Saturday, July 30, 2005

Let the Recriminations Begin

Let the Recriminations Begin
Posted by James Wolcott

...Domestic support for the war is dropping, the prospect of civil war is darkening, and the budding alliance between Iraq and Iran isn't exactly what what the American people had in mind when they consented to Operation Haliburton Enrichment. Buchanan:

"Sunni terrorists and foreign fighters have begun to target Shia clerics and mosques. And the Shia have begun to retaliate with counter-terror, portending a religious-civil war when U.S. troops depart. Kurds are demanding that their virtual independence be enshrined in the new constitution. Or they veto it.

"Should civil war break out as Americans depart, Iran would move to fill the gap with weaponry and perhaps volunteers to assist their Shia brethren in keeping Iraq in friendly hands. A Sunni-Shia war in Iraq, with Iran aiding one side and Arab nations the other, becomes a real possibility.

"No wonder the Pentagon sounds impatient to get out."

Now there those who will say that once the Iraqs take their destiny into their own hands even if it's to wrap them around one another's throats, American should take a somber inventory of our gains and losses, our mistakes and triumphs, and to learn from them so that we can be smarter imperialists in the future and make Max Boot proud. It will be a time for healing and coming together, not pointing angry fingers of blame.

I say, that's letting the evildoers off too easy. Paul Craig Roberts says that too, and how.

"We have run out of troops and money, the rest of the world has run out of patience with our stupidity, and the upper regions of the Bush administration may be crumbling under the pressure of a prosecutor's investigations and eroding public support.

"Bush administration neocons such as Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Libby, along with their cheerleaders at Fox "News", the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review, and the New York Times' Judith Miller will go down in history as the architects and enablers of the greatest strategic blunder in American history....

Link between Ohio's 'Coingate' and the theft of the 2004 election

Dramatic new charges deepen link between Ohio's 'Coingate,' Voinovich mob connections, and the theft of the 2004 election
Posted on Friday, July 29 @ 09:04:44

By Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman, Columbus Free Press

COLUMBUS -- New charges filed against Ohio Governor Bob Taft's former top aide have blazed a new trail between "Coingate" and the GOP theft of the 2004 presidential election.

Brian Hicks appears in court today to answer charges that he failed to report vacation trips he took to Coingate mastermind Tom Noe's $1.3 million home in the Florida Keys. A top Taft aide for a dozen years, Hicks stayed at Noe's place in 2002 and 2003. Another Taft aide, Cherie Carroll, is charged with taking some $500 in free dinners from Noe.

Noe is a high-roller crony of Taft, US Senator George Voinovich and President George W. Bush. Noe charged the Ohio Bureau of Worker's Compensation nearly $13 million to invest some $58 million. Ohio Attorney-General Jim Petro, to whom Noe once donated money, says some $4 million disappeared into Noe's pocket.

The new charges against Taft's former aide are at the edge of Coingate's links to Bush, Voinovich and organized crime. Through Noe's wife Bernadette, those links extend to the GOP theft of Ohio 2004.

Tom Noe, northwest Ohio's "Mr. Republican" and a close Bush/Rove crony, is under federal investigation for making possibly illegal contributions to the Bush/Cheney campaign.

As owner of Vintage Coins and Cards in Maumee, Ohio, Noe raised more than $100,000, to become a Bush Pioneer/Ranger.

But Noe was more than a mere fundraiser. The New York Times dubbed him Toledo's "Mr. Republican," the GOP "man to see" in northwest Ohio. While Tom chaired the regional Bush-Cheney campaign, his wife Bernadette chaired the scandal-torn Lucas County Board of Elections that played a key role in caging votes to put Bush back in the White House.

Noe's fortune came in part from charging the Bureau of Worker's Compensation (BWC) $12.6 million in coin-fund related expenses for managing the $50 million investment between 1998 and 2004. Federal and state officials are now investigating these expenses.

A "Ponzi scheme" is what Ohio's Republican Attorney General Jim Petro calls the method by which Noe may have stolen millions of dollars from the state of Ohio's Bureau of Worker's Compensation (BWC).

Petro says that on May 31, 1998, Noe received the first of two $25 million payments approved from then-Governor Voinovich's BWC. Noe promptly laundered $1.375 million into his personal or business account. Rolling in public money, Noe then asked to run a bizarre rare coin investment scheme on behalf of the BWC.

Meanwhile Noe laundered money into Republican Party campaigns. Among others, he and Bernadette made a $4500 contribution to then-Secretary of State Bob Taft's successful campaign for governor, at a time when Brian Hicks was Taft's top aide.

The Toledo Blade reports that Noe later gave Taft another $2500. Still another $2000 went to then-governor Voinovich's successful Senate campaign. And another $500 went to re-elect Petro, then the state auditor.

Mr. Noe's attorney acknowledged on May 26 that as much as $13 million in BWC assets remain missing. Petro says $4 million was illegally taken by Noe for personal use.

Noe's high-flying financial dance is rooted in the gubernatorial corruption of his good friend Voinovich, and a shady aide named Paul Mifsud. Mifsud was Voinovich's Chief of Staff and has become a statewide symbol of official corruption and illegality.

Mifsud's was responsible for much of Tom Noe's rapid rise. According to the conservative Columbus Dispatch, May 8, 2005, Mifsud paved the way for Noe's rare coin gambit.

Mifsud himself spent six months in prison for destroying the government records of a sweetheart construction deal he engineered for his then-fiancée’s house. Mifsud made the mistake of giving the bid to a controversial contractor named T.G. Banks, who allegedly did the job in exchange for state contracts.

Mifsud took both Banks and Noe under his wing. He made Noe Chair of the Lucas County Republican Party in 1992. Noe says the job "kept me alive."

In 1993, Noe testified in his divorce case that Mifsud and Voinovich's cohort Vincent Panichi were now his coin clients. Panichi later figured in a 1996 money laundering scandal involving donations from Banks' underage nieces of $1000 each to the Voinovich campaign.

Panichi also told a grand jury that Voinovich had approved a $60,000 illegal payment from his 1994 gubernatorial campaign fund to his own family's business, headed by his brother Paul Voinovich. The Governor later said Panichi probably told him this, but he hadn't heard it because his hearing aid was turned off or malfunctioning.

A very public high roller, Mifsud openly bragged of alleged ties to the CIA. He also claimed membership in the secretive Knights of Malta, running the Maltese American Foundation. The Knights and the CIA have been accused in various news reports of working together in covert operations around the globe.

Mifsud never talked to the Free Press. But the late Republican Franklin County Sheriff Earl Smith and other high-ranking law enforcement sources and Republicans say Mifsud's CIA connections were real.

Mifsud's own autobiography claimed service in "military intelligence" with the United States Air Force between 1966-1970. Columbus Alive revealed in an award-winning article that Mifsud was indeed the key player in spending millions of Ohio tax dollars to bring the CIA-affiliated drug-running Southern Air Transport airline to Columbus in 1995.

The infamous Iran-Contra airline went bankrupt in October 1998 after the CIA Inspector General confirmed printed allegations that a dozen of its pilots were linked to drug running. A downed Southern Air Transport plane led to the Reagan-Era Iran-Contra scandals.

Noe's Coingate goes to the Bush family through Mifsud, whose connections to George Herbert Walker Bush date from the 1970s. Regardless of his alleged CIA connections, Mifsud chaired Bush1's Cuyahoga County Bush for President Committee in 1979. Mifsud was also vice chairman for Ohio’s 1988 Bush for President Committee.

Mifsud was investigated by Ohio Inspector General David Sturtz during Voinovich's first term as governor (1991-1995). Voinovich fired Sturtz. But not before Columbus ALIVE uncovered Mifsud's role in helping Banks jump from being a bar room bouncer to the state's leading minority contractor, a major Voinovich donor, and the contractor of choice for Mifsud's girl friend's house.

As the Mifsud-Banks scandal heated up, Voinovich appointed Noe to the Ohio Board of Regents. Noe has no college degree. But in 1999, Taft re-appointed him to a full 9-year term.

On July 26, 1996, Mifsud resigned as the governor's Chief of Staff claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family. On October 9, 1997 Mifsud was sentenced to six months in the Union County Rehabilitation Center after pleading guilty to ethics violations for altering a public document in the Banks scandal.

Mifsud got a coveted daytime work release which, according to news reports, allowed him to continue work as a GOP fundraiser and operative. Tom Noe and Coingate may have been his last covert operation.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Bush the Elder contacted Mifsud when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. Mifsud died in May 2000.

Three years earlier the Ohio Bureau of Workman's Compensation was caught up in a major scandal. BWC Chief Operating Office Steve Isaac was fired November 7, 1997.

Isaac then sued his former boss, Bureau Chief James Conrad, a longtime Voinovich operative. Isaac alleged he was fired for filing an ethics complaint against Dale Hamilton, the Bureau's Deputy Administrator for Special Projects. Dale is the son of Phil Hamilton, Governor Voinovich's Transition Chief and a powerful lobbyist for the then-Governor's family business, the Voinovich Companies.

Dale's mother Patricia chaired the important Ohio Board of Personnel Review. Issac claimed that he found documents in a briefcase that Dale Hamilton left in Isaac's office that "showed that Hamilton had used his inside status at the Bureau and the information to which he had acquired access through administering managed care technology, internal auditing and external consulting for the Bureau, to benefit Hamilton and Associates," his father's firm.

Essentially Hamilton was mining BWC data on emergency medical services and other health services and selling the information to Ohio municipalities for a cut of the reimbursements. Conrad threatened to sue the Columbus Alive weekly newspaper for reporting the story. He also threatened a private citizen with a lawsuit within 13 minutes of receiving her email complaining about Isaac's firing, the Alive later reported. Conrad resigned as BWC Chief on May 27, 2005, as Coingate began to erupt.

Richard G. Ward, Ohio's Inspector General, released a report on June 19, 1997 after an investigation of the BWC that noted "This experience served to illustrate serious deficiencies in the ability of BWC to objectively identify, analyze and deal with allegations of wrongdoing within the agency."

In July, 2003, Taft gave Noe a seat on the Ohio Turnpike Commission for a term ending June 30, 2011. In Ohio politics, the Turnpike Commission is where the GOP and organized crime are known to meet. Its commissioners have included a long string of notorious alleged mob bosses such as Umberto Fedeli, appointed by Voinovich as its chair.

In August 1996, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Tommy Banks's Banks-Carbone construction company, suspected as a phony minority front company, bought liability insurance through the Fedeli Group, solely owned by the Chair of the Ohio Turnpike Commission. Fedeli refused to disclose his insurance agency clients who did business with the Turnpike. Fedeli resigned after printed accounts revealed that he had not disclosed his 1995 relationship with Banks-Carbone. A state contractor, S.E. Johnson Companies, received a $32 million construction contract in early 1996, the same year they switched their insurance to the Fedeli Group in 1996.

That year Voinovich attempted to appoint to the Turnpike Commission Carmen Parise, an alleged associate of James T. "Jack White" Licavoli, another reputed organized crime boss. Noe's Taft-appointed eight-year seat at the Turnpike Commission by Taft put him at dead center of a scandal-ridden office from which his coin operations could flourish.

