Saturday, October 02, 2004

Confronting Tom DeLay

The New York Times
October 2, 2004

Confronting Tom DeLay

Leave it to Capitol lawyers to select the wonderfully tepid word "admonish" in trying to symbolically slap the wrist of the Republican majority leader, Tom DeLay, without really stirring his wrath. The House ethics committee has gently rebuked Mr. DeLay for excessive arm-twisting last year in seeking the vote of a resistant Republican, Representative Nick Smith of Michigan, when the Medicare prescription drug bill was in danger of defeat. During a desperate search for votes, Mr. DeLay offered to support the budding political career of Mr. Smith's son. This kind of pressure "could support" a finding of a rules violation, the panel said, while carefully announcing that no further action would be taken.

Critics of the moribund ethics panel have to admit surprise that it found enough election-year grit to even admonish Mr. DeLay, the formidable power broker dubbed the Hammer. We hope this newfound keenness will be extended to the far more serious charges pending about Mr. DeLay's heavy-handed role in seeing to the gerrymandering of the Congressional districts in his home state, Texas, in an attempt to cushion his G.O.P. edge in Congress.

One of the disgruntled losers, Representative Chris Bell, charged that Mr. DeLay had funneled illegal contributions into Texas state races to help the Republicans win control in Austin and gerrymander Democrats out of office.

Mr. DeLay roundly rejected the complaint as partisan sour grapes. But three of his top aides have been indicted in a separate state investigation for laundering Texas campaign donations.

Mr. DeLay was not named in the indictment and has not been summoned yet by investigators. But the charges against his aides echo the ethics complaint and, with the control of Congress at stake in the coming election, it is incumbent on the House to police its integrity properly. The ethics panel should follow precedent and appoint an outside counsel to look into the charges.

The Texas indictment tracked some of the $1.5 million paid from a DeLay political action committee to help Republicans take the Statehouse for the first time since Reconstruction. Mr. DeLay's money handlers are accused of channeling corporate donations into Texas - where they are illegal in state races - by a circuitous route through the Republican National Committee. "All I did was help raise money," Mr. DeLay said in denying day-to-day control of the Texas operation. This is exactly the issue the House must not duck investigating.


How to Save Social Security

The New York Times
October 2, 2004

How to Save Social Security

Rumors of the death of Social Security have been widely exaggerated. This year, the system's trustees reported that the fund is solvent until 2042, when it would still be able to pay about 70 percent of the promised benefits. That is not a crisis. To put the shortfall into perspective, consider that in the next 75 years - the span of time over which the trustees plan for solvency - President Bush's plan to lock in his tax cuts would cost about three times what it would take to fix Social Security. Now that's alarming.

Politicians have nearly four decades to phase in Social Security reforms. With so much time, the cost of updating Social Security can be shared by everyone, and mitigated for all.

The answer is not creating private investment accounts within Social Security - President Bush's chosen tack. (See our previous editorial, "How Not to Save Social Security" at And Senator John Kerry is not helping things any when he pledges never to cut benefits. Social Security has become such a third-rail political issue that few elected officials have the courage to be realistic about it in an election year. It's too bad, but not surprising, that neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Kerry is choosing to present workable solutions.

Both men are right, however, in promising to protect current retirees and those who are close to retiring. Credible reform - both fair and adequate - should focus on workers who are still at least a decade away from retirement. It will require a combination of modest benefit cuts and tax increases.

What ails Social Security is well understood: there are increasingly fewer taxpaying workers to support each retiree, and retirees are living longer. But the onset of these destabilizing trends does not mean that Social Security is outdated. On the contrary, the system's adaptability is one of its great strengths.

Dozens of possible correctives - many of them eminently doable - have been proposed and endlessly debated. To us, the best reform packages are the fairest. They contain proposals that do not grasp for all of the needed revenue from high-income taxpayers, and are not overly reliant on benefit cuts for the elderly. Rather, they raise the necessary funds in ways that strive to reflect each group's fair share of Social Security's shortfall. All that is needed now is the political will to change, along the lines of the following:

Link benefits to life expectancy. The last major reform of Social Security, in 1983, increased the retirement age for full benefits to 66 from 65 starting next year, and to 67 starting in 2022.

But as people live longer, it is not feasible to simply keep pushing out the retirement age. The projected costs of increased life expectancy should be updated regularly, and the responsibility for them should be split between retirees and workers - through small automatic reductions in future benefits and modest increases in the payroll tax.

For an average 35-year-old today, for instance, the benefit cut in 2036 would be the equivalent of about $300 a year. For workers, the tax increase would start 10 years from now and rise each decade, so that by 2036, the rate would be 12.7 percent, up from 12.4 percent today, split equally between employees and employers. Taken together, those changes would close nearly one-third of Social Security's long-term financing gap.

Link life expectancy to income levels. The well-off live longer than the less affluent, and their lead is growing. That's bad news for Social Security. It means that those with high earnings not only draw the biggest retirement checks, but they also do so for a longer time, compared with everyone else. That, in turn, makes the system less progressive than it would be if life expectancy were roughly the same at all income levels. Currently, the highest-earning workers get 15 cents in benefits for every dollar of earnings at the top end of the benefit formula. Reducing that share to 10 cents over the next 25 years or so would affect only about the top 15 percent of retirees, would make the program more progressive and would close about 10 percent of Social Security's deficit.

Increase taxes - slowly. Since the 1983 reform, the rule specifying the amount of annual wages that is subject to the Social Security payroll tax - currently $87,900 - has not kept up with the income gains of the top earners. In 1983, only 10 percent of all wages escaped the payroll tax. Today, it is 15 percent. If the wage base was increased over 40 years so the amount of wages on which no payroll tax was paid was closer to the 1983 level, some 10 percent of the Social Security shortfall would disappear.

Wages above the cap should also be taxed, though not as much as the wages below the cutoff. The argument for not taxing wages above a certain level is that Social Security benefits rise only so high, no matter how much you make. But in a balanced system, the payroll tax wouldn't pay for benefits alone. It would also help pay off ongoing debt from previous generations, when retirees' benefits exceeded contributions to the system. Because high-income workers have a chunk of earnings that escape the payroll tax, they do not bear a proportional share of this burden. An additional tax of 3 to 4 percent on wages above the base, (split between employees and employers), imposed over 75 years, would make the system fairer and correct about one-third of Social Security's imbalance.

But if the well-off help pay off Social Security's generational debt, so should other workers. For starters, the four million state and local government employees who are not covered by Social Security should be brought into the system, just as federal employees were in 1983. Doing so would close 10 percent of the financing gap. The remaining 10 percent shortfall could be bridged by a tax increase that was spread among the approximately 150 million workers. The increase would come to 0.2 percentage points, if enacted immediately.

Clearly, it's possible to reform Social Security while preserving its essential character: a contract under which the young support the old via taxes, and the rich help the poor through a benefit formula that favors the neediest. It is also possible for the system to adapt while retaining its key provisions. We do not favor taking away full inflation protection because it is increasingly important over long lives and is unavailable in other retirement plans. We also do not endorse extending the length of time one must work to garner full advantage of the benefit formula, currently 35 years, because that could disproportionately harm women, who generally spend fewer years in the work force than men.

Any of the reforms we've recommended could be tweaked to cover the cost of enhancing benefits for vulnerable groups, like widows, the poor and the disabled. And if a particular proposal proved too contentious, it could be scaled back, slowed down or replaced with other measures. One intriguing idea is to keep the estate tax on the books after 2009, when it is set to expire, and dedicate the revenue to Social Security. That would affect a minuscule number of estates and would generate enough revenue to correct about a third of Social Security's imbalance.

It's time to stop fretting about Social Security. Everyone knows what needs to be done - and it's not all that drastic. We just need the will to do it.


Tracing Militants on a Staten Island Phone

The New York Times
October 2, 2004

Tracing Militants on a Staten Island Phone

For the last three months, the defendant who has drawn the most attention in a terror trial under way in Manhattan federal court is Lynne F. Stewart, who made a name as a defense lawyer for suspects accused of terrorism. But as the prosecutors' case has unfolded, most of the evidence about the international conspiracy they hope to prove has centered on a defendant who sits silently beside her, Ahmed Abdel Sattar.

A Staten Island postal worker and a Muslim, Mr. Sattar served as a paralegal aide for Ms. Stewart in the 1995 trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the elderly blind Islamic cleric who is serving a life sentence in a United States prison for plotting terrorist attacks in New York.

In the years after that trial, the evidence reveals, Mr. Sattar made hundreds of phone calls from his cramped apartment to fundamentalist followers of the sheik across the globe, from Britain to Egypt to Afghanistan. Through conference calls he arranged, Mr. Sattar became a gatekeeper for communications between far-flung Islamic militants, eventually joining their debates about using violence.

Mr. Sattar faces the most serious charges in this trial, including one count of conspiracy to kill and kidnap people in a foreign country, which carries a maximum life sentence. Kenneth A. Paul, one of his lawyers, said in an opening statement on June 23 that Mr. Sattar was "politically frustrated" but never intended to plan or incite violence.

