ABC anchor Peter Jennings in the New Hampshire presidential debate absolved George W. Bush of responsibility for failing to show up for his National Guard service and right-wing pundits righteously declared that the AWOL/deserter charge had been debunked, but facts are stubborn things.
Jennings was peeved because Michael Moore called Bush a "deserter" at a rally for retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Jennings asked Clark to denounce Moore for uttering "a reckless charge not supported by the facts." (Clark declined to denounce Moore, saying he didn't know the facts.) But Bob Somerby of dailyhowler.com noted that Jennings doesn't seem to know "the facts" either. "As near as we can tell from a Nexis search, Jennings has never reported on the charge that the young George Bush skipped a large chunk of his National Guard service. The Boston Globe reported the charge in a detailed report on May 23, 2000. [TPP also ran a report by Marty Heldt, "George W. Bush's missing year," in the 11/1/00 issue.] And from that day to this, ABC's World News Tonight doesn't seem to have mentioned the allegation, let alone laid out 'the facts.' That's right -- according to Nexis, Peter Jennings has never discussed Bush's 'missing year' on World News Tonight."
As "Orcinus" noted at dneiwert.blogspot.com, "the core of the matter is fairly simple, and boils down to two facts that are simply not in dispute: Bush blew off his physical in the spring of 1972, thereby ignoring a direct order from his superiors. Bush then definitely performed no drills at all for any unit of the National Guard between early May 1972 and late November 1972 at the earliest. This is a period of nearly seven months." Former military officers note that anyone AWOL for longer than three months is considered a deserter and normally is prosecuted.
The Dallas Morning News reported in 2000 that Bush's superior officer said Bush never showed up at the Alabama National Guard unit where he was supposed to be serving when he was working on a Senate campaign. Moreover, a group of veterans offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could step forward to prove that Bush actually served in the Alabama Guard. No one ever did.
The absence of military records on Bush contributes to the murk. The main evidence of Bush's supposed November 1972 service -- a torn sheet of paper -- "was bogus," Orcinus wrote; "certainly it was questionable at best, but the matter remains open to dispute. Likewise, there is a good deal of speculation ... that Bush's evasions were based on his purported drug use, but there is simply no evidence of that other than circumstantial.
"A few of those on the right have tried to compare Bush's behavior here to Bill Clinton's well-chronicled avoidance of the draft. The difference, of course, is not merely one of degree but substantively of kind: Clinton neither broke the law in his behavior, nor flouted or undermined basic rules of military conduct, nor wasted taxpayer dollars in the process.
"Though of course, we all remember how many critics of the mainstream right have referred to Clinton as a 'draft dodger' -- which, like 'deserter,' is a term that refers specifically to acts of law-breaking. But then, I can't recall anyone demanding that George H.W. Bush or Bob Dole renounce the people who uttered those characterizations, either."
For his part, Moore was unabashed. "I would like to apologize for referring to George W. Bush as a 'deserter.' What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate. ... In fact, he 'shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.'" The good news, Moore wrote, was that because of the controversy over his "humorous" introduction of Clark, 15 million people checked his website, michaelmoore.com, "to read the truth about Bush not showing up for National Guard duty." See also populist.com.
W DROPS IN POLL. While pundits spent the week after the Iowa caucuses dissecting the Dean Scream, Bob Fertik of Democrats.com noted, they missed a far bigger story -- the Bush Burp. "Bush's State of the Union was so full of in-your-face lies that it sent his approval ratings tumbling. A week after Bush's SOTU, his approval rating had fallen to 50% from 54% in the last Newsweek poll (1/8-9/04). A 52% majority of registered voters says it would not like to see him re-elected to a second term. Only 44% say they would like to see him re-elected, a four-point drop from the last Newsweek poll. (Of that, 37% strongly want to see him re-elected, and 47% strongly do not). But 78% think Bush will in fact be re-elected to a second term in office. Only 10% believe it is not too likely or not at all likely (10%).
