Saturday, October 15, 2005

Double Game

Double Game
Regardless of whether Miers makes it to the Supreme Court, conservative anger over Bush’s choice could paralyze the rest of his presidency.

By Eleanor Clift

Oct. 14, 2005 - Democrats are doing what they do best, sitting on their rear ends, as the White House turns the venom on its own base, accusing conservatives of sexism because they don’t like President Bush's Supreme Court pick. For once, the Democrats have the right strategy. Watching the evangelists wrestle with the conservative intellegentsia is the political equivalent of Hulk Hogan taking on Jesse (the Body) Ventura.

It doesn’t matter who comes out on top, the moves are worth the price of admission. President Bush wouldn’t care either if it were just the pointy-headed neocons griping about Harriet Miers. But he’s scared of losing his religious base. The reason the religious right got involved in Republican politics was for this moment: when a pro-life president would reward their years of hard work with a Supreme Court that voted their way.

The religious right doesn’t care about affirmative action or antitrust issues or the reach of the court. All they care about is abortion, and Bush’s attempts to reassure them by stressing Miers’s evangelical faith is compounding his problems with the rest of the party, if not the country. Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson said he’d been assured by White House pointman Karl Rove that Miers attends a “very conservative” Texas church “which is almost universally pro-life.” That was good enough for Dobson, but a former Reagan aide involved in the nomination of Judge Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court recalled similar assurances that Kennedy was an ardent Roman Catholic who would vote right on abortion and other social issues. Kennedy voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.

Bush is playing a dangerous double game. He’s telling conservatives that because of her faith, Miers will vote the way they want. And he’s telling the rest of the country religion is irrelevant in choosing a Supreme Court nominee.

What about stem-cell research? Americans are close to unified on supporting federal funding on this research. Is Miers going to vote Dobson’s way on everything or only on abortion? On Capitol Hill, Republican senators were less impressed with Miers after meeting with her, noting that she avoided stating her views either out of an excess of caution or ignorance of constitutional law. GOP staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were in open revolt, suggesting Miers should step down while she still has some dignity left.

Is it sexism? The president, First Lady and senior White House advisors said as much, further infuriating conservatives who’d heard enough of that over the years from Democrats. Miers’s gender isn’t the issue; it’s her credentials, or lack thereof. “A man with her credentials did get the same treatment--his name was Clarence Thomas,” says a former Republican Senate staffer, a woman. “Her shortcomings look worse because of those sappy, stupid notes. No man would ever write those notes.” Miers has a scant body of writing, but among the bursts of prose made public this week by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission were these gems: ”You are the best governor ever--deserving of great respect” on Bush’s 51st birthday. In another note, she pronounced him “cool.” Bush returned the compliments, thanking Miers for her “candor” and adding, “never hold back your sage advice.”

Miers spent most of her time at the White House shuffling papers. She was responsible for getting Bush his daily document minder, and it was always nice and neat. But the Supreme Court is not a patronage post. “It’s like putting your own personal accountant in charge of OMB [Office of Management and Budget],” says the former GOP staffer. “Nobody supports her. Who wants to defend someone with a record that’s nonexistent?”

The answer is the evangelical poohbahs--Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who are all over the religious airways touting Miers. On his “700 Club” broadcast, Robertson threatened grass-roots retaliation: “These so-called movement conservatives don’t have much of a following, the ones that I’m aware of. And you just marvel, these are the senators, some of them who voted to confirm the general counsel of the ACLU [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] to the Supreme Court, and she was voted in almost unanimously. And you say, ‘Now they’re going to turn against a Christian who is a conservative picked by a conservative president and they’re going to vote against her for confirmation.’ Not on your sweet life, if they want to stay in office.”

Conservative Sen. Sam Brownback is not going to be cowed by Pat Robertson, and all it takes is one Republican senator to say he’s not going to vote for her and the cultural war will explode. “If you don’t hear that in a week or so, she’ll skate through,” guesses a GOP strategist. “It will be unpleasant for her, but she’ll get through.” If the nomination goes down, “There’s no overstating how bad this is. He has no ability to change the momentum. All he can hope for is an end to a downward spiral.” Whatever happens to Miers, the damage is done. Conservatives know how to carry a grudge. Just ask Bush's father. Bush is not up for re-election, but the right is vindictive, and they can paralyze his presidency.



The Nexus of Politics and Terror
The Nexus of Politics and Terror
-Keith Olbermann

Secaucus - Last Thursday on Countdown, I referred to the latest terror threat - the reported bomb plot against the New York City subway system - in terms of its timing. President Bush’s speech about the war on terror had come earlier the same day, as had the breaking news of the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation.

I suggested that in the last three years there had been about 13 similar coincidences - a political downturn for the administration, followed by a “terror event” - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning.

We figured we’d better put that list of coincidences on the public record. We did so this evening on the television program, with ten of these examples. The other three are listed at the end of the main list, out of chronological order. The contraction was made purely for the sake of television timing considerations, and permitted us to get the live reaction of the former Undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson.

We bring you these coincidences, reminding you, and ourselves here, that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called “the logical fallacy.” Just because Event “A” occurs, and then Event “B” occurs, that does not automatically mean that Event “A” caused Event “B.”