For her part, Ms. Stewart is accused of helping Mr. Abdel Rahman communicate a call to war against Egypt's government from a federal prison cell where he was supposed to be incommunicado. She faces charges that carry a maximum of 10 years, as does a third defendant, Mohamed Yousry, a translator of Arabic.

Along with Ms. Stewart, Mr. Sattar was one of a handful of people permitted to communicate directly with the sheik in prison. But the prosecutors' evidence has indicated that he went a step further. After he was eagerly sought out by followers of the sheik in the Gamaa Islamiya - the Islamic Group, a militant organization in Egypt - he became a participant in their deliberations about war and peace.

Records of Mr. Sattar's phone calls, which were wiretapped, show that his calling quickened in the fall of 2000, when the group's leaders were embroiled in a fierce dispute over whether to continue a cease-fire in their long war against the Egyptian government or return to terror attacks. Although Mr. Sattar was not a member of the group, he favored - at least in statements in the government's transcripts - those who wanted to abandon the truce.

In a moment of rage over political clashes in Israel, Mr. Sattar helped an Islamic Group leader who was in Afghanistan compose a religious edict and release it under the sheik's name without asking the sheik. It summoned young Muslims to fight Jews "by all possible means of jihad, either by killing them as individuals or by targeting their interests and their advocates, as much as they can."

Mr. Sattar's lawyers declined to comment in detail before he testifies in his own defense in the next few weeks. But they said they would fill in the context of his phone calls to show that he was trying to help men he regarded as Muslim brothers, not to participate in a plan for violence. "It clearly was never his intent for anyone to be killed," Mr. Paul said.

In court, Mr. Sattar is being confronted with his own words. The prosecutors' evidence consists overwhelmingly of transcripts of wiretap recordings that were among some 90,000 intercepted conversations on his home phone made between March 1995 and March 2002, as part of a federal foreign intelligence investigation.

Now the man who talked so much sits silent day after day, watching the prosecutors re-enact his phone calls, reading out English transcripts of the Arabic dialogue. With the jury as their audience, the prosecutors take turns reading, in flat voices, the words of Mr. Sattar, Ms. Stewart, the sheik and others.

The defense lawyers have sought to bar some transcripts, but in general they have not challenged the authenticity of the calls. The transcripts show that Mr. Sattar spoke regularly with men identified by the American authorities as terrorists. The prosecutors are trying to convince the jury that the phone calls - Mr. Sattar's words - added up to a conspiracy to kill.

Mr. Sattar, 45, was born in Cairo and raised in Egypt, serving two years in his country's army before coming to the United States as a tourist in 1982. He stayed, married an American citizen and in 1989 became a naturalized American. His wife, Lisa Sattar, a Catholic, converted to Islam; they have four children. He went to work in 1988 in the main post office branch in Staten Island.

He was drawn to Mr. Abdel Rahman, a fellow Egyptian, after the cleric came to the United States in 1990 and began preaching in mosques in Brooklyn and New Jersey. In sermons full of fury, the sheik railed against the Egyptian government, calling for it to be overthrown and replaced with an Islamic state.

Certified as a paralegal aide in the sheik's terrorism trial, Mr. Sattar was deeply disappointed when Mr. Abdel Rahman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, Mr. Paul, his defense lawyer, said. He continued to support the sheik, even starting a diaper and baby goods business from his home to raise money for him in prison.

The transcripts show it pained Mr. Sattar that the sheik, held in solitary confinement in a federal penitentiary in Minnesota, was barred by special restrictions from speaking with anyone outside the prison but his legal team and his closest family, and could not participate in communal Friday prayers.

"There is not a prisoner in the United States who suffers like he does," Mr. Sattar said in one phone call to the sheik's son, Mohammed, who was in Afghanistan.

The sheik has signed a power of attorney for Mr. Sattar. "I trust him with everything I have," the sheik said in one statement he sent out of prison through Ms. Stewart. "I testify that he does not speak anything but the truth."

Mr. Sattar's phone calls offer a glimpse inside the hidden network of Islamic Group militants in the midst of a clash between two leaders. On one side is Sheik Salah Hashim, the group's leader in Egypt, an outspoken proponent of the cease-fire.

His adversary is Rifai Ahmed Taha, an associate of Osama bin Laden who was named by Washington in a 1998 executive order as a "specially designated terrorist." Mr. Taha is accused of conspiring in the 1997 attack at the ancient Egyptian ruins in Luxor, where 58 foreign tourists were killed. Public outrage over those killings led the Islamic Group to announce the cease-fire later that year.

Also on the line with Mr. Sattar were Mustafa Hamza, another exiled Islamic Group leader, and Montasser al-Zayat, a lawyer representing its members who were in Egypt's jails. Both favored continuing the peace. Mr. Sattar also spoke with Yasir al-Sirri, an Egyptian exile who was a one-man clearinghouse in London for information about radical fundamentalists.

In the conversations before 2000, Mr. Sattar seemed to stay aloof from the group's internal feuds, simply connecting phone calls among its members. But he began to change in June of that year after Mr. Abdel Rahman issued a statement, relayed to the international press by Ms. Stewart in defiance of the prison rules, withdrawing his support for the cease-fire.

The transcripts indicate that Mr. Sattar helped sharpen the language that the sheik dictated in prison to Ms. Stewart and her translator, then rushed the news of the cleric's new position in a flurry of calls to Islamic Group members overseas. Mr. Hamza, who prosecutors said was in Afghanistan, protested the sheik's shift and pleaded with Mr. Sattar not to release it to the press.

"I can try to control it," Mr. Sattar says, starting to assert new influence as an intermediary.

In the following weeks, Mr. Sattar set up conference calls and then remained on the line while Mr. Hashim and Mr. Taha argued angrily. Mr. Taha said the Egyptian government of President Hosni Mubarak "must be removed, and will not be removed except by using armed force."

"We are in a difficult stage; we can't use force at all," Mr. Hashim insisted, as Mr. Sattar listened.

At the time of these exchanges, Mr. Taha appeared with Mr. bin Laden on a videotape, apparently made in Afghanistan, which was broadcast on Sept. 21, 2000, by Al Jazeera, the Arab language television network. Together they call for violent worldwide jihad, or religious struggle, to free Mr. Abdel Rahman from jail.

Two days later Mr. Taha called Mr. Sattar to get his reaction. "The words caused such an impact," Mr. Sattar cheered.

A turning point for Mr. Sattar came in late September 2000, during an upsurge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Coming home from the post office each day, the transcripts show, he immediately goes to monitor Arab news Web sites and television. The images all look to him like Israeli attacks on innocent Palestinian civilians, according to the transcripts.

"Animals, animals, I swear by God the Almighty," Mr. Sattar said, referring to the Israelis, his slight stutter accentuated by his agitation. When Mr. Taha called, Mr. Sattar urged him to compose a religious decree that they could attribute to the sheik. Later he edited Mr. Taha's draft.

"Kill the Jews wherever they are found," it says.

Their taped conversations suggest that Mr. Sattar removed words that explicitly threatened the United States. Instead, he said he believed it was up to the Arab nations surrounding Israel "to wage the jihad."

Several days later, when Mr. Abdel Rahman was informed of the religious decree during a prison phone call, he approved its message.

Mr. Sattar's nights became sleepless as he started receiving calls at all hours. He was contacted by an Islamic Group militant, Alaa Atia, who was in hiding in southern Egypt. While Mr. Taha tried to persuade Mr. Atia to organize an armed attack, Mr. Sattar worked to arrange to send him money to escape from Egypt.

Then he received news that Mr. Atia had been killed by the Egyptian police. In agonized calls, Mr. Sattar was heard worrying that he may have inadvertently helped the police locate him.

"The Lord Almighty knows how I feel," Mr. Sattar said. "I feel guilty, guilty. I am telling you I suspect it is 90 percent my phone." At the same time he more plainly promoted Mr. Taha within the group. "The man has a worthwhile viewpoint; the least to do is to hear it," he said. Mr. Sattar was arrested in April 2002. No evidence has been presented that he was involved in a specific act of violence. None of the charges in the case involve plans for attacks in the United States. The government expects to rest its case next week.

Ms. Stewart's lawyers have repeatedly asked to have her trial separated from Mr. Sattar's. She has said she was not aware of his extensive phone communications with the Islamic Group.

"This is really a case about words," said the defense lawyer, Mr. Paul, a case in which Mr. Sattar is accused of causing terrorism by speaking about it. Mr. Sattar "is no enemy of the United States," Mr. Paul said. "He is certainly not a terrorist."


Democrats Voice Concerns About the Overseas Vote

The New York Times
October 2, 2004

Democrats Voice Concerns About the Overseas Vote

Amid new evidence that civilians lagged far behind soldiers in voting from abroad four years ago, political operatives on both sides of the presidential campaign raced this week to help Americans overseas cast their ballots in time for next month's election.

Sixty percent of the overseas military voted in the 2000 election, up from 53 percent in 1996, according to a new Pentagon report obtained yesterday by The New York Times. At the same time, voting by civilians dropped to 22 percent from 29 percent, the report said.

