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The Swamp

Published: 2007-06-04T07:39:44-05:00


The Swamp has moved!


Posted by Frank James at 7:37 am CDT The Swamp has a new address which I encourage you to bookmark. It's You'll notice The Swamp also has a new look. We have officially become the blog for the Tribune Company's Washington Bureau, home to not just the Chicago Tribune, but the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Sun (Baltimore), the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, Va.) It's also home to Tribune Broadcasting's Washington operations. We thank all our regular readers and posters and promise to make every effort to continue the spread of The Swamp, which has achieved quite a bit in its first year and a half, including recently winning an Editor and Publisher "EPpy" award as "best media-affiliated news blog" and a Peter Lisagor Award given by the Chicago Headline Club. From the great affairs of state, such as the Iraq War and the choosing of the Republic's next president, to less consequential matters, The Swamp has become a significant forum for information and discussion. We hope to keep you with us and to bring more along. By the way, we know that all the reader postings from the weekend haven't transferred yet and are working on making that happen. Thanks for your patience.

Swamp Sunrise


Good morning. Here are a few Washington events of note for Monday, June 4, as collected by the Associated Press. The Senate is resuming its debate on the contentious immigration bill. President Bush is leaving for his European trip, with the first stop Prague. June 2 - 12. BIOLOGY OLYMPIAD — The Center for Excellence in Education will hold the USA Biology Olympiad for 21 competitively selected U.S. high school students at George Mason University. Students will attend labs and lectures in genetics, microbiology, protein and DNA chemistry, plant and vertebrate anatomy/physiology, invertebrate biology, among other topics, all taught by researchers from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, Brandeis University, George Washington University, Yale University and Towson State University. Location: David King Hall, George Mason University. June 3 - 6. NUCLEAR MEDICINE — The Society of Nuclear Medicine holds a Washington conference. Location: Washington Convention Center. June 4 - 5. INTERNATIONAL TAXATION — The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development holds a conference on new initiatives in international taxation. Location: Reagan Trade Building. 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. FISHING-BOATING — Kickoff of National Fishing and Boating Week, with D.C. area school children catching fish, sponsored by the Fish and Wildlife Service, others. Location: Constitution Gardens Pond, National Mall. 10 a.m. IMMIGRATION-BORDER — the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers holds a news conference to give their analysis of the current immigration reform bill and offer solutions for what the group says is meaningful enforcement of immigration laws. NAFBPO is a group of several hundred retired and former immigration law enforcement officers who have served at all levels within the Border Patrol and its old parent organization, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Location: National Press Club, Murrow Room. 10 a.m. PUBLIC SAFETY COMMUNICATIONS — The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will hold a public meeting regarding the Public Safety Interoperable Communications Grant Program. Location: Department of Commerce Auditorium, 1401 Constitution Ave. NW. 10 a.m. REAL ESTATE — Consumer Federation of America releases an independent survey of consumer attitudes toward the real estate industry. Location: National Press Club. 11 a.m. NUTRITION-FOOD — The Food Research and Action Center holds a press availability on its annual report “State of the States: A Profile of Food and Nutrition Programs Across the Nation.” Location: Suite 540, 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW. 12 p.m. SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT — The Small Business Administration and the Business Software Alliance hold a roundtable luncheon to educate small business on proper software management. Location: Eisenhower Room A, 409 3rd St. SW. 12:15 p.m. - 2 p.m. SECULAR PARTIES-ARABS — The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosts a a discussion on secular parties in the Arab world and their struggle to clearly distinguish themselves from incumbent governments and Islamist movements. Carnegie Endowment Senior Associates Marina Ottaway and Amr Hamzawy will discuss their recently released Carnegie Paper, “Fighting on Two Fronts: Secular Parties in the Arab World.” Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 12:30 p.m. JACKSON-HOMEOWNERSHIP — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson will kick off National Homeownership Month during a newsmaker luncheon and press conference at the National Press Club. Location: National Press Club, Ballroom. 1 p.m. AMA-MEDICARE — The American Medcial Association (AMA) holds a news briefing to release results of a new survey that outlines changes physicians will make to their practices when the government makes deep cuts in Medicare physician payments next year. The survey results kick-off the AMAs campaign to stop the 2008 Medicare cut. Location:[...]

