Monday, February 27, 2006

Democratic Imperative: Bush's "Unitary Executive" Notion Must be Obliterated

February 26, 2006
Democratic Imperative: Bush's "Unitary Executive" Notion Must be Obliterated
Steve Clemons
The Washington Note

...Bush has become the epitome of a Roman dictator in the 21st century in his assertion of "unitary executive" authority which this White House has argued has "inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances." The problem is that unlike Rome, where the Senate granted the dictator great powers, Congress has not -- in fact -- given Bush the authority to operate beyond his Constitutional authority. Bush has, instead, asserted that authority and taunted Congress to stop him.

This power grab should dominate our media and our civic discourse. Our President -- via a deranged, anti-democratic team of power-obsessed thugs in Vice President Cheney's office -- is engaged in a clear assault on the core architectural joists of American democracy....

The reality though -- hard as it is to admit -- is that Vice President Cheney shrugged off the Libby indictment in a few weeks and has roared back to a robust role in national security affairs and is now trying to strangle Condoleezza Rice's foreign policy agenda.

ington's rise and those of his acolytes -- have given the neoconservative agenda some new faces, lesser known, but in many ways far more insidious.

-- Steve Clemons

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Restoring the public trust

Restoring the public trust
February 25

Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers is President of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. This is the prepared text of his remarks on an 8-day speaking trip in California on the issue of money and politics.

I will leave to Jon Stewart the rich threads of humor to pluck from the hunting incident in Texas. All of us are relieved that the Vice President's friend has survived. I can accept Dick Cheney's word that the accident was one of the worst moments of his life. What intrigues me as a journalist now is the rare glimpse we have serendipitously been offered into the tightly knit world of the elites who govern today.

The Vice President was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by a lobbyist friend who is the heiress to a family fortune of land, cattle, banking and oil (ah, yes, the quickest and surest way to the American dream remains to choose your parents well.)

The circumstances of the hunt and the identity of the hunters provoked a lament from The Economist. The most influential pro-business magazine in the world is concerned that hunting in America is becoming a matter of class: the rich are doing more, the working stiffs, less. The annual loss of 1.5 million acres of wildlife habitat and 1 million acres of farm and ranchland to development and sprawl has come "at the expense of 'The Deer Hunter' crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the south and the cowboys of the west." Their places, says The Economist, are being taken by the affluent who pay plenty for such conveniences as being driven to where the covey cooperatively awaits. The magazine (hardly a Marxist rag, remember) describes Mr. Cheney's own expedition as "a lot closer to 'Gosford Park' than 'The Deer Hunter' - a group of fat old toffs waiting for wildlife to be flushed towards them at huge expense."

At the heart of this story is a metaphor of power. The Vice President turned his host, the lobbyist who is also the ranch owner, into his de facto news manager. She would disclose the shooting only when Cheney was ready and only on his terms. Sure enough, nothing was made public for almost 20 hours until she finally leaked the authorized version to the local newspaper. Ms. Armstrong suggested the blame lay with the victim, who, she indicated, had failed to inform the Vice President of his whereabouts and walked into a hail of friendly fire. Three days later Cheney revised the story and apologized. Don't you wonder what went back and forth with the White House that long night of trying to agree on the official line?

We do know someone from the hunting party was in touch with Karl Rove at the White House. For certain Rove's the kind of fellow you want on the other end of the line when great concoctions are being hatched, especially if you wish the victim to hang for the crime committed against him. Watching these people work is a study of the inner circle at the top of American politics. The journalist Sidney Blumenthal, writing on, reminds us of the relationship between the Armstrong dynasty and the Bush family and its retainers. Armstrong's father invested in Rove's political consulting firm that managed George W. Bush's election as governor of Texas and as president. Her mother, Anne Armstrong, is a longtime Republican activist and donor. Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board after her tenure as Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Ford, whose chief of staff was a young Dick Cheney. Anne Armstrong served on the board of directors of Halliburton that hired Cheney to run the company. Her daughter, Katherine Armstrong, host of the hunting party, was once a lobbyist for the powerful Houston law firm founded by the family of James A. Baker III, who was chief of staff to Reagan, Secretary of State under the first George Bush, and the man designated by the Bush family to make sure the younger Bush was named President in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. According to Blumenthal, one of her more recent lobbying jobs was with a large construction firm with contracts in Iraq.

It is a Dick Cheney world out there - a world where politicians and lobbyists hunt together, dine together, drink together, play together, pray together and prey together, all the while carving up the world according to their own interests.


Two years ago, in a report entitled Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality, the American Political Science Association concluded that progress toward realizing American ideals of democracy "may have stalled, and even, in some areas, reversed." Privileged Americans "roar with a clarity and consistency that public officials readily hear and routinely follow" while citizens "with lower or moderate incomes are speaking with a whisper."

The following year, on the eve of President George W. Bush's second inauguration, the editors of The Economist, reporting on inequality in America, concluded that the United States "risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society."

As great wealth has accumulated at the top, the rest of society has not been benefiting proportionally. In 1960 the gap between the top 20% and the bottom 20% was thirtyfold. Now it is seventy-five fold. Thirty years ago the average annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives in the country was 30 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is 1000 times the pay of the average worker. A recent article in The Financial Times reports on a study by the American economist Robert J. Gordon, who finds "little long-term change in workers' share of U.S. income over the past half century." Middle-ranking Americans are being squeezed, he says, because the top ten percent of earners have captured almost half the total income gains in the past four decades and the top one percent have gained the most of all - "more in fact, than all the bottom 50 percent."

No wonder working men and women and their families are strained to cope with the rising cost of health care, pharmaceutical drugs, housing, higher education, and public transportation - all of which have risen faster in price than typical family incomes. The recent book, Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity , describes how "thirty zipcodes in America have become fabulously wealthy" while "whole urban and rural communities are languishing in unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, growing insecurity, and fear."

This is a profound transformation in a country whose DNA contains the inherent promise of an equal opportunity at "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" and whose collective memory resonates with the hallowed idea - hallowed by blood - of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." The great progressive struggles in our history have been waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich, share in the benefits of a free society. Yet today the public may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a secure retirement, and clean air and water, but there is no government "of, by, and for the people" to deliver on those aspirations. Instead, our elections are bought out from under us and our public officials do the bidding of mercenaries. Money is choking democracy to death. So powerfully has wealth shaped our political agenda that we cannot say America is working for all of America.

In the words of Louis Brandeis, one of the greatest of our Supreme Court justices: "You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy, but you cannot have both."


Some simple facts:

The cost of running for public office is skyrocketing. In 1996, $1.6 billion was spent on the Congressional and Presidential elections. Eight years later, that total had more than doubled, to $3.9 billion.

Thanks to our system of privately financed campaigns, millions of regular Americans are being priced out of any meaningful participation in democracy. Less than one half of one percent of all Americans made a political contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate in 2004. When the average cost of running and winning a seat in the House of Representatives has topped one million dollars, we can no longer refer to that August chamber as "The People's House." If you were thinking of running for Congress, do you have any idea where you would get the money to be a viable candidate?

At the same time that the cost of getting elected is exploding beyond the reach of ordinary people, the business of gaining access to and influence with our elected Representatives has become a growth industry. Six years ago, in his first campaign for President, George W. Bush promised he would "restore honor and integrity" to the government. Repeatedly, during his first campaign for President, he would raise his right hand and, as if taking an oath, tell voters that he would change how things were done in the nation's capitol. "It's time to clean up the toxic environment in Washington, DC," he would say. His administration would ask "not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves." Hardly.

Since Bush was elected the number of lobbyists registered to do business in Washington has more than doubled. That's 16,342 lobbyists in 2000 to 34,785 last year. Sixty-five lobbyists for every member of Congress. The amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by nearly 100% in that same period, according to The Washington Post, going up to anything from $20,000 to $40,000 a month. Starting salaries have risen to nearly $300,000 a year for the best-connected people, those leaving Congress or the administration.

The total spent per month by special interests wining, dining, and seducing federal officials is now nearly $200 million. Per month .

But numbers don't tell the whole story. There has been a qualitative change as well. With pro-corporate business officials running both the executive and legislative branches, lobbying that was once reactive has gone on the offense, seeking huge windfalls from public policy and public monies.

One example cited by The Washington Post: Hewlett-Packard, the California computer maker. The company nearly doubled its budget for contract lobbyists in 2004 and took on an elite lobbying firm as its Washington arm. Its goal was to pass Republican-backed legislation that would enable the company to bring back to the United States, at a dramatically lowered tax rate, as much as $14.5 billion in profit from foreign subsidiaries. The extra lobbying paid off. The legislation passed and Hewlett Packard can now reduce its share of the social contract. The company's director of government affairs was quite candid: "We're trying to take advantage of the fact that Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House." Whatever the company paid for the lobbying, the investment returned enormous dividends.

I want to point out here that I believe in equal opportunity muckraking. When I left Washington for journalism I did not leave behind my conviction that government should see to it that we have a more level playing field with one set of rules for everyone, but I did leave behind my partisan affections. Anyone who saw the documentary my team and I produced a few years ago on the illegal fund raising for Bill Clinton's re-election, knows I am no fan of the Democratic money machine that helped tear the party away from whatever roots it once had in the daily lives and struggles of working people, turning it into a junior partner of the Chamber of Commerce. I mean people like California's Congressman Tony Coelho, who in the 1980s realized that Congressional Democrats could milk the business community for money if they promised to "pay for play." I mean people like Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee Chairman, who gave Bill Clinton the idea of renting the Lincoln bedroom out to donors, and who did such a good job raising big money for the Democrats that by the end of his reign, Democrats had fewer small donors than the Republicans and more fat cats writing them million-dollar checks.

