Bad news for Bush and the GOP? Maybe, maybe not

President George W. Bush and his strategists felt recent events would drive up the administration’s sagging poll numbers and help Republican prospects in the November mid-term elections.

Reports Time Magazine in a new survey:

A spate of good news at home and abroad has so far failed to boost how Americans feel about President Bush’s job performance. Bush’s approval rating slipped to 35% in a TIME poll taken this week, down from 37% in March (and 53% in early 2005). Only 33% of Americans in the survey said they approved of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq, vs. 35% in March, and 47% in March 2005. His management of the U.S. economy lost supporters, too, as 36% approved, compared with 39% three months earlier. Bush’s handling of the war on terror saw a slight gain in support, from 44% to 45%.

Bush’s poll numbers remain stuck in a rut despite several high-profile victories scored recently by the Bush Administration. Earlier this month, U.S. forces killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi in an air raid in Iraq. Also this month, Karl Rove escaped indictment in the CIA leak investigation. And the Commerce Department reported today that the U.S. economy grew 5.6% in the first quarter of 2006, the fastest growth in more than two years.

But continued pessimism about the situation in Iraq and a broad sense of unease about America’s direction may be undermining Bush’s popularity. In the TIME survey, 66% said the country is on the wrong track, vs. 28% who said it’s going in the right direction. Those numbers have worsened since March, when the poll recorded a 60% to 34% split. When asked whether the new Iraqi government will be able to build a stable and reasonably democratic society, 48% of those surveyed said no, while 39% remain optimistic.

For Congress the news doesn’t look much better:

Americans have grown more critical of the job Congress is doing, compared with three months ago. Only 31% approved, down sharply from 39% in March. Asked whether they would be more likely to vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate in the district where they live if the election were held today, 47% said Democrat and 35% said Republican, a two-point improvement for Democrats.

Bottom line. Democratic prospects up for November, Republicans looking dim.

But, does the Time poll tell the whole picture. Professor Charles Franklin, who teaches statistical analysis at the University of Wisconsin, says media polls too often miss the point because they don’t look at the big picture:

In part, the news organizations are handicapped by their sponsorship of polling. CNN wants to quote only CNN polls, and CBS acts as if NBC didn’t do polling. There are obvious business reasons for doing so, but it limits the writing reporters can do.

Professor Franklin says the newest Time poll proves the point:

A new Time Magazine poll taken 6/27-29/06 finds approval of President Bush at 35%, with disapproval at 59%. Time’s poll is the second lowest of the 13 polls taken since Iraq Al-Qaeda leader Zarqawi was killed June 8th. In that time, polls have ranged from 33 to 41 percent approval, with a median of 37% and a mean of 37.7%. With the addition of the Time poll, my approval trend estimate is revised down to 38.59%, from yesterday’s 38.98% prior to the Time poll.

Because the Time poll comes on the heels of three polls at 41%, the question of whether this is a sign of the end of the upward trend in approval is being widely discussed. Or is the Time poll a fluke? Or is it simply within the normal range of variation given my estimate of approval?

The short answer is that it is well within the usual range of variation around my trend estimate.

What is completely dubious and outrageous is the Time article on the poll posted to their website. It is a perfect example of the failure of journalists to bring even a modicum of intelligence to their analysis when they choose to ignore all other polling and write myopically based solely on their own polls.

In other words we need more data to see a real trend here.

Republicans continue to pin their hopes on two long held traditions about voters in Congressional races:

  1. Although most voters think Congress as an institution is corrupt and needs replacing, they don’t always have the same opinion of their representatives who may be good at bringing home the bacon;
  2. Incumbents have a built-in advantage in fund raising and use of their offices to promote themselves politically.

Will this be enough to offset the rising tide of public anger?

Political analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report says that’s up to Democrats:

Watching Democrats deal with the issue of Iraq is like watching the old movie, “Perils of Pauline.” Just as everything looks great for them, they do something to get into a jam, and just when it looks like they are in serious trouble, something happens to get them out. It’s almost exhausting to watch, but certainly not boring.