Democrats' N.H. debate doesn't change status quo


Posted by Frank James at 11:00 pm CDT After mulling over tonight's Democratic debate from St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, the bottom line appears to be that the debate didn't do much to change the Democratic presidential race's overall dynamic. There were no major bloopers on the part of the leading candidates, senators Hillary Clinton of New York and and Barack Obama of Illinois, and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, so it's doubtful the debate did much to change their relative positions in the various polls. The debate likely didn't do much to change the positions of the second-tier candidates either. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware continued to his I'm-a-straight-shooter approach by bringing up the cold political realities congressional Democrats face in ending the Iraq War, as in they don't have the votes. SEN. BIDEN: Wolf, look, the Republicans and this president have not told us the truth about this war from the beginning. The last thing we Democrats should do is not be telling the truth. We have 50 votes in the United States Senate. We have less of a majority in the House than at any time other than the last eight years. Ladies and gentlemen, you're going to end this war when you elect a Democratic president. You need 67 votes to end this war. I love these guys who tell you they're going to stop the war. Let me tell you straight up the truth; the truth of the matter is, the only one that's emboldened the enemy has been George Bush by his policies, not us funding the war. We're funding the safety of those troops there till we can get 67 votes. But Biden sort of stepped on his whole straight-talk schtick by refusing to criticize the lawmakers standing on the stage who didn't vote with him to fund military operations in Iraq. He said he didn't want to make a judgment about his "friends." Hard to imagine Harry Truman saying that. What jumped out about tonight's performance by Clinton, the frontrunner amoug the Democratic candidates in national polls, was that she kept saying she didn't want to deal in hypotheticals. When asked by Wolf Blitzer of CNN whether she would use force or diplomacy to deal with Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon, she said: SEN. CLINTON: Wolf, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, because we've had an administration that doesn't believe in diplomacy. You know, they have every so often Condi Rice go around the world and show up somewhere and make a speech. And occasionally they even send Dick Cheney, and that's hardly diplomatic, in my view. (Laughter.) So from what I would say -- (applause) -- we won't know until we get a president who is committed to diplomacy and will do things like use the great diplomats that have come up through our country; use former presidents, use people like Bill Richardson. Only then will we be able to make a clear assessment. She dissed hypotheticals a couple more times, which was sort of odd since a presidential candidacy is one big hypothetical by definition. Obama, who was widely seen as flubbing a war on terror question at the last debate by not having a quick enough trigger finger was asked the debate's first question. It was about the war on terror. MR. SPRADLING: Wolf, thank you. And thanks to all eight of you being here this evening. We appreciate it. Senator Obama, you get the first question of the night. It has been nearly six years since 9/11. Since that time, we have not suffered any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Just yesterday, the FBI arrested three men for a terror plot at JFK Airport. Could it be that the Bush administration's effort to thwart terror at home has been a success? SEN. OBAMA: No. Look, all of us are glad that we haven't had a terrorist attack since 9/11, and I think there are some things that the Bush administration has done well. But the fact of the matter is is that we live in a more dangerous world, not a less dangerous world, partly as a consequence of this president's actions, primarily because of this war in Iraq, a war that I think should have nev[...]

Hustler's Flynt seeks another DC sex scandal


Posted by Frank James at 11:58 am CDT Larry Flynt, the famous pornographer known for his Hustler magazine, is at it again, taking out a full-page ad in the Sunday Washington Post in which he offers up to $1 million for anyone who can document having had a sexual relationship with "a current member of the U.S. Congress or a high-ranking government official." "Can you provide documented evidence of illicit sexual or intimate relations with a Congressperson, Senator or other prominent officeholder? Larry Flynt and HUSTLER Magazine will pay you up to $1 million if we choose to publish your verified story and use your material. CALL OUR HOTLINE 1-800-251-2714 OR E-MAIL US AT HUSTLER@LFP.COM" Flynt has made such offers in the same way at least twice before, in 1999 then back in the 1970s. Flynt claims credit for the resignation of Robert Livingston from the House in 1999. Near the end of the impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton, Livingston, who had been just become speaker-elect, revealed that he had marital indiscretions and resigned before Flynt could publish an article that would have disclosed that the former lawmaker had affairs with at least four women. Flynt is obviously hoping for another high-profile trophy, particularly if it allows him to accuse an especially self-righteous politician or policymaker of hypocrisy.