But let's be realistic here. When the notorious Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he answered, "Because there is where the money is." If I seem to be singling out the Republicans, it's for one reason: that's where the power is. They own the government lock, stock, and barrel. Once they gained control of the House of Representatives in 1994, their self-proclaimed revolution has gone into overdrive with their taking of the White House in 2000 and the Senate in 2002. Their revolution soon became a cash cow and Washington a one party state ruled by money.

Look back at the bulk of legislation passed by Congress in the past decade: an energy bill which gave oil companies huge tax breaks at the same time that Exxon Mobil just posted $36 in profits in 2005 and our gasoline and home heating bills are at an all-time high; a bankruptcy "reform" bill written by credit card companies to make it harder for poor debtors to escape the burdens of divorce or medical catastrophe; the deregulation of the banking, securities and insurance sectors which led to rampant corporate malfeasance and greed and the destruction of the retirement plans of millions of small investors; the deregulation of the telecommunications sector which led to cable industry price gouging and an undermining of news coverage; protection for rampant overpricing of pharmaceutical drugs; and the blocking of even the mildest attempt to prevent American corporations from dodging an estimated $50 billion in annual taxes by opening a PO Box in an off-shore tax haven like Bermuda or the Cayman islands.

In every case the pursuit of this legislation was driven by big money. Our public representatives, the holders of our trust, need huge sums to finance their campaigns, especially to pay for television advertising, and men and women who have mastered the money game have taken advantage of that weakness in our democracy to systematically sell it off to the highest bidders.

Let's start with the "K Street Project." K Street is the Wall Street of lobbying, the address of many of Washington's biggest lobbying firms. The K Street Project was the brainchild of Tom DeLay and Grover Norquist, the right wing strategist who famously said that his goal is to shrink government so that it can be "drowned in a bathtub." This, of course, would render it impotent to defend ordinary people against the large economic forces - the so-called free market - that Norquist and his pals believe should be running America. Tom DeLay, meanwhile, was a small businessman from Sugar Land, Texas, who ran a pest extermination business before he entered politics. He hated the government regulators who dared to tell him that some of the pesticides he used were dangerous - as, in fact, they were. He got himself elected to the Texas legislature at a time the Republicans were becoming the majority in the once-solid Democratic south, and his reputation for joining in the wild parties around the state capital in Austin earned him the nickname "Hot Tub Tom." But early in his political career, and with exquisite timing and the help of some videos from the right wing political evangelist, James Dobson, Tom DeLay found Jesus and became a full-fledged born again Christian. He would later humbly acknowledge that God had chosen him to restore America to its biblical worldview. "God," said Tom DeLay, "has been walking me through an incredible journey...God is using me, all the time, everywhere...God is training me. God is working with me...." Yes, indeed: God does work in mysterious ways.

In addition to finding Jesus, Tom DeLay also discovered a secular ally to serve his ambitions. He found out the power of money to power his career. "Money is not the root of all evil in politics," DeLay once said. "In fact, money is the lifeblood of politics." By raising more than 2 million dollars from lobbyists and business groups and distributing the money to dozens of Republican candidates in 1994, the year of the Republican breakthrough in the House, DeLay bought the loyalty of many freshmen legislators and got himself elected Majority Whip, the number three man in Newt Gingrich's "Gang of Seven" who ran the House. Here's how they ran it: On the day before the Republicans formally took control of Congress on January 3, 1995, DeLay met in his office with a coterie of lobbyists from some of the biggest companies in America. The journalists Michael Weisskopf and David Maraniss report that "the session inaugurated an unambiguous collaboration of political and commercial interests, certainly not uncommon in Washington but remarkable this time for the ease and eagerness with which these allies combined."

DeLay virtually invited them to write the Republican agenda. What they wanted first was "Project Relief" -- a wide-ranging moratorium on regulations that had originally been put into place for the health and safety of the public. For starters, they wanted "relief" from labor standards that protected workers from the physical injuries of repetitive work. They wanted "relief' from tougher rules on meat inspection. And they wanted "relief" from effective monitoring of hazardous air pollutants. Scores of companies were soon gorging on Tom DeLay's generosity, adding one juicy and expensive tid-bit after another to the bill. According to Weisskopf and Maraniss, on the eve of the debate 20 major corporate groups advised lawmakers that "this was a key vote, one that would be considered in future campaign contributions." On the day of the vote lobbyists on Capitol Hill were still writing amendments on their laptops and forwarding them to House leaders.

The Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, famously told the lobbyists: "If you are going to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules." Tom DeLay became his enforcer.

The rules were simple and blunt. Contribute to Republicans only. Hire Republicans only. When the electronics industry ignored the warning and chose a Democratic Member of Congress to run its trade association, DeLay played so rough - pulling from the calendar a bill that the industry had worked on two years, aimed at bringing most of the world in alignment with U.S. copyright law - that even the House Ethics Committee, the watchdog that seldom barks and rarely bites, stirred itself to rebuke him - privately, of course.

DeLay wasn't fazed. Not only did he continue to make sure the lobbying jobs went to Republicans, he also saw to it that his own people got a lion's share of the best jobs. At least 29 of his former employees landed major lobbying positions - the most of any Congressional office. The journalist John Judis found that together ex-DeLay people represent around 350 firms, including thirteen of the biggest trade associations, most of the energy companies, the giants in finance and technology, the airlines, auto makers, tobacco companies, and the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies. When tobacco companies wanted to block the FDA from regulating cigarettes, they hired DeLay's man. When the pharmaceutical companies - Big Pharma - wanted to make sure companies wouldn't be forced to negotiate cheaper prices for drugs, they hired six of Tom DeLay's team, including his former chief of staff. The machine became a blitzkrieg, oiled by campaign contributions that poured in like a gusher.

Watching as DeLay, with the approval of the House leadership, become the virtual dictator of Capitol Hill, I was reminded of the card shark in Texas who said to his prey, "Now play the cards fair, Reuben, I know what I dealt you." Tom DeLay and his cronies were stacking the deck. They centralized in their own hands the power to write legislation. Drastic revisions to major bills were often written at night, with lobbyists hovering over them, then rushed through as "emergency measures," giving members as little as half an hour to consider what they may be voting on.

The Democratic minority was locked out of conference committees where the House and Senate are supposed to iron out their differences with both parties in the loop. The Republican bosses even took upon themselves the power to rewrite a bill in secrecy and move it directly to a vote without any other hearings or public review.

Sometimes this meant overruling what the majority of House members really wanted. Consider what happened with the bill to provide Medicare prescription drug coverage, as analyzed by Robert Kuttner in The American Prospect. As the measure was coming to a vote, a majority of the full House was sympathetic to allowing cheaper imports from Canada and to giving the government the power to negotiate wholesale drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. But DeLay and his cronies were working on behalf of the big pharmaceutical companies and would have none of it. So they made sure there would be no amendments on the floor. They held off the final roll call a full three hours - well after midnight - in order to strong-arm members who wanted to vote against the bill.

It was not a pretty sight out there on the floor of the House. At one point DeLay marched over to one reluctant Republican - Representative Nick Smith - who opposed the Medicare bill - and attempted to change his mind. Smith, who was serving his final term in office, later alleged that he was offered a bribe - $100,000 for his son's campaign to succeed him. When he subsequently retracted his accusation, the House Ethics Committee looked into the charges and countercharges and wound up admonishing both Smith and DeLay, who admitted that he had offered to endorse Smith's son in exchange for Smith's support but that no money or bribe were involved. Timothy Noah of has mused about what DeLay's endorsement would nonetheless have meant in later campaign contributions if Smith had gone along. While the report of the ethics committee never did find out the true story, Noah asks: "Who did whisper '$100,000' in Smith's ear? The report is full of plausible suspects, including DeLay himself, but it lacks any evidence on this crucial finding. You get the feeling the authors would prefer to forget this mystery ever existed."

There are no victimless crimes in politics. The price of corruption is passed on to you. What came of all these shenanigans was a bill that gave industry what it wanted and gave taxpayers the shaft. The bill covers only a small share of drug expenses. It has a major gap in coverage - the so-called 'donut hole.' It explicitly forbids beneficiaries from purchasing private coverage to fill in the gap and explicitly forbids the federal government from bargaining for lower drug prices. More than one consumer organization has estimated that most seniors could end up paying even more for prescription drugs than before the bill passed.

Furthermore, despite these large flaws the cost of the bill is horrendous - between 500 billion and 1 trillion dollars in its first ten years. The chief actuary for Medicare calculated a realistic estimate of what the bill would cost, but he later testified before Congress that he was forbidden from releasing the information by his boss, Thomas Scully, the head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who was then negotiating for a lucrative job with the health care industry. Sure enough, hardly had the prescription drug bill become law than Scully went to work for the largest private equity investor in health care and at a powerful law firm focusing on health care and regulatory matters. One is reminded of Senator Boies Penrose. Back in the first Gilded Age, Penrose was a United States senator from Pennsylvania who had been put and kept in office by the railroad tycoons and oil barons. He assured the moguls: "I believe in the division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass laws under which you make money... and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money." Gilded Ages - then and now - have one thing in common: Audacious and shameless people for whom the very idea of the public trust is a cynical joke.

Tom DeLay was elected to Congress by the ordinary people of Sugar Land, Texas. They had the right to expect him to represent them. This expectation is the very soul of democracy. We can't all govern - not even tiny, homogenous Switzerland practices pure democracy. So we Americans came to believe our best chance of responsible government lies in obtaining the considered judgments of those we elect to represent us. Having cast our ballots in the sanctity of the voting booth with its assurance of political equality, we go about our daily lives expecting the people we put in office to weigh the competing interests and decide to the best of their ability what is right.