Last week, as the Senate debated the Iraq war and some Democrats again pushed for a timetable for withdrawal, it looked like Democrats were flirting with disaster again, pushing too hard on the “what next” agenda. Republicans were licking their chops that they might at last be getting the Iraq monkey off their back, and that Iraq and national security might become the asset for the GOP in 2006 that it was in 2002 and 2004, both very successful elections for Republicans.

But a report in the New York Times over the weekend that Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, had briefed the Pentagon last week on a plan to reduce the number of brigades in Iraq from 14 down to as few as five or six by December 2007 would seem to undercut the GOP argument that Democrats are advocating “cutting and running,” unless they want to describe Casey’s plan as cutting and running. Who knows what will come next. There never seems to be a dull moment in this 2006 election cycle.

What Cook and Franklin agree on is the number one decider of all elections: The voter who walks into the booth on election day. Until that happens, all anybody can do is guess.

Death in Iraq and a death knell for the right-wing?

Random thoughts on current news:

From The Associated Press this morning:

A parked car bomb exploded at a popular outdoor market Saturday in a Shiite slum in Baghdad, killing at least 66 people and wounding dozens, authorities said. It was the bloodiest attack to hit Iraq since the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The blast, which occurred around 10 a.m. when the Sadr City market was packed with shoppers, destroyed the stalls where food and clothes are peddled and sent up a plume of gray smoke. Flames shot out the windows of several scorched cars.

Ambulances rushed to the scene and carried the victims to hospitals, where men cradled crying babies as doctors bandaged them. Rasoul Zaboun, an official from the Imam Ali Hospital in Sadr City, said 66 people were killed and 87 wounded.

Police Col. Hassan Jaloob also said 22 shops and stalls were destroyed, along with 14 vehicles.

Angry residents swarmed around the wreckage, with several young men chanting as they rocked the burned out hulk of the car that apparently held the explosives.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack. But car bombings and suicide attacks against Shiite civilians have often been blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq, which al-Zarqawi led until he was killed in a U.S. airstrike June 7.

Also from Iraq comes this AP Dispatch:

The U.S. Army will investigate charges that five American soldiers were involved in the killings of four Iraqi relatives, including a woman who had been raped, military officials said Friday. It’s the sixth current inquiry into the alleged slayings of Iraqi civilians by American troops.

Some of the five soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of assaulting in the March incident, a U.S. military official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The U.S. command issued a statement saying only that Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad.

At least 14 American troops have been convicted in other cases.

Killings in Iraq increase daily — not the decline predicted by the Bush administration after Zargawi’s death. How many more must die before we admit this war is an idiotic, costly and deadly, mistake?

The right wing blowhards seem to have fallen on hard times. Note this release from U.S. Politics Today:

An odd thing seems to have happened to mighty right-wing talking head media juggernaut. They are still talking, but fewer people seem to be listening — at least on the Internet.

Alexa.com which is owned and operated by Amazon.com, tracks online usage for all Web sites, large and small. At Alexa.com, you can check a site’s activity up to the minute, or follow its trail back for many years.

At U.S. Politics Today, we thought it might be interesting to see how the right-wing media machine was doing. Not well, it turns out.

During the past three months, for instance, Rush Limbaugh’s traffic ranking has declined 18 percent. He still huffs and puffs away daily on radio, but advertisers might want to double check the size of his audience. If the bottom has dropped out on him online, it likely has had a similar trend line with his radio show.

Even Fox News, that gold standard of right-wing media, is down 13 percent.

Ann Coulter is coining money by attacking widows and orphans — a new game for her since she’s run out of Democrats, living and dead, to defame and verbally pillage. You would think with all of the attention the promotion of her new book has given her would raise visitor numbers at her Web site. Nope. Traffic there is down 10 percent.

The audience chart reversal seems to be common across the entire right-wing side of the Internet viewing board. Billoreilly.com has dropped 40 percent in the past three months. Townhall.com — that once popular center for right-wing news and commentary — has fallen by 24 percent. The Washington Times Web site is down by 27 percent. And Matt Drudge, once the hottest right-wing name in Internet sites? Alexa.com says Drudge Report is down 21 percent.

Could it be that Internet users are getting tired of political sites in general? Maybe so. But MoveOn.org is up 13 percent in the same period.