Clinton, Obama claim mantle of "change"


Posted by Christi Parsons at 11 a.m. CDT MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Tonight's debate of Democratic presidential candidates promises more condemnation of the war in Iraq and the president's prosecution of it, if the pitches the candidates and their surrogates are making this weekend are any sign. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley spoke on behalf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in meetings with New Hampshire Democrats, promising in one public address that, in the wake of the war, she will have the "unique ability to restore our international standing and credibility almost overnight." Rep. David Bonior was stumping for Democrat John Edwards, conferring on him a different singular status. "On the war, John Edwards is leading the fight to get us out of Iraq," Bonior told delegates at the state Democratic Convention Saturday. "We need to establish moral authority in the world today." Almost all of the Democratic candidates claim, or at least suggeset, that they are the leading voice against the war. Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd appeared in person in Concord on Saturday to voice their dissent. And representing Sen. Barack Obama was his wife, Michelle, who was campaigning in the Granite State with her mother, Marian Robinson, and her daughters, Malia and Sasha. "I'm a mother, I'm a professional, I'm a citizen of this country," she said. "We've squandered so much of what this country is supposed to be about. Like so many of you, I'm looking for a change." At tonight's debate, on CNN at 6 p.m. Chicago time, each candidate will talk about why he or she is the best agent to bring about that change.

Democratic candidates start web sites on faith


Posted by Mike Dorning at 7:00 am CDT. This election, Democratic presidential candidates are getting religion. And their web sites are starting to show it. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Saturday became the first Democratic presidential candidate to unveil a web site devoted to religious outreach. It includes a description of Obama's faith principles and testimonials from religious leaders, including his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright who says he supports Obama because "of his incarnated faith--his faith made alive in the flesh." Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) today unveiled his own web site themed on faith and moral leadership. A spokesman for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said her campaign will have its own faith-oriented web site up soon.

Swamp Sunrise


Obama trades gas guzzler for hybrid


Posted by John McCormick at 11:43 a.m. CDT After getting criticized for possible hypocrisy for driving a V8 Hemi-powered Chrysler 300C, Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has switched to a hybrid. Although he rarely drives his own car these days because of his Secret Service protection, an Obama spokesman told the Detroit News of the switch late this week. In a recent speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Obama criticized U.S. automakers for not doing more to boost fuel efficiency. At the time, he acknowledged his desire for a big car to fit his own large frame.

Iowans miss Obama


Posted by John McCormick at 11:10 a.m. CDT As Democratic presidential candidates gather in Cedar Rapids this evening, Sen. Barack Obama will be conspicuously missing. Instead of speaking to some of Iowa's leading Democrats at the Hall of Fame banquet, Obama will be raising money on the West Coast. That decision has left some Iowans cold. From The Des Moines Register's front-page story today on Obama's decision to skip one of the state's premiere Democratic events: "Obama's absence will be noticeable when Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson each take the podium at the Five Seasons Crowne Plaza hotel. When the speeches start, Obama is scheduled to be wrapping up a series of four fundraisers in Washington state and northern California. "It's a terrible mistake," said former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer. "It may not matter in the long run, but it's a mistake."

The latest Obama book


Posted by John McCormick at 10:52 a.m. CDT If you haven't already read enough about the junior senator from Illinois, the latest book about him will be hitting the stores late this summer. Tribune reporter David Mendell followed Barack Obama during his 2004 U.S. Senate bid and has been working on a biography ever since. Obama: From Promise to Power is due out in mid-August, but is already taking advance orders. A copy of the jacket cover can be seen here. The nearly 400-page book is tentatively set for release on Aug. 14 by publisher HarperCollins/Amistad. From the book's jacket cover: "Barack Obama’s meteoric rise from Hawaiian high schooler to exemplary Harvard Law School student to well-groomed politico is the stuff of legend, a political story that has captured the attention of virtually every American. "Since his headline-grabbing speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama has come to represent the promise of unity among groups of all types – black and whites; Democrats, Republicans, and moderates; the young and the old; the upper, middle, and lower classes. "In this first-of-a-kind, groundbreaking biography, veteran journalist and Obama chronicler David Mendell gives an in-depth, comprehensive portrait of the boy named Barry who took inspiration from his hard-working parents and became the eloquent, suave Obama – a man whose last name has become a catchphrase for hope in a politically jaded society desperate for a new star."