Instead, they have given the American people reason to believe the conservative journalist P.J. O'Rourke was right when he described Congress as "a parliament of whores."

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 70% of Americans believe lobbyists bribing members of Congress is the way things work. Fifty seven percent think at least half of the members of Congress accept bribes or gifts that affect their votes. A Fox News poll reported that 65% believe most elected officials in Washington make policy decisions or take actions on the basis of campaign contributions. Findings like these underscore the fact that ordinary people believe their bonds with democracy are not only stretched but sundered.

You see the breach clearly with Tom DeLay. As he became the king of campaign fundraising, the Associated Press writes, "He began to live a lifestyle his constituents back in Sugar Land would have a hard time ever imagining." Big corporations such as R.J. Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Reliant, El Paso and Dynegy provided private jets to take him to places of luxury most Americans have never seen - places with "dazzling views, warm golden sunsets, golf, goose-down comforters, marble bathrooms and balconies overlooking the ocean." The AP reports that various organizations - campaign committees, political action committees, even a children's charity established by DeLay - paid over $1 million on hotels, restaurants, golf resorts and corporate jets in DeLay's behalf: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts (the Ritz Carlton in Jamaica, the Prince Hotel in Hawaii, the Michelangelo in New York, the Phoenician in Scottsdale, the El Conquistador in Puerto Rico, where villas average $1,300 a night); 100 flights aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists; and 500 meals at fancy restaurants, some averaging $200 for a dinner for two. There was even a $2,896 shopping spree at a boutique on Florida's Amelia Island offering "gourmet cookware, sabbatier cutlery and gadgets for your every need."

DeLay was a man on the move and on the take. But he needed help to sustain the cash flow. He found it in a fellow right wing ideologue named Jack Abramoff. Abramoff personifies the Republican money machine of which DeLay with the blessing of the House leadership was the major domo. It was Abramoff who helped DeLay raise those millions of dollars from campaign donors that bought the support of other politicians and became the base for an empire of corruption. DeLay praised Abramoff as "one of my closest friends." Abramoff, in turn, told a convention of college Republicans, "Thank God Tom DeLay is majority leader of the house. Tom DeLay is who all of us want to be when we grow up."

Just last month Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, a spectacular fall for a man whose rise to power began 25 years ago with his election as Chairman of the College Republicans. Despite its innocuous name, the organization became a political attack machine for the Far Right and a launching pad for younger conservatives on the make. "Our job," Abramoff, then 22 years old, wrote after his first visit to the Reagan White House, "is to remove liberals from power permanently [from] student newspaper and radio stations, student governments, and academia." Karl Rove had once held the same job as chairman. So did Grover Norquist, who ran Abramoff's campaign. A youthful $200-a-month intern named Ralph Reed was at their side. These were the rising young stars of the conservative movement who came to town to lead a revolution and stayed to run a racket. They reeked piety. Like DeLay, who had proclaimed himself God's messenger, Ralph Reed found Jesus, was born again, and wound up running Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, landing on the cover of Time as "the Right Hand of God." Reportedly after seeing "Fiddler on the Roof" Abramoff became an Orthodox religious Jew who finagled fake awards as "Scholar of Biblical and American History," "Distinguished Bible Scholar" (from an apparently non-existent organization), the "Biblical Mercantile Award" allegedly from the Cascadian Business Institute through which money was funded for DeLay's famous visit to a plush Scottish golf club, and the national order of merit from the USA Foundation, whose chairman was ... Jack Abramoff.

It is impossible to treat all the schemes and scams this crowd concocted to subvert democracy in the name of God and greed. But thanks to some superb reporting from, The Associated Press, and Knight-Ridder, among others, we can touch on a few.

Abramoff made his name, so to speak, representing Indian tribes with gambling interests. As his partner he hired a DeLay crony named Michael Scanlon. Together they would bilk half a dozen Indian tribes who hired them to protect their tribal gambling interests from competition. What they had to offer, of course, was their well-known connections to the Republican power structure, including members of Congress, friends at the White House (Abramoff's personal assistant became Karl Rove's personal assistant), Christian Right activists like Ralph Reed, and right wing ideologues like Grover Norquist (according to The Texas Observer, two lobbying clients of Abramoff paid $25,000 to Norquist's organization - Americans for Tax Reform - for a lunch date and meeting with President Bush in May 2001.)

Abramoff and Scanlon came up with one scheme they called "Gimme Five": Abramoff would refer tribes to Scanlon for grassroots public relations work, and Scanlon would then kick back about 50% to Abramoff, all without the tribes' knowledge. Before it was over the tribes had paid them $82 million dollars, much of it going directly into Abramoff's and Scanlon's pockets. And that doesn't count the thousands more that Abramoff directed the tribes to pay out in campaign contributions.

Some of the money found its way into an outfit called the Council of Republicans for Environment Advocacy (CREA), founded by Gale Norton before she became Interior Secretary, the cabinet position most responsible for Indian gaming rights (as well as oil and gas issues, public lands and parks, and something else we'll get to in a moment).

Some of the money went to so-called charities set up by Abramoff and DeLay that filtered money for lavish trips for members of Congress and their staff, as well as salaries for Congressional family members and DeLay's pet projects. And some of the money found its way to the righteous folks of the Christian Right. One who had his hand out was Ralph Reed, the religious right's poster boy against gambling. "We believe gambling is a cancer on the American body politic," Reed had said. "It is stealing food from the mouths of children ... (and) turning wives into widows." When he resigned from the Christian Coalition (just as it was coming under federal investigation and slipping into financial arrears), Reed sought a cut of the lucre flowing to Abramoff and Scanlon. He sent Abramoff an email: "Now that I am leaving electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts ... I'm counting of you to help me with some contacts."

Abramoff came through. According to Susan Schmidt and R. Jeffrey Smith, he and Scanlon paid Reed some $4 million to whip up Christian opposition to gambling initiatives that could cut into the profits of Jack Abramoff's clients. Reed called in some of the brightest stars in the Christian firmament - Pat Robertson, Jerry Fawell, James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly - to participate in what became a ruse in Abramoff's behalf: They would oppose gambling on religious and moral grounds in strategic places (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama) at decisive moments when competitive challenges threatened Abramoff's. Bogus Christian fronts were part of the strategy. Baptist preachers in Texas rallied to Reed's appeals. Unsuspecting folks in Louisiana heard the voice of God on radio - with Jerry Fawell and Pat Robertson doing the honors - thundering against a riverboat gambling scheme, which one of Abramoff's clients feared would undermine its advantage. Reed even got James Dobson, whose nationwide radio "ministry" reaches millions of people, to deluge phone lines at the Interior Department and White House with calls from indignant Christians.

In 1999 Abramoff arranged for the Mississippi Choctaws, who were trying to stave off competition from other tribes, to contribute over $1 million to Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, which then passed the money along to the Alabama Christian Coalition and to another anti-gambling group Reed had duped into aiding the cause. It is unclear how much these Christian soldiers, "marching as to war," knew about the true purpose of their crusade, but Ralph Reed knew all along that his money was coming from Abramoff. The emails between the two men read like Elmer Gantry.

It gets worse.

Some of Abramoff's money from lobbying went to start a non-profit organization called the U.S. Family Network. Nice name, yes? An uplifting all-American name, like so many others that fly the conservative banner in Washington. Tom DeLay wrote a fundraising letter in which he described the U.S. Family Network as "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control." Fund raising appeals warned that the American family "is being attacked from all sides: crime, drugs, pornography... and gambling." So help me, I'm not making this up. You can read R. Jeffrey's Smith mind-boggling account of it on the Washington Post website, where he writes that the organization did no discernable grassroots organizing and its money came from business groups with no demonstrated interest in the "moral fitness" agenda that was the network's professed aim.

Let's call it what it was: a scam - one more cog in the money-laundering machine controlled by DeLay and Abramoff. A former top assistant founded the organization. It bought a townhouse just three blocks from DeLay's Congressional quarters and provided him with fancy free office space where he would go to raise money. DeLay's wife also got a sizeable salary. But that's the least of it.

Working with Abramoff through a now-defunct law firm in London and an obscure off-shore company in the Bahamas, Russian oil and gas executives were using the U.S. Family Network to funnel money to influence the majority leader of the House of Representatives - yes, that chamber of American government once known as "The People's House." Our witness for this is the Christian pastor who served as the titular president of the U.S. Family Network, the Reverend Christopher Geeslin. He told The Washington Post that the founder of the organization, the former DeLay aide, told him that a million dollars was passed through from sources in Russia who wanted DeLay's support for legislation enabling the International Monetary Fund to bail out the faltering Russian economy without demanding the country raise taxes on its energy industry. As Molly Ivins pointed out in a recent column, right on cue, DeLay found his way onto Fox News Sunday to argue the Russian position. That same titular head of the U.S. Family Network, the Christian pastor, said DeLay's former chief of staff also told him, "This is the way things work in Washington."

This is the way things work in Washington.

Twenty five years ago Grover Norquist had said that "What Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs in Washington. Then this will be a different town."

Well, they got what they needed, and the arc of the conservative takeover of government has now been completed. As Abramoff had once said his goal was to banish liberals from college campuses, and later that "All of my political work is driven by philosophical interests, not by the desire to gain wealth," now his intentions, as he admitted to Michael Crowley of The New York Times, were "to push the Republicans on K Street to be more helpful to the conservative movement." Money, politics, and ideology became one and the same in a juggernaut of power that crushed everything in sight, including core conservative principles.