But one set of comments from an informed observer seems particularly relevant as we examine these coincidences.

On May 10th of this year, after his resignation, former Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge looked back on the terror alert level changes, issued on his watch.

Mr. Ridge said: “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on (alert)… there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said ‘for that?’”

Please, judge for yourself.

Number One:

May 18th, 2002. The first details of the President’s Daily Briefing of August 6th, 2001, are

revealed, including its title - “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S.” The same day another memo is discovered - revealing the FBI knew of men with links to Al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school. The memo was never acted upon. Questions about 9/11 Intelligence failures are swirling.

May 20th, 2002. Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares another terrorist attack “inevitable.” The next day, the Department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide, and against New York City landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

Number Two:

June 6th, 2002. Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, whose information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says Rowley’s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistle-blowers.

June 10th, 2002. Four days later, speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than a month.

Number Three:

February 5th, 2003. Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq’s concealment of weapons, including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike. Many in the UN are doubtful. Months later, much of the information proves untrue.

February 7th, 2003. Two days later, as anti-war demonstrations continue to take place around the globe, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites “credible threats” by Al Qaeda, and raises the terror alert level to orange. Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison - who would become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster - advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack.

Number Four:

July 23rd, 2003: The White House admits the CIA -- months before the President's State of the Union Address -- expressed "strong doubts" about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. On the 24th, the Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is issued; it criticizes government at all levels; it reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future hijackers; and it concludes that Iraq had no link to Al-Qaeda. 28 pages of the report are redacted. On the 26th, American troops are accused of beating Iraqi prisoners.

July 29th, 2003. Three days later, amid all of those negative headlines, Homeland Security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks.

Number Five:

December 17th, 2003. 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a Federal Appeals Court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation-bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, and the chief U.S. Weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, announces he will resign his post.

December 21st, 2003. Three days later, just before Christmas, Homeland Security again raises the threat level to Orange, claiming “credible intelligence” of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. Subsequently, six international flights into this country are cancelled after some passenger names purportedly produce matches on government no-fly lists. The French later identify those matched names: one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five-year old boy.

Number Six:

March 30th, 2004. The new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer tells Congress we have still not found any WMD there. And, after weeks of refusing to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice finally relents and agrees to testify. On the 31st: Four Blackwater-USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah. The role of civilian contractors in Iraq is widely questioned.

April 2nd, 2004. Homeland Security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains, using fertilizer and fuel bombs - like the one detonated in Oklahoma City - stuffed into satchels or duffel bags.

Number Seven:

May 16th, 2004. Secretary of State Powell appears on “Meet The Press.” Moderator Tim Russert closes by asking him about the “enormous personal credibility” Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein. An aide to Powell interrupts the question, saying the interview is over. Powell finishes his answer, admitting that much of the information he had been given about Weapons of Mass Destruction was “inaccurate and wrong, and, in some cases, deliberately misleading.”

May 21st, 2004, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison are released. On the 24th - Associated Press video from Iraq confirms U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party - killing more than 40.

Wednesday the 26th. Two days later, Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller warn that intelligence from multiple sources, in Ashcroft’s words, “indicates Al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard,” and that “90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on the United States were complete.” The color-coded warning system is not raised, and Homeland Security Secretary Ridge does not attend the announcement.

Number Eight:

July 6th, 2004. Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry selects Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate, producing a small bump in the election opinion polls, and a huge swing in media attention towards the Democratic campaign.

July 8th, 2004. Two days later, Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about Al-Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn. Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, DeForest B. Soaries, Junior, confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming Presidential election in the event it is interrupted by terrorist acts.

Number Nine:

July 29th, 2004. At their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for President. As in the wake of any convention, the Democrats dominate the media attention over the ensuing weekend.

Monday, August 1st, 2004. The Department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange. The evidence supporting the warning - reconnaissance data, left in a home in Iraq - later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out-of-date.

Number Ten:

Last Thursday. At 10 AM Eastern Time, the President addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11.

At 3 PM Eastern Time, five hours after the President’s speech has begun, the Associated Press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA Leak Grand Jury, and that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guarantee that he will not be indicted.

At 5:17 PM Eastern Time, seven hours after the President’s speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city’s subway system - based on information supplied by the Federal Government. A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is “of doubtful credibility.” And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days, and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. Local New York television station, WNBC, reports it had the story of the threat days in advance, but was asked by "high ranking federal officials" in New York and Washington to hold off its story.

Less than four days after revealing the threat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says "Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future, we'll slowly be winding down the enhanced security."

While news organizations ranging from the New York Post to NBC News quote sources who say there was reason to believe that informant who triggered the warning simply ‘made it up’, a Senior U.S. Counter-terrorism official tells the New York Times: "There was no there, there."

The list of three additional examples follows.

Number Eleven:

October 22nd, 2004. After weeks of Administration insistence that there are terrorist plans to disrupt the elections, FBI, Law Enforcement, and other U.S. Intelligence agencies report they have found no direct evidence of any plot. More over, they say, a key CIA source who had claimed knowledge of the plot, has been discredited.

