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"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Updated: 2018-03-12T03:58:14.867-07:00


Abusing Detainees


The American public learned in April 2004 that some detainees were being abused in Iraq by U.S. military police who were encouraged to do so by Military Intelligence and by civilian employees of private intelligence contractors, of which there were sixty in Iraq. Little more would come to light about the private contractors, but eventually a substantial body of evidence developed suggesting the use of torture in the war on terror was by no means confined to isolated occurrences. As late as May 2006, the director of human rights for Amnesty International reported that “this increasing outsourcing of war has created a virtual rules-free zone for private military companies” and that the “awarding, overseeing, and enforcing of contracts is shrouded in secrecy....” She noted, “Contractors have been linked to shootings of civilians and to sexual abuse and torture of detainees.” One CIA contractor has been sent to prison for eight years for torture resulting in the death of a detainee. Two other cases have been thrown out of court, and seventeen others are languishing in the office of the US attorney for Eastern Virginia. That office is packed with loyal Bush appointees, who are not expected to investigate or act. The Justice Department has told Congress that there are jurisdictional problems in pursuing cases involving mercenaries. Experts, including those from Amnesty International , believe that the abuse cases involving military contractors easily run into the hundreds. In 2005, videotape footage surfaced showing contract employees machine-gunning occupied civilian cars on an Iraqi highway. This did not involve detainees, but it suggests that some contract employees are lawless cowboys. It is known that the number of contract employees in Iraq is about 2/3s of the number of Armed Forces personnel. In 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed a memorandum authorizing severe physical interrogation techniques that were to be combined with harsh psychological methods. Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey objected and warned that those involved in producing the memo would be ashamed of themselves when the world eventually learned of this policy. The policy memorandum was signed at a time when the administration was vigorously denying that the U.S. was involved in torturing prisoners. When the memo came to light in 2007, the administration refused to provide Congress with any of the paperwork that had been developed as background and underpinning for the memo. By August 2006, there were 450 prisoners at Guantanimo, as the US had released some prisoners due to international pressure. Those being released were told not to talk to a lawyer and often were asked to sign confessions as a condition for release. Five hundred people were detained in Afghanistan, where the US had used at one time or another 35 different detention centers. Another 13,000 were held in Iraq, and 98 died while in various detention centers. There was no data on how many were held in secret CIA prisons around the world. In May 2004, photographs surfaced that showed two soldiers posing with the dead body of a detainee who had apparently been beaten to death by CIA or private intelligence contractor operatives. The body was there because the CIA and military interrogators could not agree on who should dispose of it. The Red Cross had been complaining about the abuses since October 2003 and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had also expressed deep concern about the abuses. The FBI had been complaining since 2002 that interrogation techniques at Guantanimo had crossed the line of propriety and that detainees were being abused. The administration claimed abuses were isolated to a handful of wayward National Guard personnel. Yet some of the photographs revealed torture techniques known only to skilled professionals. The interrogations were ultimately under the control of military task forces that answered to the Joint Special Operations command. A seasoned retired CIA officer claimed that these teams “had f[...]

More on Bush Secrecy


In dealing with Congress, the Bush administration has been worse than its predecessors in sharing information. To avoid confirmation hearings, it has resorted to a number of recess appointments. When it was clear there would be trouble confirming someone, as in the case of the nomination of John Bolton as UN ambassador, it abandoned the hearings route and made a recess appointment. Letters from Congressmen requesting information are treated in a cavalier manner, and those from Democrats are sometimes ignored. After a spate of mine disasters, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the problem. The top mine safety official, David G. Dye, testified and left, announcing that he had “pressing matters” to attend to. Those who testify are expected to remain in case matters come up that they can address. When Bush instructed the NSA to spy on private telephone conversations without warrants, the administration briefed only Congressional leaders, and the briefings were only fig-leaves. Yet Bush bragged about his openness in this matter. The Congressional Research Service noted that the law requires that whole committees be briefed and concluded that the administration may have broken the law. Taking its cue from the administration, the Republican Congress has usually refused to investigate controversial matters; perhaps thinking party loyalty demanded this. Of course, observers with good memories know that Democratic Congresses did investigate Democratic presidents. Norman Ornstein has suggested that the subservience of Congress is part of a “battered Congress syndrome,” something akin to a battered spouse syndrome. Despite the Freedom of Information Act, the Justice Department promulgated regulations that enabled agencies to keep secret any information they thought should not be available to the public. A very small case in point was the abuse of secrecy rules to make Bill Clinton look bad in his negotiations with Israeli Prime minister Ehud Barach. The transcripts of their telephone discussions were labeled top secret, and the Bush administration edited them to the disadvantage of its predecessor. There was also a massive increase in the number of classified documents, from 8 million in 1999 to 23 million in 2002. The administration appointed a new federal archivist who had been accused of violations of the code of the International Council of Archivists. It did not seem to be an administration committed to the public’s right to know what was transpiring. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in March 2001 ordered all agencies to develop guidelines to prevent disclosure of information they considered “sensitive but unclassified.” Bush’s EPA began making scholars register before they could use its Envirofacts database After September 11, the movement toward secrecy in government was intensified under the pretext that security made this necessary. In contrast, the Clinton administration had declassified millions of records and had supported passage of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act. In 2002, Mitch Daniels, head of the Office of Management and Budget proposed that departments and agencies print their own materials, perhaps using private printers. This would end the practice of sending materials to the Government Printing Office, which was then required to send copies of what it printed to library depositories throughout the country. Daniels insisted that his plan was designed only to save money, but its effect would be to greatly limit the flow of information to the public. The Bush administration refused to release Reagan administration documents that federal law mandated be made public in January 2001. The Bush administration delayed the release of 60,000 pages for more than a year, despite the requirements of law. On March 15, 2002, all but 155 pages were released. Most of that material seems to relate to the process of nominating judges. Bruce Craig, director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, beli[...]

The G.W. Bush Administration and Secrecy


Even more dangerous for the republic than using the FBI for political purposes or the Interior Department manipulating situations to enrich a key Republican lobbyist is the persistent use of secrecy as a governing tactic. Combine secrecy with a politicized Justice Department, and one has the potential for all manner of abuses that may never come to light. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Nelson said “This administration [ that of George W. Bush] is by far the most secretive administration I have had any experience with at all. They have no shame… in doing things in the dark….” Few who read the papers carefully could state with some certainty why the United States invaded Iraq or the full reasoning process behind the energy policies adopted in 2005. Secrecy has extended from such large matters to any number of other matters. Judge Damon Keith wrote in 2002 that “democracies die behind closed doors,” and John Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” An essential requirement for democracy is assuring that the people have an opportunity to gain a full understanding of public matters. By avoiding presidential press conferences and indulging a mania for secrecy, the Bush administration reduced the degree of Democracy enjoyed by the American people. George W. Bush held fewer press conference than any president since FDR. At the fourteen he did hold up to June 2004, the president regularly refused to answer difficult questions. To some extent, the belief in keeping the public in the dark and even lying to them can be seen as a carefully thought out approach to governance which has some support among philosophers and academicians. More than a few in the Bush administration had been influenced by the writings of Leo Strauss, who taught that “lies, far from being a regrettable necessity of political life, are instead virtuous and noble instruments of wise policy.” Whether Bush subscribed to the philosophy of the noble lie cannot be documented, but his conduct in leading the nation into invading Iraq could be the result of this outlook. Even before entering the White House, George W. Bush demonstrated a devotion to secrecy in government. As soon as he learned that the Supreme Court had awarded him the presidency, he set out to circumvent a Texas law that required that gubernatorial papers be immediately indexed and made available to the public. He arranged to have his papers placed in his father’s library, which placed them under federal jurisdiction and met the Texas requirement that placement of papers be made in consultation with the head of the state library and archives commission by simply notifying the commission of his action. Some have suggested that his papers would reveal that he handled death row commutation matters too quickly and perfunctorily. . The Bush administration’s policymaking process often seemed a closely-held secret, perhaps suggesting “a blithe sense of class entitlement” or the Neo Conservatives’ belief that the masses should be kept in the dark Policy making procedures developed over decades by previous administrations simply fell into disuse on many occasions. The Bush White House adopted a policy of using e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee rather than those provided by the federal government. The National Journal reported that Karl Rove did 95% of his electronic communicating using the RNC account. There is something troubling about conducting government business on e-mail accounts provided by a partisan entity. The point of doing this was to circumvent the requirements of the Presidential Records act which requires that all such communications be preserved. By using partisan e-mail accounts to get around Congressional investigations, it is possible that White House aids are exposing sensitive data to hackers, assuming the commercial accounts are less secure than those provided by the US governmen[...]