President Bush’s fall from grace has been well documented by poll-after-poll. The unpopularity of Congress may not be at historic lows, but those 20-something level of support numbers can’t be comforting to those who manage things on Capitol Hill.

It seems logical that with enthusiasm draining from the right- wing movement that put the president and the current Congress in place, the media chorus that has lavished praise on them all these many years would be affected by the change in fortune.

And so it seems, looking at the Alexa.com numbers — if they are to be believed. Those graph lines may not directly parallel the decline in GOP poll numbers, but they are all heading in the same direction — down.

A couple of things to note: Alexa is not a true ranking of Internet traffic. The traffic measures come from those who use their toolbar. We use ComScore’s audience measuring system to provide accurate traffic reports to our ad brokers. Secondly, Internet traffic is generally down in the summer months because vacations increase and people are, as a general rule, online less.

However, other indicators also suggest the right-wingers message wears thin on a public weary of spin. Ratings for Rush Limbaugh’s radio show are headed south as are Bill O’Reilly’s TV shot audience numbers. We can hope the trend continues.

Signing away our freedom

President George W. Bush, through his use of “signing statements,” has declared himself, on more than 750 separate occasions, above the laws of Congress, the laws of the land and even the Constitution of the United States.

With each stroke of his pen, Bush wipes away more of the freedoms once guaranteed by the Constitution, undermines the system of checks and balances that is supposed to protect our government from despots and brings this nation closer and closer to the precipice.

His actions come, ironically, as the nation prepares to celebrate the birthday of its independence, an independence threatened as never before not by Islam-spouting madmen but by an opportunistic politician with a fountain pen.

Signing statements allow a President to say he will choose to ignore a law passed by Congress if he feels that law infringes upon his powers during times of war or national crisis.

Thanks to Bush, we’re at war, a war based on lies, a war predetermined by an administration that decided, long before the events of September 11, 2001, to wage against a manufactured enemy for political means.

Those attacks provided a much-welcomed opportunity to galvanize a shell-shocked nation into an ill-conceived war that cannot be won, fought against a determined enemy who cannot be defeated in a land that neither requested nor welcomed our manufactured campaign to free it.

As more and more details about Bush’s abuse of power emerge, as public disclosures increase over his abuse of the Constitution, his escalating erosion of individual and civil rights and his actions that result in 24/7 monitoring of the lives of nearly every man, woman and child in this nation, some members of Congress are finally waking up to the fact they are powerless against this man who has built the Presidency into an a citadel of power unmatched in U.S. history.

Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to know more about how Bush pulled off this power grab. He opened hearings on the expanded use of Signing Statements this week but Specter’s actions may be too little too late from a compliant Congress controlled by the President’s party and hammered into submission by an over-politicized terrorist attack.

Journalists, for the most part, have also been reluctant to pursue the effect that Bush’s expanded use of signing statements have on our freedoms. A notable exception has been Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe, who first broke the news of Bush’s increased use of Signing Statements:

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation’s sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files “signing statements” — official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register. . .

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills — sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

Elizabeth Drew has also tackled the subject in a piece for the New York Review of Books:

For five years, Bush has been issuing a series of signing statements which amount to a systematic attempt to take power from the legislative branch.

Bush asserts broad powers without being specific in his objections or saying how he plans to implement the law. His interpretations of the law, as in his “signing statement” on the McCain amendment, often construe the bill to mean something different from -and at times almost the opposite of-what everyone knows it means.

For the first time in more than thirty years, and to a greater extent than even then, our constitutional form of government is in jeopardy.

That event more than 30 years ago was a Constitutional crisis called Watergate and a President named Richard M. Nixon, who resigned rather than face certain impeachment and conviction for his crimes.

That is something we should all think about as we attempt to celebrate Independence Day.

The dream dies

A little over a year ago, I began dreaming of building a grassroots organization to pursue real, non-partisan reform of the hopelessly divided political system in this country.

That dream grew as people told me what a great idea it was and promised reams of help – both financially and voluntarily. We spent the early part of this year filing the necessary papers to operate in all 50 states, lining up Constitutional lawyers to help write legislation, and meeting with activists who promised lofty results with organizing around the country.