October 29, 2004. Seven days later - four days before the Presidential election - the first supposedly new, datable tape of Osama Bin Laden since December 2001 is aired on the Al-Jazeera Network. A Bush-Cheney campaign official anonymously tells the New York Daily News that from his campaign’s point of view, the tape is quote “a little gift.”

Number Twelve:

May 5th, 2005. 88 members of the United States House of Representatives send a letter to President Bush demanding an investigation of the so-called “Downing Street Memo” - a British document which describes purported American desire dating to 2002 to "fix" the evidence to fit the charges against Iraq. In Iraq over the following weekend, car bombings escalate. On the 11th, more than 75 Iraqis are killed in one.

May 11th, 2005. Later that day, an instructor and student pilot violate restricted airspace in Washington D.C. It is an event that happens hundreds of times a year, but this time the plane gets to within three miles of the White House. The Capitol is evacuated; Vice President Cheney, the First Lady, and Nancy Reagan are all rushed to secure locations. The President, biking through woods, is not immediately notified.

Number Thirteen:

June 26th, 2005. A Gallup poll suggests that 61 percent of the American public believes the President does not have a plan in Iraq. On the 28th, Mr. Bush speaks to the nation from Fort Bragg: "We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won."

June 29th 2005. The next day, another private pilot veers into restricted airspace, the Capitol is again evacuated, and this time, so is the President.


To summarize, coincidences are coincidences.

We could probably construct a similar time line of terror events and warnings, and their relationship to - the opening of new Walmarts around the country.

Are these coincidences signs that the government’s approach has worked because none of the announced threats ever materialized? Are they signs that the government has not yet mastered how and when to inform the public?

Is there, in addition to the "fog of war" a simple, benign, "fog of intelligence”?

But, if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country - questions about what is prudence, and what is fear-mongering; questions about which is the threat of death by terror, and which is the terror of threat.

Comments? E-mail:

originally published October 12, 2005


Millions to receive Social Security boost
Millions to receive Social Security boost

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Social Security checks for nearly 50 million Americans are going up next year an average of $39 a month, the biggest boost in 15 years, although rising energy bills and higher Medicare premiums will erase a big chunk of the gain for many.

The 4.1 percent cost of living adjustment announced Friday by the Social Security Administration is the biggest increase since a 5.4 percent gain in 1991. Last year's increase was 2.7 percent.

The average Social Security check will increase from $963 to $1,002 in January.

Rising energy prices, including a record-breaking surge in September, were the driving force behind the big cost of living increase, which is based on changes in the government's Consumer Price Index. The inflation figure rose 1.2 percent in September, the biggest monthly increase in a quarter-century, mostly because of a huge hurricane-linked rise in energy costs.

About one-fourth of the monthly Social Security gain will be eaten up by a rise in Medicare premiums, which will grow by $10.30 per month starting in January.

Still, with gas prices high and home heating oil and natural gas prices following suit, seniors across the country were thankful for anything.

"It's something. It's going to pay for probably the telephone bill," said Murray Levine, 86, as he maneuvered a shopping cart full of groceries in downtown Philadelphia.

That sentiment was echoed by Grace Bryan, 75, of Monroe, Ind., who was waiting with her husband for a train at Union Station in Chicago. "We've cut back," she said. "I think a lot on how much we drive - making our trips count."

Rother says the increase in Social Security benefits is no windfall for recipients.

The government estimated this week that natural gas bills will rise by 48 percent this winter over last winter and heating oil bills will go up by 32 percent, reflecting energy prices that have soared higher in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast production shutdowns caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Dean Swafford, 92, a retired farmer in Rayville, Mo., said the additional Social Security money would go to paying his heating bills.

"Everything that we buy has gone up so fast," he said. "The extra money will be spent, that's for sure."

In addition to the higher premium for Medicare Part B, Medicare recipients who decide to take advantage of the new prescription drug benefit will start paying a premium of around $32 per month in January. The amount will vary depending on which plan they choose.

Bill Novelli, head of AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, said that without the Social Security cost of living adjustments, inflation over the past decade would have reduced beneficiaries' incomes by more than 25 percent. He said the eight out of 10 Americans 65 and older who rely on Social Security as the largest part of their incomes see the COLAS as a critical lifeline.

President Bush had hoped to get Congress this year to pass a Social Security overhaul he viewed as the centerpiece of his second term. It would have bolstered Social Security finances to deal with a looming funding crisis when 78 million baby boomers begin retiring and it would have allowed younger workers to create personal accounts. However, the measure has failed to attract widespread support in Congress.

The cost of living adjustment announced Friday will go to more than 52 million people. More than 48 million receive Social Security benefits and the rest Supplemental Security Income payments, aimed at the poor.

The average retired couple, both receiving Social Security benefits, will see their monthly check go from $1,583 to $1,648.

The standard SSI payment will go from $579 to $603 per month for an individual and $869 to $904 for a couple.

The average monthly check for a disabled worker will go from $902 to $939.

The Social Security Administration also announced Friday that 11.3 million workers will pay higher taxes next year because the maximum amount of Social Security earnings subject to the payroll tax will rise from $90,000 to $94,200 next year. In all, an estimated 159 million workers will pay Social Security taxes next year.