Civilians' low participation rate is raising fears among Democrats who believe that these estimated 3.9 million eligible voters are more likely than members of the military to support John Kerry over President Bush. It is also fueling concern that the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which the Pentagon manages for all overseas voters, may be doing more to help the estimated 500,000 members of the military overseas. Pentagon officials have denied such accusations.

In a meeting with Pentagon aides Wednesday, Democratic Party officials who were briefed on the participation rates urged the voting program managers to post substitute federal write-in ballots on the Internet and so make it easier for civilians who are having trouble getting absentee ballots from their home states.

Local election offices in at least 8 of 15 swing states had failed to mail out their ballots by Sept. 19, the cutoff for ensuring that those ballots can be mailed back in time to be counted.

The Pentagon activated a system last week that will enable military voters to obtain their regular ballots from their local election offices instantly through a new Internet site, The Pentagon said it could not open the system to civilians because it was employing a military database to confirm the identities of users and did not have the means to check civilians.

"American citizens abroad should be extended equal rights," said Jack Corrigan, an adviser to the Democratic National Committee who attended the Pentagon meeting.

Mr. Corrigan quoted Pentagon officials as saying that while they could not offer the same balloting service to civilians, they would look into posting the substitute federal write-in ballot. The substitute write-in ballot is also available from embassies and consulates, but voting assistance groups say some outposts are running out of forms.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed yesterday that the request that the ballot be posted online was being considered. In previous interviews, program officials defended their efforts and denied that they were favoring military voters.

A group supporting Mr. Kerry, Americans Overseas for Kerry, said it would post the ballot on its own Web site.

"We consulted with our lawyers, and they said the worst that could happen is that local election officials would reject them," said Jim Brenner, the group's executive director.

The group Republicans Abroad said it planned to run advertisements in numerous international newspapers urging Americans overseas to cast their votes immediately by obtaining a write-in ballot.

Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, sent a memorandum to secretaries of state on Thursday urging them to see that their ballots are mailed out to military personnel as soon as possible, and to consider various options, including the new project, to resolve mailing problems. The Pentagon said that it had signed up 10 states to participate in the effort but that 23 others had declined to do so, citing various concerns including security.

Another overseas voting advocacy group, the nonpartisan Overseasvote2004, said it had forwarded concerns to the State Department about information provided by several of its outposts abroad. The group said that the United States Embassy in Argentina had a recorded message telling voters they had to register to vote three months before the election, and that people calling the embassy in the Dominican Republic were told they needed to register before obtaining a ballot but were not given information about registering. A State Department spokesman did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.

Asked about the declining participation among civilians, Mr. Corrigan, the Democratic adviser, said the party was confident that Mr. Kerry would do well among military voters and that civilian participation would rise this year.

"I don't know what happened in 2000," he said.


Friday, October 01, 2004

Early Reviews

"I think that Kerry did a good job." (Sen. John McCain, MSNBC, 9/30/04)

"Kerry was forceful and articulate." (Bill Kristol, Fox News Channel, 9/30/04)

"We saw Bush smirking...Kerry was more poised." (Wolf Blitzer, CNN, 9/30/04)

"Kerry's done a good job of becoming Mr. Homeland Security." (Jon Meacham, Newsweek on MSNBC, 9/30/04)


Distortions and Misstatements At First Presidential Debate

Distortions and Misstatements At First Presidential Debate

Bush and Kerry both have problems with the facts at their meeting in Coral Gables



In the first of three scheduled debates between Bush and Kerry both candidates sometimes departed from the facts.

Bush glossed over significant problems with US reconstruction efforts in Iraq when he claimed that the US is "spending money" and that 100,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained. And Kerry overstated the case when he said Bush allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora by "outsourcing" fighting to Afghans.

Bush misquoted Kerry, distorting his position on withdrawing troops from Iraq. And Kerry said the Iraq war has cost $200 billion, when the cost so far is actually just over $120 billion.


Bush gave a rosy picture of progress in Iraq, glossing over significant problems with reconstruction contracts and training of Iraqi security forces.

"Spending Reconstruction Money"

Bush: (Referring to Iraq) There will be elections in January. We're spending reconstruction money. And our alliance is strong.

Bush's "Reconstruction" & "100,000 trained now"

Bush cited as a sign of progress in Iraq that the US is "spending reconstruction money," when in fact the slow pace of spending has become a major problem for US officials.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage testified to a House Appropriations subcommittee Sept. 24 that only $1.2 billion in reconstruction money had actually been spent so far , out of the total of $18 billion that was appropriated last December in "emergency" funds for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"100,000 trained now"

Bush: Let me first tell you that the best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job.
And that's what we're doing. We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, 200,000 by the end of next year. That is the best way.

Bush: There are 100,000 troops trained, police, guard, special units, border patrol. There's going to be 125,000 trained by the end of this year. Yes, we're getting the job done. It's hard work.

Bush also said "100,000 troops" and other Iraqi security personnel have been trained to date. That's the official figure, but the President failed to mention that many trainees have received nothing more than a three-week course in police procedures -- what Armitage referred to as "shake-and-bake" forces.

Only 8,000 of the total are police who have received a full eight-week course of training, Armitage told the House:

Armitage: It's 100,000 total security forces, and I don't want anyone to make the mistake that security force equals soldier -- could be policemen, and it could be the eight-week trained policemen, of which there are a little over 8,000, or it could be what I refer to as the shake-and-bake three-week police force, which are previous policemen who are now given a three-weeks course. So it's a mixed bag , but there are about 100,000 total security forces.

Tora Bora "Outsourcing"

"Outsourcing" Osama's Capture

Kerry: I would not take my eye off of the goal: Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, he escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora. We had him surrounded. But we didn't use American forces, the best trained in the world, to go kill him. The president relied on Afghan warlords and he outsourced that job too. That's wrong.
Kerry said U.S. forces allowed Osama bin Laden to escape in 2001 during the battle at Tora Bora in Afghanistan because the administration "outsourced" fighting to Afghan "warlords." Actually, it's never been clear whether bin Laden actually was at Tora Bora.

It is true that military leaders strongly suspected bin Laden was there, and it is also true that the Pentagon relied heavily on Afghan forces to take on much of the fighting at Tora Bora in an effort to reduce US casualties. But Kerry overstates the case by stating flatly that "we had him surrounded."

Out of Iraq in 6 Months?

Bush: I know putting artificial deadlines won't work. My opponent at one time said, "Well, get me elected, I'll have them out of there in six months." You can't do that and expect to win the war on terror.

Kerry: The time line that I've set out -- and again, I want to correct the president, because he's misled again this evening on what I've said. I didn't say I would bring troops out in six months. I said, if we do the things that I've set out and we are successful, we could begin to draw the troops down in six months.

Bush's False Quote

The President misquoted Kerry's position on how quickly troops might be withdrawn from Iraq. Bush claimed Kerry once said "I'll have them out of there in six months," which is false. Kerry complained, "he's misled us again."

What Kerry actually said was that he believed he could "significantly reduce" US troop levels in Iraq within six months of taking office -- not at all the same thing as having all troops "out of there."

Kerry's remark was on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" Aug 6, in an interview with Steve Inskeep:

Kerry: I believe that within a year from now, we could significantly reduce American forces in Iraq, and that's my plan. I believe we can.

Q: Within a year from right now?

Kerry: I believe we can. Absolutely we can.

Q: A year from August.

Kerry: I believe we can. Absolutely we can reduce the numbers. You bet.

Kerry "$200 Billion"

Kerry: And so, today, we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost: $200 billion -- $200 billion that could have been used for health care, for schools, for construction, for prescription drugs for seniors, and it's in Iraq.

Kerry's $200 Billion Exaggeration

Kerry continued to refer to "the cost" of the Iraq war as $200 billion, when it fact the cost to date is just over $120 billion, according to budget officials. Kerry is counting money that has been appropriated to be spent in the fiscal year that started Friday, Oct. 1. Much of the money Kerry counts has not even been requested formally by the Bush administration, and is only an estimate of what will be sought sometime in the coming year, to be spent later. We've pointed this out before in detail.

Al Qaeda

The President said twice that "75 percent" of al Qaeda leaders have been "brought to justice." But as The Associated Press reported Oct. 1, Bush was referring to the deaths or arrests of 75 percent of bin Laden's network at the time of the September 11 attacks -- not those who are running the terrorist organization today. The AP also reported that the CIA said earlier in the year two-thirds of those leaders are gone; at his acceptance speech in September, Bush increased his count to three-fourths based on unreleased intelligence data.

Furthermore, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies reported May 25 that the occupation of Iraq has helped al Qaeda recruit more members. The institute quoted "conservative" intelligence estimates as saying that al Qaeda has 18,000 potential operatives and is present in more than 60 countries.

Other Factual Stumbles

Bush said that 10 million people had registered to vote in the coming presidential election in Afghanistan, which he called a "phenomenal statistic." But that's a disputed figure. Human Rights Watch issued a report Sept. 29 citing "widespread multiple registration of voters." It said the 10 million figure is probably inflated.