We launched in May with grandiose plans of presenting real reform proposals to Congress, setting up extensive election monitoring in the midyear elections along with real time review of media bias and developing a growing army of nonpartisan activists in every state to try and find real solutions to the many problems that face this nation.

On Friday, the dream dies an inevitable death: The Campaign for Our America shuts down – a victim of broken promises, unmet expectations and my own ego.

We had hoped to start with a base of 2500 donors and build from there. Less than 100 came forward and 21 of those sent us bad checks or bum credit card numbers as donations. In the end, we raised less than $3,000 in actual cash. I covered 99 percent of the first month’s operations out of my own pocket and faced the harsh reality of having to cover 100 percent over the next six months.

We sent requests to more than 5,000 web sites and bloggers asking for help promoting the campaign. Just 11 responded. We sent out press releases to newspapers, television and radio stations and news web sites. Less than 1 percent gave us any publicity. More than 10 percent asked us to buy ads.

A number of friends promised to promote our efforts on their web sites. Only one did. Three lawyers offered "pro bono" services to help write legislation and proposals. Now they want large legal fees to continue and complete a project that is not done.

The Campaign for Our America depended on the support not only of donors but also of volunteers who shared our vision of non-partisan work towards reform. But a number of volunteers brought partisan goals to the organization. Others promised work but never delivered.

Earlier this week, I discovered that a recent friend we had met through our work in Southwestern Virginia was using CFOA to further his own political agenda and had hoped to cash in through an association with us. I terminated our involvement with him immediately and contacted those who were about to hire him based on his work with us. They withdrew their offer.

I can handle failure. I’ve failed on projects before and will no doubt fail on others in the future. Betrayal by a friend is more difficult to take. I don’t trust people easily and when that trust is violated it hurts a great deal.

But that betrayal did not sink the Campaign for Our America. It sank under the unsupportable weight of unmet expectations fueled by my own overblown ego.

I had thought the readers of Capitol Hill Blue would rally to our cause. I thought that lending my name and Blue’s to the effort would assure success, not only in fundraising but also in support and spread of news about the program.

I was wrong. Although readership of this web site is at an all-time high and our daily email newsletter goes out to more than 100,000 readers, the vast majority of that readership neither obviously neither supports my goals nor feels strongly enough about the Campaign for Our America to help.  I received enough emails that show many of our readers are partisan and will not support a non-partisan campaign.

So be it. Perhaps nonpartisanship is not possible in today’s bitter, partisan political world. Perhaps readership of a web site is not a true indicator of support. I don’t know.

I do know, however, that I grossly overestimated the support that would come from this web site. There’s no doubt I felt lending my name to the cause would generate interest and support. My ego got in the way of reality.

Because our donor base is so small and we do not have on-the-ground activists, we do not meet the criteria to qualify as a grassroots organization in 31 states and those qualifications had to be met by July 1. Failing to meet the criteria means our campaign is not a true grassroots organization and I cannot allow it to continue if it is not.

I promised donors that every dime they contributed would go directly into our campaigns. We kept that promise. Donations received helped fund election monitoring in New Orleans and San Diego and contributed to our moderate success in alerting media outlets of inaccurate reporting by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly.

For a month at least, my long-time dream became reality. Our work on reform will continue, not as a grassroots project but as something I will pursue though this web site. Our media monitoring efforts will also continue as a research arm of Capitol Hill Blue.

The Campaign for Our America, however, is over and I’ve learned what I’m sure many will say is a long overdue lesson in humility.

Pots, kettles and calling each other ‘black’

Funny thing about public scrutiny: It works both ways and those who want more of it soon find out such scrutiny can turn around and bite them in the ass.  So it’s fun watching the sanctimonious partisans who dominate the political blogs scream in anguish because one of their own is under a microscope.

Over on the right-wing side of the great partisan divide, the conservatives and Republicans twist their crying towels because endlessly self-promoting anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is smack dab in the middle of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Federal investigators looking into Abramoff’s wide-ranging use of free trips and outright bribes to mostly-Republican lawmakers show the shady lobbyist often laundered his money through Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform with Norquist, of course, taking a cut for serving as a conduit.

