FEDS BACK OFF PROTEST PROBE. Critics of the Bush regime feared that the war on terror might be expanding into a war on protesters when the FBI's Joint Terrorism Tax Force moved to subpoena records of anti-war activists. A federal judge ordered four activists to appear before a federal grand jury and ordered Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, to turn over records of National Lawyers Guild chapter that organized a Nov. 15 anti-war forum at the school, the Associated Press reported Feb. 7. Subpoena recipients included the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002. Representatives of the Lawyer's Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union said they had not heard of such a subpoena being served on any US university in decades.
Then, on Feb. 10, after national attention began focusing on the case, the US attorney said in court documents that all five subpoenas were quashed and a gag order on Drake University officials was lifted. Federal authorities said the investigation was not into potential terrorism, but was limited to actions at the Nov. 16 protest and whether plans were laid at the Drake meeting to break federal law.
US Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, expressed concern about the investigation to Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Mr. Attorney General, our country has experienced dark episodes in which the government has wrongly curtailed citizens' civil liberties in the name of fighting enemies," Harkin wrote. "I call on you to give the Iowa case your personal attention to help ensure that we do not see another such episode in Iowa or anywhere in America."
'SPEECH-FREE ZONE.' If you go to George W. Bush's adopted hometown, don't wear a political button, much less say a discouraging word, or you could be jailed. So said Crawford, Texas, Police Chief Donnie Tidmore Feb. 7 in a municipal court trial of five peace activists who were accused of protesting illegally within city limits last May. The activists were charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine. Tidmore testified that even nonverbal protests without a permit could violate a city ordinance that required 15 days' notice and a $25 fee for a protest or parade permit. Protesters said they didn't plan to protest in Crawford, but were merely passing through on the way to Bush's ranchette outside the city limits when they hit the police roadblock. When they got out of their cars, some with signs, the chief ordered them to disperse. Some did, but others who argued that they had a right to go through town were arrested and jailed overnight, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported. Tidmore said he could have given them a citation but he thought arresting them was the only way to stop the "demonstration." Asked by civil rights attorney Jim Harrington whether one of the defendants would have violated the ordinance by sporting political buttons, such as those that read "No Nukes" and "Peace," without the permit, Tidmore said, "It could be a sign of demonstration."
AFTER AWOL, BUSH BUSTED TO RESERVES? In his 1999 autobiography, A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush wrote that after he completed his Air National Guard pilot training in June 1970, "I continued flying with my unit for the next several years." Apparently not. Bush apparently blew off drills in May 1972, failed to show up for his required annual physical in July 1972 and was grounded and suspended in August, which was recorded Sept. 29, 1972. Investigators of Bush's mysterious National Guard service in 1972-73 now have found what appears to be a complete version of the "torn document" that purported to show Bush's guard activity in late 1972. Bob Fertik of democrats.com obtained the document in response to a Freedom of Information request in late 2000. According to Kevin Drum of Calpundit.com, the "ARF Statement of Points Earned" shows the first listed date is Oct. 29, 1972, when Bush was still in Alabama. ARF apparently stands for Air Reserve Force, where guard members often were sent for disciplinary reasons.
"He was apparently transferred to ARF at that time and began accumulating ARF points in October," Drum noted. ARF is a "paper unit" based in Denver that requires no drills. "For active guard members it is disciplinary because ARF members can theoretically be called up for active duty in the regular military, although this obviously never happened to George Bush," Drum wrote.
Bush never returned to his original Texas Guard unit, but instead accumulated only ARF points after October 1972, Drum reported. "In fact, it's unclear even what the points on the ARF record are for, but what is clear is that Bush's official records from Texas show no actual duty after May 1972....
"Bush's record shows three years of service, followed by a fourth year in which he accumulated only a dismal 22 days of active service, followed by no service at all in his fifth and sixth years. This is because ARF duty isn't counted as official duty by the Texas guard.
"So Bush may indeed have 'fulfilled his obligation,' as he says, but only because he had essentially been relieved of any further obligation after his transfer to ARF. It's pretty clear that no one in the Texas Air National Guard had much interest in pursuing anything more serious in the way of disciplinary action."
When Marty Heldt, who wrote "Bush's Missing Year" [11/1/00 TPP], requested information on any changes or additions to Bush's military records, he was notified that "Individual veterans, or their representatives, are required to use specific forms to request changes to their records" and "A complete review of Mr. Bush's records did not locate any requests for change." The last action documented in the record was Bush's discharge from the Air Force Reserve on Nov. 21, 1974. "It should be noted that tampering with or changing Federal records is a criminal offense ... and is punishable by fine or imprisonment," wrote Charles Pellegrini of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
But Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and investigative reporter for the BBC, interviewed retired Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett of the Texas Air National Guard, who said that shortly after Bush became Texas' governor in 1994, he witnessed a speakerphone call from the Texas governor's office in which Guard officers were told to "clean [Bush's] records from his files." After the call, Palast reported, Burkett "asked the officers if they'd carried out the questionable orders, and they said 'absolutely.' They pointed, and Burkett saw in the [shredding designated] trashcan George W. Bush's ... pay [and retirement points] records."