Among other things, Noe used his political pull for insider favors like a coveted ticket at Ohio State's national championship football game in Arizona. Email documents also indicate Noe attended at least one "Ohio political strategy session" with GOP operatives Ken Mehlman and Collister "Coddy" Johnson, George W. Bush's Ohio campaign manager and field director. Karl Rove is listed as a possible attendee. As a Bush Ranger/Pioneer with unparalleled clout in northern Ohio and around the 2004 election's most crucial swing state, Noe was near the top of the national GOP food chain.

In April, the Toledo Blade reported that Noe was under federal investigation for making illegal donations to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. By all accounts, Coingate is still in the early stages of unraveling, and where it reaches, no one yet knows. But most serious observers of Ohio politics believe it will go very high.

The outing of how Noe and his wife may have used their clout to steal votes in Lucas County's "Votegate" has also just begun.

Election day in Ohio 2004 was defined by partisan chaos, confusion and theft everywhere in the state. But the Noe's Toledo was uniquely rife with corruption and illegality.

Well before election day, Lucas County's Democratic headquarters was broken into. Key voter data went missing.

On November 2, inner city voting machines mysteriously broke down en masse. Polls opened late. The Toledo Blade has reported that the sole machine at the Birmingham polling site in east Toledo broke down around 7 a.m. By order of Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, no paper ballots were available for backup.

At one school polling station the voting machines were locked in the office of the principal, who called in sick. The Gesu School in West Toledo temporarily ran out of ballots. There were huge lines, missing ballots and technical anomalies associated with the leased Diebold Optical-Scan voting tabulators. Lucas County BOE Director Paula Hicks-Hudson admitted that the Diebold machines had jammed during the previous week's testing, but the BOE did not bother to fix them for the election.

Sworn statements at public hearings in Toledo and Columbus confirmed that scores of citizens were disenfranchised because they had to go to work. According to the Toledo Blade, at the Birmingham polling site in east Toledo, the sole machine broke down around 7am. When Ohio Rep. Peter Ujvagi tried to cast his ballot an hour later, a poll worker told him to place his ballot in "a secure slot under the machine" so it could be scanned in later, after Ujvagi had left.

When voting rights activists challenged Republican Secretary of State Blackwell's controversial partisan handling of provisional ballots, Tom Noe sued on Blackwell's behalf. Bernadette Noe worked hard to reverse the traditional Ohio practice of allowing provisional ballots to be cast in precincts other than the one in which voters were registered. Her efforts helped disenfranchise innumerable Toledo voters, most of them inner city Democrats..

Ms. Noe also reversed standard procedure and banned public testimony at an open meeting meant to discuss a Republican Party challenge to 35,000 newly registered Ohio voters. The challenge was blocked by a federal judge.

But the election in Lucas County had become so infamous that on April 8, Blackwell fired the entire County Board of Elections. Bernadette Noe had announced her plans to resign in December, 2004. But Blackwell's desperate move was a slap in her face, especially since the Secretary of State himself is at center stage in deepening disputes over how Ohio's 2004 election might have been stolen. Blackwell served as Ohio's Bush-Cheney co-chair while running what he claimed to be a fair election.

Blackwell's investigation of the Lucas County BOE has been received with shock and awe around the state.

It cites no less than thirteen areas of "grave concern" including "failure to maintain ballot security"; "inability to implement and maintain a trackable system for voter ballot reconciliation": "failure to prepare and develop a plan for the processing of the voluminous amount of voter registration forms received"; "issuance and acceptance of incorrect absentee ballot forms"; and "failure to maintain the security of poll books during the official canvas."

Richard Weghorst, Ohio's Director of Campaign Finance, and Faith Lyon, the Secretary of State's liaison to county board of elections, found among other things that optical scan ballots received from a private printing company were left unattended and unsecured in a warehouse for nearly a month prior to the presidential election.

Ms. Noe was quoted in the Toledo Blade, saying, "It is important for everyone to remember that we had a good, fair, and accurate election in November, despite the fact that we were at the epicenter of the national election."

But election protection activists are swarming into Lucas County and have added to Blackwell's list a stunning litany of irregularities, all pointing in the direction of massive vote fraud for the benefit of George W. Bush, engineered at least in part by his friends Tom and Bernadette Noe.

Tom Noe has been reportedly liquidating his properties to pay back the state. But his financial sinkhole has already thoroughly tainted a deeply unpopular Taft regime.

The still-young Coingate and Votegate scandals have already catapulted the Bush/Rove Pioneer/Ranger Noe family close to the realm of headlines currently reserved for Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.

But Ohio insiders predict much more to come.

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-editors of DID GEORGE W. BUSH STEAL AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION?, published by, where THE FITRAKIS FILES are also available. HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is at

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Niagara Falls Reporter

By Bill Gallagher
Niagara Falls Reporter
DETROIT -- It is the holy of holies, the sanctum sanctorum, the secret underground bunker where Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bushevik Buddha, holds court, shares his wisdom and issues orders. It is also a crime scene. It's the dark cave where Cheney and other conspirators plotted the outing of an undercover CIA officer. And when their treasonous deed was exposed, they used this vile den to map their cover-up plan, which mounting evidence shows may well have included perjury and obstruction of justice.

President George W. Bush was certainly involved as the initiator of the crimes, and he bears the ultimate responsibly for the felonious behavior of his loyal followers. Given his short attention span, aversion to details and unwillingness to work long hours, the sordid task was delegated to others.

The president never saw the implications of selling the big lie that Saddam Hussein was seeking enriched uranium in Niger to use as fuel for an imaginary nuclear weapons program. First of all, Bush had sold so many lies -- as he does to this day, linking Iraq to 9/11 -- that he figured, no big deal about the Niger hoax.

And never forget, our "war president" only sees the world in clear, unequivocal terms. Saddam is "evil." We are fighting for "freedom." So if the president must exaggerate, deceive or flat-out lie to make his case, George W. Bush just shrugs.

When former ambassador Joseph Wilson went public and challenged the Bush administration's phony claims that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium for its nuclear program, the president may have cared little about the exposure, but men around him smelled big trouble.

They knew that, when Wilson told the truth, others might follow. Nip it in the bud. Punish Wilson and fire a warning shot to intimidate others. You talk, and you'll pay a price. While the president went to work in his own way -- trying to learn how to ride a new bike, pumping iron, playing video games and watching sports on TV -- three of his closest confidants knew what needed to be done and began the dirty work....

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Difference

The Difference
By James J. Zogby
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 25 July 2005

There are important differences between the Arab and broader Muslim immigrant experience in Europe and that of the Arab American and American Muslim communities in the United States.

First and foremost, there is the fact that America itself is different, both in concept and in reality. I have heard third generation Kurds in Germany or Algerians in France complain that they remain on the margins of their societies. With difficulty they may obtain citizenship, but not the identity of being German or French. On the other hand, becoming "American" is a process that has brought countless immigrant groupings into the US mainstream. Being "American" is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any ethnic group define "America." Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious communities from every corner of the globe have been transformed into what we know as Americans. Problems remain, to be sure, and intolerant bigots periodically rear their heads, but as US history demonstrates, the pressures of incorporation and absorption are decisive.

"Becoming American," in the end, means more than obtaining a passport and a set of legal rights. It also means adopting a new identity and absorbing a shared sense of history. At the same time as each new group has entered the American mainstream, the concept of America, itself, has been expanded and transformed.

I recall a rather remarkable meeting of US ethnic leaders with former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in the White House Cabinet Room. We had been convened by the President as part of his effort to win support for his "One America" initiative, to heal the US's racial divide.

Rather spontaneously, individuals seated around the table began telling their own immigrant stories or the histories of the difficulties their communities faced as they sought acceptance in the American mainstream. At the end of this sometimes emotional session, Clinton observed that all of the stories combined were the collective American story. They were, in fact, the shared history of the "One America" he was seeking to promote.

Because of this unique American experience, recent Arab and Muslim immigrants come into a society that is more prepared to accept them and see them as enriching the already complex American mosaic. Immigration is not new to America; it defines the nation's experience. Therefore, ethnic and religious organizations abound. A foundation based on diversity and acceptance already exists with fertile ground prepared to accept new communities and to include them in the ever-broadening definition of America.

After 9/11, for example, when Arab Americans and American Muslims felt threatened by a backlash, support was immediately forthcoming from a broad coalition of Asian American, Hispanic American and African American organizations as well as a host of other ethnic and religious groups that came to our defense. It is worth noting that these groups constitute over one-third of the American people!

On this same note, it is worth pointing out the importance of the foundation built by an earlier generation of Arab Americans. Because the Arab American community has already formed comparatively strong organizations that have paved the way for acceptance, more recent immigrants, despite difficulties, find a supportive network in place. While the earlier immigrants formed groups that were secular (including both Arab Christians and Muslims from all regions of the Arab World), they have provided both support and models for more recent religion-based organizations.

Another important difference between the European and US experience is the extraordinary social and economic mobility that is possible in the US. I have heard some argue that the reason Europe's Muslims live marginalized and alienated, in ghettos, while Muslims and Arabs in the US are now integrated, is because the immigrants to the US were white-collar professionals, while those to Europe were uneducated laborers. This is simply not true. The US and Europe have each had their share of the Arab "brain drain." At the same time, in recent decades, the US has taken in tens of thousands of North African Arabs who started as waiters, Yemenis who came as farm workers and dock workers, Lebanese auto workers and Syrian steel workers, Egyptian and Palestinian cab drivers and poor Iraqi Shi'a refugees as well as thousands more from South Asia.

They do not remain in the lower socio-economic strata, because they have found that opportunities for enterprise abound. Within a few decades, for example, thousands of Yemenis worked their way out of California's fields into small business ownership in a number of states. While each new generation may experience initial hardship, the progress made by Arab Americans and American Muslims is a record to be proud of.

None of this should suggest that Arab Americans and American Muslims do not face discrimination, share deep frustrations with American foreign policy, and have real concern with threats to their civil liberties. But because they are American, they voice their anger and concern as citizens, not as aliens.

Events of the past two weeks are worth noting here. The day after July 7, for example, all of the Arab American, South Asian and Muslim groups were brought together in a conversation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This was part of an ongoing dialogue and partnership with DHS and an extension of the working relationship that has been built with the new leadership at the Department of Justice.

Not only have all of the groups repeatedly condemned terrorism, but also the government officials with whom we work have continuously reaffirmed their support for the rights of these communities. The DHS conversation was followed by a community briefing with the Democratic leadership of the US Senate and a meeting with the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

None of this is to suggest that extremists do not exist here. But it is they, and not the communities themselves who are on the margins. The Arab American and American Muslim groups are ever vigilant to deal with and ostracize these elements. While this mindset existed prior to 9/11, the shock of that horror only sharpened the resolve of the community to shun extremism.

That the communities have done this while not being silenced as political constituencies sharply critical of disastrous US foreign and domestic policies is a tribute both to their viability and self-confidence, and to the openness of the US process. That's the difference.


For comments or information, contact or

Dr. James Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute. His column will appear weekly in t r u t h o u t.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Houston janitors on strike

Houston janitors on strike
Posted by Deanna Zandt on July 22, 2005 at 7:20 AM.

