Whither the evangelicals?

Chris Bowers of MyDD, via the Hotline newsletter, reports:
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) opened debate "on an ambitious plan" to influence policy by developing a new platform, which 87 Christian leaders signed on 3/10. The proposed platform, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," contains policy goals that go "beyond the fight against abortion and same-sex marriage" and urge "evangelicals to address issues like racial injustice, religious freedom," and poverty. At the NAE's 3/10 luncheon many speakers said the new platform was "neccessary" because the NAE risked being seen as "merely" a GOP "voting bloc." Speaker Barbara Williams-Skinner drew "a standing ovation" when she "criticized evangelicals who decide their votes using abortion and same-sex marriage as a litmus test."
Williams-Skinner: "The litmus test is the Gospel, the whole of it."

Bush breaks like the wind as his road show makes its way across the USA

W's Social Security road show is starting to look like Spinal Tap's.

From the LA Times:
Despite near-unanimous Democratic opposition (to Social Security privatization) in Congress, Bush is trying to show that he can relate to those in the other party. He invited Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), who was given a seat in the third row at the morning event in his hometown of Memphis. Ford, who is running for the U.S. Senate next year, has said he opposes Bush's approach, but he favors private accounts as an addition to the current system. If Bush hoped to change Ford's mind, the congressman said later he was not impressed by the orchestrated event.
"That wasn't a conversation. It was more of an echo," said Ford, whom conservative backers of private accounts view as a potential future ally. "The president didn't allow any other points to be raised," Ford said. "I do hope if the president continues to do this, he will allow some pointed questions to be asked. This format's going to have to be changed for these conversations to be credible."
...Bush was interrupted several times by hecklers in Memphis, two of whom were removed by police officers.
...Political analysts said today it appeared that Bush was making headway in convincing Americans that Social Security faced long-term funding problems, but the more they learned about private investment accounts, the less they liked them. "People agree there is need for some kind of reform of the system," said conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. "They just don't think they agree with what the president has proposed."
Bush's message, Bartlett said, was "extremely muddled and unclear and not very compelling." Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Stanford Washington Research Group, said it appeared that the president's focus on the potential rewards of letting younger workers invest part of their payroll taxes in stock and bonds was calling attention to the potential risks as well.
"People get nervous about tying their retirement to the market. The stock market has been very volatile the last few years," Valliere said. "The Bush plan is really on life support right now. I'm reluctant to say it's dead, but they haven't made the sale. They haven't made their case."

And Steve Soto asks:
Bush's "plan" is on "life support" and he is not making "a very compelling case?" And why exactly are Democrats cutting any deals with him at all on anything?

Meet the new boss...of Iraq

From Steve Soto of The Left Coaster blog:
...(Bush) signaled his true intentions for the future of Iraq when he decided to reassign our current Afghanistan ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a good friend of Cheney and Wolfowitz, to be John Negroponte’s successor as our ambassador in Baghdad. Khalilzad wasn’t exactly doing a bang-up job in Kabul, given that our "liberation" of that country only extends to Kabul, the Taliban are making a comeback, and opium has returned as the cash crop of our new ally. But Khalilzad wasn’t put in Kabul to rebuild the country; he was put there to finish the job he tried to do a decade ago, when he worked for Unocal, of securing pipelines through Afghanistan so that American companies could profit from the gas and oil reserves of Central Asia. Now with limited success from his time in Kabul, Khalilzad can spread his magic to the big prize of securing American control over Iraq’s oil for his former employer and their industry competitors. But we’ll have to see if the new Iraqi government, now with its Shiite and Kurdish leadership soon to be in place, will let Khalilzad grab the oil or hold onto it for themselves and the benefit of the Iraqi people. For that matter, we’ll have to see if they let the Pentagon finish the military bases that we plan to use to intimidate the Iraqis and their neighbors with.

Hunter S. Thompson: Tales from a weird & righteous American Saga

Articles on the Doctor in the new Rolling Stone:

My Brother in Arms by Jann S. Wenner
The Final Days at Owl Farm by Douglas Brinkley
The Last Outlaw by Mikal Gilmore
A Pair of Deviant Bookends by Johnny Depp
Memo From the Sports Desk by Raoul Duke

Neocons at it again. This time, Hezbollah. Heads up!

From the James Wolcott blog:
Here we go again. Couple of weeks ago on Tina Brown's Topic [A], Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman squawked about Iran's support for terrorism in general, Hezbollah in particular. Now I don't pretend to be the Mideast savant Jonah Goldberg is, but my dim understanding is that Hezbollah's fight is with Israel, they pose no direct threat to the United States; ergo, let Israel fight its own battles, for which it is more than adequately equipped. But Zuckerman's offhand mention got my spider sense tingling, triggering a faint suspicion that Hezbollah was being groomed for the next big scary terrorist threat to Our Way of Life now that Al Qaeda's fear factor was receding.
And lo, I switched on the set today and by chance see the words "Beware Hezbollah" on the screen beneath Wolf Blitzer's bearded mug. His guests were the authors of a new book called "Lightning out of Lebanon," about the threat posed by Hezbollah to the US mainland. The only hazy evidence of Hezbollah activity were threats against Anthony Lake which were never carried out but were "taken seriously." Well, hell, practically everything in this country is taken seriously as a precautionary measure. A ten-year-old can phone in a bomb scare and they'll evacuate the building. Means nothing.
Yet the authors made dark hints about Hezbollah cells in American cities, which presumably could be activated from Lebanon or elsewhere. The same talk we've been getting since 9/11 about the phantom Al Qaeda "sleeper cells" awakening their Manchurian Candidate coded "go" signals. One of the authors, Barbara Newman, mentioned (or maybe it was Wolf) being a senior fellow at the FDD, and I thought, "OK, that explains everything."
The FDD is the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Its Board of Directors are Jack Kemp, Jeane Kilpatrick, and Steve Forbes. Its Distinguished Directors are Newt Gingrich and James Woolsey (which is really stretching the definition of "distinguished"). Its Board of Advisors include many of the usual suspects. Krauthammer. Perle. Frank Gaffney. Bill Kristol. And, to lend this organization a figleaf of bipartisanship, Donna Brazile and Sen Chuck Shumer.
So what we have here is another well-financed neocon operation, gearing up post-Iraq to frighten Americans about Hezbollah and to push for US premptive intervention. Hezbollah--"Iran-backed shock troops," as they're dubbed in the book's promo--will be equated with the Taliban, and just as Afghanistan had to be attacked for harboring the Taliban, countries that harbor, finance, and otherwise support Hezbollah must Face the Consequences.
Here's your homework assignment, boys and girls. Study cable news in the coming months, if you can stand the stomach upset, and see how many segments are devoted to the emerging threat posed by Hezbollah, and what America must do to protect itself. Particularly what-if scenarios about Hezbollah obtaining WMDs, and what they could do to American cities. I suspect we'll see quite an uptick.
Oh, before I forget, someone wrote the nicest blurb for this book. Can you guess who?
“Lightning out of Lebanon is an eye opener.  The book reads like a novel but documents in detail how operatives of what many call the ‘A-Team of Terrorism' have taken advantage of our freedoms, legal loopholes, and defense weaknesses to set up support cells in communities all over America.”
I'll give you a hint. He's a Senator from Connecticut.

Rush is evil

Syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh said the following on the March 10 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
"Because the fact is we have had all the abortions, and I think that's one of the reasons the numbers of Democrats are down because it's primarily Democrats that have abortions. They're aborting their own voters, and they have been for 30 years."

And the Oliver Willis blog also notes that Rush said:
"It would be nice, just for a week, if the Republicans did treat Democrats like lower life forms."

How does that democracy thing work again?

From the WaPo:
Two weeks after President Hosni Mubarak announced that Egypt would hold multi-candidate presidential elections, the first politician to say he would run was sitting in jail. Inmate No. 1387 at Tora jail is Ayman Nour, a lawyer and member of parliament. Nour, whose small Tomorrow Party was legalized in October and holds six seats in Egypt's 454-member parliament, is only one of thousands of Egyptian political figures jailed during decades of authoritarian rule. Yet since his arrest Jan. 29 on suspicion of forging official documents, his fate has become intertwined with the destiny of political change in Egypt. Nour had taken positions recently that were daring by the standards of Egyptian political discourse. On the eve of a meeting between Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party and opposition groups, he sent a letter demanding that Mubarak attend the conference; otherwise, Nour said he would not. This assertion of equality irritated the president, party insiders said. Nour was jailed three days before the conference opened...In parliament, Nour carried out investigations of everything from bread prices to torture, endearing himself to his impoverished constituency, supporters say. He operated a charity office and community center in Bab ash-Shariya that provided medical advice, a hall for free weddings, and school lessons for children.

Now I feel better...

From the NY Times:
President Bush will nominate one of his closest confidantes, Karen P. Hughes, to lead an effort at the State Department to repair the image of the United States overseas, particularly in the Arab world, administration officials said Friday. She will also be a leader in publicizing the president's campaign for democracy in the Middle East. Ms. Hughes, 48, is to be named next week as Mr. Bush's choice to be under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, a position that requires Senate confirmation.

I wonder if she'll say more stuff like this:
To defend Bush's anti-choice policies, she said on CNN on 4/25/04: "I think after September 11, the American people are valuing life more...and I think those are the kind of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy, and really, the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life."
To attack Kerry's Vietnam service, she said on CNN on 4/25/04: "He only pretended to throw his (medals). Now, I can understand if, out of conscience, you take a principled stand, and you would decide that you were so opposed to this that you would actually throw your medals. But to pretend to do so -- I think that's very revealing."

Then there's that awful Bush twins speech at the Republican covention that she allegedly wrote...