Here we come to the heart of darkness.

One of Abramoff's first big lobbying clients was the Northern Marianas Islands in the Pacific. After World War II the Marianas became a trusteeship of the United Nations, administered by the U.S. Government under the stewardship of the Interior Department. We should all remember that thousands of Marines died there, fighting for our way of life and our freedoms. Today, these islands are a haven for tourists - first-class hotels, beautiful beaches, championship golf course. But there is a dark side. The islands were exempted from U.S. labor and immigration laws, and over the years tens of thousands of people, primarily Chinese, mostly women, were brought there as garment workers. These so-called "guest workers" found themselves living in crowded barracks in miserable conditions. The main island, Saipan, became known as America's biggest sweatshop.

In 1998 a government report found workers there living in substandard conditions, suffering severe malnutrition and health problems and subjected to unprovoked acts of violence. Many had signed "shadow contracts" which required them to pay up to $7000 just to get the job. They also had to renounce their claim to basic human rights, including political and religious activities, socializing and marrying. If they protested, they could be summarily deported. As Greg Mcdonald wrote in The Houston Chronicle, the garments produced on Saipan were manufactured for American companies from tariff-free Asian cloth and shipped duty- and quota-free - to the United States. Some of the biggest names in the retail clothing industry - Levi Strauss, The Gap, J. Crew, Eddie Bauer, Reebok, Polo, Tommy Helfiger, Nordstrom's, Lord and Taylor, Jones New York, and Liz Claiborne - had been able to slap a "made in the USA" label on the clothes and import them to America, while paying the workers practically nothing. When these scandalous conditions began to attract attention, the sweatshop moguls fought all efforts at reform. Knowing that Jack Abramoff was close to Tom DeLay, they hired him to lobby for the islands. Conservative members of Congress lined up as Abramoff's team arranged for them to visit the islands on carefully guided junkets. Conservative intellectuals and journalists, for hire at rates considerably above what the women on the islands were making, also signed up for expense-free trips to the Marianas. They flew first-class, dined at posh restaurants, slept in comfort at the beachfront hotel, and returned to write and speak of the islands as "a true free market success story" and "a laboratory of liberty."

Abramoff took Tom DeLay and his wife there, too. DeLay practically swooned. He said the Marianas "represented what is best about America." He called them "my Galapagos" - "a perfect petri dish of capitalism."

These fellow travelers - conservative members of Congress, their staffs and their lapdogs in the rightwing press and think tanks - became a solid phalanx against any and all attempts to provide the workers on the islands with a living wage and decent living conditions. For instance, when a liberal California Democrat, George Miller, and a conservative Alaskan Senator, Frank Murkowski, indignant at the "appalling conditions," wanted to enact a bill to raise minimum wages on the islands and at least prevent summary deportation of the workers, DeLay and Abramoff stopped them cold. As Representative Miller told it, "They killed my reform bill year after year. And even when an immigration reform bill by Senator Frank Murkowski, a Republican, was approved by the full Senate, they blocked it repeatedly in the House." After the 2000 election, when the spoils of victory were being divided up, Abramoff got himself named to the Bush transition team for the Interior Department. He wanted to make sure the right people wound up overseeing his clients, the Marianas. He enlisted Reed, who said he would raise the matter with Rove, to stop at least one appointment to Interior that might prove troublesome. Small wonder that about this time Reed wrote an email to Enron's top lobbyist touting his pal Abramoff as "arguably the most influential and effective gop lobbyist in congress. I share several clients with him and have yet to see him lose a battle. He also is very close to DeLay and could help enormously on that front. raised $ for bush...he [sic] assistant is Susan Ralston [who would become Rove's assistant.]"

For his services to the Marianas Jack Abramoff was paid nearly $10 million dollars, including the fees he charged for booking his guests on the golf courses and providing them copies of Newt Gingrich's book. One of the sweatshop moguls with whom Abramoff was particularly close contributed half a million dollars to - you guessed it - the U. S. Family Network that laundered money from Russian oligarchs to Tom DeLay.

To this day, workers on the Marianas are still denied the federal minimum wage while working long hours for subsistence income in their little "petri dish of capitalism" - "America at its best." Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were now in sync. George W. Bush had created his own version of the K Street Project. Remember how he emerged from the crowded field of Republican candidates in early 1999 and literally blew several of them out of the water? He did so by drowning his opponents with money. In just his first six months of fundraising, Bush collected some $36 million - nine times more than his nearest opponent, John McCain. The money came from the titans of America business and lobbying who understood their contributions would be rewarded. You've heard of the Pioneers and Rangers - people who raised at least $100,000 and $200,000 for Bush. Among them were people like Tom DeLay's brother, also a lobbyist; the CEO of Enron, Kenneth ("Kenny Boy") Lay; and hundreds of executives from the country's banks, investment houses, oil and gas companies, electric utilities, and other companies.

While Tom DeLay kept a ledger on K Street, ranking lobbyists as friendly and unfriendly, the Bush campaign gave every one of his Pioneers and Rangers a tracking number, making sure to know who was bringing in the bucks and where they were coming from. In May of 1999 the trade association for the electric utility industry sent a letter to potential contributors on Bush campaign stationery. He told his colleagues that Bush's campaign managers "have stressed the importance of having our industry incorporate the tracking number in your fundraising does ensure that our industry is credited and that your progress is listed..."

The bounty was waiting. A score of Pioneers and Rangers were paid off with ambassadorships. At least 37 were named to post-election transition teams, where they had a major say in selecting political appointees at key regulatory positions across the government. Remember the California energy crisis, when Enron traders boasted of gouging grandmothers to drive up the prices for energy? Well, Enron's Kenneth Lay had been Bush's biggest campaign funder over the years and what he asked now as a pay-off was appointment to the Energy Department transition team. This is how Enron's boss got to name two of the five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who looked the other way while Enron rigged California's energy prices and looted billions right out from the pockets and pocketbooks of California's citizens.

There are, as I said, no victimless crimes in politics. The cost of corruption is passed on to you. When the government of the United States falls under the thumb of the powerful and privileged, regular folks get squashed. This week I visited for the first time the Museum of the Presidio in San Francisco. From there American troops shipped out to combat in the Pacific. Many never came back. On the walls of one corridor are photographs of some of those troops, a long way from home. Looking at them, I wondered: Is this what those Marines died for on the Marianas - for sweatshops, the plunder of our public trust, the corruption of democracy? Government of the Abramoffs, by the DeLays, and for the people who bribe them?

I don't think so.

But this crowd in charge has a vision sharply at odds with the American people. They would arrange Washington and the world for the convenience of themselves and the transnational corporations that pay for their elections. In the words of Al Meyeroff, the Los Angeles attorney who led a successful class action suit for the workers on Saipan, the people who now control the U.S. Government today want "a society run by the powerful, oblivious to the weak, free of any oversight, enjoying a cozy relationship with government, and thriving on crony capitalism."

America as their petri dish - the Marianas, many times over.

This is an old story and a continuing struggle. A century ago Theodore Roosevelt said the central fact of his time was that corporations had become so dominant they would chew up democracy and spit it out. His cousin Franklin Roosevelt warned that a government of money was as much to be feared as a government by mob. One was a progressive Republican, the other a liberal Democrat. Their sentiments were echoed by an icon of the conservative movement, Barry Goldwater, in 1987:

"The fact that liberty depended on honest elections was of the utmost importance to the patriots who founded our nation and wrote the Constitution. They knew that corruption destroyed the prime requisite of Constitutional liberty, an independent legislature free from any influence other than that of the people...representative government assumes that elections will be controlled by the citizenry at large, not by those who give the most money. Electors must believe their vote counts. Elected officials must owe their allegiance to the people, not to their own wealth or to the wealth of interest groups who speak only for the selfish fringes of the whole community."


I have painted a bleak picture of democracy today. I believe it is a true picture. But it is not a hopeless picture. Something can be done about it. Organized people have always had to take on organized money. If they had not, blacks would still be three-fifths of a person, women wouldn't have the vote, workers couldn't organize, and children would still be working in the mines. Our democracy today is more real and more inclusive than existed in the days of the Founders because time and again, the people have organized themselves to insist that America become "a more perfect union."

It is time to fight again. These people in Washington have no right to be doing what they are doing. It's not their government, it's your government. They work for you. They're public employees - and if they let us down and sell us out, they should be fired. That goes for the lowliest bureaucrat in town to the senior leaders of Congress on up to the President of the United States.

They would have you believe this is just "a lobbying scandal." They would have you think that if they pass a few nominal reforms, put a little more distance between the politician and the lobbyist, you will think everything is okay and they can go back to business as usual. They're trying it now. Just look at Congressman John Boehner, elected to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader. Today he speaks the language of reform, but ten years ago Boehner was handing out checks from the tobacco executives on the floor of the House. He's been a full player in the K Street Project and DeLay's money machine, holding weekly meetings with some of the most powerful lobbyists in the Speaker's suite at the Capitol. He has thought nothing of hopping on corporate jets or cruising Caribbean during winter breaks with high-powered lobbyists. Moreover, the man Boehner beat to succeed DeLay - Congressman Roy Blunt - has been elected to DeLay's first job as Majority Whip despite being deeply compromised by millions upon millions of dollars raised from the same interests that bought off DeLay.

And what now of DeLay? He's under indictment for money laundering inTexas and had to resign as Majority Leader. But the other day the party bosses in Congress gave him a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee where big contributors get their rewards. And - are you ready for this? - they put him on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department which is investigating the Abramoff scandal, including Abramoff's connections to DeLay.