Another Norquist group, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, received an outright half-million dollar payment from Abramoff client money.

Norquist, of course, denies any wrongdoing. So does former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Rep. William Jefferson, Rep. Bob Ney and so on and so on. Anyone see a pattern here?

Those who know Norquist knew it was only a matter of time before his habit of playing fast and loose with the rules would land the hotshot Republican in trouble. Norquist has been pals with disgraced lobbyist Abramoff since their days with the College Republicans and both always bragged about their abilities to circumvent the rules to get something done.

Stories about Norquist have brought howls of protest from right-wing bulletin boards, blogs and bloggers, claiming a Democratic smear machine was out to nail their boy. The last we heard, control of the U.S. Department of Justice lay firmly in the control of a right-wing zealot named Gonzales, the attorney general of the United States.

But while the right-wing is spinning over one of their own in trouble, the left side of the fence is in absolute apoplexy over new questions about the motives of two of their favorite sons — Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas, founders of DailyKos, the Mecca of  so-called “progressive” Democrats.

The New York Times recently raised questions about Armstrong’s run-in with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2000 over stock-touting charges. Another story suggests DailyKos gives favorable attention and even endorsements to those who use, and pay dearly for, the services of Armstrong’s political consulting firm.

Such influence peddling is typical of old-school politics but an end to old-school politics is supposed to be what sites like DailyKos advocate so aggressively. Actually, like most left-wing blogs, Armstrong and Moulitsas only advocate an end to old school politics when it is practiced by Republicans.

They appear to have a problem with "moderate" or "centrist" Democrats but DailyKos now openly praises and supports moderate Democratic Presidential contender Mark Warner who just happens to be a client of Armstrong. Coincidence? Not really.

Supporters of Kos, and they are many and loud, scream that the “attacks” are just another ploy of the right-wing, something cooked up by the likes of Karl Rove to discredit them and their movement.

Sadly, they – like their counterparts on the right – apply a hypocritical double standard when it comes to judging their own. Politics and the web is overrun by get-rich-quick, fast-buck artists and the lust for money and power is non-partisan. Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist, Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas are political opportunists cut from the same cloth and, when it comes to political opportunists, those of us who seek the truth use one simple rule:

Follow the money.

Land of the watched, home of the spied upon

062506video.jpgI live in the mountains – deep in the mountains – of Southwestern Virginia, far away from what most call civilization.

You’ve heard of the proverbial town with one stop light? Our county has only one stop light, one permanent one since a construction project on U.S. 221 added four temporary stoplights to two bridges that the Virginia Department of Transportation is resurfacing and cut down to one-lane.

Yet even in my little backwoods hick county, I’m under video surveillance many times a day.

It may start when I drive through that maze of stoplights at the two bridges 500 yards apart. Video cameras tape every car that passes through that construction project, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  These are videocams, not stoplight enforcement cameras.

If I stop at any one of my little town’s three convenience mart/gas stations, I am photographed while filling my car with gas or while buying a cup of coffee. At least one convenience mart in town has a direct link to a Virginia State Police computer that inserts an image of my face into a facial recognition program to see if I’m wanted anywhere or might be a suspected terrorist. When I stop at the drive-through automatic teller machine (ATM) at the bank, another camera snaps my picture as I withdraw money from my checking account.

The monitoring doesn’t end with cameras. When I slid my credit card into the reader on the gas pump at the Exxon station this morning a high-speed dataline sent my name and account number to Exxon’s computers in Texas where they checked by balance before approving the purchase and then forwarded information on the purchase by another high-speed line to a bank of computers at 3701 Fairfax Drive in Arlington, home of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Terrorism Information Awareness Network (TIA).

The TIA computer matches my gas purchase against my last use of a credit card to see where I might have last purchased gas, an airline or train ticket or a motel stay. This provides Uncle Sam with my pattern of travel and that pattern is matched against any pattern which someone thinks might be suspicious or worthy of a second look.  The information is also matched my other financial activity: bank account deposits and withdrawals or charge account activity. Then they match the records with National Security Agency monitoring of phone calls and email usage. If anything looks suspicious to them, a file is opened and I become a "person of interest." Friends in a position to know tell me I became a person of interest to these folks some years ago.