Why we don't mourn

From Tom Watson's blog:
The most striking image in the tragic death of Italian security agent Nicola Calipari, killed by U.S. troops on the road to the airport with freed hostage/journalist Giuliana Sgrena, is simple and striking: national mourning. Americans avoid it. Our leaders avoid it. Our trained seal national media avoids it. Have you paused to watch a national prayer service for our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two bloody years? No, because it hasn't happened. Do you recall that national day of mourning for the 1,500 killed in the Iraq incursion? No, because President Bush has never named one. Yeah, we have local stories about "our heroes" killed in Fallujah, Baghdad, and Mosul - local funerals, local ceremonies of grief, local newspaper stories about the high school athlete or the volunteer fireman who went to war and never came home. Nothing national. Nothing American. All of Italy is mourning Calipari's death. His body is lying in state at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome, where visitors have been paying their respects, and a state funeral was planned for Monday. President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said he would award Calipari, a married father of two, the gold medal of valor for his heroism. In war zones, horrendous mistakes among jittery, scared, and heavily-armed troops will always lead to mistaken death and injury. It is part of the cost of war that our society has decided to accept, following the path laid out by our national leadership. What we don't have to accept is the national silence that greets the dead from an administration that doesn't want photographs taken of the coffins arriving Stateside. Why don't we mourn as a nation? The reason is simple and shocking and damning: because our leaders don't care.

Going for the jugular

From Digby's blog:
We are seeing the outlines of a potent broadside against the Republicans in 2006 if we are only bold enough to take it. Social Security privatization and this bankruptcy bill are full throated attacks on the middle and working class in this country. They are asking working Americans to take on more and more risk in order to enrich and protect big business. They want to cut your taxes by a couple of bucks and then force you to put thousands more into the hands of their friends on Wall Street and the big banks.
Has there ever been an administration with more gall? Low income workers already have access to loan sharks. The vig is the same, either way. Maybe next year they'll pass legislation allowing the credit card companies to break your legs if you are unable to pay. It works for Tony Soprano, why not the Republican Mob?
I dearly hope that the Democrats are planning to nationalize these midterms and go after this administration with a fiery populist message.The time is ripe and this hits people right where they live. Even if we do not gain any seats, it's imperative that we begin to make the argument that the Republicans own the government and that they are using their power corruptly. When the shit comes down, and it will, we must have very carefully laid out the case that this abdication of all common sense and concern for average Americans defines this corrupt Republican establishment.

The death of deliberative democracy

"A Congressional Report on the Unprecedented Erosion of the Democratic Process in the 108th Congress"
The report states that in the 108th Congress, House Republicans became the most arrogant, unethical and corrupt majority in modern Congressional history. When they took control of the House after the 1994 elections, Republicans vowed they would be different than previous Congresses. They promised they would manage the House in a way that fostered what they called "deliberative democracy," which they defined as "the full and free airing of conflicting opinions through hearings, debates, and amendments for the purpose of developing and improving legislation deserving of the respect and support of the people." This report documents how, ten years after their "revolution," House Republicans have completely abandoned this standard of deliberative democracy they set for themselves. Furthermore, they have abandoned any other principle of procedural fairness or democratic accountability. In the opinion of many non-partisan observers of Congress, the 108th Congress not only matched the worst abuses of earlier Congresses; it set a whole new benchmark. The report examines in detail how, over the past two years, the Republican leadership ignored the House Rules and the basic standards of legislative fairness and regular order with an impunity that is unprecedented in the history of the House of Representatives.
Click on the title to read the report.

Terror suspects buying firearms, GAO concludes

From CrooksandLiars.com:
Dozens of terror suspects on federal watch lists were allowed to buy firearms legally in the United States last year, according to a Congressional investigation that points up major vulnerabilities in federal gun laws. People suspected of being members of a terrorist group are not automatically barred from legally buying a gun, and the investigation, conducted by the Government Accountability Office, indicated that people with clear links to terrorist groups had regularly taken advantage of this gap. F.B.I. officials maintain that they are hamstrung by laws and policies restricting the use of gun-buying records because of concerns over the privacy rights of gun owners.
When the country was asked to give up some rights to protect itself from terrorism, John Ashcroft slashed the length of time that the government can keep records on instant background checks for gun buyers. It's all right to monitor libraries, but not to keep an eye on guns.

Rangel tees off on Bush too: A "new low"

In a speech yesterday, Bush made the following atrocious utterance:
"And so there are guidelines as to what you can invest in. I was being somewhat facetious on the lottery -- but really not. There's a proper risk reward, a portfolio that will allow you as a younger worker to pick a mix of stocks and bonds. Oh, I know they say certain people aren't capable of investing, you know, the investor class. It kind of sounds like to me, you know, a certain race of people living in a certain area. I believe everybody's got the capability of being in the investor class.
Yesterday, as part of his pitch for privatizing Social Security, President Bush stated that opponents of privatization "say certain people aren't capable of investing...It kind of sounds like to me, you know, a certain race of people living in a certain area." (USA Today)

Today Rep. Charlie Rangel issued the following statement (posted on the DCCC website):
"It is clear that in their desperation to rescue their privatization plan, the White House has sunk to a new low. How far will they go? The White House strategy seems to be to sow divisions - young and old, men and women, Black and White, North and South - to achieve their political goals. The Republicans figure if they can divide the nation, they can conquer Social Security. First, Republicans said that they would consider providing African American workers with a different level of benefits based on their race. That did not go anywhere, so President Bush and his allies claimed that Social Security is a bad deal for African Americans, since African Americans tend to have a shorter life expectancy. Now, the White House has changed its tune again and is saying that those of us who oppose privatization are somehow racist. This is totally outrageous. No one is saying that any certain group cannot invest - we are saying that no matter who you are, you need one asset that you can depend on, no matter what. That asset is Social Security. Without it, almost 60 percent of African American seniors would live in poverty as would millions and millions of other older Americans of all races...The only thing easier than making money on Wall Street is losing money on Wall Street. That may be fine if you have the money, but for the millions of Americans that depend on Social Security for their survival, their independence, and their peace of mind, they can't afford to take the President's gamble.

It's not democracy that's on the march

From the Guardian (UK):
The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march. The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent. The Iraqi elections may have looked good on TV and allowed Kurdish and Shia parties to improve their bargaining power, but millions of Iraqis were unable or unwilling to vote, key political forces were excluded, candidates' names were secret, alleged fraud widespread, the entire system designed to maintain US control and Iraqis unable to vote to end the occupation. They have no more brought democracy to Iraq than US-orchestrated elections did to south Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. As for the cosmetic adjustments by regimes such as Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, there is not the slightest sign that they will lead to free elections, which would be expected to bring anti-western governments to power.
What has actually taken place since 9/11 and the Iraq war is a relentless expansion of US control of the Middle East, of which the threats to Syria are a part. The Americans now have a military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar - and in not one of those countries did an elected government invite them in. Of course Arabs want an end to tyrannical regimes, most of which have been supported over the years by the US, Britain and France: that is the source of much anti-western Muslim anger. The dictators remain in place by US licence, which can be revoked at any time - and managed elections are being used as another mechanism for maintaining pro-western regimes rather than spreading democracy.

Democrats create gridlock on House LackofEthics panel

From the WaPo:
The House, facing new controversy about the travel of Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other lawmakers, was left last night with no mechanism for investigating improper behavior by its members when Democrats shut down the ethics committee by refusing to accept Republican rules changes that restrict the panel's power. Democrats said they do not plan to allow the ethics committee to organize until Republicans repeal a series of rule changes they pushed through in January, making it more difficult to initiate an investigation unless at least one Republican member supports the probe.
The 10-member House ethics panel, formally the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is unique among committees in that it is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats are resisting rule changes the House made in January that make it more difficult to open investigations. Until January, a tie meant that an inquiry was automatically triggered, now a majority must approve it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said her party is backing a resolution to "overturn what the Republicans did on that opening day and to make the ethics process indeed bipartisan again." In a clear reference to DeLay, Pelosi said at her weekly news conference: "In order for whatever accommodation they wanted to make for whoever they wanted to make it, there is no ethics process under the rules that they have put forth."

INSERT SARCASTIC SNORT HERE...Ron Bonjean, communications director for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said it was unclear last night how the logjam could be broken.
"Democrats have chosen to shut down the ethics process," he said. "It's up to the House Democrats to put the ethics process above partisan politics."

Frank Rich on dirty jokes

From his NY Times column:
Let me recommend the series that probably has more four-letter words, with or without participles, than any in TV history. That would be "Deadwood" on HBO. Its linguistic gait befits its chapter of American history, the story of a gold-rush mining camp in the Dakota Territory of the late 1870's. "Deadwood" is the back story of everything else that is joyously vulgar in American culture and that our new Puritans want to stamp out.  
Its creator is David Milch, a former Yale fraternity brother of George W. Bush and the onetime protégé of Robert Penn Warren. He was a co-creator, with Steven Bochco, of the network police show, "NYPD Blue." 
"Deadwood" could not be better timed. It reminds us of who we are and where we came from, and that even indecency is part of an American's birthright. It also, if inadvertently, illuminates the most insidious underpinnings of today's decency police by further reminding us that the same people who want to stamp out entertainment like "Deadwood" also want to rewrite American history (and, when they can, the news) according to their dictates of moral and political correctness. They won't tolerate an honest account of the real Deadwood in a classroom or museum any more than they will its fictionalized representation on HBO. Lynne Cheney has taken to writing and promoting triumphalist children's history books that, as she said on Fox News recently, offer "an uncynical approach to our nation and to our national story." (So much for her own out-of-print "Deadwood"-esque novel of 1981, "Sisters," with its evocation of lesbian passions on the frontier.) That's her right. But when her taste is enforced as government policy that's another matter.     
,,,That last week in September 2001, I've come to realize, is as much a marker in our cultural history as two weeks earlier is a marker in the history of our relations with the world. Even as we're constantly told we're in a war for "freedom" abroad, freedom in our culture at home has been under attack ever since.