Business as usual. The usual rot. The power of arrogance.

You may say, see? These forces can't be defeated. They're too rich, they're too powerful, they're too entrenched.

But look at what has happened in Connecticut, one of the most corrupt states in the union. Rocked by multiple scandals that brought down a state treasurer, a state senator, and the governor himself with convictions of bribery, tax evasion, and worse, the people finally had enough. Although many of the parties had to be forced, kicking and screaming to do it, last December the legislature passed clean money reform and the new governor signed it into law. The bill bans campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors and makes Connecticut the very first state in the nation where the legislature and governor approved full public funding for their own races.

Connecticut isn't the only place where the link between public officials and private campaign contributions has been broken. Both Arizona and Maine offer full public financing of statewide and legislative races. New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont have clean money systems for some races. The cities of Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico recently approved full public financing for citywide races.

In these places, candidates for public office - executive, legislative, and in some cases judicial - have the option of running on a limited and equal grant of full public funding, provided they take little or no private contributions. To qualify they have to pass a threshold by raising a large number of small contributions from voters in their district. The system allows candidates to run competitive campaigns for office even if they do not have ties to well-heeled donors or big money lobbyists, a near impossibility when public elections are privately funded.

In places where clean elections are law, we see more competition for legislative seats and a more diverse group of people running for office. In David Sirota's words, they "are encouraged to run on their ideas, their convictions and their integrity instead of on how effectively they can shake down the big money." And there are policy results as well. In Arizona, one of the first acts of Governor Janet Napolitano, elected under the state's public financing program, was to institute reforms establishing low-cost prescription drug subsidies for seniors. Compare that to the Medicare debacle going on at the national level. In Maine, where clean elections has been in place since 2000, there have also been advances in providing low cost pharmaceutical drugs for residents, and in making sure that every state resident has medical coverage.

Why? Because the politicians can do what's right, not what they're paid to do by big donors. They, not the lobbyists, write the legislation. As one blogger put it this past weekend, instead of dialing for dollars, they might have time even to read bills like 'The Patriot Act' and find the small print establishing a secret police. California may soon follow Connecticut. Calling for the political equivalent of electroshock therapy, the Los Angeles Times recently urged Californians: "Forget half-measures. The cure is voluntary public financing of election campaigns." Already the Clean Money and Fair Elections Bill has passed the state assembly and is headed for the senate. Check it out at Think about this: Californians could buy back their elected representatives at a cost of about $5 or $6 per California resident. Nationally we could buy back our Congress and the White House with full public financing for about $10 per taxpayer per year. You can check this out on the website Public Campaign. []

Public funding won't solve all the problems. There's no way to legislate truly immoral people from abusing our trust. But it would go a long way to breaking the link between big donors and public officials and to restoring democracy to the people. Until we offer qualified candidates a different source of funding for their campaigns - "clean," disinterested, accountable public money - the selling of America will go on. From scandal to scandal.

The people out across the country on the front lines of this fight have brought the message down to earth, in plain language and clear metaphors. If a player sliding into home plate reached into his pocket and handed the umpire $1000 before he made the call, what would we call that? A bribe. And if a lawyer handed a judge $1000 before he issued a ruling, what do we call that? A bribe. But when a lobbyist or CEO sidles up to a member of Congress at a fundraiser or in a skybox and hands him a check for $1000, what do we call that? A campaign contribution.

Representative Barney Frank likes to say of Congress: "We are the only people in the world required by law to take large amounts of money from strangers and then act as if it has no effect on our behavior."

What law is he talking about? The unwritten law that says your Congressman has to raise $2000 per day from the day he or she is sworn in to the next election days - weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Eve and the Fourth of July. As long as elected officials need that constant stream of cash, someone will run our country but it won't be you.

Even some business lobbyists are having second thoughts. One of them, Stanton Anderson, was recently quoted in Business Week: "As a conservative, I've always opposed government involvement. But it seems to me the real answer is federal financing of Congressional elections."

Mr. Anderson understand this isn't about a "few bad apples." This is about the system. We can change the system. But we have to believe democracy is worth fighting for.

Listen to what Theodore Roosevelt said one hundred years ago when he took on the political bosses and big money of his time for committing "treason to the people."

"We are standing for the great fundamental rights upon which all successful free government must be based. We are standing for elementary decency in politics. We are fighting for honesty against naked robbery. It is not a partisan issue; it is more than a political issue; it is a great moral issue. If we condone political theft, if we do not resent the kinds of wrong and injustice that injuriously affect the whole nation, not merely our democratic form of government but our civilization itself cannot endure."

We need that fighting spirit today - the tough, outraged and resilient spirit that knows we have been delivered a great and precious legacy, you and I - "government of, by and for the people" - and, by God we're going to pass it on.

Bill Moyers' long-time editorial colleague, Rebecca Wharton; assistant, Karen Kimball; and Public Campaign's Micah Sifry and Nancy Walzman contributed to this speech. Bill Moyers is the president of The Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, which gives financial support to

(c) 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

Back in the Regime-Change Business

Daniel Schorr
The Christian Science Monitor

Back in the Regime-Change Business

What with all the Cheney hullabaloo, you might not have noticed, but it looks as though the US government is getting back into the "regime change" business....

...Now, the Bush administration, viewing alarming developments in Iran and the possible development of a nuclear bomb, is squaring off for another effort at regime change, but it is no longer calling it that. The theory is that if Iran does eventually succeed in developing a nuclear weapon, it would be helpful if the government wielding that weapon were a bit friendlier. The administration is also concerned about Iran's taking the lead in bankrolling a Palestinian Hamas government.

The project to penetrate Iran surfaced when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applied to Congress for $75 million on top of an initial $10 million. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the idea was to confront the extremist policies of the Iranian regime and support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom. Money would be provided to Iranian labor unions and an around-the-clock broadcast service in Farsi would be inaugurated.

The secretary is on a tour of Arab countries in the Middle East this week to enlist their support in trying to contain Iran. The Bush administration believes - based on what, I do not know - that there is a substantial underground opposition to the radical new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in spite of his landslide election victory. Some American officials believe that Mr. Ahmadinejad's intemperate statements, like his threat to wipe Israel off the map, have not gone down well at home.

But, meanwhile, the extremist government in Tehran presses on with its nuclear plans. The talks this week in Moscow about enriching uranium for Iran in Russia have apparently gone nowhere, and they look more and more like a stalling tactic.

The Bush administration will need something tougher than promoting democracy in Iran if the regime is to be contained.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Indifference Über Alles

Justin Frank

Indifference Über Alles
Huffington Post

George Bush doesn't care who controls inspections at America's ports, as long as the deal benefits his family and friends. This fact seemed to wake up some of his blind Republican supporters, but comes as no surprise to seasoned Bush-watchers. Just think back to his indifferent reaction to the Hamas landslide last month.
Or remember Katrina. Or remember his response to being told - as if he didn't already know - that there weren't WMDs. Then there was his indifferent estimate of killed Iraqi citizens since the bombing started. I won't even mention "Kenny who?" or "I've had my picture taken with so many people; I don't remember Jack Abramoff". And we even remember the first example of his presidential indifference - ignoring the August 6, 2001 briefing that warned him that terrorists might attack our country by flying planes into buildings.

He is passionate about the things that matter to him: exercise, re-election, cutting brush, and giving jobs to his supporters. He cares deeply about tax cuts and speaking to hand-picked audiences. And he loves dressing up in military uniforms.

He is totally indifferent to things that matter to his employers - the American people. He refuses to attend military funerals or take seriously the environmental disaster looming large. He is nothing more than a child mocking parents who were indifferent to him, and using his position to mask his malevolent hatred of ordinary Americans, particularly the weak and powerless. Those citizens most of all remind him of the frightened and neglected boy inside. For George W. Bush has never been brave; never been free.

In the past five years an outstanding project has been developed called Media Matters - run by David Brock. He felt it was time to pay attention to what the media did, and didn't say, and about the facts it distorted or omitted. It was a clever name, double entendre well-taken. It inspired the once hidden but now public title summing up the entire Bush Administration - as the ranks of critics continues to swell: "Nothing Matters."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Secret Service agents say Cheney was drunk when he shot lawyer

Secret Service agents say Cheney was drunk when he shot lawyer
Feb 22, 2006, 07:35
Capitol Hill Blue

A written report from Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Dick Cheney when he shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington on a hunting outing two weeks ago says Cheney was "clearly inebriated" at the time of the shooting.

Agents observed several members of the hunting party, including the Vice President, consuming alcohol before and during the hunting expedition, the report notes, and Cheney exhibited "visible signs" of impairment, including slurred speech and erratic actions, the report said.
According to those who have read the report and talked with others present at the outing, Cheney was drunk when he gunned down his friend and the day-and-a-half delay in allowing Texas law enforcement officials on the ranch where the shooting occurred gave all members of the hunting party time to sober up.

We talked with a number of administration officials who are privy to inside information on the Vice President's shooting "accident" and all admit Secret Service agents and others saw Cheney consume far more than the "one beer' he claimed he drank at lunch earlier that day.

"This was a South Texas hunt," says one White House aide. "Of course there was drinking. There's always drinking. Lots of it."

Cheney has a long history of alcohol abuse, including two convictions of driving under the influence when he was younger. Doctors tell me that someone like Cheney, who is taking blood thinners because of his history of heart attacks, could get legally drunk now after consuming just one drink.

If Cheney was legally drunk at the time of the shooting, he could be guilty of a felony under Texas law and the shooting, ruled an accident by a compliant Kenedy County Sheriff, would be a prosecutable offense.