Bush said he has increased spending on curbing nuclear proliferation by "about 35 percent" since he took office. But The Washington Post reported Oct. 1 that Bush proposed a 13 percent cut in his first budget as President -- about $116 million. Much of the increases since then have been added by Congress, the Post reported.

The Post also said Kerry misspoke when he asserted that Bush is spending "hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons" when in fact the budget for research on that weapon is less that $35 million. The Post said the administration has set aside nearly $500 million for future budgets -- but that's contingent on Congress approving production of such a weapon.

The AP noted that Kerry misspoke when he said "we got weapons of mass destruction crossing the (Iraq) border every single day, and they're blowing people up." Kerry meant terrorists were crossing the border, not nuclear weapons. [Note: This is a misinterpretation by the AP of Kerry's statement. Homicide bombers with their devices are indeed weapons of mass destruction.]

The AP also caught Kerry's mistake when he referred to looking at KGB records in Treblinka Square in a visit to Russia. Treblinka was a Nazi death camp. Kerry meant Lubyanka Square.


Federal News Service, "Testimony of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage," Hearing of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Subcommitee of the House Appropriations Committee, 24 Sept. 2004.

Carolyn Skorneck, "Senate Clears War Spending Bill Over Objections From Byrd and Hollings," Congressional Quarterly Daily Monitor, 3 Nov. 2003.

"The Rule of the Gun: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in the Run-up to Afghanistan’s Presidential Election," Human Rights Watch 29 Sept. 2004.

"Strategic Survey 2003/04," International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, 25 May 2004.

Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus, "Few Factual Errors, But Truth at Times Got Stretched ," The Washington Post , 1 Oct. 2004; A10.

Calvin Woodward, "Iraq And Terrorist Record Stretched Two Ways In Debate ," The Associated Press , 1 Oct. 2004.



Kerry's turnaround

The Boston Globe

Kerry's turnaround

October 1, 2004

FOR SIX months since the effective end of the primary season, President Bush has been portrayed as better able to control the debate by staying on message while John Kerry sends mixed messages. Last night at the first televised presidential debate, that equation was turned on its head.

Despite a game attempt by the president to depict Kerry as indecisive, it was Kerry who attacked Bush for sending mixed messages in matters of homeland security -- by cutting funds for firefighters and other first responders, by failing to protect seaports and bridges, and especially by shifting his focus from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein.

Kerry even managed to turn around the president's presumed best asset: his determination and spine. "You can be certain but you can also be wrong," Kerry said succinctly.

Kerry painted a stinging picture of the American effort in Iraq. "I don't know if the president is aware of what's going on over there," he said, and ticked off a litany of horrors: the insurgencies, the beheadings, the barely contained chaos, each month bringing a higher toll than the last of Americans dead. When Kerry said, "This president isn't getting the job done," it had the unmistakable click of truth.

Meanwhile, the president's much vaunted ability to stay on message seemed more like a life raft he was grabbing as tough questioning in the 90-minute debate bore in on him and the essential thinness of his message was revealed. His repeated assurance, "We are going to win in Iraq," began to seem petulant, almost querulous.

Kerry appeared more knowledgeable, especially in discussing the threat from North Korea and unsecured nuclear material in Russia. He was persuasive when he complained that "35 countries were in a better position to make weapons than Saddam Hussein" when Bush went to war.

When Bush dismissed Kerry's proposal for engaging North Korea in bilateral talks as a poor move that would marginalize China, Kerry deftly undercut his credibility: "Just because the president says it can't be done doesn't mean it can't be done," Kerry said, adding, "This is the president who said there were weapons, who said `Mission Accomplished.' "

All that said, no one should misunderestimate the appeal of the president's steadfastness. "People know where I stand," he said. "People out there know what I believe." His short, truncated sentences may look disjointed and dull-witted on paper but often came across as sharp and focused when spoken.

On at least three occasions last night, Bush said, "The best way to win is to constantly stay on the offensive." He may have been thinking of his campaign as much as the war on terror. But last night he was not winning.


America's Lost Respect

The New York Times
October 1, 2004

America's Lost Respect

"As a result of the American military," President Bush declared last week, "the Taliban is no longer in existence."

It's unclear whether Mr. Bush misspoke, or whether he really is that clueless. But his claim was in keeping with his re-election strategy, demonstrated once again in last night's debate: a president who has done immense damage to America's position in the world hopes to brazen it out by claiming that failure is success.

Three years ago, the United States was both feared and respected: feared because of its military supremacy, respected because of its traditional commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Since then, Iraq has demonstrated the limits of American military power, and has tied up much of that power in a grinding guerrilla war. This has emboldened regimes that pose a real threat. Three years ago, would North Korea have felt so free to trumpet its conversion of fuel rods into bombs?

But even more important is the loss of respect. After the official rationales for the Iraq war proved false, and after America failed to make good on its promise to foster democracy in either Afghanistan or Iraq - and, not least, after Abu Ghraib - the world no longer believes that we are the good guys.

Let's talk for a minute about Afghanistan, which administration officials tout as a success story. They rely on the public's ignorance: voters, they believe, don't know that even though the United States promised to provide Afghanistan with both security and aid during its transition to democracy, it broke those promises. It has allowed the country to slide back into warlordism - and allowed the Taliban to make a comeback.

These days, Mr. Bush and other administration officials often talk about the 10.5 million Afghans who have registered to vote in this month's election, citing the figure as proof that democracy is making strides after all. They count on the public not to know, and on reporters not to mention, that the number of people registered considerably exceeds all estimates of the eligible population. What they call evidence of democracy on the march is actually evidence of large-scale electoral fraud.

It's the same story in Iraq: the January election has become the rationale for everything we're doing, yet it's hard to find anyone not beholden to the administration who believes that the election, if it happens at all, will be anything more than a sham.

Yet Mr. Bush and his Congressional allies seem to have learned nothing from their failures. If Mr. Bush is returned to office, there's every reason to think that they will continue along the same disastrous path.

We can already see one example of this when we look at the question of torture. Abu Ghraib has largely vanished from U.S. political discussion, largely because the administration and its Congressional allies have been so effective at covering up high-level involvement. But both the revelations and the cover-up did terrible damage to America's moral authority. To much of the world, America looks like a place where top officials condone and possibly order the torture of innocent people, and suffer no consequences.

What we need is an effort to regain our good name. What we're getting instead is a provision, inserted by Congressional Republicans in the intelligence reform bill, to legalize "extraordinary rendition" - a euphemism for sending terrorism suspects to countries that use torture for interrogation. This would institutionalize a Kafkaesque system under which suspects can be sent, at the government's whim, to Egypt or Syria or Jordan - and to fight such a move, it's up to the suspect to prove that he'll be tortured on arrival. Just what we need to convince other countries of our commitment to the rule of law.

Most Americans aren't aware of all this. The sheer scale of Mr. Bush's foreign policy failures insulates him from its political consequences: voters aren't ready to believe how badly the war in Iraq is going, let alone how badly America's moral position in the world has deteriorated.

But the rest of the world has already lost faith in us. In fact, let me make a prediction: if Mr. Bush gets a second term, we will soon have no democracies left among our allies - no, not even Tony Blair's Britain. Mr. Bush will be left with the support of regimes that don't worry about the legalities - regimes like Vladimir Putin's Russia.


Thursday, September 30, 2004

Kerry Hits A Home Run

The first debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry was a blowout. John Kerry won this debate by a landslide. He answered every question clearly and concisely with details and facts to support his statements and positions. President Bush bumbled, hesitated, asked for more time and then had nothing to say. He was clearly uncomfortable being on the defensive througout the entire 90 minutes.

John Kerry hit a home run tonight and proved that he is clearly the better choice to be Commander-In-Chief and to lead the USA for the next 8 years.


Edwards Notes Cheney Warned of Getting 'Bogged Down' in Iraq

The New York Times
September 30, 2004

Edwards Notes Cheney Warned of Getting 'Bogged Down' in Iraq

WEIRTON, W. Va., Sept. 29 - Seizing on a published report that Vice President Dick Cheney warned 12 years ago of getting "bogged down" in Iraq, Senator John Edwards on Wednesday accused the Bush administration of botching plans for occupying that nation.

"He knew - that's the worse part about this - he knew how dangerous this was," Mr. Edwards told a crowd here. "They knew that there were enormous predictors of what would be happening there, and they still didn't have a plan even though they knew what might be coming.''

Mr. Edwards referred to a report in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer that quoted from a transcript of a speech Mr. Cheney, then the secretary of defense, gave in 1992, 18 months after allied forces liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's forces. "I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq," Mr. Cheney was quoted as saying.

He went on to suggest that ousting Mr. Hussein would preoccupy the United States for some time. "Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place?'' Mr. Cheney said at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. "You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq."

Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said Mr. Cheney had a different view now, linking the Iraq war to the fight against terrorism.