Bush Fires Eight US Attorneys


In George W. Bush's second term, the unwarranted firings of eight U.S. Attorneys did become major news. The Department of Justice ousted Carol Lam of San Diego in a purge of U.S. Attorneys. She put Congressman Cunningham in prison, was in charge of following up on connections to his case, and was close to obtaining House documents on Representative Jerry Lewis, a Californian who had been appropriations chairman. She was one of eight US Attorneys who appeared to have been removed for political reasons. To prevent Senate questioning of the replacements, a new provision of the amended Patriot Act was used in appointing the replacements as interim US Attorneys, who could serve indefinitely and whose appointments did not require Senate confirmation. The removal of Thomas Di Biagio in Maryland was attributed to his looking into people connected with the Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich funneling money from gaming interest to promote legalized slot machines. Di Biagio also examined their links with a Washington/DC prostitution ring run by Deboraj Jeane Palfrey, later known as the “DC Madame.” She was subsequently prosecuted and she claimed that she was a scapegoat for her customers, whose names were seqled by a federal judge. She speculated that some of her employees were involved in the sex ring associated with former Congressman Randy Cunningham and Mitchell Wade of MZM, Inc. In Nevada, David Bogden was removed, and it was wondered if the cause was his looking into Governor Jim Gibson’s receiving payments or gifts from a firm that received secret military contracts when Gibson was in Congress. Senator Peter Domenici pressed for the removal of David C. Iglesias because he had not sped up an investigation in time to damage New Mexico Democrats in the 2006 elections. In Washington State, John McKay had angered superiors because he could not prove that the Democrats had stolen the gubernatorial election of 2004. He said he found no evidence and was unwilling to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury. Representative Doc Hastings, former chair of the ethics committee, had called him about the Washington Gubernatorial recount. A Justice official said McKay could have been removed because he was to aggressive in seeking a thorough investigation of the murder of an assistant US attorney, who had been a prominent anti-gun advocate. Paul Charlton of Arizona was removed while he was investigating very questionable land deals on the part of Republican Congressman Rick Renzi. In Arkansas, Karl Rove associate Timothy Griffin was appointed to replace a man with a good record. Griffin had been research director of the Republican National Committee and in 2004 masterminded the “caging” of 70,000 would be voters. “Caging “ is a method of setting up voters to have their registration challenged by a variety of very effective procedures. Challenging potential voters based on caging lists can occur at the polls. The Republican National Committee was forced to forego caging some years ago in a consent decree because it had targeted black for caging, but the consent decree did not apply to state parties. In most cases they would not know they had been removed until it was too late. They were mostly minority people—some students, some soldiers, and some in homeless shelters. Caging is an extremely effective technique today the HAVA Act of 2002 appears to partially legitimize and facilitate it. It developed that Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales had discussed this purge of federal attorneys even before Gonzales became Attorney General. However, Gonzales had said that he was not involved in the discussion of the removals. Kyle, Sampson, his former chief of staff, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Attorney General was very much involved in the process. However, Sampson added that he himself had no idea that any of those prosecutors were involved in very sensitive political investigations. That seemed very implausib[...]

Some Possible Abuses of Power under George W. Bush


There is strong reason to believe that the FBI was used in an effort to influence a Philadelphia election. The Philadelphia mayoral election of 2004provided a blatant example of how the abuse of federal power was used in an effort to influence voters. The FBI installed listening devices in the ceiling of Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s office before a regularly scheduled security sweep. The FBI also seized one of the Democratic mayor’s handheld computers. The agency quickly leaked that he was a subject of investigation, possibly in connection with fixing parking tickets or the fact that his brother got a part of a construction contract. The timing of these moves left the popular mayor in limbo, unable to defend himself against undisclosed charges and likely to lose votes as a result of the situation. Skeptics thought these actions part of an “October surprise,” aimed at placing City Hall in Republican hands in time for the presidential election of 2004. Believing Ashcroft was abusing his powers for political ends, black voters turned out in droves to give Street another term. There are strong indications that the Department of Interior also used its power to help key Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff do business with Indian Tribes. Secretary Gail Norton also proved adept as using her supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the advantage of her party. In the fall of 2001, she met with leaders of the Mississippi Choctaw, the Chitimacha, and the Coushatta. Bush fundraiser Jack Abramoff represented these tribes. Each tribe was reported to pledge amounts approaching a million dollars to the 2002 campaign. Wayne Smith, second in command at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, reportedly used former business partner Phil Bersinger to raise funds. Bersinger’s approach to Linda Amelia of the Chinooks was so blatant that Ms. Smith thought an FBI sting operation was underway. Another group of Indian tribe leaders met with President Bush at a meeting arranged by Americans for Tax Reform, a group they helped to finance. Norton’s accounting methods, designed to help wealthy ranchers, also reveal an inclination to abuse power. In September 2002, a federal district judge found Norton guilty on four counts of “fraud on the court” for lying about efforts to improve accounting methods with respect to collecting money from leased Native American lands. Apparently, millions had not been collected for decades. Other administrations had been remiss in correcting problems in the system, but the judge claimed Norton had reached new heights in disregard for court orders. Norton’s Department of the Interior also opened Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to as many as 51, 444 gas wells which will threaten water sources ranchers depend upon and interfere with agriculture in numerous ways. There was evidence of monumental waste and fraud in the conduct of the Iraq War, but it was difficult to get a complete picture of what was going on. Even the staid Department of State joined in the cover-ups. Its inspector General suppressed reports that showed waste and fraud in the construction of the embassy complex in Baghdad, the largest in the world. The Department’s Inspector General derailed investigations of the Blackwater security firm and warned the former head of Public Broadcasting that both Congress and the Justice Department were investigating him for collecting twice for the same work and for billing two public agencies. Many thought the man shielded Blackwater because his brother was on a Blackwater board, but it is doubtful that he had this information. Although there have been some real horror stories about waste and fraud in the Iraq War, it has proven difficult to access detailed information. Contractor fraud cases are often dealt with under the Civil War’s False Claims Act. Someone with information files a “qui tam” suite in hopes that the Department of Justice will take up the case a[...]

Impatience with Dissent


Under George W. Bush, Republicans have evinced a great impatience with legitimate dissent. Republican campaigning techniques demonstrated an impatience with dissent and a disregard for the rights of dissenters to express themselves. During the campaigns of 2000 and 2004, the Bush campaigns carefully screened non- Republicans from their rallies. This is perfectly legal and has a precedent in Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, but it is hardly democratic. After winning reelection in 2004, Bush barnstormed the nation speaking for his so-called Social Security reforms but it was reported in at least one location that his advance people provided a non-admit list for Fargo, North Dakota, rallies so that known Democratic activists would be excluded from the rally at a local high school. At other rallies, people were required to sign pledges to support the Bush privatization plan before being admitted to rallies. In Denver, a Republican operative posing as a Secret Service agent ejected three people from a rally. In the same year one Steve Howards approached Cheney in a Denver mall and told him that his policies were reprehensible. Ten minutes later, the Secret Service handcuffed him and charged him with harassment. In 2006, anti-war protestor Cindy Sheehan had a ticket to view the state of the union address from the fifth gallery of the House, but she was cuffed and arrested in an elevator because she wore an anti-war shirt. A policeman said she was being held “ because you were protesting." Later a Republican Congressman’s wife was removed from a gallery because she wore a pro-war shirt. She was not arrested. In late 2005, Veterans Administration officials investigated nurse Laura Berg because she wrote a letter to the editor critical of the Bush administration. First, they seized her computer, hoping they could prove she wrote the letter while at work. When that failed, they informed her they were continuing an investigation of sedition. That the Bush campaigns used police and secret service to keep protesters away from the traveling chief executive is also troubling because it impinged upon free expression. Outrage over the outcome of the disputed 2000 election in Florida led placard-carrying protesters to show up at Bush appearances in his first year as president. Claiming these citizens threatened the president’s security; they were kept out of sight. The real reason may have been a desire to keep them out of the range of television cameras. When Bush flew into Green Bay, Wisconsin, to address friendly unionists in Kaukauna on Labor Day, protesters were kept off the tarmac and away from the parade route. When President Bush visited Greensboro, NC, on July 25, placard carrying peace demonstrators were kept more than a mile away from him. They had tried unsuccessfully to get permission to stand along his parade route with their signs. In time, the Secret Service developing a policy of creating Free Speech or Demonstration Zone’s far away from parade routes and places where Bush would speak. By late 2003, the Free Speech Zone’s were sometimes half a mile away from where Bush would appear. When George W. Bush appeared at a carpenters’ rally on Labor Day, 2002 in western Pennsylvania, Bill Neel, 65, of Butler, Pa. showed up with a sign that read “The Bushes must truly love the poor--they’ve made so many of us.” Neel refused to stay in the protest pen and was arrested for disorderly conduct. Neel argued, “the whole country is a free speech zone.” By 2007, the name had been changed to First Amendment Zones, which seems like some sort of sick joke or at least an oxymoron. In Oregon, Peter Buckley, 45, complained in the Oregonian that he and other protesters were rounded up and placed in a dirt compound that was surrounded by a six-foot high cyclone fence. Buckley ran for Congress in 2002. People in Tampa, Florida, including two grandmothers, were [...]

