 11 (one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center), but because a Sept. 10 meeting ended early, he flew to New York, had dinner with Couric, and boarded a different flight to Los Angeles.

Maybe Bush brought up the videotape Bin Laden made, which the White House had released just a few days earlier. Or maybe he discussed the "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh, who press secretary Ari Fleischer discussed at that morning's press briefing.

Or maybe, in keeping with a light-hearted dinner, they discussed the new $65 million contract Couric had signed that morning with NBC.

Maybe it's best we don't find out.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Boehner Said He Wanted Lobbying Reform. Six Months Later, Lobbyists Are "Happy," And The Odds Of Sweeping Reforms Are "Nil."

"I think we need more reforms to make sure that there's transparency in the relationship between those who lobby us and members themselves. ... I think the transparency that exists in this relationship — more of it would be helpful. Let the sun shine in, because that's the best disinfectant."

-- Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Jan. 16, 2006, interview

"What we're headed for is at best very minimal changes in the House and Senate ethics rules. The battle for real lobbying reform will be left basically undone, and another effort is going to have to be made next year."

-- Government watchdog Fred Wertheimer, July 28, 2006, interview

"We went from people wanting to eliminate lobbying, to bans, and members taking a step back and thinking about what is realistic. I'm happy where things are right now."

-- Paul A. Miller, head of American League of Lobbyists, July 28, 2006, interview.

***

Soon after disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt public officials, congressional leadership promised quick action on a variety of lobbying measures.

But that was then, and this is now. All you need to know is that the president of the lobbyists' association is "happy." Clearly, Boehner has not followed up his talk with action.

The two chambers cannot agree over a number of provisions. Enough lawmakers in the Republican-led Congress have resisted efforts to limit lobbyist-provided perks -- such as free meals and travel -- that only a watered-down version of what was originally proposed will likely see the light of day. And interest groups have (apparently successfully) pressured Congress to reject the harshest proposals.

The Washington Post reported yesterday: "The House and Senate expect to adopt their bare-bones measures soon after Congress returns from its August recess, staffers said. If each chamber passes a few new ethics rules, aides and outsiders agreed, the prospect of passing a full-scale lobbying bill this year will be nil."

Still, Republican leaders are trying to spin that they are following through on the changes Boehner promised six months ago.

"The American people want meaningful change in the way in which Congress spends their money," a statement from House GOP leaders offered this week. "House Republicans are committed to delivering this change."

Yeah, right. No wonder Democrats are increasingly calling this a "do-nothing Congress," and even some Republicans are wondering what this Congress has accomplished, if anything.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rice At The Piano, Bush With American Idol Singers ... Don't Iraq, Iran, Israel, Deserve Full-Time Attention?

Maybe I just don't understand the importance of what's happening in the Middle East.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice left a 15-nation "crisis talk" on the fight between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah to play piano at the annual gala dinner of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Rice must have had the crisis talks on her mind, though, for while others at the gala dinner did silly shtick, she played a somber composition.

"It is not a time that is frivolous. It is a serious time. I will play something that is in accordance with my serious mood," she said.

Rice is due back in the Middle East on Saturday to negotiate terms for a U.N. resolution aimed at the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Her travel plans were dictated by an agreement reached today between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at which time the two agreed any plan to end the fighting must address long-running regional disputes to be effective.

Bush found time in his busy schedule to meet today with the finalists from Fox's American Idol. It was the first time contestants from the hit television show met the president, the Associated Press noted.

***

Participation in the ASEAN gala dinner is a tradition of sorts (Colin Powell sang a Village People song at the 2004 gala). And part of Bush's job is photo ops with successful sports teams and celebrated Americans.

But shouldn't these less important events be treated as ... less important? We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a crisis in Israel. You have conservative pundits talking about this being the beginning of World War III, while others are suggesting we may need to attack Iran.

Jon Stewart, earlier this week on The Daily Show, asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): "President Bush has been very clear that, through his leadership, he has made the world safer. My question to you is simly this: how much safer can the world afford to have him make us?"

McCain didn't answer the question. Between piano recitals and visits with American Idol singers, I wonder whether the Bush Administration thinks making the world safer is a full-time job.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rice Offers The New Face Of American Foreign Policy (And It's Not Happy)

"Oh, I so don't want to be here."

"I can't believe what we have wrought."

"This is the longest day of my life."

You could come up with a lot of captions for this photo, taken following a 15-nation "crisis talk" on the fight between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah, which failed to produce much of anything -- not even an agreement to call for a ceasefire.

This is the face of American foreign policy, at least for the current news cycle. Ineffectual, defeated, frustrated at the lack of consensus.

What's worse, Rice left the crisis talks in Rome to fly to Malaysia. She didn't rule out a return trip to the Middle East.

Back in 1973, President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, spent roughly 40 consecutive days conducting “shuttle diplomacy” — meeting repeatedly with each party — to negotiate “disengagement agreements" between Israel, Syria, and Egypt following the Yom Kippur War. Rice barely spent 40 hours this week.

In sports parlance, Kissinger threw a complete game, while Rice failed to record a single out.

The U.S. can, and should, do better. Whatever Rice had intended to do in Malaysia can be handled by Assistant Secretary David Welch. Rice needs to change the face of American foreign policy now.

In Arguing Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Bush Administration Fact-Checked By Nobel Laureates, Opposed By Stephen Hawking

When President Bush, in the first veto of his presidency, said no to popular legislation for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the main spin line provided was that this was an example of Bush's strong "pro-life" beliefs.

I say spin because Bush's pro-life stance was the equivalent of being a little bit pregnant. When Bush came into office, he allowed existing embryonic stem cell lines to be used, and at no time in his presidency did he push for a nationwide ban on such research -- federally funded or otherwise.

Perhaps that's why critics felt that Bush was actually merely trying to appease the religious right, which helped him get re-elected in 2004. Those fair-minded people, like Dr. James Dobson, have compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi science, an opinion repeated on the Senate floor in 2004 by the non-hyperbolic Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

But the spin doesn't stop there. In the days leading up to the veto, Bush's top advisor, Karl Rove, was telling the Denver Post that “recent studies” show researchers “have far more promise from adult stem cells than from embryonic stem cells.”

Now, I have nothing against adult stem cell research. Those of you who have read this blog know that I am a leukemia survivor, and only recovered because of an adult stem cell transplant, from my younger sister, in December, 2001.

But adult stem cells, while a powerful tool for doctors, do not have more promise than embryonic stem cells.

The Chicago Tribune knew this, too. But to make sure, it contacted a dozen top stem cell experts about Rove’s claim. They all said it was inaccurate.

So who wrote the “studies” that Rove was referring to? Turns out that White House spokesman Ken Lisaius could not provide the name of a stem cell researcher who shares Rove’s view -- the view that we have to assume is shared by Bush.

Just like Bush ignored the Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing that said Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike within the United States, he apparently also ignored a letter last year from 80 Nobel laureatesm who said that “current evidence suggests that adult stem cells have markedly restricted differentiation potential.”