The spoils of war

According to an investigative piece by Michael Shnayerson in the latest Vanity Fair, Halliburton subsidiary KBR got $12 billion worth of exclusive contracts for work in Iraq. But even more shocking is how KBR spent some of the money. Former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official Bunnatine Greenhouse is blowing the whistle on the Dick Cheney-linked company's profits of war.
Long article but worth it.

Torture by proxy

From an LA Times editorial:
President Bush declared in his State of the Union address, "Torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." Considering what's come to light since then, the most charitable conclusion is that Bush is completely out of the loop. In recent weeks, past and present administration officials have confirmed that since September 2001 the Central Intelligence Agency has dispatched between 100 and 150 terror suspects to countries where fine points of law and human rights don't stop beatings, drugging or long isolation. Before the 9/11 attacks, the CIA occasionally engaged in this indefensible practice, known as "extraordinary rendition." But afterward, Bush gave the agency wider license to export prisoners in terror-related cases who hadn't been tried or even charged with any crime. Despite his State of the Union declaration, the president has apparently not revoked that authority. U.S. law and international conventions bar sending prisoners to another nation unless there are strong assurances of humane treatment. The CIA says with a straight face that it gets those assurances before delivering suspects to jailers in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan — countries that have such abysmal human rights records that promises of decent treatment are a joke. Bush has argued that tough new rules of engagement are necessary to fight stateless terrorists. But morality aside, what intelligence of value have U.S. officials gleaned from suspects who've been handed off to modern-day dungeons? A case in point: In 2002, federal agents arrested Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian engineer, at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York because his name appeared on a terrorist watch list. The U.S. delivered him to Syrian interrogators. After months in a windowless room and regular beatings, he said, he confessed to anything they wanted just to stop the torment. A year later, Arar was released without charges.
This barbarism is why U.S. judges have refused to condone the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects. Yet the military still holds about 500 foreign nationals at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most have not been charged and have no lawyer, often after years in custody.
...The more haunting problem with Bush's war on terrorism remains the moral one: A nation that considers itself a beacon of freedom seems unable to practice the respect for law and human rights it ardently preaches to others.

Obama tees off on Bush

From the Chicago Tribune:
Sen. Barack Obama on Thursday called President Bush's suggestion that African-Americans could reap greater rewards from overhauling Social Security a "stunning" argument that ignored the true health issues facing blacks in this country. As the president launched a two-day tour through the South to build support for his controversial plan to revamp Social Security, Democrats challenged a White House assertion that blacks would particularly gain from Bush's proposed private retirement accounts because they have fewer years to collect benefits considering they die younger.
"It is puzzling to me that we are even having this debate about whether Social Security is good or not for African-Americans," said Obama, an Illinois Democrat. "I frankly found the statement that the president made somewhat offensive...There is no doubt a disparity in the lifetime opportunities between white America and black America. The notion that we would cynically use those disparities as a rationale for dismantling Social Security as opposed to talking about how are we going to close the health disparities gap that exists, and make sure that African-American life expectancy is as long as the rest of this nation ... is stunning to me."

Remembering Madrid

From Danny Schechter of NewsDissector:
Let's give it up for Madrid this morning and remember the ordeal they experienced a year ago today when terrorists bombed commuter trains. 191 people were killed.
BBC reports: "Church bells across the capital will toll at 0737, the exact moment when the first of a series of co-ordinated blasts hit packed trains.The country will observe a five-minute silence at midday."
But let us also remember what else happened, and how the Aznar government lied and tried to blame the Basques, and how the people of Spain turned against the press which was playing his game, and rallied and rallied using cell phone text messages to mobilize and in the end threw his pro-war government out. That was not a victory for democracy Washington applauded.
Remember Spain, but also compare the response there to what happened here after our 3-11 (9-11) and how different the result was, leading as it did to the wars we are still fighting. Could our press have had something to do with it?

Media alerts: "Boston Legal" and cable "decency" controversies

"Decency" rules on cable
From Mick Farren on SmirkingChimp.com:
To yet again paraphrase Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now, "The bullshit piles up so fast in the media that you need wings to stay above it." Over the last couple of weeks, Robin Williams was censored by ABC on the same Oscar show for which Chris Rock was hired to add some edge but then put on dump-out delay. ABC News ducked reality by running a two-hour Peter Jennings special on UFOs instead of real news, while the Bush White House was caught using Armstrong Williams, the scary-weird Jeff Gannon, and at least four other phony journalists to support its own palace of illusions. The Adelphia cable company planned to run hardcore porn on pay-per-view, but then chickened out, while Clint Eastwood, of all people, was branded a soulless Blue State liberal, and a massive spoiler was handed to anyone who had yet to see Million Dollar Baby.
Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) started raising a well-publicized ruckus about how FCC decency enforcement should be extended to include cable and satellite programming.
As it stands, the broadcast indecency legislation that has already passed the House and is currently making its way through the Senate is simultaneously obscene and ludicrous. Once it's signed into law by George Bush, the bottom line will be that, if you or I go on local radio and repeat the Willard line quoted above, we can be fined a half-million bucks and our property seized without ever once going in front of a judge. If the same FCC censorship power is extended to cable, we can kiss goodbye to Bill Maher, Larry Sanders, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Queer as Folk, South Park, The L Word, and whatever comes next for the Sex and the City demographic. Worse, we won't be able to see an uncut, uncensored copy of Raging Bull, Schindler's List, or the aforementioned Apocalypse Now except on DVD, even though we're paying through the nose for subscription TV. Stevens and Barton don't even feel the need to fabricate any clear and present cable danger from which we need to be protected...Time Warner will, I hope, buy off these jackasses, so we don't have to junk HBO as meaningless. But the combination of the bigoted control freaks and sleazy power hustlers is dangerous, volatile, and needs to be constantly watched.

ABC censors "Boston Legal"
From SmirkingChimp.com:
The next episode of Boston Legal, is to be broadcast Sunday March 13 on the Disney-owned ABC network. AlterNet has acquired both the original and the revised script for this episode from a source who prefers to remain anonymous. The original penned by Kelley focused in large measure on Fox News and its loofah-loving star Bill O'Reilly. The script also featured substantial excerpts from the independent film Outfoxed, which documents how the allegedly "fair and balanced" cable channel acts as a propaganda arm for the Republican Party and other conservative interest groups. But the final script – the one that was actually shot for the show that will appear on Sunday – has been thoroughly scrubbed on orders from top ABC network executives, and all mention of Fox News and O’Reilly has been sent down the Memory Hole.
David Kelley won’t say why the changes were made – and no one at his production company, his producing partner 20th Century Fox, ABC or even Fox News is talking. But a comparison of the original script and the censored script speaks for itself. In the original, Chi McBride (principal of the high school featured in Kelley’s previous hit Boston Public) installs a "Fox Blocker" on every television set in his school, on the entirely reasonable grounds that what appears on Fox News is not news but in fact "hate speech." One of his students, Stuart Milch, believes McBride’s decision to be censorship, and takes his case to the attorneys of Boston Legal.
Here’s a taste of what millions of viewers will now miss next Sunday:
Stuart: "It’s called a Fox Blocker. Sold off the internet. You attach it to the coaxial cable on your television and it basically blocks out all Fox News transmissions… My high school principal attached these liberal, left-wing devices to all the televisions in the building. Meanwhile, the kids are free to watch CBS, CNN, NBC, even ABC, But not Fox. It’s censorship."
It’s called censorship, all right – just not on Boston Legal anymore. Here’s what the final, scrubbed-and-censored script says instead:
Stuart: "It’s called a news blocker. Sold off the internet. You attach it to the coaxial cable on your television and it basically blocks out news transmission…. My high school principal attached these devices to all the televisions in the building. The problem is… turns out it only blocks out one network, the most fair and balanced one. All the others, kids can watch."
Here’s another example, this time of an interchange between two Boston Legal characters – attorney Chelina Hall and Catherine Piper, secretary to attorney Alan Shore (played by Boston Legal star, James Spader.) Again, original script first:
Chelina: If you had to watch the news, Mrs. Piper, which network would you go to?
Catherine (simply): Fox, of course.
Chelina: Can you tell us why?
Catherine: Well. For starters, we’re winning the war on Fox. The economy’s better there. And Brit Hume. Sometimes I close my eyes and…go to him.
And now, the censored version:
Chelina: If you had to watch the news, Mrs. Piper, which network would you go to?
Catherine (simply): I don’t know. I’d probably seek out the station where we’re most likely to be winning the war. Where I can find a better economy. Maybe some weapons of mass destruction.
And so it continues, page after expurgated page. No Fox. No Bill O’Reilly. No Brit Hume. … And no free speech?
No way to know – because no one will speak, not even the articulate, prolific and powerful Mr. Kelley.
Speaking of free speech, there’s another, related issue to consider as well – the unexplained fact that Robert Greenwald, creator of the Outfoxed documentary (which curiously is still excerpted and mentioned by name in Sunday’s episode) was In keeping with the overall vow of silence accompanying the Boston Legal "free speech" episode, neither Joel Resnicow nor indeed anyone at ABC’s Broadcast Standards and Practices Department was willing to comment. When pressed for an explanation of why the ad was refused, ABC’s media relations rep Susan Sewell said only "No comment." The non-answer answer was the same even when she was asked for an explanation – or indeed any articulation whatsoever – of ABC’s "Broadcast Standards and Practices." And Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes – usually good for at least a quip, if not an actual quote – also declined comment.
While you’re at it, why not ask David E. Kelley what pressure was brought to bear on him to censor an episode of his series – one supposedly devoted to the issue of free speech. The telephone number for David E. Kelley Productions is 650.853.9100.
In the interest of free speech, maybe he’ll even talk to you.