Mothers on a 'useless war of choice'


Posted by Mark Silva at 9:12 am CDT Now that the anti-war movement has lost its highest-profile leader, Cindy Sheehan, other mothers of soldiers fallen in the war in Iraq have stepped forward. When one of them, Elaine Johnson, shared her story this week about a meeting with President Bush in which he offered several families of the fallen presidential coins and suggested that they don't go sell them on eBay, Johnson drew a torrent of criticism here. Celeste Zapata, whose son also died in Iraq and who took part with Johnson in an interview aired on National Public Radio in which this meeting at Fort Carson was discussed, wrote to the Swamp to weigh in on the criticism that Johnson had fielded here – and to weigh in on "this useless war of choice.'' "I am one of the other mothers who was part of this interview, and met dear Elaine in 2004 a few months after my son was lost,'' Zapata wrote. "Please understand Elaine and I and other mothers who speak are not beholden to anyone's party, or candidate. We are not some publicity prop trotted out to support a campaign. "We are real people. We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives , husbands, of real soldiers whom we loved and who are lost in this useless war of choice. We are witnesses to the terrible price of this war. This is neither academic or amusing. "Criticize my stand if you think I am wrong,'' she wrote. "but do not belittle the love of my son I stand on. Criticize Elaine for language, or listen to what she was trying to say to her country. Her son was not bought for a coin, her love did not end with Darius's death. Her devotion drives her everyday to speak her truth against this war. It is a sobering and terrible story – listen to the voices of the grieved of America, and then tell me there is some one's story that should be mocked?'' Zapata's son, Sgt. Sherwood R. Baker, 30, a National Guardsman based at Scranton, Pa., died April 26, 2004, in an explosion in Baghdad. He had been deployed with Company B of the 2nd Battalion, 103rd Armor Regiment. He had been a caseworker for the mentally disabled since graduating from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in 1995. His 9-year-old son, J.D., dressed in a copy of his father's desert uniform at his funeral service. Baker also is survived by his wife, Debra. Zapata, involved now with Military Families Speak Out in Philadelphia, says her son died protecting the Iraq Survey Group as it searched for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Zapata agreed to share her thoughts again here, in this posting. "Peace be with you,'' she said. The interview to which Zapata refers was aired this week by National Public Radio. Johnson had recounted her meeting at Fort Carson with Bush: "I said, 'What’s, what’s the mission?' He couldn’t give me an answer. I says, "Well, I’m going to tell you what: I’m on my mission now. My mission had just begun. And my mission is to fight to bring these troops home, to take care of these troops when they get home. "Then he gave us a presidential coin,'' she said. "Now you check this out: He gave six of us a presidential coin, tell us not to tell the rest of the people that was there, and then after that he told us don’t go sell it on eBay. Now you tell me how insensitive that can be? What kind of caring person is that?'' President Bush meets often with the families of fallen soldiers, often in large groups. He does not comment on the details of his conversations with them. But he does speak, in broader terms, about the message which he attempts to deliver those whom he consoles. In April, when Bush met privately with families of the fallen at Fort Irwin, Cal., he told troops in a public assembly there: "I understand how difficult this war is on America's military families. "I understand the rotations are difficult fo[...]

Global warming: No joke


Posted by Mark Silva at 9:06 am CDT Actor Fred Thompson may have gotten a few laughs a few months back when he went on the radio with his "Plutonic Warming,'' wondering if shrinkage of an ice cap on Mars might have something to do with the planet's inhabitation by "alien "SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.'' But, now that Thompson, star of TV and film and former senator from Tennessee, has opened an exploratory bid for a campaign for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2008, he might have to start taking global warming a little more seriously. Even President Bush has taken notice of the issue, calling for an international conference of the leading industrial nations to set "a global goal'' for reduction of greenhouse gases – though, given the order in which Bush addressed this issue in his weekly radio address today, one may wonder how seriously the president takes the issue as well. Thompson, after all, runs the risk of adding himself to that lineup of Republican candidates who raised their hands on stage when asked during the party's first presidential debate who doesn't believe in evolution. Thompson's light-hearted essay on the Paul Harvey Radio Show on the ABC Radio Network back in March raised the question of the earth's location in the Solar System. (Hear it here.) "Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever,'' Thompson said on the show. "Now scientists are telling us that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming: Martian warming. It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto. NASA says the Martian South Pole's ice cap has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter's caught the same cold, because it's warming up too, like Pluto. "This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle. Silly, I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our SOLAR system have in common. Hmmmm. SOLAR system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn't even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There's a consensus. Ask Galileo.'' Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted Thompson's comment on global warming at a forum this week: "That's kind of where that particular wing of the Republican Party is,'' he said. Reminded that Sen. John McCain of Arizona is among the leaders of legislation in the Senate to cap greenhouse gas emissions, Kupchan said: "It's moving… I think it will happen, and it will happen in 2009. If you just look at the political landscape, we're getting there. It's just not going to happen under this president.'' With President Bush preparing to leave next week for a European tour centered on the Group of Eight summit in Germany, this is the text of the radio address which Bush delivered today, highlighting several issues he raised this week in preparation for the G-8. Just as he has during his two terms in office, he took a little while in this address to get to global warming: "Good morning. Next week, I will travel to Europe to attend the G8 summit. At this meeting, the leaders of industrialized nations will discuss ways we can work together to advance trade, fight disease, promote development that works, increase access to education, and address the long-term challenge of global climate change. "It is in America's interests to help these efforts succeed. When we help lift societies out of poverty, we cre[...]