Which is worse: that Bush may have turned his back on science as a political favor to hyperbolists like Dobson, or because he was ignorant of the relative potential of adult stem cells?

***

One person who has a stake in the potential of embryonic stem cell research is Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world's best-known scientist.

Hawking, who suffers from motor neurone disease, has criticized Bush, as well as various European leaders, for stopping funding of embryonic stem cell research. The European Union has been debating preventing funding for seven years of such research.

"Europe should not follow the reactionary lead of President Bush, who recently vetoed a bill passed by Congress and supported by a majority of the American people that would have allowed federal funding for stem cell research," he said in a statement to The Independent of London.

Hawking argued that "Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson's and motor neurone disease from which I and many others suffer." And he dismissed the argument that using embryos is the equivalent of murder, as the religious right has argued.

"The fact that the cells may come from embryos is not an objection because the embryos are going to die anyway," he said. "It is morally equivalent to taking a heart transplant from a victim of a car accident."

Who do you trust: 80 Nobel Laureates and Hawking, or George W. Bush and Karl Rove? One group is backed by scientific facts, the other is backed by science fiction.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 -- up from 36 percent last year, a Harris poll found.

The survey didn't speculate as to the reason for the shift, but respondents were questioned in early July, shortly after Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) declared he had "found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," citing an unclassified report regarding 500 chemical munition shells buried near the Iranian border, following Iraq's war with Iran, which ended in 1988.

Santorum's declaration was quickly dismissed by none other than the Defense Department, which told Fox News Channel's Jim Angle that munitions hyped by Santorum are “not the WMD’s for which this country went to war.” Officially, the Bush Administration admitted it was wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction nearly two years ago.

Santorum's press conference was his larest desperate effort to try to bolster his sagging campaign for re-election. But his fact-challenged declaration was amplified by conservative talk radio -- most notably by his "friend," radio clown Mark Levin -- and the result, at least according to this poll, is that more Americans are unnecessarily confused.

Give Them A "Golden Sombrero": Bush Administration Was Wrong On Iraq, Late On Iran And Syria, And Watched Egypt's Democracy Disappear!

"There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush."

Conservative icon William F. Buckley summed up the Bush foreign policy pretty well. We are engaging in a "Murphy's Law" policy -- whatever can go wrong is going wrong.

In baseball, getting a "golden sombrero" is striking out four times. Amazingly, when it comes to Bush's execution of a Middle East foreign policy, the hat fits.

The Bush Administration admitted it was wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, and that it underestimated the Iraq insurgency. A wide array of people, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former head of the Coaliation Provisional Authority Paul Bremer, and former Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shineski, were ignored when suggesting that the U.S.-led coaltion in Iraq would need significantly more troops.

With no positive ending to the war in sight, Republicans have been reduced to name-calling -- as Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote: "Anyone who dares criticize President Bush's Iraq policy is a "cut-and-run" Democrat. The White House's object here is not to engage in a real debate about an exit strategy from Iraq ... (but to) intimidate them into changing the subject to other, less-potent issues for fear of looking like unpatriotic pansies."

That's strike one.

***

As Buckley said, the administration has been so "engulfed by Iraq" that it failed to have proper perspective on "other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular."

How's this for leadership? Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Friday: "I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn't have been clear what I was shuttling to do. … I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante. I think that would be a mistake."

But that's a false choice. The choice is not the status quo or doing nothing. The choice is U.S. leadership in the region to create something better than the status quo, or accepting the status quo, or doing nothing.

Rice said earlier this month, "Hezbollah and Hamas and these other extremist forces ... have been developing and threatening the Middle East and arresting positive developments for decades."

And yet, the administration's policy was to talk tough, and not much more. We applauded democratic elections in Lebanon from afar, failing to take an aggressive stand here as we had with Iraq.

In other words, our administration chose the potential threat of Iraq over the real threat of Iran and Syria, the state sponsors of Hamas and Hezbollah. Then, it compounded the mistake by not paying attention to Iran and Syria via meaningful diplomacy with regional allies.

When the situation blew up between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, Rice stayed in Washington until this week, breaking from past precedent, which saw President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, used “shuttle diplomacy” following the 1973 Yom Kippur War and President Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem to negotiate a “truce between Israel and Hezbollah” in 1996.

That's strike two and three.

***

And now the final strike against Bush's Middle East policy -- allowing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stomp on Egypt's fledgling democratic movement.

As the Washington Post editorial page wrote last week, Mubarak, with "tacit consent of the Bush Administration ... is continuing his campaign against the democratic movement that sprouted in his country last year. His latest target is the fledgling independent press. ... Last week Mr. Mubarak's ruling party reaffirmed a law that makes it a crime, punishable by imprisonment, to "affront the president of the republic" -- or insult parliament, public agencies, the armed forces, the judiciary or "the general public interest."

No free speech, no freedom of the press. Throw in no political opponents -- democracy activist Ayman Nour, a member of parliament, was thrown in jail following his attempt to challenge Mubarak.

And no reaction from the U.S., either. As Nir Boms, vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East, wrote in the Washington Times, "President Bush rejected a bill that sought to tie some of the American assistance to Egypt with democratic reforms. ... (W)hen Mr. Nour was arrested, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Francis J. Ricciardone, declined to comment, giving a subtle green light for (Mubarak) to accelerate his crackdown."

It's a far cry from pre-Iraq War days, when the adminstration was more active in the Middle East, offering its "Roadmap" for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2002, the administration " threatened to withhold $130 million in aid" to Egypt if Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading liberal dissident, was not released from prison. Ibrahim was quickly released.

The one bright spot is that no senior members of the administration have been quoted recently saying "No one could have anticipated President Mubarak cracking down on democracy," or "No one could have expected that Hezbollah would attack Israel."

Maybe the administration has learned how transparent those spin lines are. Or maybe they're so "engulfed" in the Iraq War that they haven't gotten around to saying anything just yet.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Buckley Again Chastises Bush For Being "Incapable" Of Ending Iraq War "Failure"

William F. Buckley, the father of U.S. conservative political philosophy, told CBS News yesterday that he finds himself parting ways with President Bush, whom he admonishes for having strayed from true conservative principles in his foreign policy.

"If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign," Buckley said for the July 22 interview, from his home in Stamford, Conn.

In particular, Buckley said he views the Iraq War as a failure, because he was "incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge."

It's the latest in a series of stinging comments by Buckley, who was honored by Bush in October, for the 50th anniversary of Buckley's legendary conservative magazine, National Review.

Such is life when you're fighting an increasingly unpopular war, with no satisfactory end in sight and the number of U.S. dead at 2,500 and counting. If a Democrat were to say the things Buckley has been saying, he would be blasted by conservative pundits and called a hero by the left. When Buckley is the one doing the talking, the conversation is much more serious.

Buckley has not minced words this year on the state of the Iraq War, and who he was blaming.