Bush's kiss of death

From Robert Parry of Consortium News:
George W. Bush's grab to take credit for a few democratic openings in the Middle East has endangered the region's reformers while his two-year-old military adventure in Iraq continues to founder, a disaster sinking in the blood of Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers. That grim assessment is, of course, not the imagery favored by the U.S. news media as it resumes its role of courtier press, lavishing praise on Bush and his neoconservative advisers as heroic visionaries leading the Middle East to freedom. But the American press corps again has gone overboard in its fawning coverage of Bush, much like it did in 2002-2003 when it largely fell for his warnings about an imminent threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the discovery of no WMD stockpiles, the U.S. intelligence community came under criticism for a "group-think" that had succumbed to pressure from the White House to hype the danger from Iraq. But the U.S. news media has been equally guilty of "group-think," both then and now.
In the latest conventional wisdom about winds of freedom sweeping the Middle East, both mainstream and conservative commentators bought into the notion that Arabs were rallying to Bush's orations about liberty and finally appreciating his conquest of Iraq. But the reality is that Bush remains one of the region's most despised figures.
So when Bush rushed to center stage ostensibly to urge on thousands of Lebanese demonstrators demanding Syrian military withdrawal - and implicitly to take credit for the developments - the U.S. news media missed the other story: that Bush's grandstanding was putting those protesters and their cause in danger.
One of the results was a backlash that saw pro-Syrian Hezbollah stage a counter rally of a half million people in Beirut on March 8, denouncing U.S. intervention in Lebanese politics and accusing Washington of regional "terrorism." This massive outpouring emboldened Lebanon's parliament to re-elect pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami, who had resigned just nine days earlier in face of the anti-Syrian protests.
The twin developments were a stunning reversal for U.S. policy in Lebanon, putting the country's political position back almost where it was when the anti-Syrian protests began following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14. The heightened tensions also have complicated the United Nations' strategy for pressuring Syria to withdraw its remaining 14,000 troops from Lebanon.
Hezbollah, a radical Shiite Muslim party long denounced by the United States as a terrorist organization, was given a chance to demonstrate that Syria's military presence, which began in the 1970s during Lebanon's civil war, has the backing of a significant part of the Lebanese population. Hezbollah's muscle-flexing also forced another retreat by Washington. "The United States has basically accepted the French view, echoed by others in Europe, that with Hezbollah emerging as such a force in very fractured Lebanon, it is dangerous to antagonize it right now," according to a New York Times article by Steven R. Weisman. [NYT, March 10, 2005]
An alert U.S. press corps might have pounced on the Bush administration for overplaying its hand, but virtually across the board the U.S. news media had hailed the pre-March 8 developments as vindication of Bush's invasion of Iraq and the neoconservative strategy of using force to smash the Arab political structure. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Neocon Amorality" and "Bush's Neocons Unbridled."]
A wiser course for Bush on Lebanon might have been to stay in the background and let the French take the lead in helping Lebanon hold free elections this spring. A new study of Middle Eastern public opinion by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan found that France has a much better image than the United States and Great Britain, which jointly led the invasion of Iraq.
The survey of opinions in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine found widespread hostility toward the United States and Great Britain, which were viewed as "racist," "morally decadent" and "imperialistic." These opinions were not held about France, which opposed the Iraq invasion. Rather than viewing the Bush administration as supporting democracy, large majorities of those questioned disagreed, condemning the United States as a major human rights violator. More than 85 percent in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Palestine called Bush's war in Iraq an act of terrorism. In Lebanon, that view was held by 64 percent. [For more on the survey, see Der Spiegel's online edition, March 9, 2005.] 
So it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Bush's attempt to bask in the glory of the Lebanese protests would have provoked a negative reaction in the Middle East. When Bush boasted that "clearly and suddenly, the thaw has begun," many Arabs immediately grew suspicious that the anti-Syrian demonstrations were just the latest example of U.S. manipulation of politics in a Middle Eastern country.
For more than a half century, the region has experienced these U.S. covert interventions, such as the Iranian coup in 1953 during which CIA officers spread money around the Tehran bazaars to encourage pro-Shah demonstrations. Middle Easterners also know how the United States historically has protected the region's dictators, such as the Saudi royal family, as part of a Western strategy to ensure a secure supply of oil.
This reality should have given Bush pause before he so publicly embraced the Lebanese protesters. But Bush couldn't seem to resist the temptation to present himself as a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia, the white man bringing freedom to the Middle East.
Though Bush's high-profile pronouncements gave him a boost in his political standing at home, his smooch on the cheek of Lebanon's demonstrators turned out to be a kiss of death - at least in the short term - for their protest movement.


From the Prague Post:
Two Czechs accused of burning American flags during U.S. President George Bush's speech in Bratislava have been banned from Slovakia for 10 years. The pair allegedly lit the flags during Bush's 20-minute speech on Hviezdoslav Square, a rectangle of cobblestone lined by restaurants, four-star hotels and embassies, packed that day with thousands of spectators. Hundreds of Slovak police, some in riot gear, hundreds of journalists and American officials in overcoats also stood on the square.

And from WAVE, a Louisville, KY, TV Station:
President Bush promoted his overhaul of Social Security to a mostly friendly audience on Thursday while protesters a few blocks away railed against the central part of his plan -- allowing workers to create private investment accounts. Bush focused on the long-term solvency of the Depression-era retirement system while speaking to a town hall-style gathering at The protest began a couple hours before Bush stopped in Louisville as part of a cross-country blitz to his top domestic priority.
"If you're going to spend 60 days traveling the country, fix something that's broke, not something that's worked perfect for 70 years," said Dan Borsch, 28, of Louisville, who was among the protesters.
The president was interrupted four times by people yelling protests of his Social Security plans. Outside the arena, protesters shouted "No more lies, don't privatize!" and some held signs that read "Hands off my Social Security."

The Gospel of the Rich and Powerful

From Joe Conason on Salon:
Watching the behavior of Republican politicians during the past several days, we are learning the true meaning of "compassionate conservatism." Not the public-relations version promoted by George W. Bush and his party propaganda apparatus, but the core philosophy enunciated by the deep thinkers of the religious right.
With legislative maneuvering designed to punish and deprive the least fortunate among us -- working people at the lower end of the American economy and their children -- the Republicans don't seem to be upholding the caring Christian ideals often proclaimed by the President. They're pushing down wages, snatching away tax credits and food stamps, slashing Medicaid and children's health insurance, and removing bankruptcy protections from families that suffer medical catastrophes. But they're extending tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, and making sure that those bankruptcy laws still protect the richest deadbeats.
In short, they are stealing bread from the mouths of the poor and stuffing cake into the maws of the wealthy.
The bankruptcy "reform" currently pending in the Senate, for instance, would compound the misery of Americans already ruined by enormous medical expenses, which is what drives most filers to seek legal protection. The sponsors of this punitive act, which will further inflate the profits of credit-card companies, rejected every amendment to discourage deceptive and extortionate lending practices, as well as every amendment to soften the impact on destitute veterans and others whose misfortune might ordinarily stir feelings of compassion.
Yet while the sponsors claimed that their only purpose was to stop "abuse" of bankruptcy laws, their bill will still allow every grifter to lawyer up and sequester his pelf in an "asset protection trust," an investment vehicle that limits legal liability, often by using offshore bank accounts. The clever rich will thus be exempt from the same laws that will be used from now on to denude poorer people. (At least a dozen Democrats also have signed their disgraced names onto this billion-dollar gift certificate for the credit industry.)
Those poorer people won't be seeing any increase in their pitiful wages any time soon, either, thanks to the Senate Republicans. Voting almost uniformly along party lines, the majority killed what would have been the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 1998. A recent poll showed that more than four out of five Americans favor this measure, evidently because they cherish the quaint notion that people who work for a living should be able to feed and shelter their children. Led by Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA., some of the Republicans supported an alternative bill that paired a small increase in the minimum wage with clever language stripping wage and hour protections from millions of workers, and largely negating the effect of the raise. Indeed, Santorum more or less admitted that his bill was a fraud, designed to give Republicans cover while they killed the real increase: According to the Detroit Free Press, "Santorum discouraged senators from voting for either proposal, indicating that an upcoming effort to update welfare laws would be a better vehicle for the minimum wage."
Meanwhile, the House Republicans are not hesitating to trample upon those who are already beaten down. In their version of the 2006 federal budget, Medicaid would lose as much as $20 billion, at a time when state governments already are under severe pressure in sustaining the program. This will inevitably mean depriving poor people of health coverage. Those cuts will also diminish the states' capacity to enroll low-income kids in the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Their parents shouldn't expect too much assistance from the government at tax time, either. The Republican budget decrees reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit program, a highly successful effort to supplement the income of the working poor that was even supported by the late President Reagan.
None of that money will be wasted, of course. Every dollar taken from poor and working families pays for the preservation of tax breaks on dividends and capital gains for investors, most of them earning no less than $200,000 a year.
The savage litany could go on, and no doubt will.
Appalling as these policies may be, however, they are in no sense inconsistent with the cosmology of the religious right, which melds laissez-faire economics with fundamentalist orthodoxy. Underlying these conservative attacks on the poor by professing Christians is a worldview that dates back to earlier centuries, when the church defended privilege and declared that the wealthy and powerful were God's elect. From that perspective, minimum wages, subsidized health care, and other such laws and regulations only corrupt the poor, who must earn charity by their temporal and spiritual submission.
If these ideas sound a bit old-fashioned -- or even primitive -- be assured that they represent the latest thinking on the evangelical far right, which is where "compassionate conservatism" originated. Guided by the most literal interpretation of Old Testament law, the preachers who have influenced the President are determined to undermine every modern protection enjoyed by poor and working-class Americans. Let's hope they draw the line at bringing back public whippings and debt slavery.