The Newsweek poll also found respondents favored John Kerry over Bush 49% to 46%, disproving media assumptions of Bush's invincibility. A Clark-Bush matchup would be close, with Bush at 48% and Clark at 47%. Bush has a 49% to 46% edge over Edwards and leads Dean 50% to 45% and Joe Lieberman 49% to 45%. However, Fertik noted all the leading Dems could beat Bush. Only two weeks earlier, Bush led Kerry by 11%.
PERILS OF ONLINE VOTING CITED. A $22 million system to allow soldiers and Americans overseas to vote via the Internet is inherently insecure and should be abandoned, computer security experts have advised the Pentagon. "Trojan horses," viruses and other attacks that allow crimes like online snooping and identity theft could allow hackers to disrupt or even alter the course of elections, the report concluded. A major American election would be an irresistible target for hackers, and the ability of computers to automate tasks means that many attacks could be carried out on a large scale, the report added. But the Department of Defense plans to go ahead, according to the Jan. 23 New York Times.
Touch-screen voting machines increasingly used by state and local election officials also have their flaws, which may or may not get addressed before the next election (probably not). New York Times columnist Paul Krugman Jan. 23 noted persistent suspicions about the possibility of widespread error and fraud of electronic voting without a paper trail for recounts.
Krugman noted that a relatively simple solution exists: US Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.)'s bill that calls for each electronic voting machine to produce a paper record that the voter verifies. The paper record would then be secured for any future audit. The bill requires that such verified voting be ready in time for the 2004 election -- and that districts that can't meet the deadline use paper ballots instead. It also requires surprise audits in each state. "I can't see any possible objection to this bill," Krugman concludes. "Ignore the inevitable charges of 'conspiracy theory.' (Although some conspiracies are real: as [the Jan. 22] Boston Globe reports, 'Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media.') To support verified voting, you don't personally have to believe that voting machine manufacturers have tampered or will tamper with elections. How can anyone object to measures that will place the vote above suspicion?
"What about the expense? Let's put it this way: we're spending at least $150 billion to promote democracy in Iraq. That's about $1,500 for each vote cast in the 2000 election. How can we balk at spending a small fraction of that sum to secure the credibility of democracy at home?"
POLITICS STALLS 9/11 PROBE. After months of stonewalling requests for information from the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the White House is signaling that it opposes extra time to complete the probe. The administration's apparent policy of delay and roadblock has outraged some members of Congress and a group representing families of 9/11 victims, Eric Boehlert reported at Salon.com Jan. 24. But with hearings resuming in Washington and probing how security broke down on the Bush administration's watch, a new frustration has emerged: Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton have refused to ask for more time to conduct the investigation, which is supposed to be completed by May 27. The GOP doesn't want a report coming out right before the election. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who helped sponsor the commission, told GovExec.com, "They should have the guts to request [an extension]."
MARS TRIP BENEFITS HALLIBURTON. It turns out that the Mars exploration would -- surprise -- be a boon for Halliburton. According to the Center for American Progress (americanprogress.org), in the 4/24/00 edition of Oil & Gas Journal, Halliburton scientist Steve Streich pointed out why a Mars program would be so lucrative for Halliburton. He says a "Mars exploration program presents an unprecedented opportunity" for the industry and that it "warrants the support of both government and industry leaders." Specifically, benefits for "the oil and gas industry may lie in technology that NASA will use for drilling into the surface of Mars." Halliburton is already involved in a preliminary consortium of industry and academia "organized to support the development of new technology required for the Mars mission." A 2/28/01 report in Petroleum News confirmed that NASA has been working with Halliburton and others to identify drilling technologies that might work on Mars."