Republican Conservatism Falls Back on Authoritarian Roots


Lionel Trilling wrote in 1950 about conservatives becoming nearly extinct. In 2006, the ran the country but still complain “that liberals run things even when they manifestly don’t....” They still complain that liberals are “snooty, snobby know-it-alls” who allegedly disparage the people in middle America as “those hicks in flyover country.” Of course, it was the creation of populist resentment now that made possible the Republican triumph. In the late 19th Century, a similar situation sparked a great populist protest. One hundred years later, a potential populist uprising of that kind was unthinkable. The New Right had channeled populist energies into battling those who would limit gun ownership, advance reproductive rights, or defend people’s choice of lifestyle. The process of harnessing the energies of right-wing populists transformed most conservatives into the very antithesis of the conservatives of the 1950s. The new conservatives ballooned government’s size, the power of the executive, and the national debt, seemed contemptuous of reasonable debate, and erected new and very dangerous threats to civil liberties John Wesley Dean of Watergate fame, believes that 1994 marked the beginning of what he calls the “postmodern period” of American conservatism, a time in which “it has regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots.” Traditional conservative Paul Craig Roberts became the object of their wrath when he opposed the invasion of Iraq. He likened his new enemies to the Nazi Brownshirts and claimed that obsession with power and force prevented the original Brownshirts from recognizing the implications for their country of their reckless doctrines. “Like Brownshirts, the new conservatives take personally any criticism of their leader and his policies. To be a critic is to be an enemy. I went overnight from being an object of conservative adulation to one of derision when I wrote that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a "strategic blunder’” Old style conservatives like Roberts are uncomfortable with the hyperventilated rhetoric of the new conservatives and are increasingly unwelcome in their company. Daniel Borchers, another old style conservative, edits a newsletter and web page that is critical of the tactics and rhetoric of Ann Coulter. When he attended a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference his newsletters were confiscated and organizers tried to strip him of his press credentials. Asked why he bucks the tide, he said “Honor requires outing. Silence is complicity.” By 2006, there was little indication that these traditional conservatives comprised more than a tiny fraction of the electorate. From the outset, the administration of George W. Bush has sought to maximize its power by testing the customary and legal limits of executive power. Moreover it has incorporated into its modus operandi the same ugly, bare-knuckle tactics that marked its campaigns. Aside from arrogance, a number of factors might contribute to this inclination to employ ugly tactics and stretch legal limits. Richard Nixon believed in executive supremacy, and after his administration steps were taken to curb these tendencies. Vice President Richard Cheney was dedicated to the Nixonian vision and was bent on moving backward toward it .A preoccupation with national security matters might have led some to assume that the will of the commander essentially had the force of law.. In foreign affairs, Republican Neo Conservative thinking was marked by a “romance of the ruthless” that entertained the notion that a few bright, dedicated people could bring about great change, especially if they are unhampered by traditional or even legal restraints. Their willing allies were old-school nationalists--sometimes called foreign policy fundamentalists-- who long had chafed at the restraints placed on the use of mili[...]

Republican Scandals in G.W. Bush's SEcond T4erm


When George W. Bush’s second term began, pundit Kevin Drum said it would be marked by scandal. He thought they would be particularly susceptible to scandal because “Both Bush and the current Republican Party leadership have already demonstrated a ruthlessness and disregard for rational political norms. A “ second reason for foreseeing scandal was that the Republican Congress had largely given up its role of oversight of the executive branch.” When Clinton was in the White House, committees in both chambers limited oversight largely to scandal hunting. When George W. Bush entered the White House, oversight ended and Congress became supine, while its leadership assumed the roles of his loyal lieutenants. Republican leaders gave no sign they understood the institutional prerogatives of Congress or that they could be characterized by institutional patriotism. Beginning in 2005, the Republican Party was rocked by a number of scandals. Its key lobbyist Jack Abramoff and two of his partners were indicted, as was Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of staff. Libby was indicted for lying in connection with the outing of CIA covert agent, Valerie Plame. Her identity was first revealed by conservative columnist Robert Novak who said he got the information from two administration officials CNN talk show host Chris Matthews subsequently called Ambassador Wilson to warn him that Karl Rove had called him to say “Wilson’s wife is fair game.” It appears that she was outed to embarrass her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson and UN weapons inspector David Albright had appeared on CNN together and criticized the claim that Iraq had negotiated with Niger to acquire nuclear materials. Vice President Cheney directed the CIA to dig up information to discredit Albright. He also held a meeting with NSA and CIA people in which he ordered a “work-up” on Wilson, whom he called “an ‘asshole’ [and] a son of a bitch.” They started spreading the word that Wilson was a “womanizer” and looked for more stories to circulate. In February 2005, Federal Judge Tatel ruled that the federal law protecting covert agents had been violated. Yet, the prosecutor apparently hit a stonewall in trying to learn who originally gave up her identity and was forced to only look at obstruction of justice matters. This apparently took both Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove out of the line of fire. The White House has refused to give the prosecutor e-mails that mentioned Plame and has maintained that malfunctions in the White House e-mail system erased many relevant communications. Reporters later found that all White House e-mails were backed up and stored elsewhere, but nothing was done to retrieve them. The story about the millions of missing e-mails changes several more times, as they became more important. For example, a Congressional committee wanted them to see if it was true that Karl Rove was behind the prosecution of Democratic governor, Don Siegelman of Alabama. The last story was that millions of e-mails were destroyed for 2—3-2005 when hard drives were destroyed because the White House was in the process of replacing a third of its computers. Libby told prosecutors that he had been given the power to declassify information, and Vice President Cheney subsequently said there was an executive order that gave the president and vice president the power to declassify information. It later developed that this process was used to leak the intelligence estimate on Iraq’s military capacities to The New York Times. The most likely justification for doing so was to use such information to sell the war in Iraq. A court put the whole matter on the back burner, deferring a trial until two months after the 2006 elections. Republicans have been busily raising defense funds for Libby as though being involved in the[...]

The K Street Project


The so-called K Street Project was a potent tool for increasing Republican power. It was designed to force lobbying firms to purge Democrats, hire Republicans, and direct their contributions to Republican members and their political action committees. The House Republicans redoubled their earlier efforts to prevent their members from dealing with any lobbyists with Democratic connections. In the past, Democrats had sought contributions from lobbyists and the firms they represented. The Republicans broke new ground by demanding that these people and their firms sharply reduce what they contribute to Democrats. Republican members were also expected to shun environmental lobbyists and those for other causes favored by the Democrats. Majority Leader Tom DeLay ruled that members should investigate lobbyists to be certain they have no connections to Democrats and do not work for corporations that have donated money to the Democratic Party. Democrats tried to bring Representative Oxley before the ethics committee when he insisted that the Investment Company Institute either fire Democrat Julie Domenick or get a Republican to work with her. Oxley, a member of the Financial Services Committee, was pressing for an investigation of how mutual funds disclose their fees to investors, and the Democrats use this connection to claim a breach of ethics. When DeLay was too obvious about refusing to deal with one firm’s representatives because its board chairman was a Democrat, the House Ethnics Committee found it necessary to issue a mild reprimand. In the Senate, former leader Trent Lott led a similar effort. Rush Limbaugh joined the effort by urging Republican House members to avoid lobbyist Linda Daschle, wife of the Senate minority leader. The result of this so-called K Street Project is that Republican activists have been hired as lobbyists. Their chief loyalty is to their party, not the firms the represent and they channel almost all their firms contributions to the GOP In the past. The Republican Congressional leadership has learned how to exploit lobbyists to the fullest extent. Without making political contributions, firms learned they could not do business in Washington. The private e-mail of Westar Energy Inc. of Kansas said it was necessary to give to Republican POACs “to get a seat at the table.” The House Republicans redoubled their earlier efforts to prevent their members from dealing with any lobbyists with Democratic connections. Republicans rewarded contributing firms by allowing their lobbyists to sit with House committees in drafting legislation. These people often have desks in staff areas and draft legislation on government computers. In an effort to create a poll of lobbyists who were friendly to the Republican Party, De Lay called in lobbyists and lectured them about their hiring practices and political donations. He was equipped with data provided by Grover Norquist on each lobbying operation. His message was simple, “If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules.” In 1996, GOP Chairman Haley Barbour and house leaders delivered the same blunt message to a meeting of CEOs. In theory, the strategy created an endless loop in which former Republican Congressmen and staffers occupied high-paying lobbying position, pumping huge amounts into the party, and electing more and more Republican senators and representatives. Under Senator Rick Santorum, some Senate Republicans have joined the K Street Project, but lobbyists have not greatly increased their legislative roles in that chamber, Democrats had sought contributions from lobbyists and the firms they represented. The Republicans broke new ground by demanding that these people and their firms sharply reduce what they contribute to Democrats The mandatory hiring of Republican lobbyists was the key ele[...]