Addicted to porn

From a press release by CREW:
Indecency and pornography have become hot button political issues over the past couple of years. Indeed, many Members of Congress have made “moral values” a platform on which to base political campaigns and consider themselves crusaders intent on protecting Americans from debauchery. As examples of our national moral decay, members have pointed to the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2003 Super Bowl half-time show, the Howard Stern radio show, and even the airing of “Saving Private Ryan.”
Yet while denouncing the decline in public morality, many of those same Members accept money from corporations that derive substantial profits from pornography. Although they do not advertise it, companies as diverse as Comcast and Marriott International make enormous amounts of money by selling pornography. Ironically, some of this money winds up in the political war chests of pornography’s most outspoken Congressional critics.
In a report issued today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reveals that some of the Members of Congress who publicly rail against the evils of pornography are only too happy to accept political contributions from those who derive income from the sale of pornography. These Members allege support for legislation penalizing obscenity one moment and fill their campaign coffers with pornography profits the next. It is this rank hypocrisy that this report exposes.

Atrios reports some of the findings:
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback - who equivocates pornography with crack cocaine - accepted $17,000 from porn peddlers.
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman - who has long campaigned against the growing coarseness of our culture -- along with renowned gambling addict William Bennet, handed out "Silver Sewer" awards to those who made immoral videos, and who has criticized MTV for having porn stars on the air, accepted over $16,000.
Cong. Fred Upton, who leads the charge against indecency, accepted over $56,000.
Arizona Senator John McCain, who claimed to be the "anti-porn" presidential candidate in ads that ran prior to the South Carolina primary, pocketed $46,000 from corporations and executives who profit from porn.
Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director referred to Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) as "the biggest hypocrite of all" for having written a letter to former Vice President Al Gore demanding that he return a contribution from an adult entertainment web site and for sanctimoniously ranting at Viacom executives that they cared more about profits than morality, despite accepting $47,000 in porn profits.

Bush joins Hezbollahpalooza!

Great post on AmericaBlog:
Yes, after years of (properly) denouncing Hezbollah, Bush is forced into acknowledging it might play a political role in Lebanon's future, much as the IRA's political arm is struggling to do in Ireland. Ain't reality a pain in the neck?
Yes, after decades if not centuries of despotic leaders, twisted "education," harsh religious strictures, miserable living conditions for the many and unimaginable luxury for the few, Bush is discovering that the will of the people won't immediately be for secular Western-style democracy with full rights for women and respect for others.
Imagine his confusion:
Bush: You want me to say something nice about Hezbollah?
Dick: That's right, Mr. President.
Bush: But I thought they were the bad guys.
Dick: They are the bad guys, Mr. President. Unfortunately, they've also been providing basic services for the Lebanese people (like water and power) and have millions of supporters there.
Bush: Maybe we should start providing those services to the Iraqis.
Dick: I'll be sure and let someone know.
Bush: So Hezbollah are good guys now?
Dick: No, but we have to deal with them.
Bush: I don't understand.
Dick: It's like Saudi Arabia -- they're our friends, aren't they?
Bush: Sure! I like them.
Dick: But they're the single biggest supporter of terrorism around the world -- much bigger than Iran or Iraq was.
Bush: Really?
Dick: Yep. And Pakistan. They're our friends but they've sold more material and know-how to build nuclear weapons to rogue governments and terrorist groups than anyone else in the world.
Bush: [sigh] Do we still hate the French?
Dick: Yes, Mr. President. We'll always hate the French.

Don't you miss the days when he was busy taking vacations and "clearing brush" on the ranch?

From the Guardian (UK):
Tens of thousands of Syrians jammed the centre of Damascus yesterday in a rally organised by the government in support of President Bashar al-Assad, who is under strong international pressure to withdraw troops from Lebanon. The demonstrators in Damascus denounced Washington's pressure, burning US flags as riot police took up position around the embassy.
"Of course we expect more American pressure," the information minister, Mehdi Dakhlallah, said. "President Bush is speaking daily about Syria as if he has no other work."

And as a precaution, the Syrian government and businesses are transferring funds from US banks to Europe.

Clear skies, smilin' at me...

From the WaPo and the Agonist:
President Bush's bid to rewrite federal air pollution laws ground to a halt in Congress yesterday when Republicans were unable to overcome objections in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the bill would weaken the central pillars of the nation's environmental protection framework. The setback is a body blow to the White House's prized plan and a victory for environmentalists who have long said that the "Clear Skies" bill is a euphemism for rolling back safeguards at the behest of industry.
The seven Democratic Senators on the Committee were joined by James Jeffords (I - VT) and Lincoln Chafee (R - RI).

If we could just get those two to come over to the Dems' side. Chafee is definitely a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

Well, I'm glad THAT'S settled!

The Pentagon has cleared the Pentagon of mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.
The latest and most wide-ranging abuse report, by Navy inspector general Vice Admiral Albert Church, concluded that its policies did not lead to the abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and found no 'explicit' pressure from top officials to use extreme interrogation methods. The report was condemned by Human Rights Watch. "This looks like another whitewash. Almost a year after the Abu Ghraib pictures, we still haven't had an independent investigation into the widespread prison abuse by someone not appointed by or subordinate to Secretary Rumsfeld," the organization's special counsel, Reed Brody, said.

Getting serious about dumping Joe Lieberman

Connecticut Democrats dissatisfied with U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman want to mount a primary election challenge to the three-term incumbent in 2006 and say they are debating the merits of as many as six alternative candidates. Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a party insider involved in the insurgency, declined this week to name any of the potential challengers. "There's a great deal of displeasure with Joe and some of his recent actions," Swan said, referring to the senator's stance on proposed changes to the Social Security system and his support for the confirmations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. "But it would be premature at this point to discuss specifics."
Nevertheless, Swan and Nathan Karnes, a member of a Democratic ward committee in New Haven and a leader of a "DumpJoe" message group at Yahoo.com, said those under consideration include current and past state officials and at least two "high-profile" figures from the entertainment industry who live in the state and are politically active. They said the latter do not include actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, a Westport resident who had been rumored to be considering a race against Lieberman that party leaders have since discounted.
The insurgents' comments came as a Web site created by a former Connecticut resident now living in southern California began collecting cash pledges from those who would help fund a primary bid against Lieberman. Under the rubric "timetogojoe," the site brands the senator as "a Democrat in name only" and seeks to raise as much as $1 million for "any real Democrat" who might oppose him. The site has collected $25,630 in pledges from 225 people since its inception last week. "We're saying, "Hey, what do you guys think about this guy?'" Karnes said. "We don't have to accept him at the Democratic nominee in '06 without a challenge, and I think the reception has been very good."
"It's really Joe Lieberman that's moved away from the Democratic Party," he said. "And it's not just the social issues where he had moved away. It has to do with the actual policy questions, something like Gonzales as attorney general. You don't have to be a leftist to believe America is doing something wrong when official policy allows torture."

Egyptian diplomat rebuts Bush's views on Mideast democracy

From the WaPo:
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Wednesday offered a point-by-point rebuttal of President Bush's argument that the Middle East is opening to an era of democracy stimulated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"What model are we talking about in Iraq? Bombs are exploding everywhere, and Iraqis are killed every day in the streets," Aboul Gheit said. "Palestinian elections? There were elections seven years prior." As for Lebanon, Aboul Gheit noted something that Bush did not: Tuesday's huge pro-Syrian demonstration mounted by Hezbollah, the Lebanese group that the State Department labels a terrorist organization. The rally showed that "there are other trends in society," Aboul Gheit said, warning that U.S. pressure might lead ethnically and religiously divided Lebanon into chaos.
Aboul Gheit also criticized Bush for suggesting that for Egypt to keep pace with the shift toward democracy, it ought to carry out specific reforms to ensure competitive presidential elections in September. Hosni Mubarak has been the uncontested president of Egypt for 24 years. Bush made his own suggestions on Tuesday: "Like all free elections, these require freedom of assembly, multiple candidates, free access by those candidates to the media and the right to form political parties." Aboul Gheit responded that in the "so-called democratic endeavor, the pace will be set by Egypt and the Egyptian people and only the Egyptian people. The Egyptian people will not accept what we call trusteeship.
Aboul Gheit expressed irritation at reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a trip to Egypt because of its slow pace of reform.

Isn't it ironic, dontcha think?

From Le Devoir/AFP:
Yesterday, the American president George W. Bush warned Damascus and Teheran to "stop using murder as a political tool and put an end to all support for terrorism," and he enjoined Syrian troops to leave Lebanon before the spring elections. "All Syrian military and intelligence forces must withdrawn before the elections, so that the vote can be fair," Mr. Bush declared in a Washington speech. "The international community, including Russia, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, has presented Syria with an alternative: either it puts an end to its occupation of Lebanon...or it will find itself still further isolated in the world," he repeated. Concerning the announcement of a partial retreat by Syrian president Bachar al-Assad, Mr. Bush declared that "the Lebanese have heard the speech by the Syrian president. They have already seen these dilatory tactics and half-measures."

Perspectives on Bush from his former ghostwriter

Can't say I'm surprised, but this is certainly disgusting. And Al Gore was supposed to be the fabricator/exaggerator?