Back in March, Buckley told Bloomberg News: "(I)t's important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure.''

Asked who was to blame for what he deems a failure, Buckley told Bloomberg, "the president." Buckley also called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a longtime friend, "a failed executor'' of the war.

A month earlier, Buckley wrote in National Review: "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. ... Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. ... A problem for American policymakers — for President Bush, ultimately — is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed."

***

Speaking to CBS News yesterday, Buckley took the argument a step further, suggesting that because of Iraq, the Bush Administration has ignored other problems, such as those that led to the recent blow-up between Israel and the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Because the administration has been "engulfed by Iraq, by which I mean no other subject interests anybody (in the administration) other than Iraq," Buckley said the administration has failed to have proper perspective "with respect to, well, other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular."

Given that, it should be no surprise that with regard to foreign policy, Buckley said, "There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Former CIA Deputy: "Even Superpowers Have To Talk To Bad Guys."

"(E)ven superpowers have to talk to bad guys. The absence of a diplomatic relationship with Iran and the deterioration of the one with Syria -- two countries that bear enormous responsibility for the current crisis -- leave the United States with fewer options and levers than might otherwise have been the case."

That's part of the message delivered in today's Washington Post editorial page by John McLaughlin, CIA deputy director from 2000 to 2004. McLaughin seems to understand that you can't parachute into obstacle courses like the Middle East. Tough talk may lead to applause lines at home, but they don't make a difference when the audience is a state sponsor of terrorism, let alone the terrorist groups themselves.

As someone who is firmly pro-Israel, and who only supports a two-state solution if the Palestinian leadership ever learns to permanently quash the terrorists among them, I appreciate the Bush Administration's unquestioned support of Israel, and its refusal to promote a cease-fire between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, unless that cease fire is backed by an immediate and significant effort toward the long-term halting of the funnelling of money, arms and training from Iran and Syria.

That said, tough talk alone is not policy. "My way or the highway" only works if the other side blinks. And the reality of the situation is that Iran and Syria aren't blinking, Hamas and Hezbollah aren't going away, and the U.S. doesn't have the troops to fight wars simultaneously in three countries.

As McLaughlin writes, that means that the U.S. has to be willing to sit down with the enemy. That doesn't mean the U.S. has to be conciliatory. It does mean we have to put forth some effort.

"Distasteful as it might have been to have or to maintain open and normal relations with such states, the absence of such relations ensures that we will have more blind spots than we can afford and that we will have to deal through surrogates on issues of vital importance to the United States," he writes. "We will have to get over the notion that talking to bad guys somehow rewards them or is a sign of weakness. As a superpower, we ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence."

As Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said last week, "And I would just note that for all of those who believe that we had somehow stability in the Middle East over the last 60 years and it's now been disturbed, where do we think Hezbollah and Hamas and these other extremist forces came from? They weren't born yesterday. These forces have been developing and threatening the Middle East and arresting positive developments for decades."

That includes the time that the Bush Administration has run our foreign policy. The 2002 "Roadmap" had promise, if for no other reason than to insist on the Palestinians' stop terrorist attacks against Israel before it could gain sovereignty. But without backing up those words with a constant leadership role, the U.S. has significantly improved the odds that the "Roadmap" will fail.

But McLaughlin argues that had we been thoroughly entrenched in the effort to change the Middle East -- the Middle East beyond Iraq's borders -- "the chances of detecting and heading off imminent disaster are enhanced."

As the iiberal think tank Center for American Progress noted: "Real diplomacy requires more than just phone calls."

President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, used “shuttle diplomacy” — meeting repeatedly with each party — to negotiate “disengagement agreements" between Israel, Syria, and Egypt following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In 1996, President Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, spent a week shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem to negotiate a “truce between Israel and Hezbollah.” President Bill Clinton visited Israel in the midst of the 1996 terrorist attacks by Hamas to show U.S. support.

By contrast, Rice will finally visit the region tomorrow.

There needs to be "intense, unrelenting and daily attention by a senior and respected U.S. figure who wakes up every morning worrying about nothing else -- the role that Ambassador Dennis Ross played so effectively in the 1990s," McLaughlin writes. "It is true that plenty of able people in the U.S. government still focus on the Middle East. But without constant tending to the concerns of all the regional parties, rapid flagging of issues for decision in Washington and continuity of focus by one individual with access, we will lurch from crisis to crisis."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stewart Punches Hole In Bush's "Pro-Life" Universe, Offers Absurd Advice For Absurd Times

Is there a link between the Iraq War and embryonic stem cell research?

Jon Stewart and the folks at The Daily Show think so. And on last night's episode, Stewart made a pretty convincing argument:

How can a president so ardently proclaim his "pro-life" beliefs -- critics would say its political payback to religious right leaders who helped him get to the White House -- and at the same time act so nonchalant describing the "30,000, more or less," dead Iraqis during the war, presumably including several thousand innocents among them.

Stewart, timing his argument to President Bush's veto -- the first of his presidency -- of popular legislation supporting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, provides a seemingly absurd answer for those upset with the veto. But from Stewart's perspective -- and no doubt Daily Show fans agree -- these are absurd times, and as a result, maybe an absurd response shouldn't be discounted.

Here's an unofficial transcript from last night's show:

STEWART: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the president's veto showed no moral ambiguity.

SNOW (from Wednesday's press conference): The simple answer is: He thinks murder's wrong.

STEWART: Wow. Uh, well, Tony Snow is right about one thing. That is a pretty simple answer. But is there any way to say that with more condescension or self-righteousness?

SNOW: What the president has said is he doesn't want human life destroyed. Now you may consider that insignificant ...

STEWART: You may consider that insignificant. You may have a baby juicer at home, where newborns are squashed to provide you and your hippie friends fresh baby smoothies. Uh, but as far as we're concenred, flattening babies for their sweet sweet nectar is wrong.

BUSH (from Oct. 13, 2004, presidential debate): I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a scoiety where every being counts and every person matters.

STEWART: Every being counts. Every person matters.

BUSH (from Dec. 12, 2005, press conference): How many Iraqi citizens have died ... in this war? Um ... I would say 30,000, more or less.

STEWART: Each one, precious. Each one, each one, sacred-ish. As it turns out, there seems to be a bit of a loophole in the "culture of life" promotion thing. When spreading democracy, more absolute gets a little wiggle room.

SNOW: It is one of the horrible side effects that civilians do get injured and killed, and that is one of the lamentable things.

STEWART: It's not murder. It's lamentable side effect. The upset stomach and diarrhea of freedom, if you will. So when it comes to the theory, when it comes to the theory that embyronic stem cells can help the fight against disease ...

BUSH (Aug. 12, 2004, interview with CNN's Larry Knig): This country has to be very careful on destroying life to save life.

STEWART: And when it comes to the theory that military intervention can promote Middle East democracy ...

SNOW: In a situation like this, you don't want to create undue carnage with civilians.