Procedural Abuses and the Decline of Minority Party Rights Under Republican Rule in Congress


Procedural Abuses and the Decline of Minority Party Rights Two respected observers--moderate Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution and conservative Norman Ornstein, have observed that Democrats in their half-century period of dominance engaged in some abuses, “But they were neither as widespread nor as audacious as those we have seen in the past few years.” Mann charged that the Republican majorities have damaged the legislative process by sacrificing Congressional prerogatives and independence by deferring to the White House. In the 1980s, Democrats occasionally bent the rules for partisan purposes, reducing the role of Republicans in the legislative process. A few times they used closed rules to shut off all amendments to bills, and there were some instances of limiting the number of amendments that could be introduced in the last Democratic Congress before Newt Gingrich and his followers took over, 35% of the important bills came with closed rules, if one includes those that somehow or other limited the number of amendments. In 1985, the Democrats seated an Indiana representative, whom Republicans insisted had not won his election. From that time on, influential Democrats worked hard to see that the rights of the minority were preserved. According to Mann and Ornstein, the advent of Republican power in the House led to “practices that were more unsettling than those of the Democrats [and they became] the norm.” The abuses of legislative procedures were sometimes motivated by determination to accomplish some ideological goal, but much more often they were for the intention of including “ earmarks” –special set-aside appropriations buried in legislation-- that would benefit contributors. Republicans have greatly expanded on exclusionary practices Democrats had sometimes employed in the past and effectively shut the Democrats out of deliberations on key measures. In the entire 109th Congress, only two significant bills were allowed on the floor with open rules. The three-hour open voting process in the House to pass the Medicare Reform Act demonstrated that the legislative process had been greatly restructured and perhaps damaged. Intense pressure, including serious threats, was brought to bear on the most conservative Republicans, who thought the bill authorized too much spending. Nick Smith, a retiring member from Michigan, was told that the part would prevent his son from succeeding him. Smith was also told that someone would invest $100,000 in his son’s business if Smith voted with the leadership. Another version of the story was that $100,000 would be invested in the son’s campaign if Smith submitted. He did not budge. Now roll calls frequently stretch to two and three hours as leaders prowled the chamber to twist arms and offer enticements for changing votes. In 1987, Republicans chastised Speaker Jim Wright for keeping the voting open ten minutes more than the normal fifteen minutes. The Republican whip then was Dick Cheney, who branded this “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power in the ten years I have been here.” Such an extraordinary procedure was even labeled an abuse of power by the Republican commentators on the “Beltway Boys.“ Both Speakers Gingrich and Hastert had pledged to uphold the fifteen minute rule. As noted, Republicans held the vote open three hours to pass the Medicare Act, and they had many other votes that were open for an hour or more. The move toward one party government was abetted by the inability of the Democratic leadership to deal with the situation. Too many Democratic leaders, on the other hand, were temperamentally and intellectually unable to cope and still believed give and take and compromise should be the order of the day in Congress. As these highhanded proc[...]

One Party Government and the Absence of Congressional Oversight


Historian Lewis L. Gould has noted that Republicans have become so arrogant and high-handed in the exercise of power that they have raised doubts about whether the G.O.P. “really believe[s] in the two-party system as a core principle of politics.” Since 1996, the GOP has transformed itself into a European-style parliamentary party in which members were epected to walk in lockstep. They came to show great disdain for the old American legislative process which entailed give and take between the two parties. The Republicans lost a number of House seats in the election of 2000, but they still had a majority and compensated for their loss by reducing Democratic representation on House committees. This high-handed behavior was only briefly noted in a few of the nation’s better newspapers. The Democrats’ previous abuses of power pale by comparison with those of the New Right’s abuses of power pale by comparison those of Democrats, who sometimes ran roughshod over Republicans in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when they were clearly losing their grip on the House of Representatives. The right-wing tendency to abuse power became even more apparent in 2001, when Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress. The House Republicans slashed Democratic representation on some committees even though they had narrowed the margin between parties in the election of 2000. Even though Republicans had increased their margin in the House in the election of 2002, they enacted new restrictions, which would make it even more difficult for the Democratic minority to get their legislative proposals to the floor for consideration. From 1995 to 2006, very few important Democratic proposals were to reach the house floor. By 2002, House Democrats had been driven out of the caucus room they had used for seven years and sent to a basement room. They were sometimes not even permitted there or anywhere else in the Capitol, which made planning difficult. Democrats on committees were frequently not permitted to caucus in committee rooms and not infrequently were not invited to Committee meetings. When they did attend committee meetings, they often were not permitted to attempt to amend legislation that was being marked up. Before Congress renewed and extended the Patriot Act, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings in the summer of 2005. Hearings cannot be ended except by unanimous consent, but chairman James Sensenbrenner, Jr. became so exasperated with criticisms of the measure that he graveled the meeting at an end, saying the proceedings were “irrelevant.” His staff quickly shut down the microphones and left the room. When John Conyers requested space to hold hearings on the Downing Street Memos, he was given space-- hardly a foregone conclusion these days. But the area was no larger than a “large closet,” and Speaker Hastert scheduled eleven major votes during the hearing to dissuade representatives from attending. The first step toward one party government was to enforce tight discipline within the Republican Party. Beginning in the 1980s, the GOP began tightening party discipline, and, once in power, sought ways to limit Democratic participation in the legislative process. Senator Philip Gramm said in the mid-1990s that the objective of these steps was to show voters that Republicans could get results Another tool, that Graham did not mention, was the use of “earmarks” to reward compliant Republican Congressmen. They in turn used them to persuade lobbyists to maximize contributions to the GOP. In the ten years since Republicans took control of the House, earmarked pork barrel legislation increased by 873%. By the turn of the century, House Re publicans were very well disciplined and certain to vote as Tom DeLay, the n[...]

Newt’s Followers and the Courts


The Right was to demonstrate demonstrated impatience with the courts when they took positions contrary to what conservatives expected. When the judiciary failed to support indefinitely prolonging the life of brain-damaged Terry Schiavo Texans Representative Tom De Lay and Senator John Cornyn made statements that seemed to justify violence against judges. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor both received death threats because they cited foreign law in footnotes. They were not advocating adoption of those laws, but simply noting how others defined and approached common problems. The Right has made this a significant issue and has proposed legislation forbidding judges from citing foreign law and courts. In these contexts, O’Connor as a retired justice felt compelled to speak out against interference with the judiciary noting that such steps could the beginning of degeneration into dictatorship. Reverend Dr. James Dobson, a psychologist, noted that Congress had the power to abolish the liberal Ninth Circuit Court, and DeLay added, “We set up the courts. We can unset the courts.” The New York Times editors suggested she also had in mind legislation sharply limiting review of military commission actions regarding detainees. When this legislation passed, the Bush administration immediately announced it would apply it to 160 pending cases, even though the law did not refer to pending cases.

Hostile to judicial restraints, Congressional Republicans stood by while George W. Bush set up an unauthorized wiretap program. The cooperated in Dick Cheney's effort to eviscerate the FISA Court, which had been set up to police electronic surveillance of foreign intelligence operatives within the United States. They have come close to achieving this goal when Congress was under Democratic control in 2007-2008, as fefw Democrats are willing to stand up and be counted. The Dems fear being called weak on defense. At the same time, the Republicans, with Democratic help, nullified a court decision on the rights of detainees and established passed the Military Commissions ACt, which even makes testimony acquired from torture admissible.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.