As Lisa Hoffman outlines in her excellent series on video surveillance published today on our web site, we are nation constantly being watched by those we do business with, by police, by government and by our bosses.

Uncle Sam knows what books you read, either through public library records or your purchases at the local borders. He knows how often you stop at Starbucks to get a latte or if you shack up at the local no-tell motel once a week with your mistress. He knows where you drive, when you drive there and how much gas you bought to make the trip. Odds are, he knows more about what you than your boss, your minister, your spouse or your significant other.

The question is whether or not anyone, in a so-called free society, needs to know all this information about anyone else. Government monitoring of its citizens has increased at an alarming rate since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and those who raise the question of whether or not it is excessive face the threat of being branded "soft on terrorism" or even anti-patriotic.

Yet vast reams of information are gathered daily on Americans whose only "crime" is using a credit card, passing through a video-monitored bank or making a phone call. And nobody is quite sure what happens to all this information since so much of it is kept secret by a Presidential administration that hides just about everything under the cloak of "national security" and thinks it has a God-given right to govern as it wishes without oversight or question.

Yes, Big Brother is watching…and listening…and monitoring…and compiling…and studying…and God knows what else.

So much for the land of the free.

Let’s remember why America became America

Let’s consider, for a second or two, the current state of political debate. We can, I think, say with some certainty that this country is bitterly divided when it comes to government, politics, Iraq, the economy and the state of the nation.

The left berates the right, the right attacks the left, and the middle chastises both sides while just about everyone, including me, spews venom.

All of this, in the long run, accomplishes nothing.

Somewhere, buried in the rubble of the deep political divide of partisan posturing lies, mortally wounded, the concept of a nation founded on the belief in differing ideas and the right to express them.

Intolerance towards opposing views works both ways. It is one thing to differ. It is something else to insist that only one point-of-view can prevail.

Yet that concept is lost amid the bitter, partisan rhetoric that dominates political debate in our society. Opposing views are dismissed as "petty" or "pathetic" or "unpatriotic" or "lies."

Sadly, a nation founded on the concept of individual freedom, differences of opinion and the right to stand up against your neighbor or your government has become lost in the wilderness of lockstep thinking that demands conformance without question.

This is no longer the America that Washington, Jefferson and others crafted. It is no longer an America that deserves loyalty from its citizens or respect from others. We have become an America devoid of freedom, stripped of individuality and robbed of independence.

If you oppose what I believe is an illegal war in Iraq, others brand you "unpatriotic." If you support the war, those who disagree call you a murderer. If you are a Democrat, your party leaders tell you to vote only for that party’s candidates for Congress so they can impeach the President. If you are Republican, your party says you must vote their way so we can stay in Iraq, an action that I believe will only result in more deaths – Iraqi and American – which solves nothing.

These are things I believe and belief alone does not make something a fact. Today’s political debate too often substitutes belief with fact, supposition with truth and rhetoric with reality.

Somewhere in all this rabid rhetoric lies a forgotten concept called truth. Lost amid the sound bites, slogans and attack ads is a real solution to the many problems that threaten the very existence of this nation.

I wish I had an answer. I don’t. But I do know the answer can’t be found in the nasty, hate-filled rhetoric that masquerades as political debate today. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I call those who disagree with me "idiots" or "unpatriotic" or claim they don’t give a damn about their country and that’s not necessarily true.

People care about their country in different ways and it is time we all stopped believing that only those who agree with our point of view are patriots and that everyone else is nuts.

It won’t be easy. I don’t even know if I can do it. Like many Americans I’m angry over what is happening in our country and anger too often replaces reason.

But we have to try. Our country demands it and so should we.

We may be worse than Saddam

Vice President Dick Cheney claims the resistance in Iraq is in "its last throes." President George W. Bush says Iraq is "turning the corner."

Is that is true, how did a dying resistance manage to capture, torture and kill three U.S. soldiers in a well-planned and executed ambush?  Why do innocent Iraqis die every day on the streets along with more and more U.S. soldiers?