By law, the monthly increase in Medicare premiums cannot be higher than an individual's cost of living adjustment. Social Security recipients whose cost of living increase will be less than the $10.30 premium increase next year will not be forced to pay the entire $10.30.


Associated Press writers Tara Burghart in Chicago, Jeff Douglas in Kansas City and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Social Security Administration:


Group starts move to get Christian converts, voters
Group starts move to get Christian converts, voters

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A new coalition dedicated to converting thousands to Christianity and getting thousands more on voter registration lists got its start Friday with a tightly scripted rally that resembled a revival meeting.

More than 1,000 people gathered outside the Statehouse for the launch of Reformation Ohio. The group, founded by the Rev. Rod Parsley, a television evangelist and pastor of the World Harvest Church in suburban Columbus, vehemently opposes gay rights, and Parsley has written that the teachings of Islam were inspired by demons.

The group's formation comes after last November's election in which Christian conservatives helped pass a gay-marriage ban in Ohio and give President Bush the electoral votes he needed to claim victory.

Speakers included U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas who is considering a White House run in 2008; Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor next year.

Blackwell, who also won Brownback's endorsement Friday, praised the efforts of Parsley and others to sign up new voters. Parsley's goal is to add 400,000 people to voter rolls.

"Reformation Ohio is about history-making times, reforming the culture," Blackwell said. "We are a government that governs only with the consent of the governed."

Brownback, who has emerged as a leading skeptic of President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the nation is engaged in a cultural struggle.

"We need a culture that buttresses our families, not attacks them. We need a society that honors good and condemns what is bad," Brownback said.

Parsley said voter registration is secondary to Reformation Ohio's two main objectives: converting 100,000 people to Christianity within four years and providing food, clothing and other necessities to the needy. He sent his followers from the Statehouse on an evangelical note.

"Sound an alarm. A Holy Ghost invasion is taking place. Man your battle stations, ready your weapons, lock and load," Parsley said to enthusiastic applause.

Participants were mostly members of Parsley's church, with many entire families in attendance. A production staff choreographed the event, much like Parsley's broadcasts from his church, with directors huddled inside a tent and cameras throughout the grounds, including one mounted on a small crane that hovered over the crowd.

Tying evangelical gospel to voter registration is a new phenomenon, said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University who studies political mobilization by religious groups. "Most of these types of groups don't tend to mix these activities in the same venue, at least not so overtly," Rozell said.


US cannot explain suspicious Zawahri letter passage


US cannot explain suspicious Zawahri letter passage

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence officials who released a letter purporting to be from an al Qaeda leader to Iraq insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi this week said on Friday they could not account for a passage that has raised doubts about the document's authenticity.

The July 9 dated letter, which U.S. officials say was written by al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, appears near its close to urge the Iraq insurgent leader to send greetings to himself if visiting the Iraqi city of Falluja.

"My greetings to all the loved ones and please give me news of Karem and the rest of the folks I know," says an unedited English translation posted at, the office Web site of U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte.

"And especially, by God, if by chance you're going to Falluja, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," it states.

Zarqawi is the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the most prominent segment of the deadly Iraq insurgency. His organisation has said the letter is a fabrication.

A spokesman for Negroponte, who is the U.S. director of national intelligence, or DNI, acknowledged the greetings passage was confusing but said the intelligence community was confident the letter was addressed to Zarqawi by Zawahri.

"We don't know what to make of it (the passage). It's unclear," the Negroponte spokesman said.

"But we are absolutely confident that it was intended for Mr. Zarqawi, based on a review by multiple agencies over a protracted period of time."

U.S. officials have refused to disclose details of where, when or how authorities came by the letter, or what methods have been used to determine its authenticity.

Some experts contend the strange passage undermines the letter's credibility.

"This would appear to be conclusive evidence that the DNI was mistaken, and that the letter was written to someone other than Zarqawi," Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said on on Friday in his e-mail intelligence newsletter, "Secrecy News."

Aftergood cited an article in the online Slate magazine that called attention to the passage as well as the fact the letter was signed with the name, Abu Muhammad.

Experts have already said the letter depicts Zawahri as making unrealistic admissions involving al Qaeda's need for money, the Pakistan army's hunt for al Qaeda leaders and the May capture of al Qaeda member Abu Faraj al Liby.

The greetings passage gained little noticed from initial news coverage of the letter's release, which came days before this weekend's constitutional referendum in Iraq.

News coverage concentrated instead on language that suggested rifts between al Qaeda militants, including Zawahri's advice that insurgents avoid the unpopular killing of civilians and begin seeking public support for an Islamic state.


Rove spends hours before grand jury


Rove spends hours before grand jury

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, testified at length on Friday for a fourth time before a grand jury investigating the leak of a covert CIA operative's identity, as prosecutors neared a decision on whether to bring charges.

Rove spent 4 1/2 hours at the federal courthouse and was told by prosecutors they had yet to decide whether he should face charges, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said. Legal sources said that could soon change.

Friday's testimony appeared to be Rove's last opportunity to convince grand jurors that he did nothing illegal following the disclosure that he had spoken to two reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband, despite earlier White House denials.