The Transformation of Congressional Republicans


The Republican who engineered the Republican triumph of 1994 was neither a NeoCon nor a Christian Restorationist. He had contempt for the gentlemanly Republican leadership he encountered. Newt Gingrich more than anyone else taught his party that ruthlessness had to be their long-term strategy. His tactics yielded great success for the party, but it is becoming clear that they have done grave damage to the legislative process. Next to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Congressman Newt Gingrich made the greatest contribution to making the GOP the nation’s dominant party. After two unsuccessful attempts to win a seat in Congress, the young history professor was elected in 1978 to represent a suburban Atlanta district. He predicted that he would become Speaker, and with Robert Walker of Pennsylvania and Vin Weber of Minnesota, organized the Conservative Opportunity Society. They set out to organize the Young Turks in the Republican caucus and work to replace what they thought was the tired and too gentlemanly leadership of their party in the House. As Dick Armey, a Young Turk explained, the more traditional members of the caucus were “Establishment Republicans” who were too committed to civility, moderation, bipartisanship, and above all avoiding gridlock. Gingrich complained, “One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty.” In 1988, Gingrich told a Heritage Foundation audience that “This war [between liberals and conservatives] has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars.” Gingrich and his associates realized that the televised House proceedings on C-SPAN presented them with a great opportunity and they came to monopolize television time when no one else was in the House, particularly after the end of regular business. Because the rule was that the TV cameras focus tightly on the person speaking, most viewers would not realized the chamber was almost empty. Gingrich and his collaborators also set up situations that forced the Democratic leadership to strong arm the “Confederates” or “ boll weevils,” which eventually led some of them to become Republicans. The Democrats, then laboring with a smaller majority, were tightening procedural rules to make it easier for them to rule. All this played into the hands of Gingrich, who claimed that the Democrats were tyrants who needed to be replaced. Of course, Newt claimed that the House Democrats had long used high-handed tactics to rule. While Gingrich’s greatly exaggerated claims did not win him many supporters in the House, he did acquire a large following among C-SPAN viewers. When COS speakers began claiming that many Democrats had been apologists for Communist regimes, Speaker O’Neill became enraged and ordered the cameras to show that they were speaking to a nearly empty chamber. A trailer on the screen indicated that the regular business of the House had been concluded. It was within the Speaker’s power to make these changes, but he should have at least notified the Republican leadership about what he was doing. Gingrich dubbed the affair “Camscam” and insisted it showed how dictatorial the Democratic leadership had become. The Republican House leaders were forced to come to his support, and Gingrich became an instant celebrity and leading Republican spokesman in May 1984. With Gingrich setting the tone for Republican rhetoric, civility deteriorated badly. O’Neill was demonized by the Far Right and the Speaker was physically attacked in a Chicago airport by an angry citizen. O’Neill also began to receive death threats. The angry and frustrated Democratic leadership sought revenge by declaring R[...]

Constraints Effecting Journalism


Explaining why President George W. Bush was getting an easy ride, Harris wrote,” There is no well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people who start each day looking for ways to expose and undermine a new president.” This explanation leaves aside some serious questions. To what extent have liberal journalists been intimidated by the constant refrain that the media has a liberal bias? Has the fact that the three major networks are now in conservative hands anything to do with their increasingly cautious approach to the way they report on conservative politicians and conservative administrations?. Neal Gabler of the Annenberg School of Communications has suggested that the secret of understanding the media is not that it has a liberal bias. Rather, ”it is that they are trying to attract the widest possible viewership, or readership, and that doing so necessitates that they be as inoffensive as possible.” Don Hewitt, producer of “Sixty Minutes”-- a television program that has set a reasonably high standard for integrity, lamented “The 1990s were a terrible time for journalism in this country but a wonderful time for journalists.” Jim Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune has even referred to the “death of journalism.” Speaking to trade and corporate seminars can be very lucrative, and there is no way of knowing whether people might modify their reporting patter somewhat to make themselves attractive to these employers. Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, who were on the most influential Sunday commentary program, were talking to insurance and hospital lobbying groups at about $30,000 a speech during the health care debate. Roberts also earned money speaking to Phillip Morris executives. Both of these allegedly liberal commentators had little good to say about Bill Clinton in his second term. Roberts appeared to uncritically accept every charge made about Clinton’s sexual adventures and has been called a “font of Beltway conventional wisdom.” Later, she was inclined to treat President George W. Bush gently, claiming the SEC had exonerated him in a potential inside-trading case when the agency’s letter specifically said it was not exonerating him.’ The decline of journalistic standards that became obvious in the 1990s has often been blamed on the need to compete with around the clock cable television news. Dusko Doder confessed, “Reporters like myself, who have been in the business for a while, talk frequently these days about avoiding certain topics that would clash with the financial interests of their organizations.” In 2002-2003, the US newspaper industry was netting an average profit margin of 21%, a yield far in excess of what the European press was realizing. Analyst Curtis Gans worried that the media was sacrificing accuracy and balance n order to wreap these gains and noted that the press should provide information and opinions that ignite the fires of a citizens’ democracy. Media outlets are businesses, and they cannot afford to alienate advertisers or people who are likely sources of news. In the mid-1970s, the New York Times moved too far left in its reporting and promptly suffered declining revenues. Articles on problems in health care alone cost it $500,000 in advertising from one former client. A Wall Street analyst then commented that the paper’s support of a tax increase “could put the Times right out of business." The paper had no choice but to reverse course and made Max Frankell managing editor in January 1977. In addition, the increasing concentration of media outlets in fewer hands has increasingly tended to make the press more cautious and conservative. Although large corpo[...]

Press Treatment of Democrats


MSNBC offered a steady diet of “bash Clinton all the time” during the nation’s long obsession with his sex life and Whitewater. Was this due to the entertainment value of the stories or because Microsoft was unhappy with Clinton’s Justice Department? Much of the print and electronic media has become partly an entertainment medium, and reporters are becoming celebrities. Moreover, a star system has developed, in which performers do what is necessary to enhance their fame, star status, and income. To enhance their star status, many abandoned normal journalistic standards while feeding off the Clinton sex scandal and hyping the Whitewater hoax, which turned out to be a very minor matter. Many viewers and readers can recite the list of Princess Dianna’s male friends but would be at a loss to offer any information on government tax or environmental policy. The public found George W. Bush a likable fellow, and after 9/11 he was elevated to hero status, with an approval rating around 90%. The greatest no-no in journalism “is to offend a substantial chunk of the audience by reporting things in a way that goes against their attitudes.” Even in the Reagan era, such a large portion of the public considered Lt. Colonel Oliver North a national hero that nothing was reported about his efforts to protect Latin American drug-dealing generals or that he had been banned from Costa Rica on charges of drug running. Journalists found they could enhance their public appeal by portraying the new president in the best possible light. After 9/11,Washington press’s fawning over Bush reached astronomical levels as he was compared to Winston Churchill and the great men of history. Giving the news a conservative spin not only placed a journalist in sync with the nation’s rightward shift; it opened the doors to fat consulting fees and employment by well-financed think tanks and foundations. The liberal journalist might be able to garner paltry fees from a few “little magazines” or, with great luck, land a slot at the Brookings Institution, which employs experts of all persuasions. As media pundits came to earn vast amounts of money, their class interests certainly did not dictate liberal politics. While much of the press fawned over George W. Bush, there was a tendency for the press to pile-on in making charges against Clinton, and doing so certainly did not injure anyone’s career. Indeed, this kind of journalism seemed to satisfy those who had regularly wailed about an alleged liberal media. In June 1993 Clinton foolishly delayed his flight out of Los Angeles in order to get a $200 haircut from a famous stylist. Dr. John McLaughlin of “The McLaughlin Group” expanded upon the story by saying the decision tied up “ground and air traffic, putting as many as 37 planes in a holding pattern.” His right-oriented telecast was sponsored by General Electric, whose CEO Jack Welch had been persuaded by Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan to do so. The story commanded front pages across the nation. Six weeks later, the Los Angeles Times published a story proving that no other planes were inconvenienced by the presidential haircut. This story attracted very little attention, and when it was printed it appeared on back pages. Until the Mark Foley scandal in 2006, the press corps had shown great interest in Democratic sex scandals but had largely overlooked those of Republicans. When George Bush was vice president, a report about an affair briefly surfaced. One outraged denial on his part was enough to put the matter to rest. Similarly, a report of Governor Jeb Bush’s affair with a former Playboy bunny on his cabinet received little cover[...]