Soldiers just back from Iraq tell me the war is out of control and the situation worse than ever. They should know. They were on the ground, fighting an illegal war against impossible odds ordered by men who don’t have the foggiest concept of real war.

As decorated Marine and combat veteran Congressman John Murtha says, Cheney is just a dumb ass bureaucrat sitting on his "big, fat backside" in an air-conditioned office treating war like it was a video game. If Iraq is so damned safe, why did Bush sneak into the country under the cloak of secrecy, hide out for five hours in the uber-guarded "Green Zone" and then hightail it out of town as fast as he could?

Why not walk the streets of Iraq like normal citizens? Why not go on patrol with American soldiers?

Can’t do that Bush told reporters after he got back to the safety of the White House.

"I’m a high-value target for some," Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden. "And Iraq is a dangerous place."

Damn right it is and Bush, Cheney and their misguided invasion of Iraq made the country a dangerous place where civilians die daily, electricity doesn’t’ work most of the time and people live in fear.

And of course Bush is a "high-value target." He made himself one. Iraqis hate George W. Bush. They see him as an invading, murderous monster that turned their country into a living hell – one far worse than it was even under the harsh rule of a monster like Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. invasion destroyed Iraq, decimated its culture, ravaged its cities and generated a chaos that cannot be controlled by an occupying army or cured with an American-style "democracy."  Thanks to George W. Bush, America cannot "export" democracy because we don’t have a democracy to give away.

The Republic that America once was is long gone, replaced by a police state run by a power-mad despot who tramples on the Constitution, disregards the law at will and ignores individual rights.

Our government monitors our travel, our spending and our activity on a daily basis, determines who can and cannot get on an airplane and fly somewhere and holds Americans incommunicado on vague suspicions that they may be terrorists.

Troops patrol the streets of New Orleans, an American city damaged by natural disaster and ruined by government incompetence and fraud.  Other troops patrol our southern border, ordered to stop – at all costs – a tide of immigrants who only real crime may be seeking a better life in what used to be the land of the free.

Polls show anger towards our government and our elected officials at an all-time high. And why not? Washington is a sewer, a breeding ground of corruption, greed and graft, ruled by a President and political party that answer only to fatcat contributors.

Iraqis look at what American-style democracy has done to the United States and they say "hey, we don’t want any of that."

And they start to think that, when compared to the fanatics who control the government of this country, maybe Saddam Hussein wasn’t all that bad.

Sadly, they may be right.

In the end, all we have is the truth

We write often on this web site about the con-artists who dominate our government: Liars who treat truth as a disposable commodity easily discarded when it gets in the way of personal and political agendas.

I wish I could say my own profession of journalism is free of liars, cheats and scoundrels. Unfortunately, it is not. Journalism attracts the glib, the fast-talkers and those who practice the art of the con.

In 1971, writer Clifford Irving conned book publisher McGraw-Hill into an advance to write an "authorized" biography of billionaire Howard Hughes. Irving said Hughes, a recluse then living in the Bahamas, commissioned him to write the biography and produced notes and stories of "inside" information he said came directly from Hughes.

Irving gambled Hughes, rumored to be sick and near death, would not come forward to repudiate the book. The billionaire had not spoken publicly since 1958. Irving miscalculated. Hughes spoke to reporters and those he knew in a conference call and said he never met Irving and did not hire him to write a book. Irving went to jail for fraud but later wrote a moderately successful book detailing how he almost pulled off the hoax.

In 1980, the mighty Washington Post considered young writer Janet Cooke one of their up-and-coming stars. The attractive, outgoing black woman charmed the editors of the Post and even legendary executive editor Ben Bradlee who called her "the future of the Post." On September 29, 1980 the Post published "Jimmy’s World," a harrowing account by Cooke of an eight-year-old heroin addict from Washington’s crime-ridden southeast.

The story won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and the publicity from that award caused a representative from one of the colleges listed in Cooke’s biography to call and say she was not a graduate of their institution. An internal investigation revealed Cooke not only fabricated her resume but also the entire "Jimmy’s World" article. The Post fired Cooke, returned the Pulitzer and published more than one apology to its readers.