Swamp Sunrise


Posted at 7:36 am CDT

Post away


Posted by Mark Silva at 7:55 pm CDT The construction that prompted a pause in postings this afternoon has not been completed on schedule. Come on, though, do you even know how telephones work? While the conversion from an old program to a new one carries on this weekend, the old Swamp carries on, too. So feel free to post away on the day's entries, the week's archives, and all else that lurks in the past. And we will carry on with new postings as well, until we reach the promised Swamp.

Swamp Note


Posted by Frank James at 12:37 pm CDT, updated at 1:07 pm CDT The Swamp will be switching over this afternoon to its new publishing software, Movable Type, from Typepad. We've been told that because of some problems with our archive, we will need to stop posting between 2 pm EDT and 6 pm EDT today. It's kind of like the blog is going to be anesthetized while it's undergoing surgery. I'm not sure what that means for posting comments and the guy who knows more about this stuff than yours truly hasn't responded yet to my frantic last-minute e-mail. Earlier this week he e-mailed me to say: " 'The Swamp' " will be fully accessible to users during this time, but no new blog postings should be made." I think that places us in the "post comments at your own risk" zone. Here's hoping it all works out and that we'll see you after we come to. Pray for us. UPDATE: The aforementioned guy got back to me to say readers can continue to post comments to their heart's delight. So keep posting. It's only us reporters who shouldn't post.

Bush presses 'the freedom agenda'


Posted by Mark Silva at 12:40 pm CDT President Bush, who will embark for Europe next week for a summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations, will carry another agenda with him as well – "The freedom agenda.'' The president will begin a weeklong tour of the continent with meetings in Prague, where he plans to address a democracy conference attracting past and current dissidents. Vaclav Havel, playwright and former Czech president, is among the leaders who have invited Bush to speak there. He will pass through Prague, Poland, Albania and Bulgaria on a trip that includes his first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. The president, who entered his second term with an inaugural pledge to oppose tyranny throughout the world and replace it with democracy, will be talking about the prosperity that comes with freedom. "That's our belief,'' Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, said today. "That's part of the freedom agenda.'' Bush, who will speak "about the importance of supporting democratic aspirations…. will meet with current and former dissidents from around the world.'' And, just as the president in past tours has attempted to liken the quests for freedom throughout Eastern and Central Europe with the struggle today in Iraq, he will continue to draw that connection on this tour. "Iraq is about the freedom agenda,'' Hadley said today, "and helping the Iraqi people establish a free future.'' Now, same say the president's continued comparisons of the struggle in Iraq with what the people of Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have gone through is misreading history. "I hate to put it this way,'' says Simon Serfaty, a seasoned expert on foreign affairs and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "but on occasion the president and his senior people have needed lessons in history and geography. "The idea that you would compare conditions in the post-communism issue in Europe to Iraq now is really a challenge to one’s intellectual credibility,'' Serfaty says. "Just as the attempt previously to compare conditions in Iraq and the Middle East to post-war conditions in Germany and in Europe, to which some of the other senior officials keep returning. There is no need to speak of Iraq when going to that part of the world. There is just no analogy of any kind to be developed. anyone who attended any fourth-level college for a few months would have to know that – in God's name – and thus I feel strong about it because it keeps coming back. It keeps coming back. '' It's coming back, all right. Bush plans to deliver his address about democracy in Prague on Tuesday. "I am looking forward to my democracy speech,'' Bush said in an interview with European journalists yesterday, with a transcript released by the White House today. "Vaclav Havel has asked me to come and speak to a democracy forum. I feel very strongly that the United States must take the lead in promoting democracy around the world -- even in places where it may not look like it could -- that it's very hospitable, because I believe, ultimately, it is hospitable. And so it's going to be an important speech and I'm working on it. "If democracies can't help other democracies, then I worry about stability and peace in the long run,'' Bush said. "And so, no, I believe the decisions I made were the right decisions.'' The president also is looking forward to his meeting with the pope on Saturday. He had last met the previous pope in 2004. "Sometimes I'm not poetic enough to describe what it's like to be in the presence of the Holy Father,'' Bush said in his interview with the Europeans[...]