STEWART: Yes, you want to create due carnage with civilians. You know what I'm saying: The carnage they had coming.

So if I may offer just a touch of advice for advociates of stem cell research: stop calling it stem cell research. You, my friends, are now on the front lines in the "War on Terrorble Diseases." Yes my friends, if I may be so bold, we as a nation have been attacked by Osama Bin Parkinson's. (Shows ultraviolet scan of brain diseased by Parkinson's.) It actually makes sense, look at a brain scan of a Parkinson's patient, (Shows ultraviolet image of Osama Bin Laden.) it kind of looks like Osama, a little bit. Osama Bin Parkinson's and his evil cohort: Mahmoud Al-zheimer's. We'll fight them in vitro, so we don't have to fight them here. I'm not saying we're going to deploy these stem cells indefinitely, but when paralyzed patients stand up, we will stand down. Good night. God Bless America. We'll be right back.

BUSH (May 31, 2005, speech): This is the issue before us, and that is whether or not we use taxpayer's money to destroy life.

BUSH (Dec. 12, 2005, press conference): I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Has Homeland Security's Color Coding Of Terror Threats Been Scrapped? A Closer Look Suggests Yes, After Serving Its Purpose (To Get Bush Re-Elected)

Americans may be surprised to learn that we still have the Homeland Security Advisory System.

Even Americans who don't know it by name are familiar with the color-coded system (if not, check the graphic at right). When former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the system in 2002 -- before the department itself was created -- he stressed the need to provide a "clear" indication of a terror threat to the nation, but "flexible to apply to threats made against a city, a state, a sector, or an industry."

From the get-go, critics of the Bush Administration suggested that it was using the terror threat system for political gain, in part because President Bush's popularity always seemed to rise after a change in the terror threat system. As the New York Times reported in August, 2004, a terror threat announcement by Ridge earlier that month was used to "repeatedly praise President Bush's leadership."

Conservatives no doubt reject the argument, but after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff reacted to the Mumbai train bombing earlier this month by saying "there are no plans to raise the nation’s threat level," just four days after failing to mention the terror threat system at all when announcing the U.S. had helped end "a terrorist network that was in the planning stages of an attack against the transportation system in the New York-New Jersey area," I had to wonder, what happened to the "flexibility" of the terror threat system?

Last time I checked, trains are part of the transportation "industry." Last time I checked, New York and New Jersey are each a "state."

In an earlier era -- before the 2004 presidential election -- a one-two punch of terror threats, one directly against the U.S., would have set off alarm bells, and the terror threat would have been raised from yellow, or "elevated," to orange, or "high." At the very least, a thorough discussion of why the threat level was not raised would have been undertaken.

That said, I searched the Department of Homeland Security's archives to determine how many times the terror threat level has been raised -- as well as how many times the possibility of it being raised was discussed at length -- for each year it has existed.

See if you notice a pattern:

2006 -- 0 raises, 1 brief mention on July 11

2005 -- 1 raise (July 7, but limited to mass transit, following London terrorist attack), no other mentions

2004 -- 1 raise (Aug. 1, following report of terror threats to financial districts). Three mentions, at the May 28, July 8 and Oct. 30 press conferences.

2003 -- 4 raises (Feb. 7, after unspecific threats by Al Qaeda, March 17, on the eve of the Iraq War, May 20, following Al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and Dec. 21, continuing until Jan. 9, 2004, as a result of terror threat during the holiday season). Three mentions: Dec. 30 (to reiterate the need for the Dec. 21 decision), as well as Sept. 4 and Nov. 21.

2002 -- 1 raise (Sept. 10, for anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attack), no other mentions.

It may simply be that Chertoff (who came on board in February, 2005) is less eager to raise the terror threat level than Ridge. It may be that higher-ups in the Bush Administration made that call -- after the 2004 presidential election -- allowing policy to match the oft-repeated White House spin that "we're safer" because we're fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (or the variant that "we're safer" with Bush in the White House.)

Shortly after he succeeded Ridge, Chertoff said he would review the terror threat system. Others at the time suggested Chertoff would ultimately scrap it.

And perhaps he has.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Morality Flip-Flop? In May, McCain Appeased The Relgious Right. Now He Risks Their Scorn By Speaking To Playboy

Did John McCain (R-AZ) just bite the hand that might have fed him?

McCain is seen as a likely front-runner to be his party's 2008 presidential nominee. In an effort to appease the religious right, McCain in May spoke at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University -- four years after McCain blasted Falwell, along with Pat Robertson, Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, as "agents of intolerance" who were "corrupting influences" in American politics.

It's a step one has to do to win during primary season. Republicans move to the right, Democrats move to the left, and hopefully, everyone moves to the center come November. (Note: It didn't work so well with the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ...)

But whatever steps McCain made to erase the long memories of Christian conservatives will now fly out the window, once copies of this month's Playboy Magazine begin reaching the populace.

That's because, in the same issue featuring a pictorial called "The Real Girls of Orange County," McCain is featured -- one of several people who penned articles about the Iraq War, and why we need to be there.

Can you say right topic, wrong venue?

***

Did McCain just commit the ultimately morality flip-flop? Did he destroy his chance at the 2008 Republican presidential nomination?

Not so fast. Conservatives have a ready-made answer, and ironically, it was provided more than five years ago.

According to a 2001 piece in the right-wing editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) chided Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) for implying that granting an interview to a magazine is "akin to advocating that publication's views."

Brownback, the Journal reported, reminded "Biden of Al Gore's Playboy interview."

***

Still, appeasing Christian conservatives wasn't a key part of Gore's 2000 campaign strategy. It appears to be a part of McCain's for 2008.

And the truth is, the words "Republican" and "Playboy interview" are not often uttered together. Do a Google search trying to link other 2008 Republican presidential candidates with their respective Playboy interviews is, for lack of a better word, hard.

Over the past decade, very few Republicans have sat down for interviews with the magazine. Several years before he became California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger gave several interviews. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was interviewed by Playboy in 2000. Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith talked to the magazine this year.

But those guys aren't running for president.

Four years after the fact, McCain tried to make amends with Falwell. What can he do for an encore -- if anything -- before the 2008 primary season?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hastert Uses "Truthiness" To Conclude Republicans Will Increase Congressional Majority In November

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said Thursday that the Republicans would "increase our majority in November."

How did Hastert conclude this? I can come up with two possibilities:

-- Hastert is in serious denial.
-- Hastert, lacking actual facts, turned to spin.

That's not to say that Hastert is wrong. We won't know until November whether Republicans pick up or lose seats in Congress. It's just that Hastert's " truthiness" is so easy to pick apart.

According to Reuters, Hastert's main reason for why Republicans will do well in November is: "We are winning in Iraq."

Clearly he was sharing the administration's long-term view of "winning."

The next day, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker offered a different take on Iraq: "I think we're closer to the beginning than we are to the end of all this."