A friend working over at the SEIU just sent me an email about a group of Houston janitors who are striking against the country's largest cleaning company, ABM, due to low pay and lack of health benefits. Evidently, janitors that have been trying to organize have been threatened by the company, but in a remarkable display of solidarity that hasn't been seen in years, janitors working for ABM in New York, Chicago, DC, Connecticut and California are also striking. You can learn more and help support their cause here:

I grew up in a union household, and I know personally how important it is to protect workers from corporate theft, and to provide benefits to the workers and their families. The SEIU is doing some groundbreaking organizing work these days (check out Start Making Sense's interview with Andy Stern, the Purple Ocean and their Wal-Mart fact-checker), so give them whatever support you can!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Frank Rich - Quote of the day

...In July 2005, there are still no W.M.D.'s, and we're still waiting to hear the full story of how, in the words of the Downing Street memo, the intelligence was fixed to foretell all those imminent mushroom clouds in the run-up to war in Iraq. The two official investigations into America's prewar intelligence have both found that our intelligence was wrong, but neither has answered the question of how the administration used that wrong intelligence in selling the war. That issue was pointedly kept out of the charter of the Silberman-Robb commission; the Senate Intelligence Committee promised to get to it after the election but conspicuously has not.

The real crime here remains the sending of American men and women to Iraq on fictitious grounds. Without it, there wouldn't have been a third-rate smear campaign against an obscure diplomat, a bungled cover-up and a scandal that - like the war itself - has no exit strategy that will not inflict pain.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Larry Johnson's Democratic radio address

Larry Johnson gives tomorrow Democratic radio address. Transcript:

"Good morning. I'm Larry Johnson, an American, a registered Republican, a former intelligence official at the CIA, and a friend of Valerie Plame.
I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985 with Valerie. We were members of the Career Trainee Program. Senator Orin Hatch wrote the letter of recommendation for me which I believe that helped open the doors to me at the CIA.
From the first day we walked into the building, all members of my training class were undercover, including Valerie. In other words, we had to lie to our family and friends about where we worked. We could only tell those who had an absolute need to know where we worked. In my case, I told my wife.
I knew the wife of Ambassador Wilson, Valerie, as Valerie P. Even though all of us in the training class held Top Secret Clearances, we were asked to limit our knowledge of our other classmates to the first initial of their last name.
So, Larry J. knew Val P. rather than Valerie Plame. I really didn't realize what her last name was until her cover was betrayed by the Government officials who gave columnist Robert Novak her true name.
I am stunned that government officials at the highest level have such ignorance about a matter so basic to the national security structure of this nation.
Robert Novak's compromise of Valerie led to scrutiny of CIA officers that worked with her. This not only compromised her "cover" company but potentially every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company or with her.
We must put to bed the lie that she was not undercover. For starters, if she had not been undercover then the CIA would not have referred the matter to the Justice Department.
Val only told those with a need to know about her status in order to safeguard her cover, not compromise it. She was content with being known as an energy consultant married to Ambassador Joe Wilson and the mother of twins.
I voted for George Bush in November of 2000 because I was promised a President who would bring a new tone and a new ethical standard to Washington.
So where are we? The President has flip-flopped on his promise to fire anyone at the White House implicated in a leak. We now know from press reports that at least Karl Rove and "Scooter" Libby are implicated in these leaks and may have lied during the investigation.
Instead of a President concerned first and foremost with protecting this country and the intelligence officers who serve it, we are confronted with a President who is willing to sit by while political operatives savage the reputations of good Americans like Valerie and Joe Wilson.
This is wrong and this is shameful.
We deserve people who work in the White House who are committed to protecting classified information, telling the truth to the American people, and living by example the idea that a country at war with Islamic extremists cannot focus its efforts on attacking other American citizens who simply tried to tell the truth.
I am Larry Johnson.
Thank you for listening.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Multiple Administration Security Breaches Involving Valerie Plame Wilson

Multiple Administration Security Breaches Involving Valerie Plame Wilson
By Rep. Henry Waxman

Friday 22 July 2005

The disclosure of the covert identity of Valerie Plame Wilson in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert Novak has triggered a criminal investigation and led to calls for congressional investigations. The Novak column, however, appears to be only one of multiple leaks of Ms. Wilson's identity. A new fact sheet released today by Rep. Waxman documents that there appear to be at least 11 separate instances in which Administration officials disclosed information about Ms. Wilson's identity and association with the CIA.

New Fact Sheet Details Multiple Administration Security Breaches Involving Valerie Plame Wilson

On July 14, 2003, columnist Robert Novak revealed that the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a covert CIA agent. This disclosure of classified information has triggered a criminal investigation by a Special Counsel and led to calls for congressional investigations.

The Novak column, however, appears to be only one of multiple leaks of Ms. Wilson's identity. As this fact sheet documents, there appear to be at least 11 separate instances in which Administration officials disclosed information about Ms. Wilson's identity and association with the CIA.

Under Executive Order 12958, the White House is required to investigate any reports of security breaches and take "prompt corrective action," such as suspending the security clearances of those involved. Unlike prosecutions for criminal violations, which require "knowing" and "intentional" disclosures, the executive order covers a wider range of unauthorized breaches, including the "negligent" release of classified information. There is no evidence that the White House has complied with its obligation to investigate any of the 11 reported instances of security breaches relating to Ms. Wilson or to apply administrative sanctions to those involved.

The Disclosures of Valerie Wilson's Identity

1. The Disclosure by Karl Rove to Columnist Robert Novak
In a column dated July 14, 2003, Robert Novak first reported that Valerie Plame Wilson was "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." [1] Mr. Novak cited "two senior administration officials" as his sources. [2] According to multiple news reports, one of these two sources was Karl Rove, the Deputy White House Chief of Staff and the President's top political advisor. [3] During a phone call on July 8, 2003, Mr. Rove confirmed for Mr. Novak that Ms. Wilson worked at the CIA. During this conversation, Mr. Novak referred to Ms. Wilson "by her maiden name, Valerie Plame," and said he had heard she was involved in "the circumstances in which her husband ... traveled to Africa." [4] Mr. Rove responded, "I heard that, too." [5] Mr. Novak's name also appeared "on a White House call log as having telephoned Mr. Rove in the week before the publication of the July 2003 column." [6]

2. The Disclosure by a "Senior Administration Official" to Columnist Robert Novak
In addition to his communications with Mr. Rove, Mr. Novak learned about Ms. Wilson's identity through communications with a second "senior administration official." [7] Mr. Novak's second source has not yet been publicly identified. Mr. Novak has stated, however, that the source provided him with Ms. Wilson's identity. As he stated: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me." [8] He added: "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it." [9]

3. The Disclosure by Karl Rove to TIME Reporter Matt Cooper
During a phone call on July 11, 2003, Mr. Rove revealed to TIME reporter Matt Cooper that Ms. Wilson worked at the CIA on weapons of mass destruction. [10] Mr. Cooper reported that this "was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife." [11] Mr. Rove provided this information on "deep background," said that "things would be declassified soon," and stated, "I've already said too much." [12]

4. The Disclosure by Scooter Libby to TIME Reporter Matt Cooper
During a phone call on July 12, 2003, TIME reporter Matt Cooper asked the Vice President's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby "if he had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger." [13] Mr. Libby replied, "Yeah, I've heard that too," or words to that effect. [14] Mr. Libby provided this information "on background." [15]

5. The Disclosure by an "Administration Official" to Washington Post Reporter Walter Pincus
On July 12, 2003, an "administration official" told Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus that "Wilson's trip to Niger was set up as a boondoggle by his CIA-employed wife." [16] Mr. Pincus has not publicly identified his source, but has stated that it "was not Libby." [17]

6. The Disclosure by a "Top White House Official" to an Unidentified Reporter
In addition making disclosures to Mr. Novak, Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Pincus, White House officials may have had conversations about Ms. Wilson with three other reporters about Ms. Wilson's identity. According to the Washington Post, a "senior administration official" confirmed that "before Novak's column ran on July 14, 2003, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." [18] According to this official, "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge." [19] Press reports suggest that one of these unidentified reporters may be NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell. [20]

7. The Disclosure by a "Top White House Official" to an Unidentified Reporter
In addition making disclosures to Mr. Novak, Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Pincus, White House officials may have had conversations about Ms. Wilson with three other reporters about Ms. Wilson's identity. According to the Washington Post, a "senior administration official" confirmed that "before Novak's column ran on July 14, 2003, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." [21] According to this official, "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge." [22] Press reports suggest that one of these unidentified reporters may be NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert. [23]

8. The Disclosure by a "Top White House Official" to an Unidentified Reporter
In addition making disclosures to Mr. Novak, Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Pincus, White House officials may have had conversations about Ms. Wilson with three other reporters about Ms. Wilson's identity. According to the Washington Post, a "senior administration official" confirmed that "before Novak's column ran on July 14, 2003, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." [24] According to this official, "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge." [25] Press reports suggest that one of these unidentified reporters may be MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews. [26]

9. The Disclosure by an Unidentified Source to Wall Street Journal Reporter David Cloud
On October 17, 2003, Wall Street Journal reporter David Cloud reported that an internal State Department memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel "details a meeting in early 2002 where CIA officer Valerie Plame and other intelligence officials gathered to brainstorm about how to verify reports that Iraq had sought uranium yellowcake from Niger." [27] This "classified" document had "limited circulation," according to "two people familiar with the memo." [28]

10. The Disclosure by an Unidentified Source to James Guckert of Talon News
On October 28, 2003, Talon News posted on its website an interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson in which the questioner asked: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency or clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?" [29] Talon News is tied to a group called GOP USA [30] and is operated by Texas Republican Robert Eberle. [31] Its only reporter, James Guckert (also known as Jeff Gannon), resigned when it was revealed that he gained access to the White House using a false name after his press credentials were rejected by House and Senate press galleries. [32] In a March 2004 interview with his own news service, Mr. Guckert stated that the classified document was "easily accessible." [33] In a February 11, 2005, interview with Wolf Blitzer of CNN, Mr. Guckert said the FBI interviewed him about "how I knew or received a copy of a confidential CIA memo," but he refused to answer FBI questions because of his status as a "journalist." [34] A week later, Mr. Guckert changed his account, claiming he "was given no special information by the White House or by anybody else." [35]

11. The Disclosure by a "Senior Administration Official" to Washington Post Reporters Mike Allen and Dana Milbank
On December 26, 2003, Washington Post reporters Mike Allen and Dana Milbank reported on details about the classified State Department memo, writing that it was authored by "a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research." [36] The Post story was attributed to "a senior administration official who has seen" the memo. [37] The Post also reported that the CIA was "angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets" and that the CIA "believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame." [38]