Campaigning Tuesday in Lake Elmo, Minn., Mr. Cheney said the United States had to act on Iraq.

"The idea that somehow we could pull back and simply sit behind our oceans and not aggressively be going after the terrorists and those who sponsor the terrorists I think misreads the situation completely,'' he said.


Rumsfeld acknowledges insurgents have gained in Iraq

Rumsfeld acknowledges insurgents have gained in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Insurgents are succeeding through bombings and assassinations in convincing some Iraqis that the US-led effort to establish democracy in Iraq (news - web sites) "is not going to work," US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Rumsfeld said he believed Iraqis and the US-led coalition still had a "very good crack" at creating a democratic system but acknowledged that the growing violence has taken a toll on public confidence, and gained insurgents a following.

"But there's no doubt but that they (the insurgents) are being successful in some instances in making people believe that its not going to work in Iraq, that they're not going ready for freedom, that they're not ready," he told WCHS-AM radio in Charleston, West Virginia.

"And some of those people undoubtedly are joining the opposition -- the former regime elements that are fighting it," he said.

"They may also be attracting some people in from other countries because of the hope they have of preventing a democracy there," he said.

Rumsfeld's comments followed other recent admissions by top administration and military officials that the insurgency in Iraq was growing worse, despite President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s upbeat portrayal of the situation during a visit last week by Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Allawi.

As he has before, Rumsfeld noted that Iraqis were still volunteering to serve in the security forces and reporting to work in government ministries despite car bombings and assassinations that have claimed the lives of many Iraqis.

US military leaders have said about 700 members of the Iraqi security services have been killed this year. There is no count of the civilian toll from the violence, but estimates run into the thousands.

"I mean, it depends on your definition of a success," Rumsfeld said when asked whether the insurgents were having success.

"If you successfully kill a regional governor or a chief of police, if you successfully do that, why I suppose you can say that was a success from a murderer and a terrorist standpoint," he said.

"If they can disrupt things, they feel they've been successful," he said.

On the other hand, he said, other information suggested Iraqis were turning away from Islamist extremists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian blamed for many of the most grisly beheadings and car bombings.

"A lot of information is suggesting that the Iraqi people some of the tribes, even in the Sunni areas are getting fed up with Zarqawi and his terrorist crowd killing their friends and neighbors and relatives," he said.

"And how it will tip is something that we have to keep our eye on," he said. "But I am personally convinced that we've got a very good crack -- the Iraqis have a very good crack -- at being successful in this important and noble effort."


Playing With the Election Rules

The New York Times
September 30, 2004

Playing With the Election Rules

One of the lessons of the election mess in Florida in 2000 was that a secretary of state can deprive a large number of people of the right to vote by small manipulations of the rules. This year in Ohio and Colorado, two key battlegrounds, the secretaries of state have been interpreting the rules in ways that could prevent thousands of eligible Americans from voting. In both states, the courts should step in.

Just weeks before the deadline to register, Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state, instructed the state's county boards of election to reject registrations on paper of less than 80-pound stock - the sort used for paperback-book covers and postcards, compared with the 20-to-24-pound stock in everyday use. He said he was concerned about forms' being mailed without envelopes and mangled by postal equipment. But the directive applied to all registration forms, even those sent in an envelope or delivered by hand. Mr. Blackwell, a Republican, acted in the midst of an unprecedented state voter registration drive, which is signing up far more Democrats than Republicans.

Under intense criticism, Mr. Blackwell has backed off. Earlier this week, his office said it would not be the "paper police," but said it was not withdrawing the directive. Yesterday, it said he had advised county boards to accept registrations on any paper. But the advisory is worded so inartfully that it could create confusion. And it is unclear how many registrations may have already been rejected. The burden is now on Mr. Blackwell to ensure that counties have not rejected valid registrations.

Mr. Blackwell's second directive tells local elections officials to follow a bad policy Ohio adopted on provisional ballots. This is the first presidential election in which every voter whose eligibility is in doubt has the right to cast a ballot and to have the vote's validity verified later. But Ohio and some other states have tried to gut this guarantee by not counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong polling places. There is no reason to do that.

This rule could void many votes. There will be a flood of first-time voters this year, who may not know where to vote. And some polling places have been changed by redistricting. Mr. Blackwell says poll workers should help voters call an elections hot line to find out where to go. But these hot lines are often busy on Election Day. Poor people and members of minorities, who move more often than most voters, are likely to be most affected. Ohio Democrats, who expect to do well among these groups, are fighting the rule in court.

In Colorado, Secretary of State Donetta Davidson, also a Republican, has issued a bizarre ruling of her own on this issue. She will allow provisional ballots cast at the wrong polling places to count for only the presidential race. The Senate race in Colorado, among the closest in the nation, could determine control of the Senate, and there is no reason all valid provisional ballots should not count in this race or for statewide ballot propositions. Colorado Common Cause is challenging Ms. Davidson's rule, but she should not need a court to tell her to count the votes.

Democrats say these rulings are all attempts to disqualify thousands of Democratic votes. Whatever the motivation, they threaten to disenfranchise voters. They have no place in our democracy.


It's the Spin, Not the Debate

It's the Spin, Not the Debate
By Douglas E. Schoen

September 29, 2004

Yes, the Thursday night debate will be critically important to John Kerry and George W. Bush. Polls indicate that 60% to 84% of the electorate will watch all or part of it. And yes, the candidates are right to be feverishly studying, memorizing and rehearsing for their 90-minute encounter. But the real question is not how many tens of millions of people tune in, and it's not necessarily how well the candidates perform either. The real question is what happens in the moments, hours and days after the debate is over.

Why do I say that? Four years ago, instant polls conducted by the media after the first debate between then-Texas Gov. Bush and Vice President Al Gore showed a narrow Gore advantage. Furthermore, respondents indicated in these initial measurements (taken among 500 people over the telephone in the 30 minutes after the debate ended) that the debates had almost no effect on their choice for president. Those who were for Bush before the debates remained in support of him immediately after. The same was true for Gore's supporters.

Yet, within a week (a week during which not much else of substance happened in the campaign), Bush had gained 8 percentage points. In addition, polls showed that the American people had changed their minds and were now convinced that Bush, not Gore, had won the encounter.

How did this happen?

The Bush campaign had persuaded the media, and hence the American people, that the vice president was overbearing and presumptuous in his manner during the debate. And so even though some people had initially said Gore offered more elaborate answers during the debate, by a week after the encounter, the tide of public perception had shifted and Bush was believed to have won. With that belief came a significant narrowing of Gore's margin in national polls.

Both sides this year will try to accomplish what Bush and his advisors did four years ago. The debate format offers little chance for interplay between the two candidates, suggesting that the American people are likely to see rehearsed answers to anticipated questions — questions that each candidate has answered time and again.

So each campaign's real work will begin immediately after the debate, as both sides work to provide reporters with documentary evidence that the other side made mistakes, flipped-flopped and offered answers that were lacking in depth and specificity.

The candidates' surrogates and operatives will try to draw the media's attention to scripted sound bites each candidate has delivered in the hope that reporters and commentators will treat these comments as representative of what really happened and was most important in the debate.

The hope is that like Ronald Reagan's "there you go again" line in 1980, one comment will become the prism through which voters come to view the entire confrontation.

Close to half a billion dollars will be spent trying to influence voters during October and early November. There is certain to be a deluge of television ads, direct mail, phone calls, partisan speeches and rallies.

However, all this money and effort is likely to be less important than how the two candidates and their surrogates handle the 48 to 72 hours following the first debate. Tune in both before and after the confrontation to get a very clear sense of what is likely to be the result on Nov. 2.


Bush-Cheney flip-flops cost America in blood


In the Northwest: Bush-Cheney flip-flops cost America in blood

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


As George W. Bush has lately shown, the tactic of successfully defining your opponent is to political conflict what occupying the high ground is to waging war.

The Bush-Cheney campaign has gleefully labeled John Kerry a flip-flopper. But what of Bush-Cheney flip-flops? They're getting a lot less ink, but America is paying a price in blood.

Little noticed, and worthy of lengthy consideration, is a speech delivered by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1992 to the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

The words of our future vice president -- defending the decision to end Gulf War I without occupying Iraq -- eerily foretell today's morass. Here is what Cheney said in '92:

"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.

"And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties. And while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war.

"And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

How -- given what he said then -- does Cheney get off challenging the judgment and strength of those who argue that we are bogged down and shedding blood today?

Is Saddam worth the lives of 1,046 (at last count) dead Americans, and 7,000 injured Americans?

Dick Cheney posed the hard-nosed questions that should be asked by a president in time of war. George Bush is out on the campaign trail boasting he's hard-nosed because he didn't ask how a "Mission Accomplished!" could unravel.

Kerry is taking a pounding from the relentless Republican message machine. A GOP TV ad shows Kerry windsurfing, with Strauss' "Blue Danube" waltz playing in the background, as the voice-over claims the nominee has shifted positions "whichever way the wind blows."