Schoomaker, asked if we're "winning" in Iraq, said: "I think I would answer that by telling you I don't think we're losing." Clearly, he hadn't conferred with Hastert.

(Note: Anyone taking bets that Schoomaker's candor will result in a quick return to Wyoming, where he "lured out of retirement" by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld?)

***

Hastert was also reportedly pleased with a recent projection of the Fiscal Year 2007 deficit at only $296 billion -- fourth-largest in our nation's history.

But that total doesn't include "emergency spending" measures for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and other needs. In fact, the same document reveals that the White House will ask Congress for another $110 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan early next year, putting the actual FY 2007 deficit at no less than $406 billion -- second only to the FY2004 budget deficit for largest in our nation's history.

What again was Hastert celebrating?

***

Finally, Hastert was "encouraged by ... a new Gallup Poll that found House Democrats' advantage shrinking from 16 percentage points to 10 points."

But even that innocuous comment seems grounded in spin.

Gallup's editor-in-chief, Frank Newport, actually suggested on Friday that Hastert took Gallup poll results out of context to make the positive-for-Republicans claim.

"There's been a lot of bouncing around in the generic ballot gap ... and not necessarily indicative of any type of major shift in voter sentiment," Newport said.

While Hastert wants Americans to look at the big picture with Iraq, he doesn't want to look at the big picture with polls about Republican job security.

As Newport noted, the average Democratic advantage since January was 12 points -- barely more than the current 10-point advantage. Compare the most recent poll (July 6-9) with one from a month earlier (June 1-4), and you'd find that the Democratic advantage grew by one percentage point.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Senate Fails To Back Tough Talk On Border Fence With Action

In May, the Republican-led Senate voted 83-16 to build 370 miles of fencing along the border.

Yesterday, the same Republican-led Senate voted 71-29 against providing the $1.8 billion needed to fund the fence.

"We do a lot of talking," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who authored the funding proposal. "The things we do often sound very good, but we never quite get there."

Seems it's easier for the Senate to talk tough than act.

***

Regardless of how you feel about the fence, recognize that the Republicans were front and center in May advocating for it being built. All those television and radio soundbites serve a purpose -- advancing the idea that Republicans are tough on issues like immigration.

Go look at the coverage back in May, and you'll see that Democrats, regardless of how they voted, were generally left on the sidelines by the media.

That's in part because Republicans control the Senate. It's also because Republicans over the past few years have been better coordinated in advancing their spin on things than Democrats.

Will we now see a deluge of television talking heads criticizing the Republicans for failing to put their money where their mouths are? Stay tuned.

***

Why did the fence funding fail? Other Senators say that Sessions' amendment would have required cuts to the rest of the Homeland Security appropriations bill, cutting such things as border patrol hires.

Sessions said if his colleagues were serious, they'd find the funding. But Republicans, who control the purse strings in the Senate, failed to offer alternate spending bills.

That led Sessions to this remarkable bit of honesty. "We will rightly be accused of not being serious about the commitments we've made to the American people. ... They don't respect what we've done in the past, and they should not."

Truer words have rarely been spoken in Washington.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Can The Democrats Regain Senate Control? Doubtful, But With More Races Are In Play, Here's A Roadmap

With four months to go until Election Day, the odds the Democratic Party will regain control of the Senate remain doubtful.

But things are getting interesting. Some races that three months ago looked out of reach are now toss-ups. Others have Democrats in striking distance.

It's enough to make some pundits take a second look at the map, and take into consideration the possibility that a larger than previously expected number of Democrats may be motivated to vote this November, while a larger than previously expected number of Republicans either switch loyalties or stay home.

Republicans currently have a 55-44-1 advantage in the Senate, so only a fantastic day by the Democrats will allow them to regain control. But support for the party has been waning, in part because support for President Bush and Vice President Cheney has been historically poor, Republicans have unsuccessfully substituted name-calling for policy in dealing with the increasingly unpopular Iraq War, and well-publicized negatives like the Jack Abramoff scandal have been tied to the GOP.

At the same time, a wide array of other negatives -- continued instability in the Middle East, the recent missile testing by the North Koreans, record-high gas prices, well-publicized layoffs announced by Ford and Disney -- lead some pundits to think voters are getting the "six-year itch," and will want to remove the Republicans from leadership in this, the sixth year of the Bush presidency.

A lot can change in the 115 or so days left until Election Day, but for Democrats who wish to remain optimistic, here's a roadmap for how the party is making things interesting.

DEMOCRATS LEAD

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey Jr. leads incumbent Republican Rick Santroum by a 52-37 margin, according to the most recent Rasmussen Reports poll. That's actually an improvement from the 23-point deficit Santorum faced last month.

In Montana, Democrat Jon Tester leads incumbent Republican Conrad Burns 50% to 43%, according to the most recent Rasmussen Reports poll. Tester, president of the Montana State Senate, has gained on Burns the last two months -- erasing a four-point lead -- as Burns' ties to the Abramoff scandal have eroded support.

DEMOCRATS IN DEAD HEATS

In Rhode Island, incumbent Republican Lincoln Chafee is struggling to defeat his primary opponent, Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. If Laffey wins, polls suggest the Democrats' nominee, former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, would win easily. If Chafee holds on, the race is seen as a dead heat.

Although Chafee remains personally popular in his home state, Whitehouse has gained a foothold by asking the state's traditional Democrat base to consider the issue of Senate control.

In Missouri, State Auditor Claire McCaskill is in a dead heat with Republican incumbent Jim Talent, erasing a three-point lead in last month’s polls. McCaskill has taken advantage of recent polls showing Bush's approval rating down to 39%; other Republicans in the state have also seen their popularity wane since 2004.

In Ohio, Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown has been trading leads with incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. The most recent polls has DeWine holding a slight lead. DeWine has been hurt by being in the same party as extremely unpopular outgoing governor Bob Taft. (In the race for Governor, Democrat Ted Strickland leads Republican Ken Blackwell handily.) But DeWine has also been in trouble with local conservatives for opposing legislation to protect gun manufacturers from liability suits. Brown would be helped by better name recognition; 17% of voters are unfamiliar with him, according to Rasmussen Reports.

UPHILL BATTLES

In Tennessee, Democratic Congressman Harold Ford trails three potential Republican opponents in polls, as he tries to fill the seat of departing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The most recent poll shows Republicans holding a four-point to nine-point lead -- not insurmountable, but Ford has not shown any improvement as the year goes on.

In Virginia, former Navy Secretary James Webb has shown surprising strength against incumbent Republican George Allen. Allen, who at one point was considered such a shoo-in that he could begin concentrating on a likely 2008 run for president, leads Webb 51-41 in the most recent poll, compared with an April poll showing Allen up by 20.

Webb is a former Republican who actually endorsed Allen in 2000, but defected from the party because of the Iraq War. He would also benefit from better name recognition; 17% of voters have no opinion of him. Helping Webb is the popularity of current Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, and former Democratic Governor Mark Warner.