[1] Robert Novak, The Mission to Niger, Chicago Sun-Times (July 14, 2003).
[2] Id.
[3] Rove Reportedly Held Phone Talk on CIA Officer, New York Times (July 15, 2005). See also Rove Confirmed Plame Indirectly, Lawyer Says, Washington Post (July 15, 2005).
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Rove Confirmed Plame Indirectly, Lawyer Says, Washington Post (July 15, 2005).
[7] Robert Novak, The Mission to Niger, Chicago Sun-Times (July 14, 2003).
[8] Columnist Blows CIA Agent's Cover, Newsday (July 22, 2003).
[9] Id.
[10] Matt Cooper, What I Told the Grand Jury, TIME (July 25, 2005).
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] The When and How of Leak Being Probed, Washington Post (Nov. 26, 2004).
[17] Id.
[18] Bush Administration Is Focus of Inquiry; CIA Agent's Identity Was Leaked to Media, Washington Post (Sept. 28, 2003).
[19] Id.
[20] Secrets and Leaks, Newsweek (Oct. 13, 2003) (stating that she "heard in the White House that people were touting the Novak column and that that was the real story").
[21] Bush Administration Is Focus of Inquiry; CIA Agent's Identity Was Leaked to Media, Washington Post (Sept. 28, 2003).
[22] Id.
[23] Reporter Held in Contempt in CIA Leak Case, Washington Post (Aug. 10, 2004) (describing a July 2003 telephone conversation between Mr. Russert and Mr. Libby).
[24] Bush Administration Is Focus of Inquiry; CIA Agent's Identity Was Leaked to Media, Washington Post (Sept. 28, 2003).
[25] Id.
[26] Secrets and Leaks, Newsweek (Oct. 13, 2003) (reportedly stating to Mr. Wilson, "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove, who said your wife was fair game").
[27] Memo May Aid Leak Probe, Wall Street Journal (Oct. 17, 2003).
[28] Id.
[29] Leaks Probe Is Gathering Momentum, Washington Post (Dec. 26, 2003). See also Senate Intel Report Discredits Wilson's Claims About Iraq, Niger, Talon News (July 13, 2004) (confirming that Talon reported on the memo in October 2003).
[30] Leaks Probe Is Gathering Momentum, Washington Post (Dec. 26, 2003).
[31] Democrats Want Investigation of Reporter Using Fake Name, New York Times (Feb. 11, 2005).
[32] Id.
[33] Id.
[34] Rumsfeld Visits Iraq, CNN (Feb. 11, 2005).
[35] Anderson Cooper 360, CNN (Feb. 18, 2005). See also Web Site Owner Says He Knew of Reporter's 2 Identities, New York Times (Feb. 20, 2005) (claiming that referring to the memo as though he had it was "merely an interview technique").
[36] Leaks Probe Is Gathering Momentum, Washington Post (Dec. 26, 2003).
[37] Id.
[38] Id.

The Plame Floodgates Open

The Plame Floodgates Open
by Hunter
Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 13:24:15 PDT
It's only been a few days since the Supreme Court nominee was hurriedly announced in an attempt to get Karl Rove off the front pages. Since then, all hell has broken loose.
Bloomberg is reporting that Rove and Libby both gave testimony to the grand jury that flatly conflicts with the testimony given by those they said they talked to.
We now know that the Top Secret memo most consistent with the talking points that Rove and Libby told reporters was seen in the hands of Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in the days before the leak occurred. And that Fleischer told the grand jury he never saw it.
Update [2005-7-22 16:38:29 by Hunter]: [And Steve Clemons has verified that John Bolton was one of Judith Miller's regular sources on WMD issues, and that MSNBC stands by its story that Bolton gave testimony to the grand jury about the State Department memo in question. Bolton, you may recall, has previously been identified to have been involved in the Niger uranium claims that Wilson's trip helped disprove -- just to add even more gunpowder to this mix.]
This is, to use the most calm and soothing phrase possible in such circumstances, extremely f---ing bad for the administration. It shows the broad outlines not just of multiple perjury charges, but indeed of linked conspiracy charges against a number of administration officials.
We know that there are members of the administration familiar with the attack against Plame/Wilson who have been talking to prosecutors. At least, we can assume they've been telling prosecutors at least as much as they've been telling the press, or we'd have a whole passel of reporters likely joining Judith Miller in her Fortress of Suddenly Discovered Integrity. The fact that other administration officials have been giving their side of the story perhaps poses the most serious risk of all for Rove and others -- because it wouldn't be very difficult, for people in the right places, to shatter what little plausible deniability Rove, Libby, Fleischer, and others have been clinging to.
That branch may already be broken, in fact. I don't think it's possible to exaggerate the amount of legal danger here for Rove in particular, and Fleischer and Libby as well....

Bush: Ruining the American Dream

Stephen Crockett: 'Bush: Ruining the American Dream'
Posted on Thursday, July 21 @ 10:10:52 EDT
Smirking Chimp
By Stephen Crockett
I believe Americans will look back later this century to the rise of Bush Republicanism to explain why the American Dream became the American Nightmare and why the great American Democratic Experiment started by the Founding Fathers failed. The names of Bush, Cheney, Delay, Frist, Rove, Rice, Harris, Scalia, Thomas and Blackwell will be linked forever with the decline of United States. Corporate America will be the institutional power blamed for the political rise of Bush Republicanism and the resulting destruction of America’s greatness!
America was a great nation long before it was a world-class military or economic power. America was great based on the ideas advanced by our Founding Fathers. We were to have a government of and by the people. We were to be a nation of laws. Wealth and power were to play a role in government but not be the government. The power of the elite was to be curbed by principles.
The set of principles advanced by our Founding Fathers defined America. They were the American Dream. They began the great American Democratic Experiment! For the next two hundred years, American history was the story of making the American Dream a reality and the great American Democratic Experiment a success.
These struggles were not easy. Elite elements constantly struggled against both the American Dream and our expanding Democracy. We had to overcome slavery, expand voting rights to include the poor and women, struggle to devise an economic system that would permit the American middle class to grow and prosper and fight to curb tendencies toward racism and religious intolerance. Excessive concentrations of wealth were always threatening to undo the good work of millions of Americans accumulated over generations.
Only in the last few decades of the 20th Century did America start to suffer the excesses of success. The working classes and middle classes made America great in economic and military terms by strictly supporting the great American Democratic Experiment. The American Dream had for most Americans become a reality. Most Americans took this situation for granted and did not see that threats to it were always going to exist.
The seeds of disaster were being nurtured by the increasingly bitter, resentful economic elite. The idea had grown among these elements that their wealth should give them the right to rule over the American nation. They systematically gathered their forces and set out to undermine our system of government and politics.
Billions of dollars were eventually expended to distort the political processes and corrupt both political discussion and government. Rules concerning both elections and economic monopoly power slowly were assaulted until they were no longer obstacles blocking the elite from ruling the nation basically unchecked.
Politics became nasty to discourage the average citizen from getting involved. Media fell almost exclusively under Corporate control to keep citizens in ignorance of their declining political and economic role in America’s future. The economy was opened to foreign wealthy elements to increase the collective power of the elite and put pressure on America’s working classes and middle classes. The poor and minorities became the popular scapegoats because the wealthy financed these efforts to shift the blame from themselves for their policies. Tax burdens fell for the wealthiest and Corporations while rising for others. The wealthiest and Corporations created a national debt and profited by financing that debt collecting interest. The standard of living of the average Americans began to decline. They started wars to make themselves profits.
Other nations created very successful systems of national healthcare for all citizens. In America, wealthy political figures like Bill Frist, Tom Delay and George Bush stopped this from happening. Millions of Americans suffered ill health and premature deaths because of their actions. The Corporate Media abetted this horrible political policy crime against the American Dream.
Our system of free elections fell under the control of private, Republican connected corporations. The voting counting systems became both private and secret. They could no longer be trusted. Government actors like Ken Blackwell and Katherine Harris seemed to act to promote Republican victory instead of honest counting. Supreme Court Justices like Scalia and Thomas ignored long-standing judicial precedents and conflict of interest standards for federal judges to secure election victories for Bush Republicans. Americans lost faith in our election processes. Corporate elites rejoiced.
Dick Cheney held private meetings with oil industry executives to set government policy in government offices with government staff. Many believe that these meeting included detailed plans where American oil companies were dividing up Iraq’s oil fields in a post invasion plan long before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Many believe that the current high oil prices were planned at these same meetings. Cheney refuses to release the details to the American taxpayer. Scalia and Thomas expanded executive privilege power to protect Cheney and deny American knowledge about their government’s actions.
George Bush started appointing federal judges holding radically elitist, anti-democratic views and pro-Corporate political philosophies at every opportunity. Judges were appointed who held views like “Social Security is a communist idea” and “government has not power to regulate pollution” and “money is free speech” to life-long positions of power in the federal courts. Bill Frist threatened to change the rules of the US Senate and thwart the intentions of our Founding Fathers just to get these radical judges into positions of power.
Failing a serious political revolt and a shake-up in our current political system, I fear the future for the American nation and the American Dream is extremely bleak. I think Bush Republicanism may finally have killed the great American Democratic Experiment. I will spend the rest of my life fighting to rekindle the flames of both the American Dream and American Democracy but I am unsure of victory. I am just one little guy and relatively unimportant. To my fellow citizens, I ask one question “Are you with me?”
Stephen Crockett is the co-host of Democratic Talk Radio. Email:

Better paid and better trained workers equals more productivity

Randolph T. Holhut: 'A simple formula: Better paid and better trained workers equals more productivity'
Posted on Thursday, July 21 @ 10:11:58 EDT
Smirking Chimp
By Randolph T. Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Republicans seem to love the slash-and-burn style of modern capitalism. However, it is not a economic model that is sustainable and there are a few smart business out there who reject it and profit from that decision.
Those who complain that spending money on public education and health care is a drain on the economy might want to consider this story from Canada.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Press reported that Toyota decided to build a new $800 million auto assembly plant in Woodstock, Ontario. It will employ 1,300 people.
Toyota passed up hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks from several American states to build in Canada.
Why? Toyota believes that workers in Ontario are easier and cheaper to train than their American counterparts. They also won't have to worry about health insurance costs because of Canada's taxpayer-funded single-payer health care system.
"The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States," Gerry Fedchun, president of the Canadian Auto Parts Manufacturers' Association, told the CP.
Ontario and the Canadian government are giving Toyota $125 million in financial aid for research, training and infrastructure costs. Apparently, several U.S. states were prepared to offer much more than that, but Fedchun told the CP that any extra money would have been eaten up by additional training costs.
"The educational level and skill level of people down there (Mississippi and Alabama, where Nissan and Honda have auto plants) is so much lower than it is in Ontario," he said, adding that in Alabama, trainers had to use pictures to train illiterate workers how to run high-tech plant equipment.
As for health care, Canadian Industry Minister David Emmerson said that Canadian workers on average are $4 to $5 an hour cheaper to employ than Americans, mostly due to Canada's health care system.
"Most people don't think of our health-care system as being a competitive advantage," Emmerson told the CP.
General Motors certainly thinks it is. According to GM CEO Rick Wagoner, about $1,500 of the cost of each vehicle the automaker produces in the U.S. goes for employee health care costs. By comparison, employee health care costs in Canada amount to only $120 per vehicle.
That's why GM is cutting fewer jobs in Canada than in the United States. And that's why other manufacturers are looking at Canada - the combination of skilled workers and cheap health care costs are hard to ignore.
The Toyota story shows that throwing money at corporations to entice them to move to your state doesn't work if you have unskilled, semi-literate workers.
And single-payer health care - something that every other country in the industrialized world has - removes one of the biggest financial drains that responsible companies have to deal with.
Sure, you can be like Wal-Mart and offer no benefits to your workers. That's why have constant churn in their workforce. But in the long run, it's better to pay your workers a decent wage and offer them decent benefits because in return, you end up with a more efficient, more productive workforce.
The exemplar of this theory is Costco, currently the nation's fifth largest retailer. Costco's average hourly wage ($16) is nearly double that of Wal-Mart's ($9.68) and Costco pays 92 percent of employee's health insurance premiums with no deductibles while Wal-Mart only covers 66 percent and tacks on a $350-$1,000 deductible.
Business Week did a study last year comparing Costco's and Wal-Mart's business models. They found that Costco employees are more productive and sold more merchandise. In addition, Costco has lower labor costs as a percentage of total sales than Wal-Mart.
The average rate of employee turnover in retail sales is 65 percent, as estimated by the National Retail Foundation. Wal-Mart's turnover rate is 50 percent. Costco's rate is about 24 percent. Higher retention rates mean less money spent on recruiting and training new workers.
Granted, there are big differences between Costco and Wal-Mart. Costco's customer base is wealthier and spends more on a smaller selection of high profit-margin items. Costco is a members-only warehouse club and doesn't advertise. Costco allows its workers to join unions. And most importantly, Costco's executives take less profit. Costco CEO Jim Sinegal received $350,000 in 2004. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott got $5.3 million last year.
About the only people that hate Costco's business model are investors. Wall Street demands low upfront labor costs and high stockholder returns - the Wal-Mart model. But Costco's stock price has been steadily increasing - quadrupling in value in the past 10 years - while Wal-Mart's has been slowly declining - about 5 percent in the past year - despite high profits and rapid expansion.
Toyota's decision to spurn lavish subsidies by the southern states to hire smarter, better trained workers in Canada and Costco's continued profitability while paying their workers middle-class wages show that a company will have more productivity at a lower long-term cost by paying more for better workers.
This model might be at odds with slash-and-burn capitalism, but Toyota is selling more cars and trucks- 2.2 million last year - than ever before and doesn't have to bribe customers to buy its products and Costco is making more money per store than Wal-Mart despite higher labor costs.
Huge short-term profits are seductive, but steady long-term profitability is always better. The smart people in business know this and the best way to achieve is to attract and keep good workers.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at

Whoops, 'Plamegate' Back on Page One

Whoops, 'Plamegate' Back on Page One
Pundits predicted the White House gambit of moving forward a Supreme Court pick would knock Karl Rove's involvement in the CIA leak case off page one for days. That became "day," thanks to the Washington Post this morning.

By Greg Mitchell

(July 21, 2005) -- It was almost as if the Washington Post was saying, "So there."

When the White House rushed its decision on a new Supreme Court justice forward to get top aide Karl Rove's involvement in the Valerie Plame affair off the front pages, most pundits dutifully hailed it as a brilliant tactical move that would surely bury the "other" story for days if not weeks.

Hello John Roberts, goodbye Karl Rove.

Actually, the Supreme scheme started falling apart within hours, thanks to a fair amount of attention on the poorly planned (for the White House) testimony on the Hill about a federal shield law. One of the recipients of Rove's CIA leak, Matt Cooper, got some face time on TV for that.

Now along comes the Washington Post this morning, led by top guns Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei, trumpeting on A1 (ouch) a story that brings attention right back to Rove, not to mention to Ari Fleisher and, possibly, a cast of thousands. So let's score this News Values 1, Pundits 0...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The GOP Failure to Protect Against the WMD Threat

The GOP Failure to Protect Against the WMD Threat

by Armando
Daily Kos

Wed Jul 20th, 2005 at 13:25:11 PDT

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi released a report they received from the National Security Advisory Group detailing the unpardonable BushCo failures to stop the proliferation of WMD:

The failure of action by the Bush Administration to fully protect Americans from the terrorist threat of weapons of mass destruction was addressed today by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who stood with members of the National Security Advisory Group, chaired by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry. Perry delivered a report to the leaders entitled, "Worst Weapons in Worst Hands: U.S. Inaction on the Nuclear Terror Threat Since 9/11, And A Path Of Action," which details the significant shortcomings by the Bush Administration to contain these weapons and materials and offers key recommendations that will help to protect Americans from this threat.

The key recommendations....

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Framing Wars

The Framing Wars
By Matt Bai
The New York Times

Sunday 17 July 2005

After last November's defeat, Democrats were like aviation investigators sifting through twisted metal in a cornfield, struggling to posit theories about the disaster all around them. Some put the onus on John Kerry, saying he had never found an easily discernable message. Others, including Kerry himself, wrote off the defeat to the unshakable realities of wartime, when voters were supposedly less inclined to jettison a sitting president. Liberal activists blamed mushy centrists. Mushy centrists blamed Michael Moore. As the weeks passed, however, at Washington dinner parties and in public post-mortems, one explanation took hold not just among Washington insiders but among far-flung contributors, activists and bloggers too: the problem wasn't the substance of the party's agenda or its messenger as much as it was the Democrats' inability to communicate coherently. They had allowed Republicans to control the language of the debate, and that had been their undoing.

Even in their weakened state, Democrats resolved not to let it happen again. And improbably, given their post-election gloom, they managed twice in the months that followed to make good on that pledge. The first instance was the skirmish over the plan that the president called Social Security reform and that everybody else, by spring, was calling a legislative disaster. The second test for Democrats was their defense of the filibuster (the time-honored stalling tactic that prevents the majority in the Senate from ending debate), which seemed at the start a hopeless cause but ended in an unlikely stalemate. These victories weren't easy to account for, coming as they did at a time when Republicans seem to own just about everything in Washington but the first-place Nationals. (And they're working on that.) During the first four years of the Bush administration, after all, Democrats had railed just as loudly against giveaways to the wealthy and energy lobbyists, and all they had gotten for their trouble were more tax cuts and more drilling. Something had changed in Washington -- but what?

Democrats thought they knew the answer. Even before the election, a new political word had begun to take hold of the party, beginning on the West Coast and spreading like a virus all the way to the inner offices of the Capitol. That word was "framing." Exactly what it means to "frame" issues seems to depend on which Democrat you are talking to, but everyone agrees that it has to do with choosing the language to define a debate and, more important, with fitting individual issues into the contexts of broader story lines. In the months after the election, Democratic consultants and elected officials came to sound like creative-writing teachers, holding forth on the importance of metaphor and narrative.

Republicans, of course, were the ones who had always excelled at framing controversial issues, having invented and popularized loaded phrases like "tax relief" and "partial-birth abortion" and having achieved a kind of Pravda-esque discipline for disseminating them. But now Democrats said that they had learned to fight back. "The Democrats have finally reached a level of outrage with what Republicans were doing to them with language," Geoff Garin, a leading Democratic pollster, told me in May.

By the time Washington's attention turned to the Supreme Court earlier this month, rejuvenated Democrats actually believed they had developed the rhetorical skill, if it came to that, to thwart the president's plans for the court. That a party so thoroughly relegated to minority status might dictate the composition of the Supreme Court would seem to mock the hard realities of history and mathematics, but that is how much faith the Democrats now held in the power of a compelling story. "In a way, it feels like all the systemic improvements we've made in communications strategy over the past few months have been leading to this," Jim Jordan, one of the party's top strategists, said a few days after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her resignation. "This will be an extraordinarily sophisticated, well-orchestrated, intense fight. And our having had some run-throughs over the past few months will be extremely important."

The most critical run-through for Democrats, in light of the test ahead, was the defense of the filibuster, and for that reason, it offers some useful clues to how Democrats may try to frame the Supreme Court fight as well. The battle began late last fall, when Senate Republicans, feeling pretty good about themselves, started making noises about ramming judges through the Senate by stripping Democrats of their ability to filibuster, a plan the Republican senators initially called "the nuclear option." The fight was nominally over Bush's choices for the federal bench, but everyone knew it was in fact merely a prelude to the battle over the Supreme Court; the only way for Democrats to stop a confirmation vote would be to employ the filibuster.

In January, Geoff Garin conducted a confidential poll on judicial nominations, paid for by a coalition of liberal advocacy groups. He was looking for a story -- a frame -- for the filibuster that would persuade voters that it should be preserved, and he tested four possible narratives. Democratic politicians assumed that voters saw the filibuster fight primarily as a campaign to stop radically conservative judges, as they themselves did. But to their surprise, Garin found that making the case on ideological grounds -- that is, that the filibuster prevented the appointment of judges who would roll back civil rights -- was the least effective approach. When, however, you told voters that the filibuster had been around for over 200 years, that Republicans were "changing rules in the middle of the game" and dismantling the "checks and balances" that protected us against one-party rule, almost half the voters strongly agreed, and 7 out of 10 were basically persuaded. It became, for them, an issue of fairness.

Garin then convened focus groups and listened for clues about how to make this case. He heard voters call the majority party "arrogant." They said they feared "abuse of power." This phrase struck Garin. He realized many people had already developed deep suspicions about Republicans in Washington. Garin shared his polling with a group of Democratic senators that included Harry Reid, the minority leader. Reid, in turn, assigned Stephanie Cutter, who was Kerry's spokeswoman last year, to put together a campaign-style "war room" on the filibuster. Cutter set up a strategy group, which included senior Senate aides, Garin, the pollster Mark Mellman and Jim Margolis, one of the party's top ad makers. She used Garin's research to create a series of talking points intended to cast the filibuster as an American birthright every bit as central to the Republic as Fourth of July fireworks. The talking points began like this: "Republicans are waging an unprecedented power grab. They are changing the rules in the middle of the game and attacking our historic system of checks and balances." They concluded, "Democrats are committed to fighting this abuse of power."

Cutter's war room began churning out mountains of news releases hammering daily at the G.O.P.'s "abuse of power." In an unusual show of discipline, Democrats in the Senate and House carried laminated, pocket-size message cards -- "DEMOCRATS FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY, AGAINST ABUSE OF POWER," blared the headline at the top -- with the talking points on one side and some helpful factoids about Bush's nominees on the other. During an appearance on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" in April, Senator Charles Schumer of New York needed all of 30 seconds to invoke the "abuse of power" theme -- twice.

By the time Reid took to the airwaves in late May, on the eve of what looked to be a final showdown on the filibuster ("This abuse of power is not what our founders intended," he told the camera solemnly), the issue seemed pretty well defined in the public mind. In a typical poll conducted by Time magazine, 59 percent of voters said they thought the G.O.P. should be stopped from eliminating the filibuster. Perhaps feeling the pressure, a group of seven Republicans joined with seven Democrats in a last-minute compromise. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, and his team, smarting from crucial defections, had no choice but to back down from a vote. The truce meant that several of Bush's judges would be confirmed quickly, but it marked a rare retreat for Republicans and infuriated conservative activists, who knew that a Supreme Court battle would now be messier than they had hoped.