But we will never know for sure because the owners of the Armstrong Ranch, where the shooting occurred, barred the sheriff's department from the property on the day of the shooting and Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III agreed to wait until the next day to send deputies in to talk to those involved....

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It Was Not a Mistake When Dick Cheney Routed Around the Press

It Was Not a Mistake When Dick Cheney Routed Around the Press
Jay Rosen
Huffington Post

....From the Caller-Times it got to the Web, then the AP and CNN. And there you are: The American people were informed of the basic facts (though not at the speed journalists want) and Cheney did not have to meet questions from the press, an institution without power or standing in his world. "I thought that was the right call," Cheney said in his appearance on friendly Fox. "I still do."

He also said the furor among reporters is just jealousy at being scooped. "They didn't like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times. But it strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times is, especially for covering a major story in south Texas."

My friends, Dick Cheney did not make a mistake when he routed around the press. He followed procedure-- his procedure. As Bill Plante, White House reporter for CBS News said at Public Eye, "No other vice president in the White Houses I've covered has had the ability to write his own rules the way this one has. He operates in his own sphere, with the apparent acceptance of the president."

Cheney has long held the view that the powers of the presidency were dangerously eroded in the 1970s and 80s. The executive "lost" perogatives it needed to gain back for the global struggle with Islamic terror. "Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam both during the 70's served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," he said in December.

Some of that space was lost to the news media, and its demand to be informed about all aspects of the presidency, plus its sense of entitlement to the star interlocutor's role. Cheney opposes all that, whereas Fitzwater accepted most of it. That's why Fitz is appalled and Cheney is rather pleased with himself.

The people yelling questions at Scott McClellan in the briefing room, like the reporters in the Washington bureaus who cover the president, are in Cheney's calculations neither a necessary evil, nor a public good. They are an unnecessary evil and a public bad-- ex-influentials who can be disrespected without penalty.

The S.O.B. has to go

The S.O.B. has to go
Feb 21, 2006, 02:00
Capitol Hill Blue

Bonnie Erbe, a columnist whose work I respect, writes elsewhere on this web site today that President George W. Bush should be impeached for his many high crimes against the Constitution of the United States.

"The non-partisan polling firm Zogby International last month found that by a margin of 52 percent to 43 percent, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge's approval," Erbe says. "Well, there's no "if" about it anymore. The president approved warrantless wiretaps in 2002. Two years later, during a campaign appearance in Buffalo, N.Y. he volunteered he'd done nothing of the kind. That's called breaking the law and lying about it."
It has taken a while but the American people are coming around to realize what some of us have been saying for some time: George Bush is a serious threat to the future of this country and represents a clear and present danger to the peace and security of the United States of America.

We're not talking about some Presidential horn toad nailing an intern in the oval office. We're not even talking about a paranoid, power-mad President tapping the phones of the opposition party. We're talking about a concentrated effort to undermine the Constitution of the United States, subvert the laws of the nation and destroy the very foundations of this country.

Bush is a power-mad megalomaniac hell-bent on undermining the freedoms and civil liberties that once characterized this nation, a crazed despot who cares nothing for the truth, human decency or law.

He is more dangerous than Osama bin Laden and more corrupt than any President in modern history. He is, simply put, a threat who must be removed from office now by whatever legal means necessary to protect the safety of the nation.

Bonnie is a lady and her well-written, sanely-reasoned column should be read and heeded by all.

"Grassroots passion for impeachment prompted by this president's circumvention of Congress and the Constitution is what's driving growing public support," she says. "And America's transition from 'Bush fan' to 'Bush foe' is being ignored by the mainstream media."

Jonathan Turley is a constitutional law professor at George Washington University and also sees Bush as a threat to Democracy.

"President George W. Bush has claimed the authority to violate federal statutes when he believes it is necessary for the nation's security," Turley says. "Such a claim of authority would upset the delicate balance of power in our tripartite system of government and convert the Chief Executive into a type of maximum leader; the very scourge that led our Framers to form this Republic"

I'm neither as polite as Bonnie Erbe or as scholarly as Jonathan Turley. But agree with both of them without reservation.

The son-of-a-bitch has to go.

Monday, February 20, 2006

It is shaping up to be a very bad year for the GOP

It is shaping up to be a very bad year for the GOP
Simon Rosenberg
NDN Blog
February 19, 2006 01:54 PM

So, the President starts dropping just a few weeks after an ineffective State of the Union. In some polls he dips below 40 percent, truly dangerous territory. It seems like their years of bad governance has finally caught up with them. That the American people are focusing more on deeds, not words. But can the ruthless pols running the GOP these days turn this thing around and snatch a victory from what could be a near-certain defeat?

Looking at how the year is likely to unfold, it is very hard to see how they turn this thing around.

Let’s drill down a little.

Their strong and resolute leader gets no bounce from his State of the Union, and has now dropped below levels no one thought possible. News in recent days show that the many parallel criminal investigations into GOP leaders are gaining additional momentum, and will likely become a very big problem later this year. Their domestic policy advisor, the quarterback for any major new domestic initiative, resigns suddenly a few days after the State of the Union indicating deeper troubles inside the White House than is commonly understood. Bush's budget is declared dead on arrival by even Republican analysts.

The Medicare prescription drug rollout has been a disaster, with millions of seniors not getting their medicines. Millions who do have the benefit will be hitting the infamous "doughnut hole" for the first time in the months right before the election. Energy costs are more likely to rise than fall this year. Health care costs will continue to rise, further squeezing workers and corporations. The Republicans are deeply divided on the volatile immigration issue, and so far have allowed loony demagogues to define their position. Corporate pension troubles will mount. Economic forecasts predict that national economy will slow later this year.

Bad you say, but what about their ability to exploit their advantages on security issues to help turn the table on Democrats? But what can they point to here? The 9/11 Commission giving their efforts on homeland security Ds and Fs? The rise of terrorism across the world? The incredible failures of the Department of Homeland Security on Katrina? The rise of anti-Americanism throughout Latin America?

Iraq? Just in recent days the Administration lost another one in Iraq, with our candidate for Prime Minister losing to a more religious candidate.

Justin Frank: Saving Face

Justin Frank: Saving Face
Huffington Post

Many of us have struggled to make sense not just of the Cheney shooting incident, but of the secrecy surrounding it and the apathetic response of the American people – as well as that of Texas law enforcement agencies. The metaphor most meaningful for me – since, after all, the shooting has functioned as a kind of Rorschach test for the Left – is that 78- year-old Whittington stands for the 230-year-old United States: We have all been shot in the face by the Bush Administration.
And, like Whittington, we will survive.

Most Katrina victims survived (though there is not enough money to claim the bodies of those who did not, still buried inside the remains of their 9th Ward homes) and the 2006 Mardi Gras proceeds with gritty determination. Sure there are what the NYT calls “cracks” in that society: 19 schools running in stead of 117; 7 public defenders instead of 52; 2,000 hospital beds in stead of 5,000). But life in New Orleans goes on.

Civil liberties will survive: outspoken and courageous senators like Russ Feingold will continue to speak out against tyranny. And most private conversations will remain private. Since hardly any of us is a terrorist, having our phones tapped poses no palpable threat. The telephone and the Internet will survive.

The environment will survive despite the body blows it has been dealt: it still snows in America and more people than ever ski and snow-board. Polluted beaches still beckon vacationers. American powerhouses Ford and GM – despite having laid off about 60,000 workers – make sure our roads are still crowded by happy drivers. HOV lanes remain uncrowded despite drastic fuel costs.

The Middle East will survive unconscionable bombing and destruction: Iraq will eventually have some form of government. And, outside of three thousand dead soldiers, even the horribly maimed will survive. Some will walk again, and those who were not too emotionally traumatized may actually thrive.

Seniors will increase in number, surviving as most get their needed medications. And though there are 45 million Americans without health insurance, most of them remain healthy enough not to strain our health care system. The system works: life expectancy is greater than any time in human history.

But surviving was not enough for the founders of this nation – for people who shouted out “Give me liberty or give me death.” It was not enough for the authors of what even strict constructionists call our living Constitution. We have been shot in the face from close range by a dangerous and inhuman administration – an administration led by people so callous about human life and dignity as to turn our young into cannon fodder.

It is an administration that the day after 9/11 had the organizational wherewithal to round up the entire bin Laden family and whisk them away from our teeming shores, but turned its back on American citizens devastated by hurricanes and floods. We – all of us – have multiple wounds in our body politic, wounds that threaten our heart and soul.

Cheney: moral coward
(February 19, 2006 -- 04:51 PM EDT)

...This just isn't even up for debate. Until they were forced to switch course the party line was that Whittington screwed up by sneaking up behind the vice president.

About physical courage I don't know the answer. But all available evidence suggests that the Mr. Cheney is a man of deep moral cowardice. Makes a mistake and shoots his friend; blames the friend. Only he won't do it directly. So he gets underlings to do it for him. Forced to speak out publicly, he appears before a ringer-journalist guaranteed not to press uncomfortable questions.

It's all of a piece with the man's record. He's afraid of accountability. That's why he's such a fan of self-protecting secrecy. That's why he's big on smearing government whistle-blowers. It's really just two sides of the same coin. He's afraid of accountability. It's the same reason why he's such a notorious prevaricator -- lies to avoid accountability.

These are all the hallmarks of a moral coward.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bush team has largely written off New Orleans

Bush team has largely written off New Orleans
Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2006

And beyond the city, much of south Louisiana is threatened by the administration's unwillingness to pay for restoration of wetlands.