Bush to assure Albania that U.S. knows it exists


Posted by William Neikirk at 12:01 p.m. CDT President Bush has many missions on his European trip next week--not the least of which is to assure Albanians that Americans know that Albania exists. Bush said it in an interview with an Albanian television reporter. It's right there in the transcript released Friday. Asked why he is including Albania in his trip, Bush said, "That is a fascinating question. First of all, I want to make sure the Albania people understand that America knows that you exist and that you are making difficult choices to cement your free society." He didn't mention that Albania traces its history back to a thousand or so years B.C., a tad more than the first settlement on this continent. But he could be right in implying that many Americans don't know Albania exists. Possibly these are the same Americans who can't find Canada on the map. Reading the transcripts of several interviews Bush did with correspondents from countries he will visit can be revealing. For instance, it is clear that he is on a first-name basis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In an interview with a German correspondent, he refers to her as "Angela" several times as a partner in dealing with Russia and that both of them see each other a lot. The transcript: "She's a woman for whom I've got great admiration. I don't know if you know this or not, but she and I, we speak by secure video on a regular basis…She's the kind of person that can get a fellow to talk freely and candidly. And she speaks the same way to me, and I admire her a lot." This video is not posted on YouTube. A Bulgarian correspondent wanted to know that if Bulgarians are good enough to fight with Americans, "why aren't we good enough to have a visa-free entry into the United States? Are we that dangerous?" Bush called that a "great question" that he gets often. "I want your people to know that I understand there is a contradiction; that on the one hand, you're a strong ally, and yet other allies of the United States are treated differently. And this is a tough issue because it has to go through out Congress." He cited the immigration debate in Congress, but did not promise Bulgarians would have any easier time getting in. "There is an inherent contradiction. I can’t deny that. The only thing I can do is pledge to make the system work better." And then with another group of foreign reporters, he talked about a personal relationship or two. Of his trip to Italy, he said he looked forward to help "boost" Prime Minister Prodi's courage in helping the U.S. in Afghanistan. He said he's had a long relationship with Prodi, dating back to when he was head of the European Union. "I can remember, fondly remember, riding my mountain bike as hard as I could as he was jogging along the beaches in Georgia, needling him on the way by--a sign of a close friendship." It wasn't clear how Prodi felt about getting Bush's sand thrown on him, but our president can be pretty competitive. And Bush said he looked forward to meeting with Pope Benedict. "Sometimes I'm not poetic enough to describe what it's like to be in the presence of the Holy Father," he said. "It is a moving experience." But he went on to say he had never met Pope Benedict. He was talking about "moving experiences" with the late Pope John Paul. As for Pope Benedict, he said, "He's a great thinker and a smart man. I'll be in a listening mode," obviously not trying to make poetry. In this group, the first reporter to get a question was named Teodor. He told Bush, "You can call me Ted." "Call me W., " said the president.