Prosecutors have told Rove, the most powerful and controversial political strategist in Washington, that they can not guarantee that he would not be indicted.

Plame's husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, says administration officials outed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to retaliate against him for publicly questioning Bush's justification for invading Iraq in 2003.

When pressed by reporters, White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not explicitly repeat past expressions of confidence in Rove, who serves as deputy chief of staff and senior adviser.

After initially promising to fire anyone found to have leaked information in the case, Bush in July offered a more qualified pledge: "If someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration."

People close to the case said Rove's unusually lengthy grand jury appearance on Friday suggested prosecutors scrutinized his earlier testimony for inconsistencies and confronted him with new information from witnesses.

"Being in there that long after testifying three times before can't be viewed as a particularly positive sign," said a legal source in the case.

But Zachary Carter, a former U.S. attorney in New York, warned against reading too much into the length of Rove's appearance alone. "We're not talking about a neutral witness. We're talking about someone who is under investigation," he said.


While special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could bring charges against officials for the crime of knowingly revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative, several lawyers in the case said he was more likely to bring a broad conspiracy charge or easier-to-prove crimes such as making false statements and perjury.

Fitzgerald could send out letters to senior administration officials advising them they are targets of his probe, and bring indictments as early as next week, the lawyers said. Fitzgerald also might decide that no crime was committed and issue a report of his findings.

"The special counsel has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges," Luskin said. "The special counsel has indicated that he does not anticipate the need for Mr. Rove's further cooperation."

Luskin declined to discuss Rove's testimony.

The outcome of the investigation could shake up an administration already reeling from criticism over its response to Hurricane Katrina and the indictment of House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas on charges related to campaign financing.

Asked if the investigation was a distraction for the White House, McClellan reeled off the president's priority list, from Iraq to hurricane reconstruction to expanding gasoline refining capacity. "We are aware of all those things but we've got a lot of work to do, and that's where we're focused," he said.


Two years ago, the White House assured the public that Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, had no role in the Plame leak. Since then, reporters have identified Rove and Libby as their sources.

Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter who was jailed for 85 days before reaching an agreement to reveal her source, testified twice before the grand jury about three conversations she had with Libby.

Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper testified that Rove was the first person to tell him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, although Cooper said Rove did not disclose her name. Cooper also discussed Wilson and his wife with Libby.

Rove also spoke to newspaper columnist Robert Novak, who first revealed Plame's identity in a column on July 14, 2003, citing two administration officials, a legal source said.

Fitzgerald appears to be focusing on evidence that top White House officials began seeking information about Wilson and his wife in May and June of 2003, well before Wilson came out publicly accusing the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Michael Brown Clone Will Oversee U.S. Response to Avian Flu Pandemic
Michael Brown Clone Will Oversee U.S. Response to Avian Flu Pandemic

“It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it,” ABC News reports. It is the avian flu, and if it were to reach U.S. shores, it could be “like having a Category 5 viral hurricane hit every single state simultaneously.”

How fitting, then, that Stewart Simonson, the Bush administration’s assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness, has a resume “disturbingly reminiscent” to that of disgraced former FEMA chief Michael Brown.

Though Simonson is “now the point man for just about every health emergency that may hit our shores, ranging from anthrax attacks to an avian flu pandemic,” he has no background in medicine, public health, or bioterrorism preparedness. His chief accomplishment seems to be his position from 1995-1999 as legal counsel to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who was tapped as President Bush’s first Health and Human Services secretary. Under Thompson, Simonson apparently specialized in “crime and prison policy.”

President Bush has again left Americans dangerously unprepared for a potential disaster.


US setting up new spying agency

US setting up new spying agency

The US has announced the creation of a new intelligence agency led by the CIA to co-ordinate all American overseas spying activities.

The National Clandestine Service (NCS) will oversee all human espionage operations - meaning spying by people rather than by technical means.

The move is the latest in the post-9/11 reforms of US intelligence agencies.

Analysts say the NCS restores some authority to the CIA after it lost overall control of US intelligence.

'Expression of confidence'

The chief of the new service will supervise the CIA's espionage operations and co-ordinate all overseas spying, including those of the FBI and the Pentagon.

The director of the new agency, whose identity will remain secret and is simply known as "Jose", will report directly to the head of the CIA, Porter Goss.

"This is another positive step in building an intelligence community that is more unified, co-ordinated and effective," National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said.

Setting up the NCS was one of more than 70 recommendations made by a commission on weapons of mass destruction in March, which was highly critical of the US' intelligence capabilities.

As part of reforms following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the CIA lost overall control of US intelligence to the newly created National Director of Intelligence.

Mr Goss said the new service represents "an expression of confidence in the CIA" from President George Bush and Mr Negroponte.

"No agency has greater skill and experience in this difficult, complex, and utterly vital discipline of intelligence," Mr Goss said.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Opening Celebrated at Clintons' Ark. Home

ABC News
Opening Celebrated at Clintons' Ark. Home
Opening Celebrated at Arkansas Home Where Clintons Were Married, Now a Museum
The Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Three decades later, Marie Clinton Bruno was thrilled to return to the house where she watched Bill and Hillary Clinton get married.