In case the "mainstream" media are interested, or Fox News wants to balance its reporting to furnish a few moments of fairness, here are a few Bush flip-flops that might be put before the voters:

Nation-Building: As a candidate, Dubya traveled the land in 2000 denouncing the Clinton administration for using U.S. troops in what he called "nation-building."

"I'm worried about an opponent who uses nation-building and the military in the same sentence," he told a rally. "My view of the military is for our military to be properly prepared to fight and win wars -- therefore, (to) prevent war from happening in the first place."

What are we doing in Iraq if not "nation-building?" Enmeshed in Iraq, are we properly prepared to fight such crazies as the nuclear weapon-equipped "Great Leader" of North Korea, Kim Jong Il?

Our Real Enemy: Two days after 9/11, President Bush declared: "The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our No. 1 priority, and we will not rest until we find him."

Six months later, laying political groundwork for the Iraq war, the president said: "I don't know where he is. I have no idea and I really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."

The 9/11 Commission: The White House initially opposed creation of an independent commission to investigate causes of the 9/11 atrocities. A July 2002 statement read: "The administration would oppose an amendment that would create a new commission to conduct a similar review (to Congress' investigation)."

The administration reversed course five months later. The bipartisan commission, including former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., distinguished itself at hearings and in its findings and recommendations.

Homeland Security: In the fall of 2001, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., proposed creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer outlined the administration's opposition in October 2001, saying Congress did not need to make the director's job "a statutory post" and that "every agency of the government has security concerns."

A year later, the Bush administration was flaying Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. -- a Vietnam triple amputee -- for allegedly being an obstacle to creation of the department. Anti-Cleland ads showing Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein flashed across the TV screens of Georgia.

Such are this administration's major national security flip-flops. But other flips bear on our safety.

During the 2000 campaign, candidate Bush pledged to limit carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. It didn't happen. The president promised to support -- or at least sign -- renewal of Congress' 1994 ban on military-style assault weapons. The Bush administration didn't lift a finger to extend the ban, which recently expired.

Out here on America's "Left Coast," candidate George Bush proclaimed himself a steadfast free trader. Even today, Republican State Chairman Chris Vance hammers Kerry as a flip-flopper on trade.

How, then, to explain the president's 2002 decision to slap tariffs of 8 to 30 percent on steel imports to the United States? (The tariffs were lifted after 21 months.)

Answer: The steel-producing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia have 46 fought-over electoral votes in this year's election.


Viewer beware: Debate rhetoric just that


Thursday, September 30, 2004 · Last updated 3:43 a.m. PT

Viewer beware: Debate rhetoric just that


WASHINGTON -- Thursday's presidential debate on foreign policy should come with a disclaimer: What you hear from the candidates is not necessarily what you would get in the next four years.

Consider these words from Gov. George W. Bush when he debated foreign affairs with Vice President Al Gore on Oct. 11, 2000:

"Strong relations in Europe is in our nation's interest."

"If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're humble but strong, they'll welcome us."

"We're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops."

Critics say none of those remarks characterizes Bush's presidency, pointing out that relations with some European nations - particularly France and Germany - became frayed over the Iraq war. They argue that "humble" hardly describes Bush's foreign policy, often citing a standard campaign declaration by Vice President Dick Cheney that "we will never seek a permission slip to defend the United States of America."

Iraq has evolved from the quick ouster of a dictator into the largest of all nation-building projects since World War II, with the U.S. military running the country for more than a year and the National Guard and Reserves stretched to keep enough troops in Iraq.

That Bush's presidency would differ from his campaign rhetoric is not surprising.

Just moving into the Oval Office can change a politician's world view. Unforeseen events can lead to a drastic reshuffling of national security priorities - and few presidents have had to deal with an event of the magnitude of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Moreover the foreign policy agenda has changed. The Balkans and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were big issues in the 2000 debate; terrorism was not even mentioned.

It is hard to imagine that four years from now, the big issues in Thursday's debate - Iraq and terrorism - will have disappeared. But other issues could boil over in that time, such as Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, turmoil in Haiti or the uncertain future of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

None of this means that candidates' comments Thursday are irrelevant. Some of Bush's policies clearly reflected his positions in the debate. He said he would pursue anti-ballistic missile systems - and he did. He said foreign aid should encourage free-markets and political reforms. That became the basis of his Millennium Challenge Account program.

Most significantly, Bush made clear he would get tough on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He better not be or there's going to be a consequence should I be the president," he said during that 2000 debate.

But Bush also said, "It's going to be important to rebuild that coalition to keep the pressure on him." Democrats say Bush did not do enough to rebuild the broad multinational coalition that provided troops and money that forced Saddam's military out of Kuwait in the earlier Persian Gulf War.

Instead, Bush organized the "coalition of the willing" that left the United States providing most of the soldiers and money in Iraq.

Bush also said that when a president sends troops into a conflict, "the force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined."

Critics say not enough troops were used to secure Iraq after Saddam was toppled and contend there's no clear exit strategy. Bush has defended troop levels and said U.S. forces will leave once Iraqis themselves can defend the country.

In the debate, Bush also said would try to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, "but it won't be on my timetable. It will be on the timetable that people are comfortable with in the Middle East."

The road map for peace laid out by the Bush administration, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, set 2005 as the goal for creating a Palestinian state. The peace process has faltered and Bush has acknowledged the 2005 target may no longer be realistic.

How a President Gore might have compared with a candidate Gore is anyone's guess, but there are hints of differences.

Gore has become a sharp critic of Bush's handling of Iraq, accusing him of undertaking "a reckless, discretionary war against a nation that posed no immediate threat to us whatsoever."

But, at the debate, Gore also promised a stronger policy against Saddam. He said Saddam needed to understand "he's dealing with us" if he threatened Israel. He also said wanted to "give robust support to the groups that are trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein."

In deflecting criticism of Clinton's Iraq policies, Gore seemed to take his rival's father, the first President Bush, to task because he did not try to topple Saddam in the Persian Gulf War.

"For whatever reasons, it was not finished in a way that removed Saddam Hussein from power. I know there are all kinds of circumstances and explanations. But the fact is that that's the situation that was left when I got there (to the vice presidency)," he said.


On the Net:

October 11, 2000 The Second Gore-Bush Presidential Debate transcript:


Some facts to go with the spin from the campaigns

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Here are some facts to go with the spin from the campaigns


WASHINGTON -- To hear George Bush tell it, John Kerry can't decide whether to back U.S. troops in Iraq or Saddam Hussein. Kerry, for his part, casts Bush as a president who can't lead and won't tell the truth.

Rhetorical distortions come out of the campaigns' echo chamber and into the open tonight, when the opponents face off in the first televised presidential debate.

"That's why I look forward to this debate," Kerry said in an interview broadcast yesterday on the ABC television network, "because it's an opportunity to be able to really let the American people know the truth and know where you stand."

For the most part, the contenders haven't made up fibs out of whole cloth. Instead, they use a few threads from each other's positions to spin a loosely woven tapestry in which night masquerades as day. Here are some such issues that may come up in the debate.

Kerry on support of troops

Bush gets a lot of mileage in his standard stump speech by noting that Kerry refused to support a White House request a year ago for $87 billion in supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Only 12 United States' senators voted against it -- two of whom are my opponent and his running mate," Bush said at a Sept. 24 campaign rally in Wisconsin.

On Oct. 17, 2003, a bill providing $87 billion in emergency funding for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan was passed by the House on a 303-125 vote and the Senate by 87 to 12.

Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., both of whom had voted earlier to grant the president the authority to wage war on Iraq, voted against the $87 billion measure.

However, both of them voted earlier for an alternative measure that would have approved the $87 billion but was conditioned on repealing much of Bush's tax cuts. That proposal failed, 57-42, in the Senate.

Kerry says the vote against the later measure was a protest over its funding, which included no-bid contracts.

In an early attempt to defend his position, Kerry uttered the phrase -- "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" -- that Bush strategists have used to crystallize the image of Kerry as a flip-flopper.

Kerry concedes that utterance was "an inarticulate moment." But in the ABC interview, he insisted that "it reflects the truth of the position. ... I thought that the wealthiest people of America should share in that burden. It was a protest."

Diversion of resources

Kerry, for his part, has accused Bush of pressing war in Iraq at the expense of pursuing Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.

"He took his eye off that ball," Kerry charged in a Sept. 21 news conference in Florida, going on to say Bush had "transferred troops out from under" commanders in Afghanistan.

Retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the U.S. invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, has denied that charge.

While 9,000 U.S. troops went into Afghanistan for the October 2001 assault, that number fell to 3,000 by year's end. It was back up to 8,000 in March 2003, when Bush launched the war against Iraq, and that number remained unchanged for the next several months. There are about 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now.

Kerry prefers Saddam?

"Incredibly, this week, my opponent said he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today," Bush told cheering supporters at a Sept. 23 campaign rally in Bangor, Maine, and elsewhere during the campaign.

That is not what Kerry said. This is:

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell," Kerry said. "But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

The next day, Kerry said, "What I have always said is that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. I believe there was a more responsible way to do it."