The Media and US Foreign Policy


Sustained criticism of fundamental U.S. foreign policy has not been a mark of the mainstream U.S. media for decades. Positions that appear too critical of entrenched economic power or offer sustained criticism of basic social and economic policies can create problems for journalists. After Islamic terrorists attacked buildings in Washington and New York on September 11, 2001, the mainstream media did very little to help people understand why the Al Qaeda terrorists were so anxious to murder Americans. Critics of US policies such as Edward Said, Edward Herman, and Noam Chomsky were not interviewed. Henry Kissinger appeared many times even though it had recently been revealed that he had approved the assassination of Rene Schneider, head of Chile’s military, because he would not have backed a proposed coup against Salvadore Allende. With more than a little justification, Eric Alterman has claimed “the mainstream media almost always allow the Bush Administration to lie without consequence.” Press treatment of George W. Bush’s May 6, 2003 press conference illustrates how the press has come to backstop this president. The chief executive came with a prearranged list of reporters who would be called upon and he even mentioned that the conference had been scripted. Nevertheless, the reporters went through the motions of jumping from their chairs, acting as though they were struggling to be recognized so they could offer softball questions. In that press conference on Iraq, he mentioned September 11 or Al Qaeda fourteen times, but no reporter challenged him on whether he was saying that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attack It is no wonder a vast majority of Americans came to believe this. At the beginning of the conference Helen Thomas was deprived of her customary front row seat, and Bush refused to call on her, though it was customary that she offer the first question and close the conference with a “Thank You, Mr. President.” She was being punished for saying Bush was the worst president in US history. The GOP national committee also sent out instructions to pundits in its stable to attack her. Many had the decency to ignore these instructions. Jim Rosen of Fox noted that the conference went much smoother without her asking questions, and Brit Hume called her to: a nutty aunt in the attic.” John Podhorentz said Thomas was an “ancient White House pseudo-reporter,’ and Michelle Malkin intoned “Shame, shame, shame, on Helen Thomas.” The Bush administration had also blacklisted Mike Allen of the Washington Post. Walter Cronkite, another journalist in his eighties, was the only major commentator to join Thomas in seriously questioning Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Bill O’Reilly denounced Cronkite as an “internationalist,” a Bushian term of derision. Andrew Sullivan also denounced the BBC for offering some unfavorable news about the war by calling it the ally of Saddam Hussein. For a variety of reasons, the press almost gave Bush a free pass since the campaign. His elevation of warrior/president after 9/11 made it more difficult to criticize him. Moreover, the administration was extremely effective in controlling news and not giving information to journalists who seemed hostile. Even a respected journalist Howard Fineman has taken to offering undiluted praise of Bush on his television appearances and praising the president’s gunslinger approach to diplomacy. When President George W. Bush was beating the drum for war against Iraq in 2002, the desire to control oil resources as a motivation for war was much more a subject of interest in the foreign press than in th[...]

Is the Mainstream Media Snoozy?


What Palast called “snoozy” probably meant lazy, which included a disinclination to report things many people did not want to read. Moreover, the U.S. press developed a “heard instinct” which demonstrated in the Clinton years by an inclination to print charges without first thoroughly researching them. It has been said that the American media is a vast echo chamber. Part of the press is comprised of a determined and closely-knit group of right-wing writers who frequently place political objectives well above honest reporting. In the Clinton years, they learned that if a few of them raised a charge against Bill Clinton, the mainstream press would quickly follow. If the mainstream press did not deal with the questions they raised, it was accused of demonstrating its liberal bias. The same dynamics worked in dealing with George W. Bush. James Wolcott found that “the press has given Bush and his Cabinet a horsy-back ride--. Because they’re push-overs.” Some are attracted by his apparent openness and disarming Marlboro man style. Bush was personally likeable, and it did not hurt to be good to a man favored by the conservative corporate interests that essentially controlled the media. For some time, “media consumers [were] sending the wrong message to media owners. They were not complaining about junk food news, and many of them raised strong objections whenever information unfavorable to the Republican Party was aired. In the last analysis, journalists are in the business of selling airtime and advertising pages; the news is often seen as “a commodity to stick in between the ads. The media is increasingly profit-driven and is concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands. The traditional barrier between editorial and advertising operations is also eroding. By the 1990s, television journalists were drawing huge salaries, and print journalists were also enjoying greater prosperity than before. Philip Weiss, who has written for several newspapers, suggested that “reporters are making too much money” and that this was connected to their “loss of professional freedom.” Their job was to avoid printing what could anger the papers’ owners, advertisers, or readers. The blatant under reporting of FCC rule changes in 2003 that benefited the networks and big corporate interests is an example of how this works. Many of the highly exposed pundits are millionaires who benefit from the Bush tax cuts; “Self-interest most always begets a little prudence.” During the 2004 campaign, the Bush organization repeatedly employed deception and half-truths in attacking Kerry, who proved singularly inept in answering the charges. For example he was repeatedly charged with voting against funding to supply American troops in Iraq, when the truth was that he had voted for one version of the bill but against another, which was certain to pass in any event. In September CBS Evening News took it upon itself to objectively deal with and sort out the many half-truths, but they were alone in this effort. For almost three weeks, the cable and broadcast media publicized charges that Kerry had lied about his conduct in Vietnam. During the Democratic National Convention, one of the big stories was that Teresa Heinz Kerry had told a right-wing journalist to shove it, even though it was clear he was harassing her and twisting her words. On the eve of the Republican convention, George W. Bush told Matt Lauer the war on terrorism was not winnable, but this did not receive “a fraction of the Teresa coverage.” What appears to be a “snoozy” inclination may in part be [...]

Kid-Gloves Coverage for G.W. Bush and Conservatives


The media’s kind treatment of George W. Bush and his administration has been remarkable and is grounded in structural conditions that shape the conduct of the contemporary press. During the campaign of 2000, journalists displayed strong aversion to Al Gore, whom they considered stiff, nerdish, and too ambitious. John Scarborough, a right-wing TV commentator and former Florida Congressman, remarked, “I think in the 2000 election, [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore.” They found Bush to be a very likeable fellow and did little to report his verbal gaffs and lack of knowledge. During the contest over the Florida electoral vote, it “accepted the debatable premise that Bush had won the election and Gore was grasping at straws to save his flawed position.” As president, Bush pursued a partisan and conservative agenda without a clear electoral mandate, but the press gave him much more than the traditional presidential honeymoon, perhaps “to do its part to heal the deep divisions revealed during the Clinton impeachment and against the disputed election in Florida.” The Bush administration was the most secretive in the nation’s history, and journalists deemed unfriendly to it were simply deprived on information. The administration was so adept at not honoring requests for material under the Freedom of Information Act that there was a virtual shut-down on the acts enforcement. Reporters began to worry that they would be questioned by the FBI if they followed leads in regard to the war in Iraq, and Washington insiders began to clam-up, fearing repercussions for talking to journalists not tied to the administration. The administration viewed information as a weapon and tool and refused to share much of it with anyone, even its supporters. Some areas of government activity became very difficult to cover unless the journalist simply relied on the official story. Writing in November 2003, Russell Baker referred to “the curiously polite treatment President Bush was receiving from most of the mainstream media.” James Warren, Washington bureau chief of the Republican Chicago Tribune claimed the press was so busy “sucking up to Bush” that “we have been effectively emasculated....” Columnist Anna Quindlen noted that Bush enjoyed ” a Teflon coating slicker and thicker that that of Ronald Reagan.” Even after turning a budget surplus into a huge deficit, failing to find Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and admitting that there was no evidence to connect Iraq with the 9/11 attack on America, Bush enjoyed gentle treatment from the press. Quindlen asked, “Imagine what the response from Republicans--and reporters--would have been if Bill Clinton had been responsible for one of those things.” The gentle treatment or “ free pass” George W. Bush received at the hands of the media during the campaign of 2000 could be attributed in part to superb strategy. His campaign duplicated the Reagan strategy of painting large pictures with few details. Bush was often confused on details and his economic notions were simplistic and laden with huge and obvious arithmetical errors. Reporters found Bush personally likeable . They were even known to boo him, like a gaggle of teenagers, when his image appeared on television monitors. They mocked Gore’s nearly encyclopedic knowledge and indulgently passed over in silence Bush’s problems with specific information. The press hounded Albert Gore on every perceived distortion of fact but generally passed over Bush’s mistakes in near silence. James Pfiffer of James Madison U[...]