From Russ Baker of Guerrilla News and The Nation Institute:
Two years before 9/11, candidate Bush was already talking privately about attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.
“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade...if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father’s shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “Suddenly, he’s at 91 percent in the polls, and he’d barely crawled out of the bunker.”
In 1999, Herskowitz struck a deal with the campaign of George W. Bush about a ghost-written autobiography, which was ultimately titled A Charge to Keep : My Journey to the White House, and he and Bush signed a contract in which the two would split the proceeds. The publisher was William Morrow. Herskowitz was given unimpeded access to Bush, and the two met approximately 20 times so Bush could share his thoughts. Herskowitz began working on the book in May, 1999, and says that within two months he had completed and submitted some 10 chapters, with a remaining 4-6 chapters still on his computer. Herskowitz was replaced as Bush’s ghostwriter after Bush’s handlers concluded that the candidate’s views and life experiences were not being cast in a sufficiently positive light. Herskowitz has authored more than 30 books, many of them jointly written autobiographies of famous Americans in politics, sports and media.
Herskowitz also revealed the following:
-In 2003, Bush’s father indicated to him that he disagreed with his son’s invasion of Iraq.
-Bush admitted that he failed to fulfill his Vietnam-era domestic National Guard service obligation, but claimed that he had been “excused.”
-Bush revealed that after he left his Texas National Guard unit in 1972 under murky circumstances, he never piloted a plane again.
-Bush described his own business ventures as “floundering” before campaign officials insisted on recasting them in a positive light.
According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.” Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.” Republicans, Herskowitz said, felt that Jimmy Carter’s political downfall could be attributed largely to his failure to wage a war. He noted that President Reagan and President Bush’s father himself had (besides the narrowly-focused Gulf War I) successfully waged limited wars against tiny opponents – Grenada and Panama – and gained politically.
In 1999, when Herskowitz turned in his chapters for Charge to Keep, Bush’s staff expressed displeasure —often over Herskowitz’s use of language provided by Bush himself. In a chapter on the oil business, Herskowitz included Bush’s own words to describe the Texan’s unprofitable business ventures, writing: “the companies were floundering”. “I got a call from one of the campaign lawyers, he was kind of angry, and he said, ‘You’ve got some wrong information.’ I didn’t bother to say, ‘Well you know where it came from.’ [The lawyer] said, ‘We do not consider that the governor struggled or floundered in the oil business. We consider him a successful oilman who started up at least two new businesses.’ ” In the end, campaign officials decided not to go with Herskowitz’s account, and, moreover, demanded everything back. “The lawyer called me and said, ‘Delete it. Shred it. Just do it.’ ”...“They took it and [communications director] Karen [Hughes] rewrote it,” he said. A campaign official arrived at his home at seven a.m. on a Monday morning and took his notes and computer files.
According to Herskowitz, Bush was reluctant to discuss his time in the Texas Air National Guard – and inconsistent when he did so. Herskowitz also said he asked Bush if he ever flew a plane again after leaving the Texas Air National Guard in 1972 – which was two years prior to his contractual obligation to fly jets was due to expire. He said Bush told him he never flew any plane – military or civilian – again. That would contradict published accounts in which Bush talks about his days in 1973 working with inner-city children, when he claimed to have taken some of the children up in a plane.
Also, “He told me that as a leader, you can never admit to a mistake,” Herskowitz said. “That was one of the keys to being a leader.”

The big winners of private investment accounts (PIAs)

From In These Times:
George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security has nothing to do with enhancing workers’ retirement income. Rather, it is a scheme to redistribute money from the majority of people who work to the minority of people who own the banks and brokerage firms. The vehicle for enabling the fundamental transformation of Social Security—and transfer of wealth—is the Private Investment Account (PIA). PIAs will allow current participants in the Social Security program to divert up to 4 percent of their present 12.4 percent payroll tax deduction going to the Social Security Trust Fund and invest it in individualized 401(k)-type accounts managed by private financial institutions. Diverting that percentage of payroll taxes to PIAs will generate what are called “transition costs” of around $2 trillion over the coming decade. Social Security is a “pay as you go” system, with those working contributing via payroll taxes to provide benefits for those currently retired or disabled. Since Bush has already stated that “the one thing I’m not open-minded about is raising the payroll tax rate” (which would cover the projected shortfall), the only alternatives are either to cut Social Security benefits for future and/or current retirees, or to borrow money in public markets by selling Treasury bonds. The Bush administration is using the concept of PIAs to sell the whole idea of privatization to the public. They claim that the accounts will result in greater net income at retirement. But will the public really benefit from diverting their Social Security money into PIAs?
So who are the real winners here? The answer is clear: Big Finance. Congress has already used $1.6 trillion of the Social Security surplus over the last 20 years to cover the general U.S. budget deficit. The diversion of payroll taxes to PIAs means that, at minimum, another $2 trillion would be diverted from the Social Security Trust Fund. The banks, Wall Street brokers, insurance companies, mutual funds and other financial institutions that will manage and manipulate the PIAs will directly benefit. Those financial institutions will charge administrative fees of typically around 2 percent, not to mention a variety of other related charges, such as when a participant switches from one PIA fund to another, leaves or re-enters the workforce or arranges for annuities at retirement.
But the biggest gains to financial institutions will come not from fees but from the interest they’ll charge for financing the federal government’s borrowing of $2 trillion transition costs. Treasury Secretary John Snow has already indicated that the Bush administration will offer Treasury Bonds to the big financial institutions at above normal rates of interest. Even more potentially lucrative are the revenue and profit streams from reinvesting the several trillion dollars worth of PIA funds they will manage.
Bush and his advisers know they could correct the alleged $3.7 trillion shortfall by 2042 (or 2052) without introducing PIAs, through modest increases in the payroll tax for wealthier taxpayers; an extension of the estate tax, currently scheduled to expire after 2009; or simply reversing Bush’s projected $11 trillion tax cuts for millionaires through 2042. But the administration’s objective is just the opposite—to dismantle Social Security as we know it and replace it with a totally privatized retirement system that benefits corporate interests.

What Jesus wouldn't do

Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes on AlterNet:
The politics of Jesus is a problem for the religious right. In Matthew’s 25th chapter, Jesus speaks of the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, prisoners, and the sick and promises he will challenge all his followers on the judgment day with these words, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” James Forbes, the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, concludes from that text that, “Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor!” How many of America’s most famous television preachers could produce the letter?
The hardest saying of Jesus and perhaps the most controversial in our post–Sept. 11 world must be: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Let’s be honest: How many churches in the United States have heard sermons preached from either of these Jesus texts in the years since America was viciously attacked on that world-changing September morning in 2001? Shouldn’t we at least have a debate about what the words of Jesus mean in the new world of terrorist threats and pre-emptive wars?
Christ commands us to not only see the splinter in our adversary’s eye but also the beams in our own, which often obstruct our own vision. To name the face of evil in the brutality of terrorist attacks is good theology, but to say they are evil and we are good is bad theology that can lead to dangerous foreign policy. Christ instructs us to love our enemies, which does not mean a submission to their hostile agendas or domination, but does mean treating them as human beings also created in the image of God and respecting their human rights as adversaries and even as prisoners. The words of Jesus are either authoritative for Christians, or they are not. And they are not set aside by the very real threats of terrorism. The threat of terrorism does not overturn Christian ethics.
The issue here is not partisan politics, and there are no easy political solutions. The governing party has increasingly struck a religious tone in an aggressive foreign policy that seems much more nationalist than Christian, while the opposition party has offered more confusion than clarity. In any election we choose between very imperfect choices. Yet it is always important to examine what is at stake prayerfully and theologically
...Any serious reading of the Bible points toward poverty as a religious issue, and candidates should always be asked by Christian voters how they will treat “the least of these.” Stewardship of God’s earth is clearly a question of Christian ethics. Truth telling is also a religious issue that should be applied to a candidate’s rationales for war, tax cuts, or any other policy, as is humility in avoiding the language of “righteous empire,” which too easily confuses the roles of God, church, and nation.
War, of course, is also a deeply theological matter. The near unanimous opinion of religious leaders worldwide that the Iraq war failed to fit “just war” criteria is an issue for many Christians, especially as the warnings from religious leaders have proved prophetically and tragically accurate.
...The religious right’s grip on public debates about values has been driven in part by a media that continues to give airtime to the loudest religious voices, rather than the most representative, leaving millions of Christians and other people of faith without a say in the values debate. But this is starting to change as progressive and prophetic faith voices are speaking out with a confidence and moral urgency not seen for 25 years. Mobilized by human suffering in many places, groups motivated by religious social conscience (including many evangelicals not defined by the religious right) have hit a new stride in efforts to combat poverty, destructive wars, human rights violations, pandemics like HIV/AIDS, and genocide in places like Sudan.
In politics, the best interest of the country is served when the prophetic voice of religion is heard—challenging both right and left from consistent moral ground. As the religious Right loses influence, nothing could be better for the health of both church and society than a return of the moral center that anchors our nation in a common humanity. If you listen, these voices can be heard rising again.

And in another Alternet piece, he writes:
Budgets are moral documents. They reflect the values and priorities of a family, church, organization, city, state, or nation. They tell us what is most valued to those making the budget. It’s time to do a “values audit” of this budget, and a “moral audit” of our priorities. Who benefits in this budget and who suffers, who wins and who loses, what things are revealed as most important and what things are less important? America’s religious communities are required to ask of any budget, what happens to the poor and most vulnerable, especially the nation’s poorest children. President Bush says that his 2006 budget "is a budget that sets priorities." Examining those priorities is a moral and religious concern. Just as we have "environmental impact studies," it’s time for a "poverty impact statement", which would ask the fundamental question of how policy proposals affect low-income people. Such a moral audit might reveal unacceptable priorities for many of us, including in the religious community where the president finds much of his political base. But it is happening. In this budget, the cost of deficit reduction is mostly borne by those least able to bear the burden—the lowest-income families in America, rather than by those most able to afford it—the wealthiest Americans who benefit from the largest tax cuts.