"It brings back lots of great memories," said Bruno, the former president's cousin and a Little Rock resident.

The Clintons' former home in Fayetteville has been converted to a museum, and a crowd of about a hundred including friends and family members responded to invitations to the grand opening Thursday.

Former President Clinton and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., were married in the one-story brick home on Oct. 11, 1975. They lived there from August 1975 to December 1976, when they moved to Little Rock so Bill Clinton could serve as Arkansas' attorney general. He was Arkansas governor for 12 years before becoming president in 1993.

In its 1,700 square feet, the Clinton House Museum displays pictures and memorabilia from President Clinton's career. Many items on display predate his run for president. One room has been converted into a small theater with a big-screen television, showing clips from his campaigns for governor, Congress and state attorney general.

Clinton House Director Joseph Barnes said the museum hopes to add more items on Hillary Clinton's career.


Bush Presidency Judged Unsuccessful

ABC News
Poll: Bush Presidency Judged Unsuccessful
Poll Finds More People Say Bush's Presidency Is Going to Be Judged As Unsuccessful in Long Run
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - For the first time, more people say George W. Bush's presidency will be judged as unsuccessful than say it will be seen as a success, a poll finds.

Forty-one percent of respondents said Bush's presidency will be seen as unsuccessful in the long run, while 26 percent said the opposite. Thirty-five percent said it was too early to tell, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

In January, 36 percent said successful and 27 percent said unsuccessful.

The increasing pessimism about Bush's long-term prospects comes at a time when many polls have found the public increasingly is negative about Bush's performance and the direction of the country.

Seven in 10 said they want the next president to offer policies and programs that are different from the Bush administration's.

Only half said they wanted the next president to offer different policies in 2000, at the end of the Clinton presidency. By a 2-1 margin, people said the Bush administration has had a negative impact on politics and the way government works.

People were inclined to say Bush's policies have made things worse on a wide range of issues such as the federal budget deficit, the gap between rich and poor, health care, the economy, relations with U.S. allies, the tax system and education. By 47 percent to 30 percent, those surveyed said Bush has improved the situation with national security.

Republicans give the president mixed reviews in many of these areas. Almost half of Republicans said Bush's policies have made the deficit worse and just 12 percent say he has improved that situation.

The poll of 1,500 adults was taken Oct. 6-10 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

On the Net:

Pew Research Center:


Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged

ABC News
Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged
President Bush Teleconference With U.S. Troops Was Choreographed to Match His Goals for Iraq War
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday's vote on a new Iraqi constitution.

"This is an important time," Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary, said, coaching the soldiers before Bush arrived. "The president is looking forward to having just a conversation with you."

Barber said the president was interested in three topics: the overall security situation in Iraq, security preparations for the weekend vote and efforts to train Iraqi troops.

As she spoke in Washington, a live shot of 10 soldiers from the Army's 42nd Infantry Division and one Iraqi soldier was beamed into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from Tikrit the birthplace of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"I'm going to ask somebody to grab those two water bottles against the wall and move them out of the camera shot for me," Barber said.

A brief rehearsal ensued.

"OK, so let's just walk through this," Barber said. "Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?"

"Captain Smith," Kennedy said.

"Captain. Smith? You take the mike and you hand it to whom?" she asked.

"Captain Kennedy," the soldier replied.

And so it went.

"If the question comes up about partnering how often do we train with the Iraqi military who does he go to?" Barber asked.

"That's going to go to Captain Pratt," one of the soldiers said.

"And then if we're going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit the hometown and how they're handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?" she asked.

Before he took questions, Bush thanked the soldiers for serving and reassured them that the U.S. would not pull out of Iraq until the mission was complete.

"So long as I'm the president, we're never going to back down, we're never going to give in, we'll never accept anything less than total victory," Bush said.

The president told them twice that the American people were behind them.

"You've got tremendous support here at home," Bush said.

Less than 40 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll taken in October said they approved of the way Bush was handling Iraq. Just over half of the public now say the Iraq war was a mistake.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday's event was coordinated with the Defense Department but that the troops were expressing their own thoughts. With satellite feeds, coordination often is needed to overcome technological challenges, such as delays, he said.

"I think all they were doing was talking to the troops and letting them know what to expect," he said, adding that the president wanted to talk with troops on the ground who have firsthand knowledge about the situation.

The soldiers all gave Bush an upbeat view of the situation.

The president also got praise from the Iraqi soldier who was part of the chat.

"Thank you very much for everything," he gushed. "I like you."

On preparations for the vote, 1st Lt. Gregg Murphy of Tennessee said: "Sir, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to make this thing a success. ... Back in January, when we were preparing for that election, we had to lead the way. We set up the coordination, we made the plan. We're really happy to see, during the preparation for this one, sir, they're doing everything."

On the training of Iraqi security forces, Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo from Scotia, N.Y., said to Bush: "I can tell you over the past 10 months, we've seen a tremendous increase in the capabilities and the confidences of our Iraqi security force partners. ... Over the next month, we anticipate seeing at least one-third of those Iraqi forces conducting independent operations."