Cost of the Iraq war

Kerry frequently says the war in Iraq has cost "$200 billion and counting." This is a misleading figure since it includes funds scheduled to be spent next fiscal year and funds spent in Afghanistan and to protect U.S. cities. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the price tag for the Iraq war so far is around $120 billion. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated the cost of the Iraq operation at $93.7 billion. The CBO estimated, however, that the war would cost another $56 billion next year, about half of which Congress has already approved.

Iraq invasion link

Bush often discusses his September 2002 speech to the United Nations as part of his defense of the Iraq war.

"I gave a speech to the United Nations," Bush said recently. "They looked at the same intelligence I had looked at. ... And they voted, 15 to nothing, to say to Saddam Hussein: disclose, disarm or face serious consequences."

The U.N. Security Council did pass a resolution in November 2002 four months before Bush launched war. The resolution, however, never defined "serious consequences" as military action. Two days before the war, Bush pulled a war resolution from Security Council consideration in the face of sure defeat. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has since called the invasion of Iraq "illegal" because it lacked a U.N. mandate.


Judge strikes down key surveillance provision of Patriot Act

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ruling a blow to Patriot Act
Judge strikes down key surveillance provision of law


NEW YORK -- A federal judge struck down a key surveillance provision of the USA Patriot Act yesterday, ruling that it broadly violated the Constitution by giving federal authorities unchecked powers to obtain private information.

The ruling, by Judge Victor Marrero of federal court in Manhattan, was the first to uphold a challenge to the surveillance sections of the act, which were adopted in October 2001 to expand the powers of the federal government in national security investigations.

The ruling assails one piece of the law, finding that it violates both free speech and unreasonable search protections, and is likely to provide fuel for other court challenges.

The ruling came in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against a kind of subpoena created under the act, known as a national security letter. Such letters required Internet service companies to provide personal information about their subscribers and barred them from disclosing to anyone that they had received the subpoena.

Such subpoenas could be issued without court review, under provisions that seemed to bar those who received it from discussing it with a lawyer.

Marrero vehemently rejected the provision, saying that it was unique in American law in its "all-inclusive sweep" and had "no place in our open society."

He ordered that his ruling would not take effect for 90 days, to give the Bush administration time to appeal.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, called the ruling a "stunning victory against John Ashcroft's Justice Department."

The ruling comes as Congress is debating additions to the Patriot Act to reflect the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. It does not affect many sections of the act that give the government enhanced powers to control immigration, conduct searches and investigate financial support for terrorism.

The ACLU suit was brought on behalf of John Doe, an Internet provider firm that received a national security letter from the FBI, but was barred under its terms from revealing its name. Until the judge revealed the facts of the case in his ruling, the ACLU had been reluctant to state publicly that it was representing a firm that had received a national security letter.

The companies were required to provide customers' names, addresses and credit card data, and also details of their Internet use. It is not clear how many of the subpoenas have been issued in the last three years. But a list obtained by the ACLU covering the 14 months after the act was passed was six pages long, although all the companies' names were blacked out.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What If...?

What If...?

If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?

President Bush said Tuesday that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.

What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?

What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington, DC and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in Army or National Guard units?

There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totaling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha, such that local police and Federal troops could not go into those cities?

What if, during the past year, the Secretary of State (Aqilah Hashemi), the President (Izzedine Salim), and the Attorney General (Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim) had all been assassinated?

What if all the cities in the US were wracked by a crime wave, with thousands of murders, kidnappings, burglaries, and carjackings in every major city every year?

What if the Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Billings, Montana, Flint, Michigan, Watts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Anacostia in Washington, DC, and other urban areas, attempting to target "safe houses" of "criminal gangs", but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies?

What if, from time to time, the US Army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers?

What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Wall?

What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the US Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?

What if there were virtually no commercial air traffic in the country? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially Interstate 95 from Richmond to Washington, DC, and I-95 and I-91 up to Boston? If you got on I-95 anywhere along that over 500-mile stretch, you would risk being carjacked, kidnapped, or having your car sprayed with machine gun fire.

What if no one had electricity for much more than 10 hours a day, and often less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt and air conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Houston and Miami?

What if the Alaska pipeline were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40%?

What if veterans of militia actions at Ruby Ridge and the Oklahoma City bombing were brought in to run the government on the theory that you need a tough guy in these times of crisis?

What if municipal elections were cancelled and cliques close to the new "president" quietly installed in the statehouses as "governors?"

What if several of these governors (especially of Montana and Wyoming) were assassinated soon after taking office or resigned when their children were taken hostage by guerrillas? What if the leader of the European Union maintained that the citizens of the United States are, under these conditions, refuting pessimism and that freedom and democracy are just around the corner?


The ridiculous 32 page contract on the so-called debates

The so-called debates will be nothing more than a Question & Answer period, with the most bizarre rules ever for such a televised appearances of opposing candidates on the same stage.

Don't believe it? See the actual document for yourself:


Bush Ad Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq

Bush Ad Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq

Selective use of Kerry's own words makes him look inconsistent on Iraq. A closer look gives a different picture.


Kerry has never wavered from his support for giving Bush authority to use force in Iraq, nor has he changed his position that he, as President, would not have gone to war without greater international support. But a Bush ad released Sept. 27 takes many of Kerry's words out of context to make him appear to be alternately praising the war and condemning it.

Here we present this highly misleading ad, along with what Kerry actually said, in full context.


This ad is the most egregious example so far in the 2004 campaign of using edited quotes in a way that changes their meaning and misleads voters.

Bush-Cheney '04


Bush: I'm George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Kerry: It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the President made the decision I supported him.

Kerry: I don't believe the President took us to war as he should have.

Kerry: The winning of the war was brilliant.

Kerry: It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Kerry: I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction.

Kerry: I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it.

(Graphic: How can John Kerry protect us . . .when he doesn't even know where he stands?)

"Right Decision"

Kerry is shown saying it was "the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein." What's left out is that he prefaced that by saying Bush should have made greater use of diplomacy to accomplish that.

The quote is from May 3, 2003, at the first debate among Democratic presidential contenders, barely three weeks after the fall of Baghdad. The question was from ABC's George Stephanopoulos:

Q: And Senator Kerry, the first question goes to you. On March 19th, President Bush ordered General Tommy Franks to execute the invasion of Iraq. Was that the right decision at the right time?

Kerry: George, I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity, but I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the President made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm him.

(Note: We have added the emphasis in these and the following quotes to draw attention to the context left out by the Bush ad.)

"As he should have"

The full "right decision" quote is actually quite consistent with the next Kerry quote, "I don't believe the President took us to war as he should have," which is from an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" program Jan. 6, 2004:

Q: Do you think you belong to that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war, the way it's been fought, along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt? Are you one of the anti-war candidates?

Kerry: I am -- Yes, in the sense that I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes, absolutely. Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris.

Q: Let me...

Kerry: Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was, and we should have done it right.

"Winning of the war was brilliant"

When Kerry said "the winning of the war was brilliant" he wasn't praising Bush for waging the war, he was praising the military for the way they accomplished the mission. He also repeated his criticism of Bush for failing to better plan for what came next. This was also on "Hardball," May 19:

Q: All this terrorism. If you were president, how would you stop it?

Kerry: Well, it's going to take some time to stop it, Chris, but we have an enormous amount of cooperation to build one other countries. I think the administration is not done enough of the hard work of diplomacy, reaching out to nations, building the kind of support network.

I think they clearly have dropped the ball with respect to the first month in the after -- winning the war. That winning of the war was brilliant and superb, and we all applaud our troops for doing what they did, but you've got to have the capacity to provide law and order on the streets and to provide the fundamentally services, and I believe American troops will be safer and America will pay less money if we have a broader coalition involved in that, including the United Nations.

"Wrong war, wrong place"

When Kerry called Iraq "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time" he was once again criticizing Bush for failing to get more international support before invading Iraq. He criticized Bush for what he called a "phony coalition" of allies:

Kerry (Sept 6, 2004): You've got about 500 troops here, 500 troops there, and it's American troops that are 90 percent of the combat casualties, and it's American taxpayers that are paying 90 percent of the cost of the war . . . It's the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Earlier that same day at another campaign appearance he repeated pretty much what he's said all along:

Kerry (Sept 6, 2004): "I would not have done just one thing differently than the president on Iraq, I would have done everything differently than the president on Iraq. I said this from the beginning of the debate to the walk up to the war. I said, 'Mr. President, don't rush to war, take the time to build a legitimate coalition and have a plan to win the peace ."

We May Find WMD's

Nine months of fruitless searching have gone by since Kerry said on Dec. 14, 2003 that weapons of mass destruction might yet be found in Iraq. But what's most misleading about the Bush ad's editing is that it takes that remark out of a long-winded -- but still consistent -- explanation of Kerry's overall position on Iraq:

The exchange was on Fox News Sunday, with host Chris Wallace:

Q: But isn't it, in a realistic political sense going to be a much harder case to make to voters when you have that extraordinary mug shot of Saddam Hussein...looking like he's been dragged into a police line-up?