Jennifer Moses
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

BATON ROUGE, LA. - Though most of New Orleans resembles Nagasaki after the bomb, President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress appear to have all but forgotten about it. In his State of the Union address, the president mentioned New Orleans only briefly, and at a news conference five days earlier, he declared in reference to promised federal reconstruction funds, "I want to remind the people in that part of the world, $85 billion is a lot."

Unfortunately, nothing close to $85 billion has been spent, and that's because most of it is tied up with something called the Stafford Act, which restricts the use of federal money for precisely the kind of things that Louisiana needs to recover, particularly housing relief. It's like giving a kid a dollar to spend on anything he likes as long as it's broccoli. In the meantime, most members of Congress -- 87 percent of the House and 70 percent of the Senate -- haven't bothered to come on down to the Big Easy at all.

The devastation isn't about race, either: Though the Lower Ninth Ward, a largely low-income African-American neighborhood, was a favorite among the national press, every other area that wasn't on "high ground" got devastated as well. Pick any subgroup: White yuppies? Immigrant Asians? Wealthy blacks? Their former neighborhoods are now piles of rubble and mud, too.

With hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Mother Nature wiped out or critically damaged 45 percent of Louisiana's housing. As the president might say: "Forty-five percent is a lot."

At the same time -- and this is so pathetic that it makes you want to weep -- those residents who have returned to New Orleans are agonizing over the question of how best to project the city's image to strike a balance between begging mode (and declaring, quite rightly, that the city is a disaster area) and presenting their city as a place that's worth coming back to, investing in and visiting....

Responsibility yours, Cheney; stand up and take it

Responsibility yours, Cheney; stand up and take it
Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2006
Mike Leggett, Austin American-Statesman

... Hunters assume a huge responsibility every time they pick up a shotgun. For knowing whether a particular bird is a mallard hen or a mottled duck or whether it's a killdeer and not a mourning dove. (See previous presidential shootings.)

They also assume the responsibility for being as safe as possible and knowing where the gun is pointed.

When we slide a cartridge down the gullet of a shotgun, when we climb on a hunting truck with another, we're assuming the responsibility for being safe or admitting when we aren't. That's understood, whether the hunter is an assistant cashier at the drug store or the vice president of the United States.

All is not lost here, though. Cheney can use the opportunity to make a strong statement for hunting safety, for wearing hunter orange behind bird dogs, for honesty. It would mean a lot to youngsters, and to everyday guys who make the same mistake, that the vice president didn't try to shuffle the blame onto someone else.

Stand up. Take responsibility. Be a man. You shot a guy.

On a road to nowhere

On a road to nowhere
February 17, 2006
Block News Alliance
Capitol Hill Blue

If there is one thing that unites Americans, besides a reluctance to hunt with Dick Cheney, it's frustration over the nation's worsening traffic congestion.

Everywhere you go, people want to know how long it took you to get there.

That is followed by the inevitable sigh, a commiserating nod of the head and, "That's bad, but that's nothing compared with what I went through. Let me tell you. ..."

A peek into President Bush's proposed budget will not reassure you that the situation will improve. He wants to cut spending by the Department of Transportation.

The nation's infrastructure is crumbling, but outmoded highways and bridges are not slated for dramatic repairs or rebuilding. Mass transit simply is not on the White House radar screen.

The budget for Amtrak whacks $394 million out of rail spending and would wipe out a loan program aimed at fixing deteriorating rails.....

Traitorous bitches and bastards

Traitorous bitches and bastards
Posted at February 17, 2006 06:21 AM in The Rant .

Founder and Publisher
Capitol Hill Blue

Those bagpipes you hear playing in the background provide a much-needed funeral dirge for freedom, which died this week at the hands of the United States Congress.

Freedom has been on its deathbed for about five years now, mortally-wounded in the post-9/11 frenzy that put political expediency above the Constitution and gave paranoia supremacy over what used to be guarantees of individual rights for all Americans.

Freedom went on the endangered-species list in the hours following the 9/11 attacks when President George W. Bush turned to attorney general John Ashcroft and said "John, take whatever steps you feel are necessary to make sure something like this never, ever, happens again."

Turning a zealot like Ashcroft loose on the Constitution is like giving Bill Clinton the keys to a sorority house. Someone is going to get screwed big-time and in this case it was, collectively, the whole concept of freedom and individual rights in this country.

Ashcroft crafted his personal vision of a new America, one ruled by a police state reporting to a totalitarian government, and called it the USA Patriot Act. It sailed through a shell-shocked Congress like a fraternity on a panty raid and gave Bush and his gang of thugs all they needed to create a new American Gestapo, detaining this nation's citizens without due course, spying on Americans without warrants and setting the country on a headlong rush to ruin.

The abuses of the Patriot Act proved so onerous that even firebrand conservatives like Bob Barr joined forces with uber-liberals like the American Civil Liberties Union to fight it....

Thursday, February 16, 2006

POMBO-PALOOZA - National Parks for Sale

February 15, 2006
Kevin Drum
....Let's take a moment to switch gears from one Republican's unfortunate brush with the great outdoors to another's. Today's featured GOP outdoorsman, recently highlighted on our list of "little Tom DeLays," is congressman Richard Pombo, who decided to take a tour of America's national parks back in 2003. Was this because Pombo, who chairs the House Resources Committee, is a latter day John Muir? Not quite. As the Wall Street Journal describes it, his tour was more likely a bit of prep work for his subsequent proposal to sell off "15 national parks, monuments, preserves and historical sites, along with naming rights for visitors' centers and hiking trails, to corporate bidders."

Charming, no? But whether for good or ill, suspicious readers might be wondering if this was really a research trip at all. After all, it happened in August 2003, Pombo rented an RV for his inspection tour, and he took his family along. Sounds rather vacation-like, doesn't it? Especially since Pombo himself described it as a vacation at the time. But Pombo is having none of it:

Pombo defended the August 2003 trip on Thursday, saying it was appropriate to charge the $4,935 two-week rental of an RV to the government because of his committee's role in overseeing the nation's parks and public lands.

....Pombo insisted that he spent virtually all day talking to the park superintendents and other officials, while his wife and children enjoyed the parks with the other visitors.

"Virtually all day"? Really? And what do the park officials themselves have to say about that? The LA Times reports:

Officials at two of the national parks Pombo said he visited — Joshua Tree in California and Badlands in South Dakota — said the congressman never met with them.

"We had set up camping for him and gone to a lot of work and then he did not show," Pam Livermont, secretary for the park superintendent at Badlands National Park, said Tuesday. "He did not alert any personnel that he wasn't coming, and we never heard another word from him. We were disappointed."

The Tracy Press, Pombo's hometown newspaper, reported that officials at Joshua Tree did not recall him visiting there either.

Care to take a second crack at explaining this trip, congressman?

This dog don't hunt

This dog don't hunt
Posted at February 16, 2006 06:03 AM in The Rant .

By Doug Thompson
Founder and Publisher
Capitol Hill Blue

Vice President Dick Cheney's half-hearted public acknowledgment of responsibility for shooting a friend in a hunting "accident" last Saturday highlights a growing rift between President George W. Bush and the man many believe actually runs the government of the United States.

Cheney's hastily-arranged interview with the Bush-friendly Fox News Channel came only after an angry President Bush ordered his recalcitrant Vice President to try and undo the damage of four days of silence on the shooting that left 78-year-old Texas lawyer Harry Worthington hospitalized in intensive care after one of the shotgun pellets reached his heart.

"It's rare to see the President tell Dick Cheney to do anything," said a White House source Wednesday. "This time the order came down: Go public and take responsibility."

Bush's mandate came after four days of intensive White House infighting over what to do about Cheney amid mounting pressure from Republican leaders in Congress who told Bush the Vice President's silence was hurting a party that already faces an uphill battle with voters in the upcoming November mid-term elections.....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Troubling Questions About Cheney's Boss

Troubling Questions About Cheney's Boss
Why is the vice president getting nearly all the blame for keeping his shooting escapade secret last weekend? President Bush either kept it hidden just as long--or, equally disturbing, maybe he did not find out about Cheney's role as shooter until much later.

By Greg Mitchell

(February 14, 2006) -- While Vice President Cheney continues to catch flak for grossly mishandling the aftermath of the shooting in Texas last Saturday, it is amazing that, relatively speaking, his boss, President Bush, is not drawing just as much blame. True, Cheney deserves extra scrutiny for breaking several cardinal rules of hunting when he plugged Mr. Whittington, and for whatever else he may be hiding.

But as for the slow reporting of the incident—with a nod to Watergate we will call it "the 18 ½ hour gap"—why is the media dumping it mainly on Vice when perhaps it should be versa? Isn’t the president in charge here?

Good question. And what if the president, contrary to the official story, was not told about Cheney as shootist on Saturday night? ....

Vice President Cheney and The Fight Over "Inherent" Presidential Powers

Vice President Cheney and The Fight Over "Inherent" Presidential Powers: His Attempt to Swing the Pendulum Back Began Long Before 9/11
Friday, Feb. 10, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney has stirred up an old fight in Washington. He sent a rookie, however, to make his case publicly. It did not work.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to offer what may have been the weakest legal argument for presidential power to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance since Nixon's Justice Department invoked the views of King George III.

King George III's take on the matter did not carry any weight either. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could barely believe the Nixon Justice Department was serious. The panel reminded the government's lawyers that warrantless searches were among the very reasons the colonies fought for their independence.

As for the reaction to the Gonzales testimony, a New York Times editorial described it as "a daylong display of cynical hair-splitting, obfuscation, disinformation and stonewalling." The Times also noted committee chairman Arlen Specter's analysis of the Attorney General's legal position: It "just defies logic."