Lombardo told the president that she was in New York City on Nov. 11, 2001, when Bush attended an event recognizing soldiers for their recovery and rescue efforts at Ground Zero. She said the troops began the fight against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and were proud to continue it in Iraq.

"I thought you looked familiar," Bush said, and then joked: "I probably look familiar to you, too."

Paul Rieckhoff, director of the New York-based Operation Truth, an advocacy group for U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, denounced the event as a "carefully scripted publicity stunt." Five of the 10 U.S. troops involved were officers, he said.

"If he wants the real opinions of the troops, he can't do it in a nationally televised teleconference," Rieckhoff said. "He needs to be talking to the boots on the ground and that's not a bunch of captains."


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

An Open Letter to Günter Grass

An Open Letter to Günter Grass
RJ Eskow

Dear Sir: I was told today by your US publisher that you will not comment on the Judith Miller case, or on the petition you signed in support of her. That is a disappointment to many Americans who hold both you and your work in the highest regard. In 2003 you declared that you “stand with” the “many Americans who … are horrified by the betrayal of their founding values.” Please stand with us again.

There are many who believe that Ms. Miller, working with allies inside the Bush Administration, actively collaborated in distorting vital facts in order to trigger the war you so eloquently condemned at the time. At a minimum, the stories Ms. Miller published in the New York Times – stories we now know were based on incorrect information – contributed significantly to create a climate of support for that war within the US.

A prosecutor is now investigating whether government officials illegally revealed confidential information about an intelligence officer for propaganda reasons, and/or as an act of vengeance for her husband’s disclosure of State deception. Such an act would be government suppression and punishment of a source, not the protection of one. Nevertheless, Ms. Miller declined to cooperate with the investigation for many weeks - an act for which she was honored with your signature on a petition of support.

Many of your US supporters tend to believe you were not aware of the specifics of the case at the time. Since then Ms. Miller has reversed herself for reasons that are unclear, and is now apparently cooperating with the prosecutor. She also has recently “discovered” additional notes regarding the affair. Under these circumstances, I ask the following question with the greatest respect: Do you believe she should continue to operate under a public statement of support from you?

In 2003 you wrote that “… we must not let our voices, our no to war and yes to peace, be silenced.” Ms. Miller’s journalism prior to the Iraq invasion constituted a powerful “yes” to war, at the expense of the truth. The investigation currently underway involves a government vendetta, and an attempt to silence one of those voices you so forcefully defended.

I recognize that it may seem presumptuous for someone like me to address you in this manner. I'm neither a statesman nor a man of letters. Please understand that I write this letter in all appropriate humility. In the spirit of the words you wrote two years ago, I ask you today: Please reconsider your public support for Ms. Miller in this matter.


Death Toll Rises for Military Reservists

Death Toll Rises for Military Reservists

AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The National Guard and Reserves are suffering a strikingly higher share of U.S. casualties in Iraq, their portion of total American military deaths nearly doubling since last year.

Reservists have accounted for one-quarter of all U.S. deaths since the Iraq war began, but the proportion has grown over time. It was 10 percent for the five weeks it took to topple Baghdad in the spring of 2003, and 20 percent for 2004 as a whole.

The trend accelerated this year. For the first nine months of 2005 reservists accounted for 36 percent of U.S. deaths, and for August and September it was 56 percent, according to Pentagon figures.

The Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve accounted for more than half of all U.S. deaths in August and in September - the first time that has happened in consecutive months. The only other month in which it even approached 50 percent was June 2004.

Casualties in Iraq have shifted toward citizen soldiers as their combat role has grown to historic levels. National Guard officials say their soldiers have been sent into combat in Iraq in numbers not previously seen in modern times - far more than were sent to Vietnam, where active-duty troops did the vast majority of the fighting.

Charles Krohn, a former Army deputy chief of public affairs, said the reservists are taking up the slack for the highly stressed active-duty Army.

"Decisions made years earlier made going to war in any significant way impossible without Guard and Reserve participation. But I can't imagine anyone postulated the situation we face today: We don't seem very anxious to bring back the draft and we can't get enough volunteers for a war that is not universally popular," Krohn said.

About 45 percent of all Guard and Reserve deaths since the start of the war - 220 of the almost 500 total - occurred in the first nine months of 2005, according to Pentagon figures. The deadliest month was August, when 49 Guard and Reserve members died.

The mounting casualties among reservists in Iraq has been overshadowed by the attention focused on a rising overall U.S. death toll, now approaching 2,000. It complicates recruiting for the National Guard and Reserve, which often attract people who think of the military reservists' role as something other than front-line combat.

Gone are the days when the National Guard and Reserve served mainly as "rear-area" support, far from the front-line fighting.

In Iraq the front line is everywhere - on rural roads where Guard and Reserve soldiers drive supply trucks, at urban checkpoints, in remote villages and at major supply bases. Some units also have been attached to active-duty units with the specific mission of conducting offensive operations.

The casualties have contributed to what has been the most challenging time for the Guard and Reserve since the military became an all-volunteer force in 1973. In addition to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and helping keep the peace in the Balkans, the Guard in particular was called to action in large numbers for rescue and relief from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At one point this year more than half of the combat forces in Iraq were National Guard.