How to write like a conservative

This is a funny piece written by a student for the Tufts University school paper:
In honor of Ann Coulter's visit to Tufts last night, here are some helpful hints for all of you aspiring right-wing pundits out there. Follow these carefully, and soon you too could be a syndicated columnist dumbing down political discourse in the pages of America's newspapers.
First, you have to choose what type of article you would like to write. While there are many types of conservative opinion pieces, three common categories are the following:
1. The Michelle Malkin Rantathon. First, choose an aspect of popular culture that you find offensive. This can be anything from Janet Jackson's breast to "Desperate Housewives" to low-cut jeans. Label it un-American, and claim it is a symptom of the downfall of society. Then completely ignore the fact that popular culture is created by market forces and that most large media and entertainment corporations are owned by conservatives and contribute heavily to the Republican Party. Now you are free to blame popular culture, and by extension, the downfall of society, on liberals.
2. The Ann Coulter Two-Step. Step 1. Choose a topic. Step 2. Write whatever crazy thing pops into your head as long as it is demonstrably false.
3. The Generic Conservative Student Opinion Article. Anyone who reads the Daily is familiar with these. The process begins with intense viewing of President Bush speaking. The writer must fully open his mind and allow the President's rhetoric to overcome his sense of reason. When the writer can take no more (allow plenty of time, this may take a while), he must quickly get out a piece of paper and regurgitate as much of what he has taken in as possible. The end product should include many uses of phrases such as "freedom is on the march," "ownership society," "culture of life," "compassionate conservatism" and, perhaps, "don't mess with Texas." Remember to read your work, carefully checking to make sure that no well-constructed and empirically supported argument has hidden itself amidst your beds of flowery rhetorical nothingness.
Now that you are well on your way to becoming a right-wing pundit, here are some additional tips. These can make all the difference in determining whether you turn into the next Bill O'Reilly or become the Alan Keyes of the media world.
Get your history book. Throw it out the window. Now, as an exercise in Academic Freedom, write your own history book. Do not include references to separation of church and state, deism, slavery, the Great Depression, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, Watergate or the Clinton surplus. Include only one chapter on the 1990s and instead of writing it yourself, simply copy and paste the entire text of the Ken Starr Report.
Now get out your Bible. With your Sharpie, black out all the sections which do not specifically mention homosexuality. Now print the remaining passages on a three-by-five inch note card. This is your new Bible. Have it laminated.
Pose nude and post the pictures on the internet. Start a male escort service. Do not attend journalism school and do not pay your taxes. Change your name. Congratulations, you are now qualified to be a White House press correspondent. If anyone has the audacity to question your qualifications or the process by which you received your White House press credentials, he or she is clearly a raging homophobe. And, quite obviously, a slandering, treasonous liberal. If you can find any patriotism within this person (which is unlikely, considering the fact that all liberals are French-terrorist-communists who hate America) be sure to publicly question its authenticity.
Take quotes out of context to support ridiculous claims. Lie incessantly. When people object to your methods and disagree with your point of view, attack their patriotism.
Insist that all sectors of society, the media and academia for instance, which value objectivity have a liberal bias. Now use this claim to demand balance, in the form of ideological rants from the right. If someone does not agree that the media and academia are the two great cogs in the liberal/terrorist machine, attack his or her patriotism.
Sometimes journalism does not pay as well as you would like. Do not worry. If you run short of cash, the government will be happy to support you financially as long as you support it. Just make sure you vote Republican. And if anyone attacks you or the government for what may seem like unethical behavior, this person is probably either a racist or a terrorist, and of course, a dirty, dirty liberal. In any case, vehemently question his or her patriotism.
If you ever run out of things to write about, return to the basics. Ask yourself, what is the root of all that is un-American? Who embodies terrorism, communism, socialism, and fascism? No, not Osama Bin Laden, Josef Stalin, or Adolf Hitler. The answer, of course, is Bill Clinton. What other man would have a quadruple bypass to boost his favorables?
These guidelines were garnered from observing the very best: America's right-wing punditry dream team. Bill O'Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and many others have proven just how much they love America by transforming public political debate into something truly American - show business. You, too, can share in the continued fictionalization of the media. Just keep this list close to you and keep anything resembling an objective fact very far away. Don't believe me? Maybe you just don't love America enough.

What Democrats are up against

From Gene Lyons of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Many Democrats still don't grasp what they're up against in today's Republican Party. Naive souls, they prefer to see national politics as a giant PTA meeting, and to comfort themselves with civics text bromides about the virtues of compromise and bipartisanship. Even in the face of the Clinton impeachment and the naked power play that decided the 2000 presidential election, they have trouble comprehending the sheer ruthlessness of the GOP political juggernaut. This is nothing new. Even during FDR's presidency, Will Rogers joked that he belonged to no organized political party: He was a Democrat. Today, however, the party simply must learn to effectively counter the well-organized army of think-tank, opinion page and cable TV propagandists who parrot the GOP party line, no matter how illogical or preposterous.
In effect, organizations like FOX News, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh and right-wing talk radio are simply adjuncts of the Republican Party. To this add scores of Washington pundits often employed by tycoon-financed "think tanks" such as the American Heritage Institute, Cato Foundation, etc. For all the braying about "liberal media bias," which may be the most successful GOP "spin point," Democrats simply have no equivalent propaganda machine.
Unlike Democrats, typically all over the place, Republican-oriented pundits agree almost all the time--and not just substantively, but tactically, too. Faxes and e-mails go out from the Republican National Committee, and GOP sophists jump into line like the Rockettes.
According to David Brock, the onetime Republican "hit man" whose book, "The Republican Noise Machine," explains exactly how the system works, the White House's "explicit goal is to get us to the point where there are blue [state] facts and red [state] facts."
Judging by my e-mail, it's working. Hardly a day passes that I don't hear from perfectly decent, intelligent citizens who believe that there's proof Saddam's WMD were smuggled into Syria or that documents implicating him in 9/11 have been found. This was Orwell's great fear: that the very concept of objectivity would disappear from political discourse. "Collective solipsism," he called it; the ability to convince people that 2 + 2 = 5.
A few recent examples:
George W. Bush nominates a black woman as secretary of state, and pundits who have spent their careers decrying "political correctness" argue as one that Democrats opposing her must be hypocritical bigots.
He nominates for attorney general a guy who rationalized torture, and that man's ethnicity, too, becomes his only necessary credential. Only after Alberto Gonzales is confirmed by the Senate do some GOP pundits rediscover their consciences.
A former male escort infiltrates the White House press corps via the buddy system, and the very pundits who just months ago warned that Democrats would enshrine the "homosexual agenda" go silent. Or they pretend not to understand the difference between a gay reporter and a gay prostitute. No fatwa issues from radical clerics like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson; James Dobson keeps railing about the imagined sexual proclivities of a cartoon sponge.
What do such examples tell us? First, that neither the Bush White House nor most GOP pundits actually give a flying filigree about "political correctness," " family values, "" moral clarity" or any of it. What counts is winning. What counts is power.
One more example: Last week, I wrote that Howard Dean, recently elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, appears capable of giving his party a wake-up call because he's scrappy, smart and fearless. Hence, the GOP party line on Dean is that he's a snobbish elitist and an advocate of cultural decadence. Also crazy, because, as we all know, anybody who sees through Bush must be consumed by anger and hatred.
A GOP columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette took offense. On cue, he described Dean supporters as "shrill," " radical-left" "wacko," etc. "[W] hen Dean bemoans the success of Republican appeals on ' God, guns and gays, '" the fellow chided, "he forgets that most Americans still believe in God, don't want gay marriage and do want to keep their guns." Now anybody dumb enough to think Dean (or any American politician) has declared himself anti-God quit reading long ago. But it's a fact that Dean was the only Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 to get an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He jokes that Vermont has only two gun laws: You can't take a gun to school, and you can't carry a loaded gun in a car because it's unfair to deer. As Vermont governor, Dean opposed gay marriage. "Marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "... Most Americans aren't going to support gay marriage, but most Americans will support equal rights." Know what? I'd wager that my antagonist, a college professor, knew all that. (I'd also entertain a side bet that this particular left-wing elitist owns more firearms than he does.) But in the fashion of Republican pundits everywhere, he played his audience for suckers.

Why do troops lack tourniquets?

From ABC News website:
Two senators have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking why U.S. troops in Iraq are operating without inexpensive tourniquets that can potentially save lives. The letter from Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., obtained by ABC News, refers to a report in Sunday's edition of The Baltimore Sun that there has been a delay in getting new first-aid kits containing tourniquets to the troops.
"A number of our bravest military personnel have reportedly bled to death on the battlefield, and the experts have determined that putting a tourniquet in the hands of every soldier is a vital life-saving measure," the letter states. "Holding up the fielding of a life-saving medical kit simply to optimize its carrying pouch suggests a mindset oblivious to the wartime needs of our soldiers."
Levin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Durbin serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The senators likened the lack of tourniquets to other "underestimated" equipment requirements, including "body armor, vehicle add-on armor and the production of new, up-armored [Humvees.]"
The Sun article said doctors and Army medical officials estimate as many as tens of thousands of soldiers are in combat without the simple medical devices, and that some bleed to death from injuries that would not otherwise be fatal if a tourniquet were applied. It also said the Pentagon has not placed an order for first-aid kits with tourniquets although the Army has approved their use, and the delay may have to do with the development of new training manuals and a pouch for holding the tourniquet.
"Why do we continually find ourselves behind the curve in this war, scrambling to provide basic equipment and protection to our troops only after too many of them suffer grievous injuries?" the letter states. "What are you doing to change the thinking within the Pentagon to better anticipate equipment needs, to ensure that when a need is identified it is filled in an expedited fashion, and to ensure that Guard and Reserve units receive that equipment at the same time as regular Army units?"