LAWSUIT LIMITS LITTLE HELP FOR DOCS. While George W. Bush has renewed his push for national limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, similar limits enacted last fall on lawsuits for medical injuries in Texas have not resulted in promised reduction of insurance costs for doctors, the Austin American-Statesman reported Jan. 25. While nonprofit Medical Liability Trust lowered rates 12% for 11,000 of the state's 38,000 doctors, other companies are holding rates steady or seek rate increases as high as 35% from the state Department of Insurance. "Promises were made, legal rights were sacrificed, the Texas Constitution was rewritten to appease the insurance industry ... and someone has to answer why we're not seeing relief," said Dan Lambe of consumer group Texas Watch.
ACTIVISTS PLAN SIERRA COUP. Animal-rights activists and anti-immigration advocates are teaming in a bid to control the Sierra Club board. Leaders of a faction that failed to persuade the club to take a stand against immigration in 1998 are seeking to win majority control of the group's 15-member governing board in a March election -- this time, as part of a broader coalition that includes vegetarians, who want the club to denounce hunting, fishing and raising animals for human consumption, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 18. In response, 11 former Sierra Club presidents have written a letter protesting what they see as a concerted effort by outside organizations to hijack the mainstream conservationist group with 750,000 members and a $95-million annual budget. Sierra Executive Director Carl Pope worried that the 18% of Sierra members who fish or hunt could be driven out by the new agenda from animal-rights advocates. "We are a big-tent organization. We want the Sierra Club to be a comfortable place for Americans who want clean air, clean water, and to protect America's open spaces," Pope said. Insurgent candidates include former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, Cornell University entomology professor David Pimentel and Frank Morris, former director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. All three have been outspoken advocates of controlling population growth or restricting immigration. Lamm is coauthor of "The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America."
NEWS BOSSES BULLISH ON BUSH. Howard Kurtz reported in the Jan. 18 Washington Post on more than 100 journalists, media executives and their wives who donate to political candidates, finding that many of them donate to Democrats as well as Republicans, but Eric Alterman, author of "What Liberal Media [Basic Books]," noted at msnbc.com that Kurtz failed to mention that his own wife is a former operative for the Republican governor of California. "Then Jack Shafer wrote a no less silly piece in Slate.com, slapping Kurtz for failing to point out that most of the people donated to were Democrats," Alterman noted, "What Shafer failed to point out is that Kurtz's sampling was meaningless, since he merely cherry-picked the examples he felt would give his article the most sizzle. For all we know, he chose only the Democratic donors, and gave Republicans a free pass. I wouldn't put it past him." Anyway, Editor and Publisher (editorandpublisher.com) published another list Jan. 26 -- covering journalistic owners. "Personally, I think what they think is a great deal more important than what a few lowly reporters think," wrote Alterman, author of "And guess what? They love Bush. Of course, this sampling is no more meaningful than any of the others. But guess what? You're going to be reading a lot about Kurtz's sampling, because the guys with the money to push their SCLMized [So-Called-Liberal-Media] view of the world will pay for it. But you're not going to be hearing much about this one. That's the value of having a right-wing cowed media."
L.A. REJECTS PATRIOT ACT. Following George W. Bush's call to extend the USA PATRIOT Act, the Los Angeles City Council on Jan. 22 became the 237th local government -- and with over 3.5 million residents by far the largest to date -- to adopt of a pro-civil liberties resolution urging a narrowing of the act and affirming support for freedom in the post-9/11 era. The resolution, which was promoted by the Civil Liberties Defense Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, affirmed the rights of privacy and due process and asserted that the law, as applied by the Justice Department, has encouraged racial profiling of Muslims and South Asians and has inspired hate crimes against these groups. To date, governing bodies -- including the state legislatures of Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont -- encompassing over 34 million people in 37 states, have passed similar resolutions, some of which direct local law enforcement to refrain from, for instance, engaging in racial profiling or enforcing federal immigration laws. Participating communities range in size and political inclination from tiny conservative North Pole, Alaska and Carrboro, N.C., to Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit and San Francisco. There are several measures pending in Congress to bring the PATRIOT Act back in line with the Constitution. One such measure is the Safety and Freedom Ensured (SAFE Act), a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The ACLU noted that there is strong bipartisan Congressional support for measures to rein in the PATRIOT Act. See also bordc.org.