Bushies Pressure Public Broadcasting


Public Broadcasting, which has long been denounced by conservatives for its liberal bias, has moved to the right since 1993. Even earlier, PBS sought to eliminate Republican complaints. When the Nixon Administration objected to a program that seemed to suggest that the banks were unfair to the poor, PBS rewrote its program guidelines. Later it modified John Kenneth Galbraith’s Age of Uncertainty, which dealt with different economic theories. Without informing him, it cut parts and brought on many conservative economists to criticize it. By the mid-1970s, it accepted the view that the truth is always somewhere in the middle. Both the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” and “Washington Week in Review” were dedicated to this preposition. Still the conservative complaints persisted. While conservatives complained that reporters sometimes reached conclusions and “editorialized,” it is likely that they simply did not want information presented that would damage their positions. By the 1990s, when PBS had mastered the art of self-censorship, Bob Dole claimed that PBS conspirators hid behind Big Bird and Mister Rogers while funding gay and lesbian shows. FAIR studies found its reporting has a slight Republican edge in 1993 and was conservative in 2003. By then the Republican goal was not to destroy PBS, which would alienate moderates, but they sought to neuter and use it.

The Bush administration hastened public broadcasting’s march to the right by installing Kenneth Tomlinson CEO the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson had many complaints about the liberal bias of public broadcasting and quickly hired conservative consultant to monitor the political content of Bill Moyer’s “Now”, which soon went off the air. A study of his e-mail traffic strongly suggested that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was behind the move to oust Moyers and move PBS to the right. He also spent millions to bring The Wall Street Journal Report to PBS. The show featured the far right commentaries of the editorial board. The program eventually failed. Tomlinson also established an office of ombudsman, headed by Mary Catherine Andrews, who had worked in the Bush White House. She was assisted by two other Republicans, William Schultz and Ken Bode. Bode was supposed to ad balance to the panel, but he was closely associated with the Hudson Institute and worked for the election of a Republican governor in Indiana. It is unclear what the function of the office might be, but some fear it will continue the task of monitoring broadcasts to detect alleged liberal bias. His successor, Cheryl F. Halpern, a major GOP fund-raiser, was poised to continue his policy. She complained about editorializing and wanted to punish reporters who did so. She was also concerned that the nation’s media was unfair to Israel.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.

The Plame Case


The administration’s handling of the Plame matter is illustrative of how it handles critics and uses the press. Before the invasion of Iraq, Columnist Robert Novak wrote that he had learned in the White House that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA agent. The agency said that she was a covert agent, which meant revealing her identity could be a crime. There were reports that television host Chris Matthews received a call from Karl Rove, saying it was open season on Wilson’s wife, but the press never nailed down this report. Eventually, journalist Matt Cooper admitted that Rove told him about Plame’s true identity, but only after denials from the White House that Rove was involved From September 2003 to April 2006, Rove denied that he told the Time correspondent about Plame, and only admitted it after Prosecutor Fitzgerald had Cooper’s testimony. Nevertheless, Rove would not be prosecuted for lying or anything else. Bob Woodward, perhaps the nation’s most famous and respected print journalist, repeatedly said he did not see why the Plame matter was important as White House people are historically given to gossiping. He later had to reveal that he had early knowledge of her identity. When most of the facts were known, it was clear that three high Bush administrations officials told reporters she was a CIA agent, and still others had busily pressed the media to report that she worked for the CIA. Of course, most of the press had initially thought objections to the veracity of Bush’s claims of WMDs in Iraq were similarly inconsequential. Lou Dobbs, a moderate Republican, told his CNN audience that the investigation into what reporters knew was an “onerous, disgusting abuse of government power,” and liberal columnist Richard Cohen said “The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago, and prosecute some real criminals.” Fitzgerald was prosecutor in the Plame case. No one confessed to outing her, so there is no way to know why this was done. Many supposed it was a way of punishing Wilson, who had written to the New York Times, disputing the administration’s claim that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Niger. Novak never answered for what he wrote. Times journalist Judith Miller, who never wrote about Plame, spent 85 days in jail until she proved willing to talk about who told her about Plame. In her first days in jail, she was even forced to sleep on the floor. She left jail only when promised she would be questioned only about Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief-of-staff. She had been an important part of the Cheney information apparatus, and she may have accepted her incarceration as a means of protecting other people. Libby was soon indicted for lying and obstructing, not leaking the identity of a covert agent. Retired CIA agents made it clear to Congress that the outing of Plame did serious damage to intelligence gathering and that the administration’s cover-up caused “irreversible damage [to] the credibility of our case officers when they try to convince an overseas contact that their safety is of primary importance to us….” The mainstream press showed little interest in the outings implications for national security. Most of the Republican press claimed that outing Plame was not a potential breach of the law. There was a major effort to cast aspersions on the honesty and motives of the Wilsons and reduced the question to one of pure politics.[...]

George W. Bush’s News Management


The Bush administration had shown enormous skill in information management. It built upon two decades of Republican success in information management and in framing the issues. Journalists have learned to avoid hard questions or presenting information that damages the administration will result in exclusion and persecution, while going along is rewarded with special access and exclusives. The George W. Bush administration insisted upon enforcing the Pentagon’s 1991 ban on taking photographs of coffins carrying the bodies of American soldiers at Dover Air Force Base. When the President held a huge rally for troops at Fort Carson, the press was ordered not to talk to any soldiers before, during, or after the rally. They obeyed, and only the Rocky Mountain News reported on the orders given to t he press. The skill of the Bush administration in manipulating the press was demonstrated in 2004, when the Social Security Administration ran many advertisements clearly touting the advantages of Bush’s prescription care plan. Few noticed that the advertisements could have a political effect. Social Security Administration employees protested that their Administration had been forced to twist the facts about the system’s solvency in order to generate support for the personal retirement accounts. Later that year, the Department of Education, paid $700,000 to an agency to advertise Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, a major Bush bragging point. The department also paid TV talk show host Armstrong Williams $240,000 to talk up the program in the black community. When the payment came to light, what little discussion there was about blurring the lines between a journalist and a paid advocate. The federal government paid Maggie Gallagher $21,500 to promote the Bush approach to marriage, and another conservative columnist was paid $10,000 to do the same. The use of taxpayer money for political purposes was nearly a non-issue. Even abuses of the White House press secretary’s briefings did not cause a great uproar. Minor conservative journalist and male escort Jeff Gannon--his real name was Guckert--was issued temporary passes to attend press conferences. Gannon once broke the story that John Kerry could become the first gay president. Scott Mc Clellan seemed to call on Gannon when he was in a spot and Gannon would get him off the hook, sometimes by manufacturing quotations from leading Democrats. Gannon was one of the reporters who broke the story that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent, and he was the only one to see a confidential CIA document revealing her identity. Gannon was a male prostitute with close ties to political operatives in Texas connected to Karl Rove. The male prostitute even kept a web site. In 2004, he was very active circulating information designed to damage Senator Tom Daschle in South Dakota. There were many very effective publicists in the administration of the second Bush. One who was sometimes forgotten was Todd Leventhal, who was very skilled at generating propaganda and misinformation. Under Reagan, he was in charge of monitoring Soviet misinformation. Prior to that, he worked with lobbyist Jack Abramoff polishing the image of South Africa. For a time under the second Bush, Leventhal worked with the Pentagon’s Information Operations Task Force to produce positive, if not always truthful, news about the war on terror. His activities were later centered in the Sate Department’s International Public Diplomacy bureau, which answ[...]