For their part, Democrats were euphoric at having played the G.O.P. to a draw. The facts of the filibuster fight hadn't necessarily favored them; in reality, the constitutional principle of "checks and balances" on which the Democrats' case was based refers to the three branches of government, not to some parliamentary procedure, and it was actually the Democrats who had broken with Senate tradition by using the filibuster to block an entire slate of judges. ("An irrelevancy beyond the pay grade of the American voter," Garin retorted when I pointed this out.) And yet it was their theory of the case, and not the Republicans', that had won the argument. As Garin explained it, Republicans had become ensnared in a faulty frame of their own making. The phrase "nuclear option" -- a term Frist and his colleagues had tried gamely, but unsuccessfully, to lose -- had made Dr. Frist sound more like Dr. Strangelove. "It's a very evocative phrase," Garin said. "It's blowing up the Senate. It's having your finger on the button."

Garin was gloating, but it was hard to blame him. On the eve of what promises to be a historic debate over the direction of the nation's highest court, Democrats on Capitol Hill seemed to have starkly reversed the dynamic of last fall's election. Then, they had watched helplessly as George W. Bush and his strategists methodically twisted John Kerry into a hopeless tangle of contradictions and equivocations, using words and imagery to bend him into a shape that hardly resembled the war hero he had been. Now, Democrats believed, they had deciphered the hieroglyphics of modern political debate that had so eluded them in the campaign, and in doing so they had exacted some small measure of revenge. As one of the party's senior Senate aides told me a few days after the filibuster compromise was reached, "We framed them the way they framed Kerry."


The father of framing is a man named George Lakoff, and his spectacular ascent over the last eight months in many ways tells the story of where Democrats have been since the election. A year ago, Lakoff was an obscure linguistics professor at Berkeley, renowned as one of the great, if controversial, minds in cognitive science but largely unknown outside of it. When he, like many liberals, became exasperated over the drift of the Kerry campaign last summer -- "I went to bed angry every night," he told me -- Lakoff decided to bang out a short book about politics and language, based on theories he had already published with academic presses, that could serve as a kind of handbook for Democratic activists. His agent couldn't find a publishing house that wanted it. Lakoff ended up more or less giving it away to Chelsea Green, a tiny liberal publisher in Vermont.

That book, "Don't Think of an Elephant!" is now in its eighth printing, having sold nearly 200,000 copies, first through liberal word of mouth and the blogosphere and then through reviews and the lecture circuit. (On the eve of last fall's election, I came across a Democratic volunteer in Ohio who was handing out a boxful of copies to her friends.) Lakoff has emerged as one of the country's most coveted speakers among liberal groups, up there with Howard Dean, who, as it happens, wrote the foreword to "Don't Think of an Elephant!" Lakoff has a DVD titled "How Democrats and Progressives Can Win: Solutions From George Lakoff," and he recently set up his own consulting company.

When I first met Lakoff in April, at a U.C.L.A. forum where he was appearing with Arianna Huffington and the populist author Thomas Frank, he told me that he had been receiving an average of eight speaking invitations a day and that his e-mail account and his voice mailbox had been full for months. "I have a lot of trouble with this life," Lakoff confided wearily as we boarded a rental-car shuttle in Oakland the following morning. He is a short and portly man with a professorial beard, and his rumpled suits are a size too big. "People say, 'Why do you go speak to all these little groups?' It's because I love them. I wish I could do them all." Not that most of Lakoff's engagements are small. Recently, in what has become a fairly typical week for him, Lakoff sold out auditoriums in Denver and Seattle.

How this came to be is a story about the unlikely intersection of cognitive science and political tumult. It began nearly 40 years ago, when, as a graduate student, Lakoff rebelled against his mentor, Noam Chomsky, the most celebrated linguist of the century. The technical basis of their argument, which for a time cleaved the linguistics world in two, remains well beyond the intellectual reach of anyone who actually had fun in college, but it was a personal and nasty disagreement, and it basically went like this: Chomsky said that linguists should concern themselves with discovering the universal rules of syntax, which form the basis for language. Lakoff, on the other hand, theorized that language was inherently linked to the workings of the mind -- to "conceptual structures," as a linguist would put it -- and that to understand language, you first had to study the way that each individual's worldview and ideas informed his thought process.

Chomsky effectively won this debate, at least in the sense that most American linguistics departments still teach it his way. (To this day, the two men don't speak.) Undeterred, however, Lakoff and his like-minded colleagues marched off and founded the field of cognitive linguistics, which seeks to understand the nature of language -- how we use it, why it is persuasive -- by exploring the largely unconscious way in which the mind operates.

In the 1970's, Lakoff, verging into philosophy, became obsessed with metaphors. As he explained it to me one day over lunch at a Berkeley cafe, students of the mind, going back to Aristotle, had always viewed metaphor simply as a device of language, a facile way of making a point. Lakoff argued instead that metaphors were actually embedded in the recesses of the mind, giving the brain a way to process abstract ideas. In other words, a bad relationship reminds you on an unconscious level of a cul-de-sac, because both are leading nowhere. This results from what might be called a "love as journey" frame in the neural pathways of your brain -- that is, you are more likely to relate to the story of, say, a breakup if it is described to you with the imagery of a journey. This might seem intuitive, but in 1980, when Lakoff wrote "Metaphors We Live By," it was considered fairly radical. "For 2,500 years, nobody challenged Aristotle, even though he was wrong," Lakoff told me, sipping from a goblet of pinot grape juice. Humility is not his most obvious virtue.

Through his work on metaphors, Lakoff found an avenue into political discourse. In a seminal 1996 book, "Moral Politics," he asserted that people relate to political ideologies, on an unconscious level, through the metaphorical frame of a family. Conservative politicians, Lakoff suggests, operate under the frame of a strict father, who lays down inflexible rules and imbues his family with a strong moral order. Liberals, on the other hand, are best understood through a frame of the nurturant parent, who teaches his child to pursue personal happiness and care for those around him. (The two models, Lakoff has said, are personified by Arnold Schwarzenegger on one side and Oprah Winfrey on the other.) Most voters, Lakoff suggests, carry some part of both parental frames in the synapses of their brains; which model is "activated" -- that is, which they can better relate to -- depends on the language that politicians use and the story that they tell.

The most compelling part of Lakoff's hypothesis is the notion that in order to reach voters, all the individual issues of a political debate must be tied together by some larger frame that feels familiar to us. Lakoff suggests that voters respond to grand metaphors -- whether it is the metaphor of a strict father or something else entirely -- as opposed to specific arguments, and that specific arguments only resonate if they reinforce some grander metaphor. The best evidence to support this idea can be found in the history of the 2004 presidential campaign. From Day 1, Republicans tagged Kerry with a larger metaphor: he was a flip-flopper, a Ted Kennedy-style liberal who tried to seem centrist, forever bouncing erratically from one position to the other. They made sure that virtually every comment they uttered about Kerry during the campaign reminded voters, subtly or not, of this one central theme. (The smartest ad of the campaign may have been the one that showed Kerry windsurfing, expertly gliding back and forth, back and forth.) Democrats, on the other hand, presented a litany of different complaints about Bush, depending on the day and the backdrop; he was a liar, a corporate stooge, a spoiled rich kid, a reckless warmonger. But they never managed to tie them all into a single, unifying image that voters could associate with the president. As a result, none of them stuck. Bush was attacked. Kerry was framed.

According to Lakoff, Republicans are skilled at using loaded language, along with constant repetition, to play into the frames in our unconscious minds. Take one of his favorite examples, the phrase "tax relief." It presumes, Lakoff points out, that we are being oppressed by taxes and that we need to be liberated from them. It fits into a familiar frame of persecution, and when such a phrase, repeated over time, enters the everyday lexicon, it biases the debate in favor of conservatives. If Democrats start to talk about their own "tax relief" plan, Lakoff says, they have conceded the point that taxes are somehow an unfair burden rather than making the case that they are an investment in the common good. The argument is lost before it begins.

Lakoff informed his political theories by studying the work of Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster who helped Newt Gingrich formulate the Contract With America in 1994. To Lakoff and his followers, Luntz is the very embodiment of Republican deception. His private memos, many of which fell into the hands of Democrats, explain why. In one recent memo, titled "The 14 Words Never to Use," Luntz urged conservatives to restrict themselves to phrases from what he calls, grandly, the "New American Lexicon." Thus, a smart Republican, in Luntz's view, never advocates "drilling for oil"; he prefers "exploring for energy." He should never criticize the "government," which cleans our streets and pays our firemen; he should attack "Washington," with its ceaseless thirst for taxes and regulations. "We should never use the word outsourcing," Luntz wrote, "because we will then be asked to defend or end the practice of allowing companies to ship American jobs overseas."

In Lakoff's view, not only does Luntz's language twist the facts of his agenda but it also renders facts meaningless by actually reprogramming, through long-term repetition, the neural networks inside our brains. And this is where Lakoff's vision gets a little disturbing. According to Lakoff, Democrats have been wrong to assume that people are rational actors who make their decisions based on facts; in reality, he says, cognitive science has proved that all of us are programmed to respond to the frames that have been embedded deep in our unconscious minds, and if the facts don't fit the frame, our brains simply reject them. Lakoff explained to me that the frames in our brains can be "activated" by the right combination of words and imagery, and only then, once the brain has been unlocked, can we process the facts being thrown at us.

This notion of "activating" unconscious thought sounded like something out of "The Manchurian Candidate" ("Raymond, why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"), and I asked Lakoff if he was suggesting that Americans voted for conservatives because they had been brainwashed.

"Absolutely not," he answered, shaking his head.

But hadn't he just said that Republicans had somehow managed to rewire people's brains?

"That's true, but that's different from brainwashing, and it's a very important thing," he said. "Brainwashing has to do with physical control, capturing people and giving them messages over and over under conditions of physical deprivation or torture. What conservatives have done is not brainwashing in this way. They've done something that's perfectly legal. What they've done is find ways to set their frames into words over many years and have them repeated over and over again and have everybody say it the same way and get their journalists to repeat them, until they became part of normal English."

I asked Lakoff how he himself had avoided being reprogrammed by these stealth Republican words. "Because I'm a linguist, I recognize them," he said. Even to him, this sounded a little too neat, and a moment later he admitted that he, too, had fallen prey to conservative frames now and then. "Occasionally," he said with a shrug, "I've caught myself."


In May 2003, Senator Byron Dorgan, the North Dakota Democrat, read "Moral Politics" and took Lakoff to a Democratic Senate retreat in Cambridge, Md. Lakoff had never met a senator before. "I knew what they were up against, even if they didn't know what they were up against," Lakoff says. "They were just besieged. My heart went out to them."

Lakoff gave a presentation, and in the parlance of comedians, he killed. Hillary Clinton invited him to dinner. Tom Daschle, then the minority leader, asked Lakoff if he would rejoin the senators a few days later, during their next caucus meeting at the Capitol, so that he could offer advice about the tax plan they were working on. Lakoff readily agreed, even though he had come East without so much as a jacket or tie. "I went in there, and it was just this beautiful thing," he told me, recalling the caucus meeting. "All these people I'd just met applauded. They gave me hugs. It was the most amazing thing."