"That's a first," said Army Maj. Les Melnyk, historian for the Pentagon office that manages the Army and Air National Guard. "The Guard can't claim that (level of combat) for World War II or World War I - the other major wars we fought in. Never more than 50 percent of the combat forces were Guard."

At present, of the approximately 152,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, about half are reservists: 49,000 Army National Guard, 22,000 Army Reserve and 4,000 Marine Reserve, according to figures provided by those organizations.

The trend is almost certain to be reversed next year, when the active-duty Army is scheduled to make a proportionally larger contribution to the overall force. The number of National Guard brigades in Iraq, for example, is scheduled to drop next year from seven to two.

Since the Vietnam era, the military has given the Guard and Reserve more vital support functions like military police and engineers, so that any major conflict would involve more than just the active-duty force. Thus it was inevitable that a sizable portion of the force in Iraq would be Guard and Reserve; what has made the Iraq experience so different is the large numbers of reservists getting killed and wounded.

At least 300 soldiers of the National Guard, 78 of the Army Reserve and 93 of the Marine Corps Reserve, have died in the Iraq conflict. The Navy Reserve has lost 13, the Air Force Reserve three and the Air National Guard one. Together that is one-quarter of the total U.S death toll, which stood at 1,947 on Monday, by the Pentagon's count.

Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations, said in an interview that the increased reliance on the Guard and Reserve in 2005 was deliberately planned to allow active-duty units like the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division to complete a reorganization before they returned to Iraq.

"It bought us the time we needed," Lovelace said.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

I fluffed your pillow


Oh Great. More Flooding.


You'll Do A Heck of a job


Intelligent Design


Am I For or Against?


Her Heart's In The Right Place


Letter shows Cheney aide was prodded in leak probe

Letter shows Cheney aide was prodded in leak probe

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney got a push from a prosecutor before telling New York Times reporter Judith Miller that he wanted her to testify in a probe into the outing of a CIA operative whose diplomat husband was an Iraq-war critic.

The prosecutor's encouragement, in a letter obtained by Reuters, has prompted some lawyers in the case to question whether Cheney's aide was acting completely voluntarily when he gave Miller the confidentiality waiver she had insisted on.

The investigation has spotlighted free-press issues and the Bush administration's aggressive efforts to defend its Iraq policy against critics.

Miller maintains she only agreed to testify -- after spending 85 days in jail -- because she received what she describes as a personal and voluntary waiver of confidentiality from her source. She dismissed an earlier waiver by Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as coerced.

But Libby offered a new waiver that Miller accepted after he received a September 12 letter in which the prosecutor, investigating a possible White House role in the leak, repeatedly encouraged him to do just that.

"I would welcome such a communication reaffirming Mr. Libby's waiver," prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate.

"It would be viewed as cooperation with the investigation," Fitzgerald said.

Some lawyers in the case called the letter a thinly veiled threat seeking Libby's cooperation, and said it raised questions about whether Libby's waiver was as voluntary as Miller and her lawyers had described.

Others said it was not coercive.

"Is that pressure? Absolutely," said Richard Sauber, a Washington lawyer who represents Time magazine's Matt Cooper, who has also testified to the grand jury. But he added, "It is not unfair and it is not unduly coercive."

Fitzgerald has been investigating Libby, President George W. Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove and other administration officials over the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, and lawyers involved in the case said there were signs Fitzgerald might be preparing to bring charges.

Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, has accused the administration of leaking her name and damaging her ability to work undercover in retaliation for his criticisms of Bush's Iraq policy.

Wilson had investigated for the CIA an administration charge that Iraq was seeking nuclear materials in Niger and concluded it was unsubstantiated, then he publicly accused the administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq.

Fitzgerald said in the September 12 letter that he was not seeking to compel a more-explicit confidentiality waiver.

"Mr. Libby, of course, retains the right not to so reaffirm his waiver ... if he would prefer that the status quo continue and Ms. Miller remain in jail rather than testify about their conversations," Fitzgerald wrote.

A lawyer in the case, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said, "It's coercive to have the prosecutor, at end of his investigation, say: 'Unless you take this additional step, I'm going to draw a negative inference against you.'"

Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, said Fitzgerald's letter sounded reasonable on the surface, but the reference to cooperation could be taken either way.

"If you think you might be a target of an investigation, being cooperative could be viewed as a desirable thing to be," Kirtley said.

Marvin Kalb of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government said, "Libby took the hint."

Three days after Fitzgerald's letter, Libby on September 15 wrote directly to Miller urging her to testify. The New York Times has released copies of Libby's letter, but not Fitzgerald's.

On Sept 30, Miller testified before the grand jury about two conversations with Libby in July 2003.

Fitzgerald has summoned Miller again for a meeting on Tuesday after she found notes from an earlier, previously undisclosed conversation with Libby. The Times reported the conversation was on June 25, 2003.

Those notes could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby and other White House officials took an early interest in the backgrounds of Wilson and Plame, and talked to reporters, as reports of Wilson's investigation were surfacing but before he went public in a July 6, 2003, opinion piece in the Times.