In Arizona, Democratic state chairman Jim Pederson trails incumbent Republican Jon Kyl, 43-29. In April, polls had Kyl leading 42-31. The good news is many voters haven't made up their minds, and support below 50% for Kyl, like Ohio's DeWine, is not a show of strength. Pederson is spending millions of his money, and benefits from the popularity of Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano.

The bad news is Pederson -- like other Democrats looking to unseat incumbents -- is running out of time to sway voters.

***

Can things break for the Democrats? A gain of six seats seems unlikely. Analysts like the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato think two or three seats is more probable.

But six months ago, the only Republican who looked to be in serious jeopardy was Santorum. Four months from now, we may witness a shake-up not seen since the "Gingrich Revolution" of 1994.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The New York Subway Or An Alabama Petting Zoo? Guess Which One Is Amply Being Protected By The Department Of Homeland Security ... Then Guess Again

Do terrorists need to attack a major U.S. transit system before the Department of Homeland Security takes the threat seriously?

In the past week, terrorists -- most likely from India, rather than from Al Qaeda -- set off a string of bombs on Mumbai commuter trains, killing at least 163. Meanwhile, an investigation by the FBI and its counterparts in six other countries led to the arrest of a 31-year-old Lebanese native who claims to have ties to Al Qaeda and had plans to send suicide bombers to blow up PATH tunnels under the Hudson River. The PATH system is used by 215,000 daily commuters between New York and New Jersey.

Is that enough to have DHS see the big picture? After all, it didn't make changes after last year's terrorist attack to London's transit system. It didn't make changes after the 2004 terrorist attack to Madrid's transit system.

Not only has DHS not stepped up its funding for major transit systems, it has shown it doesn't take the issue seriously.

Last July, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said: "A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people. A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people." This year, DHS cut federal grants by 40% for New York and Washington, prompting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, to testify last month that DHS has become victim to "the kind of political pork barrel it was specifically designed to avoid, contributing to the preposterous under-funding of Homeland Security in New York City."

***

Hard to believe, but today things got more preposterous. A report from the DHS Inspector General found that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites in the National Asset Database than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.

While DHS is cutting funds for New York and Washington transit system protection, it is paying close attention to such things as a petting zoo in Woodville, Ala., the Sweetwater Flea Market in Sweetwater, Tenn., the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton, Ill., and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn. Auditors also found entries in the database such as "Amish Country Popcorn," “Nix’s Check Cashing,” “Mall at Sears,” “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” “Anti-Cruelty Society” and “Bean Fest.”

We don’t find it embarrassing,” DHS deputy press secretary Jarrod Agen told the New York Times.

The rest of do, Jarrod.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Santorum's Debut Ad Attacks "Liberals Like Ted Kennedy." Isn't He Running Against Bob Casey Jr.?

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), trailing badly in the polls, has apparently entered the "Hail Mary" portion of his campaign for re-election.

In his first television advertisement, Santorum calls himself a staunch opponent of "liberals like Ted Kennedy."

Of course, Santorum isn't running against Ted Kennedy. He's running against State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who has been described as an "economic populist," but who like Santorum opposes abortion rights and supported the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. In other words, Casey isn't a "liberal like Ted Kennedy."

But it's election season, and Santorum knows that truth has to take a back seat to anger, er, passion. The ad offers red meat to Pennsylvania's conservative base, who would never want a "liberal like Ted Kennedy" representing them.

But the ad is dishonest in other ways.

It doesn't mention that Republican leaders -- including President Bush -- agree with "liberals like Ted Kennedy" on helping undocumented immigrants attain legal status. It also doesn't mention that Santorum was one of only four Republicans to vote with "liberals like Ted Kennedy" to raise the minimum wage.

***

Desperate ploys have been a regular occurrence during Santorum's re-election bid.

Last month, Santorum declared he had "found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," citing an unclassified report regarding 500 chemical munition shells buried near the Iranian border, following Iraq's war with Iran, which ended in 1988.

Santorum's declaration was quickly dismissed by none other than the Defense Department, which told Fox News Channel's Jim Angle that munitions hyped by Santorum are “not the WMD’s for which this country went to war.” Oh well.

Earlier, Santorum tried to distance himself from Bush -- in part to woo independent Pennsylvanians currently leaning toward Casey. When his poll numbers continued to slip, the strategy was apparently abandoned.

Why is Santorum making such drastic moves? Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., put it plainly: "He's got to shake up the environment, or he's going to lose."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Limbaugh's Continued War On Gore Leads Him To Continue Making Up Science

Rush Limbaugh has spent the past few weeks looking for way to tear apart the new documentary An Inconvenient Truth, in his latest effort to knock Al Gore and the scientific consensus on global climate change.

Limbaugh has a right to pan the movie, or to offer alternative interpretations of the points made therein. Without folks like Limbaugh, how would 13.5 million weekly listeners learn to appreciate questionable Bush Administration and-or industry-supported scientific theory suggesting everything from the safety of rocket fuel in drinking water to the safety of dust in the air after the World Trade Center collapse.

But just as Limbaugh has a right to spew, others have a right to fact-check.

LIMBAUGH (July 7): "I read something the other day that says in the last four years, surface temperatures on average have not gone up. They’ve gone down one-tenth of a degree Celsius. If they’re trending anywhere, they’re trending down the last four years."

JAMES HANSEN, DIRECTOR, NASA (January 24): “The five warmest years over the last century occurred in the last eight years.”

According to Hansen, 2005 was the warmest year in the last century, followed by 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004. You'll note that 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 are "the last four years."

LIMBAUGH (May 22): "Al Gore is trying -- he's got this movie coming out. It's absurd. The Antarctica ice is actually increasing. This -- just this hysteric global warming is unsupportable by facts."

Limbaugh was citing research from the oil industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. Four days before Limbaugh's comments, the primary author of the study, Curt Davis, had issued a statement saying CEI misused his research "in a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public."

Davis, director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said that growth of the ice sheet was only noted on the interior of the ice sheet and did not include coastal areas. Coastal areas are known to be losing mass, and these losses could outweigh the gains in the interior areas. Furthermore, the fact that the interior ice sheet is growing is a predicted consequence of global climate warming.

Limbaugh, of course, overlooked Davis' statement, in a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public.

***

How scientifically accurate is An Inconvenient Truth? Nineteen climate experts gave the movie a thumbs-up for conveying the science correctly.

Will Limbaugh tell his listeners that? Don't be "absurd."

***

Limbaugh, a national voice in the "conservative media" since 1988, has been discussing Gore and other "environmental wackos" and "dunderheaded alarmists and prophets of doom" for almost as long as he's been on the air.

Perhaps his listeners -- nearly the number watching the nightly news on any of ABC, CBS or NBC -- are among the 37% of Americans who still think that "we don't know enough" about global climate change to take action, or that "concern about global climate change is unwarranted."