The Media Accommodates the Right


The mainstream American press is certainly not an adjunct to the Republican Party, but its inclination, since the nineties, to handle Republicans with kid gloves has contributed to the GOP’s progress toward becoming the nation’s normal governing party. For three decades, conservatives have complained about an alleged liberal bias in the media, and these complaints have induced some degree of self-censorship. Over time, most outlets have fallen back to limiting and toning down reports that could reflect poorly on conservatives. The conservative call for “balanced” coverage meant backing away from seeking the unvarnished truth and settling for “he said-she said” journalism. No matter how absurd the factual claims of one side might be, they must be given equal time. In dealing with complex scientific and medical issues, it meant presenting the consensus of experts on one side and giving equal time to often unfounded claims by conservative special interests.” In this context, it meant the media became subservient to some industries such as the fossil fuel industry in environmental matters. Slanted, partisan stories that appeared in conservative press were often picked up by the mainstream media without vetting and aired in its vast echo chamber. Even the Drudge Report became a source of mainstream stories. The inclination of the press to lean over backwards to avoid conservative criticism was also attributable to the expert news management of the George W. Bush White House.
The call for “balanced” journalism has led to what has been called “junk journalism” simply offering the public equal amounts of the claims of both parties. In 2004, Ken Silverstein of the Los Angeles Times journeyed to Missouri to see if efforts were underway to prevent large numbers of blacks from voting. The Justice Department had found that this had occurred in 2000. He found this to be the case again. Republicans denied this and mounted very flimsy countercharges. Reflecting on what balanced journalism meant in this case, he wrote to an editor, wondering if the new standard for journalism required that he simply present the spin from both sides with no effort to establish the facts. He thought the new journalistic atmosphere was very “stifling.”
By the end of George W. Bush’s third year in the White House, Harpers’ Magazine publisher Rick MacArthur told a radio interviewer that the “White House press corps...has now turned into ...[a] full time press agency for the President of the United States.” Later in the interview he added that the public should “assume that the press is now part of the government.” On reflection, MacArthur would certainly back off from full meaning of these assessments, but he was correct in noting that the national press had lost its ability to cover this GOP administration critically. Gore Vidal offered the opinion that “The people are not stupid, but they are totally misinformed.” “The Note,” an electronic publication of ABC News, claimed that the American press in the George W. Bush years was “arguably the most beaten down press corps in the modern era….”

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.

Electronic Fraud in 2004 Elections?


The New York Times has noted that the forms of electronic voting introduced in the United States “could end up undermining democracy by producing unreliable election results that cannot be truly audited or corrected.” If some were intent on using the machines and computation programs to change results and took great care to cover their tracks, it could be done without anyone being the wiser. The most reliable way of finding fraud in these instances is to compare exit polls with actual results. But many people do not trust exit polls and the comparison’s validity depends on the statistics of probability, which most people do not understand. Touch- screen voting machines linked to centralized computer systems have the potential for massive vote fraud if someone takes the time to learn how to rig the centralized counting program. Prior to 2004, it seems likely that vote fraud via electronic means probably occurred by changing program cards in individual machines. In 2004, there was not a great deal of evidence of this. Investigative reporter Wayne Madsen has also turned up evidence that bribes paid by Nigerian politicians were used to pay election supervisors and computer technicians. More worrisome was the vote counting programs themselves. University scientists and mathematicians have pointed out that the touch-screen machines’ software can easily be manipulated for partisan purposes and have insisted that they be improved and only be employed with paper verification Tallahassee computer programmer Clinton Curtis has testified that in the October 2000 election Tom Feeney, A Congressman and former Speaker of the Florida House, asked him to develop software to “flip an election” without being detected. Three other employees were present. Feeney, Jeb Bush’s running mate in 1994, had been a lobbyist for the company where Curtis was employed. The software-tabulating program was to be undetectable and capable of being triggered without the use of additional programs or equipment. At least since 1988, some of the computers used to tabulate results have had black boxes containing codes only the manufacturers could decode. To an ordinary laymen, of course, it is difficult to understand why special computers and software are necessary to count voters. It is also difficult to grasp why the manufacturers, claiming proprietary rights, refuse to share much information about how their products work. Curtis was then working for Yang Enterprises. Yang was also doing work for NASA at the time. A life-long Republican, Curtis first thought the prototype was needed so Republicans could detect Democratic dirty tricks. He soon learned that the software was needed to change the vote in southern Florida. After the election Feeney bragged about voter exclusion lists and placing state police in locations to prevent blacks from getting to the polls. Curtis wrote the program and then quit his job. There is no solid evidence this particular program was ever used. Curtis found a job at the Florida Department of Transportation. However, his determination to bring the story to public attention resulted in his being fired. The St. Petersburg Times reported that Curtis passed a lie detector test administered by the former chief polygraph operator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Curtis had found corruption within the department, and Ray Lemme, a department investigator, looked into his claims and was found dead [...]

The Election of 2004


In addition to working to put Nader on the ballot, the Republicans in 2004 attempted to hold down the number of registered voters who were most likely to vote for Democrat Kerry. In Arizona, challenging Hispanic Voters was a tradition, and five organizations ramped up to intensify this activity in 2004. The Missouri legislature passed new voter identification legislation that made it easier to prevent Blacks from voting. In 2000, this was accomplished there by opening black voting places several hours late. In the past, “ballot security” teams went into minority neighborhoods photographing minority voters and demanding identification cards. This process was repeated in 2004. In 2004, South Dakota authorities demanded that Native American voters in the primaries produce identification cards, which are not required by law. In Texas, local authorities threatened to prosecute students at African American Prairie View A and M if they attempted to vote.. The Republican Secretary of State in Ohio attempted to invalidate voter registration forms in Cleveland because they were not printed the right weight paper. A quarter of a million African Americans in Ohio received letters warning them that they could not vote; among the reasons given were being registered by the NAACP. Misleading pamphlets were also sent to Milwaukee blacks in an effort to discourage their voting. John Pretzel, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of representatives, openly stated it was necessary to suppress the black vote in Philadelphia. In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Republicans hired Voters Outreach of America to register voters. The firm’s managers were caught destroying Democratic registration forms. Employees said they were being paid only for Republican signature. In Oregon, the same firm was discovered to be repeating this performance. However, there it sometimes used public libraries, claiming to be official registrars. Its employees were reported to have told University of Oregon students that by registering as Republicans they were somehow fighting the sexual abuse of children. Similar problems appeared in West Virginia.. In Florida, election officials tried to remove another 22,000 Blacks from the voter roles, even though they were not felons. Republican Secretary of State Glenda Hood disqualified an additional 10,000 registration forms of likely Democrats because they had checked off in only one place rather than two that they were citizens of the United States. Former President Jimmy Carter, whose center has monitored elections around the world, noted that the process in Florida did not meet international standards in part because people holding “strong political biases operate it,” and he predicted that the 204 Florida election would again be characterized by irregularities. The usual efforts of those in power to prevent some groups from voting were much in evidence. In Minnesota, the Secretary of State refused to give Democratic workers street lists. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, voting officials dumped 5,000 votes, but Kerry still managed to carry the state. In many places in the North and South, Democratic precincts seemed to have far more voting machine problems than in Republican areas. Southern state officials routinely denied black college students the right to vote in college towns or made the process so tedious that few were able to cast ballots. Voting officials permitted [...]

The Election of 2002


Even with the advantage of Bush’s popularity and the national security issues, Republicans did resort to some chicanery in the 2002 by-elections. New Hampshire Republicans successfully jammed Democratic telephone lines, preventing them from making get-out-the-vote calls. The Republican Party spent $2,500,000 in the unsuccessful defense of James Tobin, who orchestrated this, and four years later it developed that on November 5-6, 2002, he made 22 calls to the White House. Tobin was sentenced to ten months in prison, but the ties to the White House were not pursued. In Georgia, the defeat of Senator Max Cleland in 2002, up to then considered untouchable, has been questioned. Cleland is a triple amputee who lost those limbs in the service of his country. His opponent, Saxby Chambliss, trailed Cleland by 5 points and was claiming that Cleland was a coward and traitor for not giving Bush 100% support on Iraq. Cleland lost by 7 points. Democratic Governor Roy Barnes was leading his opponent by eleven points but ended up losing to Sonny Perdue by five points. In October 2003, a former Diebold subcontractor in Georgia reported that Diebold technicians reprogrammed 20,000 touch screen machines in 2002 after the state had certified that the machines were in working order. Technicians were ordered not to inform the Board of Elections of what had occurred. Diebold has denied the charge. Diebold is the nation’s largest election services contractor. Reprogramming was ostensibly undertaken because some of the machines were crashing. A number of employees admit to secretly placing a software “patch” on voting machines.

It is possible that memory cards from the touch screen machines could be removed and manipulated in such a way as to show how the machines were working and whether errors were made. In addition, 67 machines in Fulton County, Georgia lost their memory cards so no votes were recorded. The cards were never found, and Georgia authorities showed no interest in examining why the 2200 new machines were showing results that differed so markedly from recent polling. Recent tests of touch screen machines in Florida revealed that sometimes people would vote for one name while another appeared as the person for whom they had voted. Alert voters in Miami Dade and Broward Counties were able to identify this problem in 2002 before much damage had been done. As of 2004, five of its top managers, including Vice President Jeff Dean, had been convicted of felonies.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.