Of course, the idea that language and narrative matter in politics shouldn't really have come as a revelation to Washington Democrats. Bill Clinton had been an intuitive master of framing. As far back as 1992, Clinton's image of Americans who "worked hard and played by the rules," for instance, had perfectly evoked the metaphor of society as a contest that relied on fairness. And yet despite this, Democrats in Congress were remarkably slow to grasp this dimension of political combat. Having ruled Capitol Hill pretty comfortably for most of the past 60 years, Democrats had never had much reason to think about calibrating their language in order to sell their ideas.

"I can describe, and I've always been able to describe, what Republicans stand for in eight words, and the eight words are lower taxes, less government, strong defense and family values," Dorgan, who runs the Democratic Policy Committee in the Senate, told me recently. "We Democrats, if you ask us about one piece of that, we can meander for 5 or 10 minutes in order to describe who we are and what we stand for. And frankly, it just doesn't compete very well. I'm not talking about the policies. I'm talking about the language."

Dorgan has become the caucus's chief proponent of framing theory. "I think getting some help from some people who really understand how to frame some of these issues is long overdue," he says, which is why he invited Lakoff back to talk to his colleagues after the 2004 election. Meanwhile, over on the House side, George Miller, a Democrat from the San Francisco area, met Lakoff through a contributor and offered to distribute copies of "Don't Think of an Elephant!" to every member of the caucus. The thin paperback became as ubiquitous among Democrats in the Capitol as Mao's Little Red Book once was in the Forbidden City. "The framing was perfect for us, because we were just arriving in an unscientific way at what Lakoff was arriving at in a scientific way," says Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House.

In fact, though Lakoff started the framing discussion, he was by no means the only outside expert whom Democrats were consulting about language. To the contrary, a small industry had blossomed. Even before the 2004 election, Pelosi had enlisted John Cullinane, a software entrepreneur in Boston, to help the caucus develop the wording for a vision statement. Cullinane spent an hour and a half with members of the caucus one afternoon, while his aide scrawled suggestions on a white board. Among his recommendations was that they come up with a list that had six parts -- either six principles or six values or six ideas. When we spoke, I asked Cullinane why it had to be six. "Seven's too many," he replied. "Five's too few."

Then there was Richard Yanowitch, a Silicon Valley executive and party donor, who worked with Senate Democrats, providing what he calls "private-sector type marketing." Last December, at Dorgan's request, Reid put Yanowitch in charge of a "messaging project" to help devise new language for the party. Another adviser who became a frequent guest on the Hill after the election was Jim Wallis, a left-leaning evangelical minister who wrote "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it." In January, after addressing a Senate caucus retreat at the Kennedy Center, Wallis wrote a memo to the Democratic Policy Committee titled "Budgets Are Moral Documents," in which he laid out his argument that Democrats needed to "reframe" the budget in spiritual terms.

What all of these new advisers meant by "framing," exactly, and whether their concepts bore much resemblance to Lakoff's complex cognitive theories wasn't really clear. The word had quickly become something of a catchall, a handy term to describe anything having to do with changing the party's image through some new combination of language. So admired were these outside experts that they could hardly be counted as outsiders anymore. In May, for instance, Roger Altman, Clinton's former deputy treasury secretary, held a dinner for the former president to discuss the party's message with about 15 of its most elite and influential thinkers, including James Carville, Paul Begala, the pollster Mark J. Penn and John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank. Lakoff sat at Clinton's table; Wallis, at the next one over.


Bush's plan to reform Social Security provided, last winter, the first test of the Democrats' new focus on language and narrative. In retrospect, it shows both the limits of framing and, perhaps, the real reason that Democrats have managed to stymie critical pieces of the Bush agenda.

Almost as soon as Bush signaled his intention to overhaul the existing program, Democrats in Congress, enamored of Lakoff's theories, embarked on a search for a compelling story line. Yanowitch's highly secretive messaging group met for months on the topic and came up with two "sample narratives" that Democrats might use. The first, titled "Privatization: A Gamble You Can't Afford to Take," stressed the insecurity of middle-class families and compared Bush's plan to a roll of the dice. The second, "The Magical World of Privatization," spun out a metaphor that centered on Bush as "an old-fashioned traveling salesman, with a cart full of magic elixirs and cure-all tonics." Some of this imagery found its way into the dialogue, for better or worse; Pelosi and other House members, never too proud to put their dignity above the greater good, held an outdoor news conference standing next to a stack of giant dice.

As they would later with the filibuster fight and with the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats, under Reid's direction, set up a war room and a strategy group, this one run by Jim Messina, chief of staff for Senator Max Baucus of Montana. Eschewing all the lofty metaphors, the war room stuck to two simple ideas: Bush's plan relied on privatizing the most popular government benefit in America, and it amounted to benefit cuts coupled with long-term borrowing. In addition to keeping members focused on their talking points, Messina's team and its allies -- led by two liberal interest groups, and Campaign for America's Future, with help from the all-powerful AARP -- also had to stop senators and congressmen from offering compromise plans that might drive a wedge into the caucus. In this way, Democrats had decided to follow the example of Bill Kristol, the Republican strategist who had urged his party (shrewdly, as it turned out) to refrain from proposing any alternatives to Clinton's doomed health-care plan in 1993. "The minute we introduce a plan, we have to solve the problem" is how one senior Democratic aide explained it to me. "We are the minority party. It's not our job to fix things."

As it happened, this was where Lakoff himself proved most helpful. In a meeting with House Democrats, some of whom were considering their own versions of private accounts, he urged them to hold firm against Bush's plan. "I pointed out that as soon as you allow them to get a privatization frame in people's minds about retirement and Social Security, it becomes an unintelligible difference," he recalled. "People will not be able to tell the difference between your plan and the other guy's." Referring to Pelosi, he added, "Nancy was saying the same thing, and so they stopped." As Democrats stood firm, Bush's idea for private accounts, which was never all that popular with voters to begin with, seemed to slowly lose altitude. A Gallup tracking poll conducted for CNN and USA Today showed the president's plan losing support, from 40 percent of voters in January to 33 percent in April.

Bush had tried to recast his proposed "private accounts" as "personal accounts" after it became clear to both sides that privatization, as a concept, frightened voters. But as they did on the filibuster, Democrats had managed to trap the president in his own linguistic box. "We branded them with privatization, and they can't sell that brand anywhere," Pelosi bragged when I spoke with her in May. "It's down to, like, 29 percent or something. At the beginning of this debate, voters were saying that the president was a president who had new ideas. Now he's a guy who wants to cut my benefits." At this, Pelosi laughed loudly.

What had Democrats learned about framing? In the end, the success of the Social Security effort -- and, for that matter, the filibuster campaign -- may have had something to do with language or metaphor, but it probably had more to do with the elusive virtue of party discipline. Pelosi explained it to me this way: for years, the party's leaders had tried to get restless Democrats to stay "on message," to stop freelancing their own rogue proposals and to continue reading from the designated talking points even after it got excruciatingly boring to do so. Consultants like Garin and Margolis had been saying the same thing, but Democratic congressmen, skeptical of the in-crowd of D.C. strategists, had begun to tune them out. "Listening to people inside Washington did not produce any victories," Pelosi said.

But now there were people from outside Washington -- experts from the worlds of academia and Silicon Valley -- who were making the same case. What the framing experts had been telling Democrats on the Hill, aside from all this arcane stuff about narratives and neural science, was that they needed to stay unified and repeat the same few words and phrases over and over again. And these "outsiders" had what Reid and Pelosi and their legion of highly paid consultants did not: the patina of scientific credibility. Culturally, this made perfect sense. If you wanted Republican lawmakers to buy into a program, you brought in a guy like Frank Luntz, an unapologetically partisan pollster who dressed like the head of the College Republicans. If you wanted Democrats to pay attention, who better to do the job than an egghead from Berkeley with an armful of impenetrable journal studies on the workings of the brain?

You might say that Lakoff and the others managed to give the old concept of message discipline a new, more persuasive frame -- and that frame was called "framing." "The framing validates what we're trying to say to them," Pelosi said. "You have a Berkeley professor saying, 'This is how the mind works; this is how people perceive language; this is how you have to be organized in your presentation.' It gives me much more leverage with my members."


On a recent morning in his Virginia office, seated next to one of those one-way glass walls that you find only in the offices of cops and pollsters, Frank Luntz explained why George Lakoff and his framing theory were leading the Democratic Party astray. In recent years, Luntz's penchant for publicity -- he is a frequent commentator on cable television -- has earned him no small amount of scorn and ridicule from fellow Republicans; that Lakoff's little book had suddenly elevated Luntz to a kind of mythic villain seemed to amuse him. "In some ways, the Democrats appreciate me more than the Republicans do," Luntz, 43, told me with a trace of self-pity.

The problem with Lakoff, Luntz said, is that the professor's ideology seemed to be driving his science. Luntz, after all, has never made for a terribly convincing conservative ideologue. (During our conversation, he volunteered that the man he admired most was the actor Peter Sellers, for his ability to disappear into whatever role he was given.) Luntz sees Lakoff, by contrast, as a doctrinaire liberal who believes viscerally that if Democrats are losing, it has to be because of the words they use rather than the substance of the argument they make. What Lakoff didn't realize, Luntz said, was that poll-tested phrases like "tax relief" were successful only because they reflected the values of voters to begin with; no one could sell ideas like higher taxes and more government to the American voter, no matter how they were framed. To prove it, Luntz, as part of his recent polling for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, specifically tested some of Lakoff's proposed language on taxation. He said he found that even when voters were reminded of the government's need to invest in education, health care, national security and retirement security, 66 percent of them said the United States overtaxed its citizenry and only 14 percent said we were undertaxed. Luntz presented this data to chamber officials on a slide with the headline "George Lakoff Is Wrong!!"

"He deserves a lot of credit," Luntz said of Lakoff. "He's one of the very few guys who understands the limits of liberal language. What he doesn't understand is that there are also limits on liberal philosophy. They think that if they change all the words, it'll make a difference. Won't happen." (Last month, after we talked, Luntz challenged Lakoff, through me, to a "word-off" in which each man would try to "move" a roomful of 30 swing voters. Lakoff responded by counterchallenging Luntz to an "on-the-spot conceptual analysis." Since I had no idea what either of them was talking about, I let it go.)

Luntz's dismissiveness is what you might expect to hear about Lakoff from a Republican, of course. But the same complaint has surfaced with growing ferocity among skeptical Democrats and in magazines like The Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic. An antiframing backlash has emerged, and while it is, on the surface, an argument about Lakoff and his theories, it is clearly also a debate about whether the party lacks only for language or whether it needs a fresher agenda. Lakoff's detractors say that it is he who resembles the traveling elixir salesman, peddling comforting answers at a time when desperate Democrats should be admitting some hard truths about their failure to generate new ideas. "Every election defeat has a charlatan, some guy who shows up and says, 'Hey, I marketed the lava lamp, and I can market Democratic politics,"' says Kenneth Baer, a former White House speechwriter who wrote an early article attacking Lakoff's ideas in The Washington Monthly. "At its most basic, it represents the Democratic desire to find a messiah."