Limbaugh has been wrong so many times about the issue, it's hard to keep track. But perhaps the best example of what a "dunderhead" Limbaugh is came in 1992, when Gore debated Limbaugh on ABC's Nightline.

LIMBAUGH: "If you listen to what Senator Gore said, it is man-made products which are causing the ozone depletion, yet Mount Pinatubo has put 570 times the amount of chlorine into the atmosphere in one eruption than all of man-made chlorofluorocarbons in one year."

It was a point Limbaugh also made on pages 155-57 of his best-seller, The Way Things Ought to Be. Limbaugh's source was a book that footnoted the volcano theory to Rogelio Maduro, the associate editor of a magazine published by the Lyndon LaRouche network.

Worse, Limbaugh wrongly repeated the "facts," such as they were. Maduro said Mount Augustine in Alaska, not Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, put out 570 times as much chlorine as one year's worth of man-made chlorofluorocarbons.

And what about the science? The journal Science explains that chlorine from natural sources, like volcanoes, is soluable, and gets rained out of the lower atmosphere. Man-made chlorofluorocarbons are insoluble and inert, and make it into the stratosphere, where they can eat away at Earth's protective ozone layer.

Has Limbaugh set the record straight? Don't be "absurd."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

During Thursday's press briefing with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, a reporter asked about President Bush's reaction to the death of disgraced Enron founder Ken Lay.

That led to this improbable spin:

Q I don't know. I don't know him. The President was his friend, not me.

SNOW: No, the President has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the President's acquaintances have passed on during his time in office.

Some conservatives defended Snow's use of "acquaintance" to describe Bush's 16-year relationship with Lay, in spite of Bush's use of the word "friend" in a letter to Lay, various photos showing the Bushes and Lays in social settings, and a series of events tying the two together -- most notably the fact that Lay's company, Enron, was Bush's top donor from 1993 to 2001.

Maybe they'll believe Bush himself. On the July 6 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, King had this exchange with the president.

KING: I know he was your friend. How do you feel? Were you shocked?

BUSH: I was. I was very surprised. You know, just — my hope is that his heart was right with the Lord, and I feel real sorry for his wife. She’s had a rough go, and she’s now here on earth to bear the burdens of losing her husband, a man she loved.

Note that Bush didn't feel compelled to correct King, as Snow did when he contradicted the reporter. Even though Lay was disgraced, Bush didn't try to spin their relationship.

That kind of honesty has to be seen as "good news."

Bush Administration Provides Grant To Research Ways To Weaken Freedom Of Information Act

The Bush Administration has provided a $1 million grant to a Texas Law School, to do research aimed at rolling back the amount of data available to the public through freedom-of-information requests.

"There's the public's right to know, but how much?" Jeffrey Addicott, a professor at the law school, St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, told USA Today.

Addicott said he will use that research to produce a national "model statute" that could be adopted to ensure that information "stays out of the hands of the bad guys" -- like terrorists.

But is that a real problem? Has Al Qaeda submitted Freedom of Information Act requests? Addicott admitted he knew of no cases in the U.S. in which public records or a public meeting were used for a terrorist act.

The federal Freedom of Information Act became law in 1966. Since then, the U.S. has been engaged in a host of conflicts -- Vietnam and the Cold War, for example -- and yet, there's no record of our enemies ever seeking to get the upper hand via the Freedom of Information Act.

"To automatically believe that the less known the better is really not rational," said Paul McMasters, a specialist in public information law at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

But that didn't stop the irrational leaders of the Republican-led Congress from slipping the grant money into the Department of Defense budget.

***

What's really going on? Conservatives are once again looking for ways to restrict the power of what they see as a liberal, anti-Bush press. Other conservatives have been talking up re-establishing a U.S. Office of Censorship, seemingly for similar reasons.

Over the past four years, the Republican-led Congress has closed some meetings and restricted some access to records for fear of making information available to terrorists, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va.

Irrational fear? Possibly. A back-handed way to obstruct what they see as "liberal media bias?" Absolutely.

Let's remember, the First Amendment provides for freedom of the press -- not freedom of the press when convenient. When Congress seeks to restrict our freedoms, ask yourself: what kind of democracy are we fighting to bring to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Conservatives Won't Admit It, But Most Have Stopped Using "Cut And Run" Since Casey's Redeployment Plan Became Known

In June, Republicans were jumping over one another to come up with new and exciting ways to chastise Democrats for proposing a troop redeployment from Iraq.

It was typical follow-the-leader strategy. Once President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist became partisan bomb-throwers -- accusing the Democrats of having a "plan for retreat," a desire to "surrender," a goal of "packing it in," a need to "cut and run" -- just about every conservative wanted to get on the bandwagon.

Lambasting the Democrats in creative yet insulting ways became as popular as booing the Yankees clutchless third-basemen, Alex Rodriguez. Say something clever, so that your constituents can see you on C-SPAN. Make an outrageous statement, and you may be featured on Fox News Channel. Come up with an exceptionally creative insult, and you might get national exposure via The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Very few Republicans were willing to stand up against the tide. A rare example: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) chastised those in the GOP who would use "focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like 'cut and run,' catchy political slogans that debase the seriousness of war."

But then it became known that he top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, had briefed the administration on his plan to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq, with the first cuts perhaps coming by September, and much deeper cuts coming in 2007. Worse, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that Republican lawmakers were aware of Casey's plan before voting against two Democratic proposals, including a conceptually similar plan offered by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI).

And suddenly, the widespread calls of Democrats wanting to "retreat," "cut and run" and a host of other insulting catch-phrases came pretty much to an end. Do a Google search, and you'll find very few examples of conservative politicians using these tired partisan cliches, unable to keep pretending that the Democrats are out-of-step with a majority of Americans, or what Bush's top general thinks makes sense.

Oh sure, there are still some conservatives who stubbornly hang on. Rush Limbaugh, for example, yesterday referred to Ned Lamont, a candidate to unseat Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), as a "kook cut-and-run Democrat opponent." But Limbaugh is the exception, not the rule. He's not running for re-election this fall, or at risk to losing his job to a "kook" like Lamont.

Maybe now conservatives can move beyond such blatant partisanship, and, as Hagel suggests, devote themselves to the "seriousness of war."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Coulter's Syndicator To Investigate Plagiarism Charge, But Publisher Calls Charge "Meritless"

Universal Press Syndicate, which syndicates conservative pundit Ann Coulter's columns to more than 100 newspapers, said it will review a report that detailed instances of apparent plagiarism.

"We take allegations of plagiarism seriously. It's something we'd like to investigate further," Universal spokeswoman Kathie Kerr told the New York Post. Kerr said Universal would look at a report based on finding produced by a plagiarism-detecting software system called iThenticate.

Meanwhile, Steve Ross, senior vice president of Crown Publishing group, which published Coulter's latest rant, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, defended the book to the Post by noting there are 19 pages of endnotes.

"We have reviewed the allegations of plagiarism surrounding Godless and found them to be as trivial and meritless as they are irresponsible," Ross said. "The number of words used by our author in these snippets is so minimal that there is no requirement for attribution."