D.A.: NO REHAB DEAL FOR RUSH. Palm Beach County prosecutors rejected an overture last month from Rush Limbaugh's attorneys that would have allowed the right-wing commentator to enter drug rehabilitation rather than face criminal charges for prescription drug abuse, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Jan. 23. Prosecutors claim they have evidence that Limbaugh committed at least 10 felonies by illegally obtaining overlapping drug prescriptions. They offered to end the investigation if Limbaugh pleaded guilty to a single felony for "doctor shopping" and agreed three years probation.
JUSTICE DEP'T WON'T RELEASE VOTING RIGHTS MEMO. The Justice Department has refused a demand from Texas Democrats to release a lengthy internal memo about a Republican redistricting plan that experts believe could produce a GOP gain of as many as seven House seats in that state later this year, the Washington Post reported Jan. 22. Democrats believe political appointees at the Justice Department overruled career attorneys who recommended an objection to the redistricting plan because it eliminates two districts in which minorities make up a majority of the voters, in apparent violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. "Unfortunately, the political appointees of the Justice Department appear committed to dismantling the Voting Rights Act," said the Democrats' lead attorney, J. Gerald Hebert. "They are hiding this report, because it will make their intentions clear."
CBS CENSORS ANTI-BUSH AD. Super Bowl viewers saw ads sponsored by beer companies, tobacco companies and the Bush White House. But they didn't see the winning ad in the MoveOn.org Voter Fund's Bush in 30 Seconds ad contest, as CBS refused to air it. Meanwhile, the White House was on the verge of signing into law a deal which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says is custom-tailored for CBS and Fox to let the two networks grow much bigger. "It looks an awful lot like CBS is playing politics with the right to free speech," said MoveOn.org's Eli Pariser. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also had an ad rejected, he noted. "But this isn't even a progressive-vs.-conservative issue. The airwaves are publicly owned, so we have a fundamental right to hear viewpoints from across the ideological spectrum. That's why we need to let CBS know that this practice of arbitrarily turning down ads that may be 'controversial' -- especially if they're controversial simply because they take on the president -- just isn't right." Media reformer Robert McChesney noted that CBS/Viacom spent over $4 million lobbying Congress in the last four years alone. See www.moveon.org/cbs/ad or mediareform.net.
CITIZENS DEBATE COMMISSION. Civic leaders from the left, right, and center of the political spectrum have formed a nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission (www.citizensdebate.org) to sponsor debates that address pressing national issues, feature innovative formats, and include the candidates the American people want to see. It hopes to replace the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which has sponsored presidential debates since 1988 and allows the Republican and Democratic parties to control the debates. Citizens' Debate Commission organizers include John B. Anderson, former congressman and chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy; Angela "Bay" Buchanan, president of The American Cause; Veronica De La Garza, executive director of the Youth Vote Coalition; Norman Dean, executive director of Friends of the Earth; George Farah, executive director of Open Debates and author of the forthcoming book No Debate; Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch; Tom Gerety, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; Jehmu Greene, executive director of Rock the Vote; Ambassador Alan Keyes; Jeff Milchen, executive director of ReclaimDemocracy.org; Larry Noble, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of Common Cause; Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica Forum; Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform; Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research; and Paul Weyrich, chair and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. Contact (202) 628-9195.
GAY MARRIAGE POLL ANNULLED. When the American Family Association posted an online poll in January asking its constituents their position on gay marriage, the conservative organization hoped the results would supports a constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. But once the URL to the poll escaped its intended audience, everything went haywire, according to Wired.com. As of Jan. 19, 60% of respondents -- more than 508,000 voters -- said, "I favor legalization of homosexual marriage." With an additional 7.89% -- or 66,732 voters -- replying, "I favor a 'civil union' with the full benefits of marriage except for the name," the AFA's chosen position, "I oppose legalization of homosexual marriage and 'civil unions,'" was being defeated by a 2-1 ratio.