On Feb. 8 Bush told Tim Russert on Meet the Press, "I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge." He still claims he showed up for drills in Alabama, although nobody who was there remembers him and there is no paperwork to support his memory. And he said he was allowed to leave eight months before his term expired because "I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military."
As we went to press, Bush released his pay records, which showed he was not credited with any service for a 5-month period in 1972, from May through September. He was paid for 2 days in October, 4 days in November and none in December. The records do not indicate what Bush did or where he was.
BUSH ADJUSTS ROSY JOBS SCENARIO. Last year the White House told us Bush's tax cuts would create 1.8 million new jobs in 2003 and 3.7 million in 2004. Instead, the total addition of jobs for the second half of 2003, after the third Bush tax cut, was only 221,000. For 2003 as a whole, the US showed a net loss of 53,000 jobs. On Feb. 9 Bush predicted that the recovering economy would create 2.6 million new jobs in 2004. That number, like the ones before it, apparently was snatched from thin air for political purposes. Brad DeLong, professor of economics at UC-Berkeley, noted at j-bradford-delong.net that the White House forecast assumes a reasonable 4% GDP growth rate but stagnant productivity to achieve a net gain of jobs during Bush's first term. To admit to any less would invite "lots of negative newspaper stories saying 'Bush administration forecasts negative job growth over first term.'" DeLong wrote.
Anyway, to meet Bush's forecast the US needs to add 320,000 jobs per month. In January we gained 112,000, mainly in retail trade, but lost 11,000 manufacturing jobs, which generally pay higher wages. Max Sawicky notes at maxspeak.org/mt, "The change in average hourly earnings was all of two cents for January. Pro-rate that out to a year and you almost have 25 cents growth in your hourly pay. Then you could buy a Washington Post and learn how great the economy is. If you compound the two cents over a year, the overall increase is 1.5% -&endash; no more than you need to keep with inflation. Hey you could always work more hours, but you can't necessarily count on getting overtime pay." Jared Bernstein and Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute (epinet.org) reported Feb. 5 that inflation-adjusted hourly wages fell for middle- and low-wage workers, making 2003 the worst year for wage growth over the 1998-2003 period. Despite the acceleration of gross domestic product (GDP) growth in late 2003, the wage growth of non-supervisory production workers (over 80% of the workforce) actually slowed in this period.
To be fair, Bush's tax cuts may have created millions of new jobs -- in China and other low-wage nations that have lured multinational corporations, whose increased profits have kept the Dow Jones industrial average humming.
GOP HACKED DEM COMPUTER FILES. A Republican Senate staffer stole thousands of confidential documents by hacking into a Democratic computer server, Roll Call reported Feb. 9. The unnamed staffer was allowed to quit his job and left the committee. An aide to Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Manuel Miranda, who read some of the stolen memos, also quit his job but said he would speak out on how Democrats worked with liberal groups to block judicial nominations. Miranda filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee charging Judiciary Democrats with "public corruption." Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle is investigating possible criminal and ethical violations in the unauthorized access of the Democratic memos. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he intends to demand that Pickle examine the flow of where the memos went and whether top White House officials had access to them. "It will reach beyond the committee," Durbin predicted. "There are many questions that need to be asked."
E-VOTE PROBLEMS IN N.C., FLORIDA. Six electronic voting machines used in two North Carolina counties lost 436 absentee ballot votes in the 2002 general election because of a software problem, raising more doubts about the accuracy and integrity of voting equipment in a presidential election year, Kim Zetter reported on Wired.com Feb. 9. Election Systems & Software said problems with its iVotronic touch-screen machines, used in a trial run, lost ballots in two North Carolina precincts during the state's early voting in 2002. ES&S, the largest US maker of election equipment, is also the focus of probes into lost votes last month in Florida during a special election when 134 votes went uncounted in a Broward County race to elect a state representative. The voting machines left no paper trail to determine whether the machines lost the votes. ES&S, Diebold Election Systems and other electronic voting-machine makers are coming under increasing scrutiny about the accuracy of their devices. Manufacturers claim their machines don't need auditing mechanisms -- such as printers that would give voters receipts confirming their choices. But anecdotal evidence of discrepancies and anomalies are piling up. "All of this just underscores the need for voting machines to have a paper trail," said Stanford University computer science professor David Dill, who runs Verified Voting (verifiedvoting.org), a group that is pushing election officials and legislators to mandate voter-verified paper ballots that provide a way to audit, such as the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 (HR 2239) sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., introduced a companion bill (S 1980) in the Senate.