It's not in Ross' best interest to give the credible charges of plagiarism their due (the three examples encompass 82 words, not a handful, as Ross implies). It would hurt book sales, after all. And noting the number of pages of endnotes is a red herring.

As JABBS and others reported a few days ago, John Barrie, the creator of iThenticate, found that many of the 344 citations Coulter includes in Godless are misleading. Last year, JABBS noted a similar pattern of misleading citations from Coulter's book, Slander.

***

Forget politics -- Coulter is going to throw her bombs regardless of how well she attributes information, and regardless of who publishes her rants. And obviously, Coulter has a right to free speech, regardless of how misguided she is.

The question people should ask is: What is more important, profits or ethics and accuracy?

Should book buyers trust a publisher like Crown Publishing after it looks the other way when one of its authors plagiarizes? Should viewers of Fox News, which has regularly turned to Coulter, continue to watch if Fox ignores her plagiarism, too?

Certainly there are other conservative pundits available. There are conservatives who can strongly advocate positions. There are conservatives who have large followings and can sell books or get Fox ratings. There are even ones who look good on television -- which it's been suggested is a reason that Coulter is popular.

If we were discussing a liberal bomb-thrower -- Michael Moore, Bill Maher or Randi Rhodes, for example -- charges of plagiarism would lead to wall-to-wall coverage on radio and television talk shows. There would be widespread calls for the publisher to recall the book from stores.

Careers have been ruined or sidetracked because of allegations of plagiarism among writers at the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post. Why are some people giving Coulter a free pass?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

White House Response To Lay's Death: Spin, Spin, Spin!

During this afternoon's press briefing with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, a reporter asked about President Bush's reaction to the death of disgraced Enron founder Ken Lay.

The response, for lack of a better word, was "sad."

Q What has been the President's reaction to the death of Ken Lay?

SNOW: I really haven't talked to him about it. I'll give you my own personal reaction, which is when somebody dies you leave behind those who grieve and I think they deserve our compassion. But I don't know, what do you think would be the appropriate thing to say?

Q I don't know. I don't know him. The President was his friend, not me.

SNOW: No, the President has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the President's acquaintances have passed on during his time in office. Again, I think -- it's sort of an interesting question, but not answerable by me.

Even at a solemn time, the administration was playing politics. Lay, whom Bush had ties with since at least 1990 and nicknamed "Kenny Boy," is officially dubbed an "acquaintance." Lay, who provided Enron's corporate jet for Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, whose company was the top Bush donor from 1993 to 2001, whose company had 112 contacts with the Bush Administration in 2001 alone, including 40 contacts with the White House, who was a member of Vice President Cheney's clandestine Energy Task Force, and who apparently had various members of Bush's first cabinet on speed dial as Enron was imploding, was now an "acquaintance."

Dictionary.com gives an interesting example of how to use acquaintance: "I have trouble remembering the names of all my acquaintances." Yeah, that's the kind of relationship that Bush and "Kenny Boy" had.

Why does the administration and its spokespeople always try to spin things? Do they really think that there are votes to be gained, hearts to be won, opinions to be changed, by spinning Bush's relationship with Lay? Are they really so calculating -- or is it naive -- to believe that somehow Snow can give conservatives an angle to charge the reporter with "liberal media bias" for presuming the friendship?

Like I said, the best word to describe this is "sad."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Surprised The CIA Has Closed Its Unit Hunting Down Bin Laden? Don't Be -- The Groundwork Has Been Laid By The Bush Administration For Four Years

The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials have confirmed to the New York Times.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.

The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."

Agency officials spun that tracking Bin Laden and his deputies remained a high priority, and that the decision to disband the unit was not a sign that the effort had slackened. "The efforts to find Osama bin Laden are as strong as ever," spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck told the Times.

Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official who was the first head of the unit, said the move reflected the mistaken view within the agency that Bin Laden was no longer the threat he once was. "This will clearly denigrate our operations against Al Qaeda," he told the Times.

***

This is just the latest in a series of events and statements that show that Bin Laden has gone from wanted "dead of alive" to being of lesser importance -- a positive primarily for the families of 9/11 victims seeking "closure." Our leadership has gone from targeting Bin Laden as a key to the war on terror, to marginalizing him as just one person in a broad fight.

When did the change start? In 2002, around the same time the administration began talking about a possible Iraq War. Capturing Bin Laden -- from the mouths of various people in the administration -- became secondary to fighting the "war on terror," which included, with increasing prominence, Iraq.

The change in stance on capturing Bin Laden is completely out-of-step with the nation -- last month, 86% of Americans said in a USA Today/Gallup poll that it was somewhat, very or extremely important that Bin Laden be captured or killed, a number that had barely changed over the past two years. That fact is probably inconvenient, but the spin has already begun, and no doubt it will be repeated. Given the lack of success in finding Bin Laden, what other choice is there but to spin?

That Bin Laden remaining at large keeps alive the threat of another attack on our nation? Cynics would suggest that benefits the Bush Administration, which has a history of playing the fear card -- in speeches and commercial messages.

Let's review the road from "dead or alive" to important only as "closure."

-- President Bush said on the night of Sept. 11, 2001: "The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts."

-- Over the next three months, Bush on several occasions repeated that he wanted to bring Bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."

-- By the spring of 2002, Bush's tone had changed. From a March 13, 2002, press conference:

BUSH: "(T)he idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. ... So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you."

-- In 2003, General Peter Pace (now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), told reporters: "(Bin Laden) has taken himself out of the picture. ... It is not an individual that is as important as is the ongoing campaign of the coalition against terrorists."

As CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre noted at the time: "They'd love to get him tomorrow, if they could. Since they can't, they're downplaying the role that he's playing."

-- In 2004, Bush seemed to agree with McIntyre, apparently resigned to the idea that we may not capture bin Laden. Speaking to Tim Russert on the Feb. 8, 2004 edition of Meet the Press, Bush said: "I have no idea whether we will capture or bring him to justice, may be the best way to put it."

-- But by that fall, Bush changed his tone again -- for a national audience watching the third presidential debate.

BUSH: "Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations. Of course we're worried about Osama bin Laden. We're on the hunt after Osama bin Laden. We're using every asset at our disposal to get Osama bin Laden."

-- And last fall, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice offered this in an interview with Newsweek:

RICE: I would like nothing better to get the phone call that says we captured Osama bin Laden. I mean, in a sense, I think it’s, you know, it’s a kind of issue of closure ... (B)ut in terms of the operation itself, I’ve always argued, and I argued from the very beginning, and in fact, the fact that the President argues, reflected in his September 20 speech, we decided in that speech he’d only mention Bin Laden once because nobody wanted to give the impression that this was about a single person.

So maybe it shouldn't be surprising that the CIA has closed the unit hunting for Bin Laden. Various officials have been laying the groundwork for that decision for four years.

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