Senator unmasked who secretly stopped open-government bill


Posted by Frank James at 11:50 am CDT The Society of Professional Journalists has been hunting for the senator who quietly placed a hold on legislation meant to give greater transparency to the government's operations. They say they've bagged him. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is evidently the senator who placed the hold on the Open Government Act which would strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act which citizens, including journalists, use to obtain documents from the government that shed light on its activities. This is from the posting of Christine Tatum, president of the Society of Professional Jounalists, on her "Freedom of the Prez" blog: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has admitted that he put a secret hold on the Open Government Act of 2007. The bill would significantly reform the federal Freedom of Information Act, which is one of the strongest tools Americans have to supervise the inner workings of government and to hold elected officials accountable. Ryan Patmintra, Kyl's press secretary, confirmed that Kyl placed the hold to allow for more negotiations among him, bill co-sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and the U.S. Justice Department. It's no secret that Kyl has concerns about the Open Government Act, Patmintra said. If Sen. Kyl's concerns are no secret, then why would he insist on working from the shadows to place a hold on this very important legislation? The irony of secretly blocking a vote on a bill that would make government more transparent is supreme. Sen. Kyl should feel pretty silly. Kyl is behind another bill that concerns SPJ. Known as the Kyl Amendment, it would criminalize the leaking -- and publishing -- of classified information. So, Sen. Kyl is "Senator Secrecy" in more ways than one. Also of interest is the e-mail Tatum shares from TV journalist Geraldo Rivera who apparently wanted to balance the picture concerning Kyl: "Right on. Good reporting-just want to add that Sen Kyl has recently shown great integrity and courage in his crafting of the only immigration bill to stand a chance of passage in 20 years-Plz share that w your mbrs along w your main and equally principled point. Thx gr" Of course, there are a lot of people in the country, including Arizona, who hold that against the senator too.

U.S. fights terrorism by supporting oppression


Posted by Frank James at 10:34 am CDT There's something weirdly contradictory about fighting terrorists, who by definition are enemies of human rights, by supporting regimes which themselves disrespect human rights. But that is essentially what the U.S. has been doing since 9/11. The Center for Public Integrity has sponsored a series of reports by its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that examine the sizable military aid the U.S. has given sometimes oppressive and usually anti-democratic regimes like Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan. Collected under the headline "Collateral Damage," the reports highlight the role of foreign lobbying, including the involvement of former U.S. lawmakers as their highly paid advocates, to keep the money flow alive. The reports makes worthwhile and troubling reading since they get at a basic illogic in U.S. foreign policy. It's the stated goal of U.S. policymakers to encourage democracy but at the same time the U.S. provides huge sums of U.S. tax dollars in aid to anti-democratic foreign governments that routinely flout human rights.

Stop presses: Good week for Bush


Posted by Mark Silva at 9:55 am, updated 4:38 pm CDT Before we get to the following comment, consider the source: Gene Sperling, who served as national economic adviser to President Clinton from 1996-2000: "It was a rare and kind of good week for a White House that normally has had so many -- who normally had too many problems either on the (Att'y Gen. Alberto) Gonzales or Iraq front -- to actually string together a series of news events with actual content and a theme and to break through is the type of opportunity they've rarely had,'' Sperling said. "It's probably one of the first weeks where they've defined the news content of them, as opposed to having external or unfortunate events define it against their will. '' "This was kind of a rare and good week for a White House that has had too many (problems) with (Attorney General Alberto) Gonzalez and Iraq,'' said Sperling, crediting the White House for this: "To actually string together a series of good news events with substance... It's probably one of the first weeks in which they've been able to define news events'' rather than have the news defined for them by outside events. He was talking about the president's concession on global warming, his bid for more money for the battle against AIDS in Africa and sanctions ordered against the government of Sudan in a bid to step up pressure for the acceptance of peacekeeping forces in war-torn Darfur. And he was talking about all of this in the context of the upcoming summit for leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations that Bush will attend in Germany next week. Sperling and others at a forum of the Council on Foreign Relations this morning cast the issues in the context of a geopolitical framework in which Bush and others are reaching for a little bit of "legacy-'' building. "It's not unusual to try to create the right sort of context -- that kind of geopolitical theater is not new,'' said Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the council. "It's hard for me not to look at the climate change announcement as part of a parting gift for Tony Blair,'' said Sperling. "Presidents are very legacy-oriented. Prime ministers are too.'' The president's proposal on climate change -- calling on several leading nations both inside and outside of the G-8 to start negotiating for some goals for the reduction of greenhouse gases, with the hope of setting a goal by the end of next year -- falls far short of what the Europeans are seeking. It is likely to serve as "more of a palliative'' to the Europeans at the G-8 summit, according to Charles Kupchan, senior fellow and director of European studies at the council. "In the end of the day, the Europeans probably will bid their time and realize it's the next president who will move forward on this.''' The president is not the only one nearing the end of his term. Blair is on his way out. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be out next year, if he holds to his promise to step down. "The shift in leadership that is taking place... works to Bush's advantage,'' Kupchan said. The new leaders are less consumed with the controversy over the war in Iraq, which they view as scaling down in the not-too-distant future, and more consumed with their own agendas for the future.