Kerry: Absolutely not, because I voted to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. I knew we had to hold him accountable. There's never been a doubt about that. But I also know that if we had done this with a sufficient number of troops, if we had done this in a globalized way, if we had brought more people to the table, we might have caught Saddam Hussein sooner. We might have had less loss of life. We would be in a stronger position today with respect to what we're doing.

Look, again, I repeat, Chris, I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction. I don't know the answer to that. We will still have to do the job of rebuilding Iraq and resolving the problem between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds. There are still difficult steps ahead of us.

The question that Americans want to know is, what is the best way to proceed? Not what is the most lonely and single-track ideological way to proceed. I believe the best way to proceed is to bring other countries to the table, get some of our troops out of the target, begin to share the burden.

The $87 Billion

The final quote is the one in which the Bush ad takes its best shot. Kerry not only said it, he did it. He voted for an alternative resolution that would have approved $87 billion in emergency funds for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was conditioned on repealing much of Bush's tax cuts, and it failed 57-42. On the key, up-or-down vote on the $87 billion itself Kerry was only one of 12 senators in opposition, along with the man who later become his running mate, Sen. John Edwards.

It's not only Bush who criticizes Kerry's inconsistency on that vote. Rival Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, a senator who also had voted to give Bush authority to use force in Iraq, said: "I don't know how John Kerry and John Edwards can say they supported the war but then opposed the funding for the troops who went to fight the war that the resolution that they supported authorized." Lieberman spoke at a candidate debate in Detroit Oct. 26, 2003.

Another Democratic rival who criticized Kerry for that vote was Rep. Dick Gephardt, who said beforehand that he would support the $87 billion "because it is the only responsible course of action. We must not send an ambiguous message to our troops, and we must not send an uncertain message to our friends and enemies in Iraq."

But aside from the $87 billion matter, this Bush ad is a textbook example of how to mislead voters through selective editing.


"Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Sponsored by ABC News," Federal News Service, 3 May 2003.
"Interview with John Kerry," MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews, 6 Jan 2004.
"Interview with John Kerry," MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews, 19 May 2004.
Lois Romano and Paul Farhi, "Kerry Attacks Bush on Handling of Iraq," The Washington Post 7 Sep 2004: A8.
Calvin Woodward, "Kerry Slams 'Wrong War in the Wrong Place,'" The Associated Press , 6 Sep 2004.
Fox News Sunday, "Interview with John Kerry," 14 December 2003.
Adam Nagourney and Diane Cardwell, "Democrats in Debate Clash Over Iraq War," New York Times, 27 Oct 2003: A1.
Joe Klein, "Profiles in Convenience," Time magazine, 19 Oct 2003.




CBS Censors the Truth about Bush’s Case for War

CBS Censors the Truth about Bush’s Case for War

President Bush based his famous and false claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger on a set of crudely forged documents. For the last two years, no one has uncovered who falsified these documents, which lie at the heart of Bush's case for war.

Now, CBS' 60 Minutes program has uncovered new and important revelations about the Bush administration's reliance on the documents. But, in an unprecedented and astonishing move, CBS bumped the report back until after the election, saying it would be "inappropriate" to air the piece when it might interfere with the political season.

It's outrageous that a major TV news outlet would censor an important piece of news for political reasons. Especially since this report has met CBS' standards for accuracy — it's true. One can only assume that CBS is buckling under pressure from the right — and that's just plain wrong.

Demand that CBS air its 60 Minutes report on Iraq before November 2nd.

Call CBS and its parent company, Viacom, now, at:

Sumner Redstone, Chairman, Viacom
(212) 258-6000

Les Moonves, Chairman of CBS; co-President & co-CEO, Viacom
(323) 575-2345

Andrew Heyward, President, CBS News
(212) 975-3247 or
(212) 975-4321

If you don't get through, you can write to CBS at:

You can also contact CBS' local affiliates, which are linked here:

Urge CBS to reverse its decision and air the 60 Minutes piece on Iraq before the November 2nd election. Let them know how important it is that they not censor the news.





Excluding Gallup, 14 national polls of likely voters (all released in the last two weeks) show Bush with an average lead of only about three percent.

If John Kerry believed in the Gallup poll, he might as well give up.

A couple of weeks ago, a highly publicized Gallup poll of “likely voters” showed President Bush with a staggering 14-point lead.

But wait a minute. Seven other polls of likely voters were released that same week. On average, they showed Bush with just a three-point lead. No one else came close to Gallup’s figures. And this isn’t the first time the prestigious Gallup survey has been out on a limb with pro-Bush findings.

What’s going on here? It’s not exactly that Gallup’s cooking the books. Rather, they are refusing to fix a longstanding problem with their likely voter methodology.

Simply put, Gallup’s methodology has predicted lately that Republican turnout on Election Day is likely to exceed Democrats’ by six to eight percentage points. But exit polls show otherwise: in each of the last two Presidential elections, Democratic turnout exceeded Republican by four to five points. That discrepancy alone can account for nearly all of Bush’s phantom 14-point lead.

This is more than just a numbers game. Poll results profoundly affect a campaign’s news coverage as well as the public’s perception of the candidates.

Two media outlets, CNN and USA Today, bear special responsibility for this problem. They pay for many of Gallup’s surveys, in exchange for the right to add their names to the polls and trumpet the results first. They wind up acting as unquestioning promotional partners, rather than as critical journalists.

The public would be better served if journalists asked some tough questions, beginning with the Gallup Organization, which has been asked to select the audience for the Bush-Kerry “town meeting” debate on October 8.

George Gallup Jr., son of the poll’s founder, was the longtime head of the company and now directs its non-profit research center.Why hasn’t he pushed for an update of the company’s likely voter modeling, which his own father pioneered in the 1950s?

Gallup, who is a devout evangelical Christian, has been quoted as calling his polling “a kind of ministry.” And a few months ago, he said “the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God.”

We thought the purpose is to faithfully and factually report public opinion.


How to Debate George Bush

The New York Times
September 29, 2004

How to Debate George Bush

This year, as usual, the dominance of attack advertisements on television has made it hard to get a clear picture of where the candidates stand. But the same media revolution that brought us the 30-second commercial also brought us televised presidential debates - and ever since the first of them 44 years ago, they have played a crucial role in shaping voters' opinions of the candidates.

America has long been devoted to the clash between opposing advocates as the best way to evaluate information. In this era of media clutter, it is all the more important for voters to have this moment of simple clarity when the candidates appear before them stripped of advisers, sound bites and media spin.

My advice to John Kerry is simple: be prepared for the toughest debates of your career. While George Bush's campaign has made "lowering expectations" into a high art form, the record is clear - he's a skilled debater who uses the format to his advantage. There is no reason to expect any less this time around. And if anyone truly has "low expectations" for an incumbent president, that in itself is an issue.

But more important than his record as a debater is Mr. Bush's record as a president. And therein lies the true opportunity for John Kerry - because notwithstanding the president's political skills, his performance in office amounts to a catastrophic failure. And the debates represent a time to hold him to account. For the voters, these debates represent an opportunity to explore four relevant questions: Is America on the right course today, or are we off track? If we are headed in the wrong direction, what happened and who is responsible? How do we get back on the right path to a safer, more secure, more prosperous America? And, finally, who is best able to lead us to that path?

A clear majority of Americans believe that we are heading in the wrong direction. The reasons are obvious. The situation in Iraq is getting worse. Osama bin Laden is alive and plotting against us. About 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. Forty-five million Americans are living without health insurance. Medicare premiums are the highest they've ever been. Environmental protections have been eviscerated.

In the coming debates, Senator Kerry has an opportunity to show voters that today American troops and American taxpayers are shouldering a huge burden with no end in sight because Mr. Bush took us to war on false premises and with no plan to win the peace. Mr. Kerry has an opportunity to demonstrate the connection between job losses and Mr. Bush's colossal tax break for the wealthy. And he can remind voters that Mr. Bush has broken his pledge to expand access to health care.

Senator Kerry can also use these debates to speak directly to voters and lay out a hopeful vision for our future. If voters walk away from the debates with a better understanding of where our country is, how we got here and where each candidate will lead us if elected, then America will be the better for it. The debate tomorrow should not seek to discover which candidate would be more fun to have a beer with. As Jon Stewart of the "The Daily Show'' nicely put in 2000, "I want my president to be the designated driver.''

The debates aren't a time for rhetorical tricks. It's a time for an honest contest of ideas. Mr. Bush's unwillingness to admit any mistakes may score him style points. But it makes hiring him for four more years too dangerous a risk. Stubbornness is not strength; and Mr. Kerry must show voters that there is a distinction between the two.

If Mr. Bush is not willing to concede that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq, can he be trusted to make the decisions necessary to change the situation? If he insists on continuing to pretend it is "mission accomplished," can he accomplish the mission? And if the Bush administration has been so thoroughly wrong on absolutely everything it predicted about Iraq, with the horrible consequences that have followed, should it be trusted with another four years?

The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.

Al Gore, vice president from 1993 to 2001, was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000.