AUSSIE TRADE DEAL GUTS RANCHERS. A new trade deal between the US and Australia threatens the livelihoods of family farmers and ranchers, the Western Organization of Resource Councils (worc.org) said Feb. 9. The agreement ends or phases out tariffs for many agricultural products including beef, lamb, sheep, wool, wheat and dairy products. WORC spoksman Gilles Stockton, a rancher from Grass Range, Mont., said the trade agreement gives even more economic power to multinational corporations. He said the process that led to it "is blatantly undemocratic." For example, he said, the agreement would phase in more beef imports from Australia over the next 18 years. "We've yet to see the impact of more imports from trade agreements with countries in South and Central America," he said. "These agreements will spur a stampede of beef imports that will overrun the American cattle industry," but US trade negotiators never consulted with American cattle producers, he said.
PBS PRESSURED TO CANCEL MOYERS' 'NOW.' MediaChannel's Danny Schecter (newsdissector.org) writes from the Digital Independence Conference in San Francisco that Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy (democraticmedia.org) reports PBS is under extreme pressure to cancel the Bill Moyers program NOW. "Unless we wake up to this and rally behind the program, NOW will soon become THEN." George W. Bush has named two major Republican donors to the nine-member board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, including Cheryl Halpern, who supports giving CPB board members the authority to intervene in program content, and Gay Hart Gaines, an ardent supporter of Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who as House speaker in 1994 proposed cutting all federal assistance to public TV. Contact your local PBS station to express support for Bill Moyers' NOW.
BUSH'S KAHN JOB. The Bush administration expressed shock at the disclosures that Pakistan, our ally in the war on terror, has been running a nuclear secrets bazaar. If Bush did not know of these facts, investigative reporter Greg Palast says, it's because, shortly after his inauguration, Bush's National Security Agency stymied the probe of Kahn Research Laboratories in Pakistan. Palast reported that on Nov. 7, 2001, on BBC TV and the London Guardian. Dr. A.Q. Kahn recently confessed selling atomic secrets to Libya, North Korea and Iran. But CIA and other agents could not investigate the spread of Islamic bombs through Pakistan because funding appeared to originate in Saudi Arabia. According to sources and documents obtained by the BBC, the Bush administration spiked the probe of Kahn's lab as part of a policy of protecting key Saudi Arabians, including the Bin Laden Family. Palast and associate David Pallister received a Project Censored Award for this expose based on the story broadcast on BBC Television Newsnight. Of course, the story was ignored in the US mass media. See an excerpt from the 2003 edition of Palast's book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, at www.GregPalast.comwww.
WHITEWASH CHAIRMAN. Bob Harris writes at thismodernworld.com: "I hear George W. Bush's hand-picked whitewashing of the Iraq intel failures will be co-chaired by Laurence Silberman. Described simply as a retired federal judge by most news reports, Silberman was until recently one of the three judges of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which oversees sensitive domestic surveillance issues and approves of wiretaps of suspected terrorists. After 9/11, this became the judicial body which would uphold John Ashcroft's agenda in the PATRIOT Act and (in the words of the ACLU ...) "rubber-stamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants." In other words, Silberman hardly seems disinterested, and more like a full-fledged member of Team Death Star. Silberman is also one of the two judges who threw out Oliver North's Iran-Contra conviction. Later, he served as a 'mentor' to American Spectator writer David Brock during the years of constant character assassination against Bill Clinton.
PENTAGON CLIPS ONLY GOOD NEWS. Senior Pentagon managers have repeatedly ordered the department's widely read clipping service to exclude articles critical of the military and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Howard Kurtz reported in the Feb. 9 Washington Post. Staffers at the Early Bird, whose service is devoured by Pentagon brass, lawmakers, journalists and military personnel around the world, were told to eliminate all newsmagazine articles last October -- four days after the publication of a Newsweek cover story on Iraq that included "Rummy's New Headaches" and a Time piece titled "Is Rumsfeld Losing His Mojo?" But the Pentagon press office has waived the magazine ban for some articles that senior managers deem positive -- such as the Time package on the American soldier as Person of the Year (which included a Rumsfeld interview) and two recent US News & World Report pieces -- one on civilian efforts in Iraq and an officer's column defending the ban on coverage of deceased soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base. Early Bird was ordered to exclude an unflattering Oct. 22 Washington Post profile of a deputy undersecretary who manages Iraq policy.
CHENEY'S STAFF FOCUS OF PROBE. Federal law-enforcement officials said that they have developed evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year, Richard Sale reported in Insight Magazine for Feb. 17. Sources told Insight John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were the two Cheney employees.