The Illogic Of the Bush Administration's Position on Congress' Law and Views

Chairman Specter is correct. Gonzales' position is that the President can make his own rules, notwithstanding the existence of a federal statute - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) - that is directly on point, expressly prohibiting warrantless electronic surveillance. For the Attorney General to defend such a view defies "the equilibrium of our constitutional system" to use Chairman Specter's words - treating Congress' clear word on the matter, as if had never been spoken at all.

Warrantless wiretapping, moreover, is not just a separation-of-powers violation; it is also a federal crime. I suspect we will hear more from Chairman Specter on this issue, for he has great respect for the rule of law....

Dick Cheney's legacy

Dick Cheney's legacy
Posted at February 15, 2006

Capitol Hill Blue

In politics, certain unplanned moments can suddenly _ and often unfairly _ crystallize a vague and unformed public impression into a lasting stereotype.

President Bush senior's perplexity at a supermarket scanner that he was an out-of-touch elitist; Vice President Quayle's misspelling of potato that he wasn't too bright; President Ford's stumble that he was a buffoon; President Carter's encounter with a swamp rabbit that he was a wimp.

And now it has happened to Vice President Cheney.

While shooting quail on a Texas ranch, Cheney peppered Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old lawyer, with birdshot. The wound was serious enough that the victim had to be medevaced, and the hospital says it will keep him at least another week. Cheney's hunting companions say the shooting was Whittington's fault. Local law enforcement officials are satisfied it was an accident and regard the case as closed.

It is hardly closed in the rest of the country. Cheney jokes are all over the Internet and the comedy shows, and they distill the impression that -- what with undisclosed secure locations, closed-door meetings with the powerful, a mania for secrecy, an indicted top aide -- that he is a remote, arrogant and even sinister presence in the Bush administration.

Standard Washington practice is that incidents involving the presidency are announced immediately and fully. For whatever reason, the White House deferred to the vice president's office on when and how the shooting would be disclosed, and it's clear that the vice president's inclination was to say nothing.

Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan, the chief information officer of the administration, didn't find out about it until 12 hours after it happened, the public not until 24 hours later and then only because his wealthy hostess, a politically influential lobbyist, phoned the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The precedent of private citizens announcing delicate news about the vice presidency is not a happy one.

With the vice president's office in stonewall mode, it was left to McClellan to try to spin Cheney's way out of the mess, which he loyally tried to do in several contentious briefings. He doggedly stuck to the script. Asked about the delay in disclosing the incident, he offered the non-answer that "the first priority" had been getting medical care for Whittington. He said it nine times.

Cheney defender former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the vice president's home state, predicted to The New York Times that the incident will be "all through after a few days." Begging your pardon, senator, but it will be in his obituary.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney D.U.I./D.W.I

... No single video or document alone adds up to a complete picture of President Bush. But, after placing them all together, a picture of a man so far out of touch with reality that he actually jokes about death and destruction emerges. Can we take another four years with someone with this kind of personality in the White House? I hope, for our sake, that we don’t have to find out...

Valerie Plame Leak Sabotaged America's Iran-Watching Intelligence Effort

Valerie Plame Leak Sabotaged America's Iran-Watching Intelligence Effort

February 13, 2006
Valerie Plame Leak Sabotaged America's Iran-Watching Intelligence Effort

An important and provocative report has just been published that suggests that Iran was the target of much of Valerie Plame's covert investigative work and that outing her identity had far worse consequences than has thus far been acknowledged.

This information also dovetails with information TWN has been digging up on Iran's interests in Niger uranium.......

Business as usual at the Bush White House

Business as usual at the Bush White House

By Doug Thompson
They fired to the left,
They fired to the right,
They fired all around;

One of them nicked a cricket,
Damn near brought him down.

They continued firing
and finally, to their suprise.
One of them got the gameskeeper,
Right between the eyes.

These lyrics from the song, Three Jovial Huntsmen, came to mind when reading about the Vice President gunning down a lawyer and fellow hunter while quail hunting in Texas Saturday.

At first I laughed. Then, as I watched the story unfold, the laughing stopped. With Vice President Dick Cheney's bungled attempt to hunt quail without shooting another hunter, the White House once again proved it cannot even report on an accident without attempting to avoid blame.

Presidential spokesliar Scott McClellan, under fire from reporters over -- among other things -- an 18-hour delay in releasing the story to the press, said Monday the victim, 74-year-old Austin attorney Harold Whittington, was at fault for not "announcing" his return to the hunting party. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife disagreed, saying Cheney showed a lack of hunter’s judgment and also cited the Veep for not having a valid hunting stamp.

Let's see. The Vice President of the United States, hunting without a proper license and in a red-haze firing frenzy, shoots someone and it's the victim's fault because he happened to be in the line of fire? I suppose that if the Bush White House can plunge the nation into a war based on lies about weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist and a non-existent threat from Iraq and then use those lies to justify the killing of more than 2,000 American soldiers and countless thousands of Iraqi civilians, then blaming a hunting accident on the guy that got shot is second nature.

But the inept handling of details on Cheney's shoot-em-up is just another example of how the Bush administration always thinks first of covering its own ass and keeping details secret from the American public.

McClellan says the decision on notifying the press was left to Cheney's office. But Cheney's office claims it was left to the owners of the property. Guess they forgot the first rule of media management: Get your stories straight.

The 18-hour delay probably occurred because the White House spin machine needed to talk to everyone involved and make sure that no one told conflicting stories about what happened out on that Texas ranch on Saturday. Second rule of media management: Control the story.

I've been a hunter for more than 40 years and always practice the first rule of safe hunting: Look before you shoot. It's a simple rule that helps avoid shooting the wrong thing. Maybe that's why I've never managed to shoot anyone by accident in four decades of hunting.

Cheney's blunder may well have been a simple hunting accident, but when you wait 18 hours before telling anyone and then try to shift blame to the victim, questions naturally arise.

It also doesn't help that the Bush White House, the most secretive in modern times, clamps down on anyone who dares talk to the press and classifying even the most mundane of information under the cloak of "national security."

If the White House cannot come clean about a hunting accident, how can we expect them to be honest about the war in Iraq, the warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency or the many other failures of the Bush Administration?

The sad fact is we can't. George W. Bush, the minions that follow him and his party that controls Congress, have proven time and again they are corrupt, dishonest and out of control.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Coretta Scott King's funeral: A healthy dose of reality for Mr. Bush

Coretta Scott King's funeral: A healthy dose of reality for Mr. Bush
February 09, 2006
John Nichols, The Nation

Just as they did following the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, Republican operatives and their acolytes in the media are now claiming that there was something inappropriate about the manner in which those who knew Coretta Scott King best mourned her passing. So great is the determination of the spin doctors for a White House that seeks to protect George Bush from even the mildest expressions of dissent that commentators rushed Tuesday to television studios even before the service for Mrs. King was done to denounce former President Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for expressing sentiments not usually heard by this protected president.

But don't think that anything untoward actually took place in the Atlanta suburb where thousands gathered to celebrate the life, the work and the politics of Mrs. King. The service provided the president with a healthy -- if all too rare -- dose of reality. Bush's policies are not popular, particularly with the African-American community, and the president needed a gentle reminder of the fact. Indeed, the president was far more graceful in the receipt of the dissenting messages that were uttered at the service for Mrs. King than were those who rushed to condemn his critics.

What got the Republican spin machine humming Wednesday?

The see no evil, hear no evil, acknowledge no evil crowd was furious that several speakers used their brief portions of the six-hour remembrance service for the widow of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to pointedly echo the anti-war, anti-poverty and anti-racist themes that were so central to Mrs. King's life and work. The event featured no direct attacks on President Bush, who seated himself prominently on the stage of the vast New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in an Atlanta suburb. Instead, there were the sort of knowing, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted, prods that often are heard at memorial services of this kind.

Atlanta Mayor Franklin, whose address followed that of the president, made reference to Mrs. King criticism of "the senselessness of war" and recalled, correctly, that the late civil rights activist's voice was heard "from the tin-top roofs of Soweto to the bomb shelters of Baghdad."

That did not sit well with those who believe the president's precious ears must be protected from the sound of any and all dissents with regard to the quagmire that is Iraq.

Even more unsettling to the critics were the words of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who worked for decades with the Kings. Of Mrs. King, Lowery recalled, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here." As the crowd cheered, Lowery boomed: "Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor."

Ultimately, however, it was not Lowery but Carter who took the hardest hits for daring to dissent. Noting the slow and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, Carter pointed out that, "We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."

For this comment, and for recalling the historical fact that the Kings were victims of "secret government wiretapping and surveillance" -- a sore point for a president who is under fire for ordering warrantless wiretaps -- Carter was denounced as "shameless" by the New York Post and ridiculed by Republican commentators.

To his credit, Bush seemed to take the criticism is stride, even shaking hands with and embracing Lowery, Carter and other speakers. And that may be the most important point that can be made about this rare moment in which the president heard actual dissent -- as opposed to the manufactured applause that usually accompanies his stage-managed public appearances. As someone who covered Bush long before he took office in 2001, I have always believed him to be a more gracious and thoughtful man than his presidency has made him out to be. Bush and his presidency suffer from having been placed in the bubble to which his neoconservative handlers have consigned him. Indeed, despite the ranting and raving of the spin doctors who would have us believe that it was wrong to honor Mrs. King by echoing the dissents she made during her lifetime, both President Bush and the American discourse surely benefitted from a real moment in these surreal times.

Copyright © 2006 The Nation

Source: The Nation