In a devastating critique in The Atlantic's April issue, Marc Cooper, a contributing editor at The Nation, skillfully ridiculed Lakoff as the new progressive icon. "Much more than an offering of serious political strategy, 'Don't Think of an Elephant!' is a feel-good, self-help book for a stratum of despairing liberals who just can't believe how their common-sense message has been misunderstood by eternally deceived masses," Cooper wrote. In Lakoff's view, he continued, American voters are "redneck, chain-smoking, baby-slapping Christers desperately in need of some gender-free nurturing and political counseling by organic-gardening enthusiasts from Berkeley."

Lakoff doesn't have much patience for criticism (he's a tenured professor, after all), and he keeps at his disposal a seemingly bottomless arsenal of linguistic and philosophical theories with which to refute such attacks. In response to Cooper's article and another in The Atlantic, by Joshua Green, Lakoff fired off a nine-page draft response to a long e-mail list of friends and journalists in which he accused Cooper and Green of living in the "rationalist-materialist paradigm" (that's RAM for short), an outdated belief system that mistakenly assumes the rationality of other human beings. He also pointed out that they had cleverly, but unsuccessfully, tried to trap him in the "guru frame," a story line about one individual who passes himself off as having all the answers to other people's problems.

Lakoff has some valid points. In his writing, at least, he explains framing in a way that is more intellectually complex than his critics have admitted. His essential insight into politics -- that voters make their decisions based on larger frames rather than on the sum of a candidate's positions -- is hard to refute. And Lakoff does say in "Don't Think of an Elephant!" albeit very briefly, that Democrats need not just new language but also new thought; he told me the party suffers from "hypocognition," or a lack of ideas. What's more, when it comes to the language itself, Lakoff has repeatedly written that the process of reframing American political thought will take years, if not decades, to achieve. He does not suggest in his writing that a few catchy slogans can turn the political order on its head by the next election.

The message Lakoff's adherents seem to take away from their personal meetings with him, however, is decidedly more simplistic. When I asked Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the minority whip and one of Lakoff's strongest supporters, whether Lakoff had talked to the caucus about this void of new ideas in the party, Durbin didn't hesitate. "He doesn't ask us to change our views or change our philosophy," Durbin said. "He tells us that we have to recommunicate." In fact, Durbin said he now understood, as a result of Lakoff's work, that the Republicans have triumphed "by repackaging old ideas in all new wrapping," the implication being that this was not a war of ideas at all, but a contest of language.


The question here is whether Lakoff purposely twists his own academic theories to better suit his partisan audience or whether his followers are simply hearing what they want to hear and ignoring the rest. When I first met Lakoff in Los Angeles, he made it clear, without any prompting from me, that he was exasperated by the dumbing down of his intricate ideas. He had just been the main attraction at a dinner with Hollywood liberals, and he despaired that all they had wanted from him were quick fixes to long-term problems. "They all just want to know the magic words," he told me. "I say: 'You don't understand, there aren't any magic words. It's about ideas.' But all everyone wants to know is: 'What three words can we use? How do we win the next election?' They don't get it."

And yet Lakoff had spoken for 12 minutes and then answered questions at the U.C.L.A. forum with Huffington and Frank, and not once had he even implied that the Democratic problem hadn't been entirely caused by Republicans or that it couldn't be entirely fixed by language. The more time I spent with Lakoff, in fact, the more I began to suspect that his complaint about "magic words" was another example of framing; in this case, Lakoff was consciously framing himself in his conversations with me as a helpless academic whose theories were being misused. The reality seemed to be that Lakoff was enjoying his sudden fame and popularity too much to bother his followers with troubling details -- like, say, the notion that their problem might be bigger than mere words or that it might take decades to establish new political frames. After all, Lakoff is selling out theaters and making more money than he ever thought possible; in 2006, Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish his next book, on how conservatives have changed the meaning of the word "freedom." At one point, Lakoff told me he would like to appear as the host of a regular TV segment on framing.

Peter Teague, who oversees environmental programs at the liberal Nathan Cummings Foundation, was Lakoff's most important patron in the days after he wrote "Moral Politics." When I spoke with Teague about Lakoff a few months ago, he sounded a little depressed. "There's a cartoon version of Lakoff out there, and everyone's responding to the cartoon," Teague said. "It's not particularly useful. As much as we talk about having a real dialogue and a deeper discussion, we really end up having a very superficial conversation.

"I keep saying to George, 'You're reinforcing the very things you're fighting against."'

I asked Lakoff, during an afternoon walk across the Berkeley campus, if he felt at all complicit in the superficiality that Teague was describing. "I do," he said thoughtfully. "It's a complicated problem. Of course it bothers me. But this is just Stage 1, and there are stages of misunderstanding. People have to travel a path of understanding."

His celebrity may yet prove to be his undoing. When I visited him in Berkeley in April, Lakoff, who until then had done all his work with Washington Democrats on a volunteer basis, had submitted a proposal to leaders in the House for a consulting contract. Although the details were closely guarded, it had something to do with a project to use focus groups to study narrative. In May, House Democrats decided not to finalize the deal after some members and senior aides wondered out loud if Lakoff mania had gotten out of hand. Lakoff, it seemed, was experiencing a common Washington phenomenon to which Frank Luntz could easily relate: the more famous an adviser gets, the more politicians begin to suspect him of trying to further himself at their expense. A friend of Lakoff's suggested to me that we were witnessing the beginning of an all-too-familiar frame: the meteoric rise and dizzying fall of a political sensation.


If that were true, it seemed, then the whole notion of framing might just be a passing craze, like some post-election macarena. It certainly sounded like that might be the case when I visited Harry Reid just before Memorial Day. Reid waved away the suggestion that language had much to do with the party's recent successes. "If you want my honest opinion, and I know you do, I think people make too much out of that," he said. "I'm not a person who dwells on all these people getting together and spending hours and days coming up with the right words. I know that my staff thinks, 'Oh, why don't you tell him about all this great work we've done on framing?' But honestly, that's not it."

Reid credited the "team effort" and message discipline of the caucus for its victory on the filibuster issue. At one point, when I asked Reid, a former boxer, about Lakoff's theories, he seemed to equate them with psychotherapy. "I'm not going to waste a lot of time sitting in a room talking about how my parents weren't good to me or something like that," Reid said firmly. "I'm not involved in any of that gimmickry."

After leaving Reid, I walked across the Capitol to see Nancy Pelosi, who told a different story. She assured me that Lakoff's ideas had "forever changed" the way Democratic House members thought about politics. "He has taken people here to a place, whether you agree or disagree with his particular frame, where they know there has to be a frame," she told me. "They all agree without any question that you don't speak on Republican terms. You don't think of an elephant."

I suggested that maybe she and Reid had different views on the value of framing as a strategy. "Oh, no," she said emphatically, drawing out the last word. "He's been a leader on it! The two of us know better than anyone what's at stake here. In fact, he sort of initiated our abuse-of-power frame."


It was hard to know what to make of these conflicting conversations. Perhaps Reid feared that if he admitted to caring about framing, he would be framed as one of those clueless Democrats seeking easy answers. Perhaps Pelosi was covering for him by suggesting they were unified when in fact they weren't. But it seemed more likely that the disconnect between the party's two elected leaders reflected a broader confusion among Democrats about what they actually mean by framing. There is no doubt that having a central theme and repeating it like robots has made Democrats a respectable opposition force in Congress. To Pelosi and a lot of other Democrats, that is the miracle of this thing called framing. To Reid, it is just an intuitive part of politics, and he doesn't need some professor to give it a name or tell him that Democrats haven't been very good at it.

Whatever you call it, this kind of message discipline will be a crucial piece of what will most likely become, in the weeks ahead, a Democratic push to block Bush's designs on the Supreme Court. In order to stop a nominee, Democrats will have to frame the filibuster battle in the public arena all over again, and this time, they will have to convince voters that it is Bush's specific choice for the nation's highest court -- and not simply a slate of faceless judges -- who represents the reckless arrogance of Republican rule. Even in the hours after O'Connor made her announcement, you could see in Democratic responses the first stirrings of this new campaign. "If the president abuses his power and nominates someone who threatens to roll back the rights and freedoms of the American people," said Ted Kennedy, lifting lines directly from Garin's latest polling memo, "then the American people will insist that we oppose that nominee, and we intend to do so." Meanwhile, Susan McCue, Reid's powerful chief of staff, offered me a preview of the theory to come: "It goes beyond 'abuse of power.' It's about arrogance, irresponsibility, being out of touch and catering to a narrow, narrow slice of their ideological constituency at the expense of the vast majority of Americans."

It is not inconceivable that such an argument could sway public opinion; Americans are congenitally disposed to distrust whichever party holds power. The larger question -- too large, perhaps, for most Democrats to want to consider at the moment -- is whether they can do more with language and narrative than simply snipe at Bush's latest initiative or sink his nominees. Here, the Republican example may be instructive. In 1994, Republican lawmakers, having heeded Bill Kristol's advice and refused to engage in the health-care debate, found themselves in a position similar to where Democrats are now; they had weakened the president and spiked his trademark proposal, and they knew from Luntz's polling that the public harbored serious reservations about the Democratic majority in Congress. What they did next changed the course of American politics. Rather than continue merely to deflect Clinton's agenda, Republicans came up with their own, the Contract With America, which promised 10 major legislative acts that were, at the time, quite provocative. They included reforming welfare, slashing budget deficits, imposing harsher criminal penalties and cutting taxes on small businesses. Those 10 items, taken as a whole, encapsulated a rigid conservative philosophy that had been taking shape for 30 years -- and that would define politics at the end of the 20th century.

By contrast, consider the declaration that House Democrats produced after their session with John Cullinane, the branding expert, last fall. The pamphlet is titled "The House Democrats' New Partnership for America's Future: Six Core Values for a Strong and Secure Middle Class." Under each of the six values -- "prosperity, national security, fairness, opportunity, community and accountability" -- is a wish list of vague notions and familiar policy ideas. ("Make health care affordable for every American," "Invest in a fully funded education system that gives every child the skills to succeed" and so on.) Pelosi is proud of the document, which -- to be fair -- she notes is just a first step toward repackaging the party's agenda. But if you had to pick an unconscious metaphor to attach to it, it would probably be a cotton ball.

Consider, too, George Lakoff's own answer to the Republican mantra. He sums up the Republican message as "strong defense, free markets, lower taxes, smaller government and family values," and in "Don't Think of an Elephant!" he proposes some Democratic alternatives: "Stronger America, broad prosperity, better future, effective government and mutual responsibility." Look at the differences between the two. The Republican version is an argument, a series of philosophical assertions that require voters to make concrete choices about the direction of the country. Should we spend more or less on the military? Should government regulate industry or leave it unfettered? Lakoff's formulation, on the other hand, amounts to a vague collection of the least objectionable ideas in American life. Who out there wants to make the case against prosperity and a better future? Who doesn't want an effective government?

What all these middling generalities suggest, perhaps, is that Democrats are still unwilling to put their more concrete convictions about the country into words, either because they don't know what those convictions are or because they lack confidence in the notion that voters can be persuaded to embrace them. Either way, this is where the power of language meets its outer limit. The right words can frame an argument, but they will never stand in its place.


Matt Bai, a contributing writer, covers national politics for the magazine. He is working on a book about the future of the Democrats.