Two new war documentaries

From the Village Voice:
Despite the hundreds of journalists moving among the troops in Iraq, the images most Americans see of the war have remained limited. The extended shock-and-awe footage broadcast live by embedded reporters at the war's dramatic opening two years ago quickly gave way to discretely packaged glimpses sandwiched between election coverage and celebrity gossip. But now two new independent documentaries bring a deeper understanding of the experience of soldiers.
Garrett Scott and Ian Olds's grippingly acute Occupation: Dreamland, created from two and a half months of living with soldiers in Falluja, recently premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and makes its U.S. debut at South by Southwest next week.
Gunner Palace, by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, a pop-culture-inflected sojourn with a youthful artillery unit outside of Baghdad, opens in theaters this weekend.
Both films were shot between the fall of Baghdad and the rise of violent insurgence in 2004; each provides a street-level snapshot of the beginnings of American occupation, as well as a complicated but humanizing portrait of the contemporary American war fighter.

Blogged down

From Garance Franke-Rute of the American Prospect:
During one especially hectic week in mid-February, the Internet took three scalps in what appeared to be unrelated events. Liberal bloggers forced Talon News White House correspondent James D. Guckert, a k a “Jeff Gannon,” to resign after it was revealed that he was writing under a false name for a Republican activist group (GOPUSA), that he was not really a journalist at all, and that he had posed nude on the Internet in an effort to solicit sex for money. Conservative bloggers, meanwhile, created a firestorm after Eason Jordan, the chief news executive for CNN, made controversial remarks during an off-the-record panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, suggesting that the U.S. military had targeted journalists in war zones. Jordan was forced to resign. Finally, in Maryland, Joseph Steffen, a longtime aide to Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich, was fired after reporters exposed him as the author of e-mails and anonymous Web-site postings encouraging rumors about the marriage of Baltimore’s popular mayor, Martin O’Malley, a potential ’06 challenger to Ehrlich.
All unrelated stories, except for the Internet angle, right? Well, no. Scratch the surface and the same names turn up in each scandal, revealing the events of mid-February to have been part of an ongoing and coordinated proxy war by Republican political operatives on the so-called liberal media, conducted through the vast, unmonitored loophole of the Internet.
“Are bloggers journalists?” is a question that’s been kicking around for a few years, and both bloggers and journalists answer it by saying no. Journalists insist on the distinction because most bloggers don’t do original reporting or double-check information for its accuracy. Bloggers, for their part, often see themselves as polemicists and activists and chafe at being held to journalistic standards.
But these three episodes -- combined with last year’s Dan Rather controversy, when conservative bloggers contributed mightily to the CBS anchor’s downfall -- still represent something new. Not only are most bloggers not journalists; increasingly they are also partisan operatives whose agendas are as ideological as they come. Using the cover of anonymity (many bloggers use pseudonyms), the cacophony of the relatively new medium, and the easily inflamed passions of the Web, these partisan political operatives are becoming experts at stirring up hornets’ nests of angry e-mails to editors, mounting campaigns to force advertisers to pull out of news shows, and, most disturbingly, spreading outright false information. The irony is that, at the same time this is happening, many in the mainstream media have decided it’s finally time to take bloggers seriously. But people who blog about politics and journalism aren’t just a 21st-century media story; they’re part of an ongoing political story with roots stretching back more than 40 years.
...Later, along has come a new group of bloggers who aren’t mere “citizens” at all. On the left side, some of these became deeply enmeshed with political parties, “527s,” and campaign advocacy groups -- and are now a new generation of no-holds-barred partisans and major party fund-raisers, the liberal equivalent of George W. Bush’s “Rangers” and “Pioneers.” On the right, a number of these bloggers were already political operatives or worked at long-standing movement institutions before taking up residence online. They are, at best, the intellectual heirs of L. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and Reed Irvine, who founded the ultraconservative, media-hounding nonprofit organization Accuracy In Media (AIM) in 1969 as part of the first generation of post–Barry Goldwater right-wing institutions. At worst, they're the protégés of conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie and dirty-tricks master Morton Blackwell, who has tutored conservative activists since 1965, most recently mocking John Kerry at the Republican national convention by distributing Band-Aids with purple hearts on them.
Which brings us back to Jordan. He was brought down not by outraged citizen-bloggers but by a mix of GOP operatives and military conservatives. Easongate.com, the blog that served as the clearinghouse for the attack on CNN, was helped along by Virginia-based Republican operative Mike Krempasky. From May 1999 through August 2003, Krempasky worked for Blackwell as the graduate development director of the Leadership Institute, an Arlington, Virginia–based school for conservative leaders founded by Blackwell in 1979. The institute is the organization that had provided “Gannon” with his sole media credential before he became a White House correspondent. It also now operates “Internet Activist Schools” designed to teach conservatives how to engage in “guerilla Internet activism.” Indeed, Krempasky could be found teaching this Internet activism course one recent February weekend to about 30 young conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. Krempasky then offered to help all the attendees set up their own blogs.
The tactics Krempasky promotes are directly descended from those advocated by the late Reed Irvine of AIM, whose major funder was, for the past two decades, Richard Mellon Scaife. In the late ’80s, Irvine had started the campaign to “Can Dan” Rather, coining the phrase “Rather Biased.” Last fall, Krempasky was operating the main anti-Rather site, Rathergate.com, and using Irvine’s slogan as a rallying cry to organize a vast letter-writing and e-mailing campaign “to contact CBS and express themselves,” as he put it in an interview with Bobby Eberle of GOPUSA, an activist Web site founded by Texas Republicans and now owned by Bruce Eberle (no relation), the proprietor of a conservative direct-mail firm.
...Power Line, another conservative blog deeply involved in the Rather controversy, helped push the Jordan story as well. Described by Time magazine as “three amateur journalists working in a homegrown online medium [who] challenged a network news legend and won,” Power Line was voted Time’s “2004 Blog of the Year.” In reality, its three writers are all fellows at the conservative Claremont Institute who attended Dartmouth College in the early 1970s and now work as attorneys; two of them have been writing articles as a team for conservative publications such as the National Review and The American Enterprise for more than 10 years.
...While conservatives have created an online echo chamber in part to further their decades-long assault on the mainstream media, liberals have begun using the new medium to pursue and unravel these conservative connections. “When you read in the mainstream press stories about the blogosphere, there are some things that come up over and over,” says Kevin Drum, who writes the Political Animal blog for the liberal Washington Monthly magazine. “It’s about hounding someone out of their jobs.”
The Gannon scalping is different from the Jordan and Rather controversies in two very important ways. First, whereas the conservative bloggers were out to destroy journalists with distinguished careers who’d made serious missteps, the liberal bloggers on Gannon’s trail were seeking to expose an out-and-out fraud. Second, while some of the conservative bloggers going after Jordan and Rather were mistaken for regular citizens by the mainstream media, the liberal bloggers were very much out in the open.
But “Gannongate,” too, has ties to political operatives. The story was sparked by Democratic congressional aides, who complained to their friends in the liberal blogosphere on January 26 about the “Talon News guy” who, in a question to the president in the White House press conference that morning, had falsely accused new Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of “talking about soup lines” and said Democrats “seem to have divorced themselves from reality.”
The progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America, run by former conservative activist and American Spectator writer David Brock, jumped on the story after Rush Limbaugh boasted that he’d been the source for Gannon’s claims about the Democrats. The group sent out a release asking questions about Gannon and Talon News. Susan Gardner, 46, a mother of four and former editor of now-defunct community paper the Sun City News in Santa Barbara, California, read about Gannon on the liberal blogosphere, including a tip that Gannon was not the Talon reporter’s real name. Gardner recalled seeing the Talon News name in a story about journalists subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame case. On January 28, writing online as “SusanG,” she posted a question on the “Diaries” section of DailyKos, the widely read liberal blog run by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, now also a major Democratic fund-raiser. Gardner’s question: “Did the White House dribble the Plame leak through its own fake mouthpiece news source?” When she got flooded with more than 500 replies, she quickly organized the volunteer reader-researchers adding facts to the story into an organized team. Brian Kelly, a 52-year-old actor in upstate New York, became Gardner’s partner, writing as “NYBri.” (Kelly had previously volunteered on the John Kerry and Howard Dean campaigns.) The two deputized hundreds of research assistants and co-reporters, made assignments, confirmed facts, and dug through the Internet’s vast array of electronic records, posting new tidbits of information until other blogs and mainstream outlets picked up the story. The narrative got pushed into sexual territory by John Aravosis, a gay-rights activist who worked as a legislative aide for Republican Senator Ted Stevens from 1989 to 1994...Meanwhile, another former Republican, Karl Frisch, 26 -- better known as “Carl with a K,” his Internet handle while working for the Dean campaign in ’03 -- pushed the story from Capitol Hill, where he works as a spokesman for Representative Louise Slaughter on the House Rules Committee.
But there’s another a key difference between the effort against Gannon and conservative blog firestorms: The targets of the liberal blogosphere are conservative activists; the target of the conservative blogosphere is the free and independent press itself, just as it has been for conservative activists since the ’60s. For the Republican Party, pseudo-journalism Internet sites and the blogosphere are just another way to get around “the filter,” as Bush has dubbed the mainstream media. “The way I look at this,” says Daily Kos’ Gardner, “[Gannon] is just one more piece to a bigger puzzle that we’ve seen for the past couple months -- attempts by the Republican media complex not necessarily to fight the media but to become the media.”
But unlike traditional news outlets, right-wing blogs openly shill, fund raise, plot, and organize massive activist campaigns on behalf of partisan institutions and constituencies; they also increasingly provide cover for professional operatives to conduct traditional politics by other means -- including campaigning against the established media. And instead of taking these bloggers for the political activists they are, all too often the established press has accepted their claims of being a new form of journalism.
This will have to change -- or it will prove serious journalism’s undoing.