Stephan Glass wrote for The New Republic, the small but respected journal of opinion and politics often called "The in-flight magazine of Air Force One." His stories detailed hard-drinking, prostitute-chasing young Republicans at a neo-con convention in Washington, the bonanza of Monica Lewsinsky-related souvenir items and pre-pubescent hackers with agents and million dollar contracts.

The young writer, not yet 30, freelanced for Rolling Stone, George and Harpers and pulled in a six-figure income. One staff member at The New Republic said editors at the magazine heaped praise on Glass and called him "too good to be true."

He was. After a writer at Forbes Digital Tool found numerous errors and fabrications in a Glass story about hackers, New Republic Editor Chuck Lane confronted Glass, who maintained his story was true, then claimed he had been duped by sources, and finally admitted he made the whole thing up. An investigation by TNR revealed that Glass fabricated all or some of most of the stories he wrote for the magazine as well as other publications.

Glass enlisted friends and gave them cell phones so they could pose as sources and fool the fact checkers. In an apology to its readers, TNR said Glass fooled them in part because they "found him entertaining."

The fired and disgraced writer obtained a six-figure advance to write a book, The Fabulist, about a writer who makes up stories. He also graduated from Georgetown Law School and clerked for a prominent Washington judge.

During Jayson Blair’s four-year career at The New York Times, the 27-year-old writer covered major news stories ranging from the D.C. sniper case to families devastated by the Iraq war. His colorful reporting included detailed descriptions of locations, people and events – all fiction. Blair, sitting in his apartment in New York City, claimed to be all these places but never traveled there. He fabricated more than 70 stories for the newspaper that claimed to publish "all the news that’s fit to print."

"Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception, " read the headline in the Times on a Sunday morning in May 2003. The nearly 15,000-word story detailed how Blair lied to editors, fooled fact checkers and played the Times as a sucker. The paper fired Blair and he, like Glass, landed a six-figure book deal for a book on how he did it. The book bombed.

Three years later, journalism finds itself in another uproar over apparent fabrications by a writer. This one has yet to reach the notoriety of a Janet Cook, Stephan Glass or Jayson Blair – but it might. Often-discredited writer Jason Leopold, on May 13, wrote a story for the left-leaning news/blog site Truthout, claiming the grand jury investigating the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to the media indicted Karl Rove and the White House aide had 24 hours to get his affairs in order.

The story, rich in details about a day-long conference at the offices of Rove’s attorneys, told a fascinating tale. In the month that has followed, no other news organization picked up the story, no indictment emerged on Rove and his attorneys claim they got a notice from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald saying he would not be indicted.

Truthout has stuck stubbornly to its story, claiming – in part – that it may have been used, a defense that has a Stephan Glassian ring to it.

Leopold could be called the poster child for second, third and even fourth chances. A reporter for the respected Dow Jones News Service, his editors removed Leopold from covering the Enron scandal and later fired him amid claims that some of his stories didn’t check out. He landed at Salon as a freelancer but Salon had to remove a story from its site (again, about Enron) and dismiss Leopold, saying editors could not verify a source for that story and also saying the writer lifted material from the Financial Times.

He drifted down the journalistic food chain to Raw Story, a "progressive" alternative news site that primarily recycles stories from other publications and uses "frames" to link to other sites (a practice which itself raises ethical questions) but left there due to "economic circumstances."

Leopold emerged next at Truthout where he recycled much of what he had written about Enron before and began writing about the Plame grand jury investigation, first predicting and then claiming an indictment against Rove, a story that appears to be yet another fabrication. In a book, Leopold admits a past of drug abuse, theft, lying to editors and unethical behavior to obtain information.

To be fair, Capitol Hill Blue is sometimes accused of fabricating stories. Two years ago, we published stories that detailed temper tantrums by President George W. Bush. Critics claimed we made the stories up because no one else picked up the reports. Late last year, however, Newsweek, Time and others wrote about the President’s inability to control his temper and confirmed much of what we wrote two years earlier. A book by respected George Washington University psychiatrist Justin Frank also confirmed our reports of the President’s suspected problems with mental stability.

In 2004, we reported on increased domestic spying by the government, including the Defense Department and the National Security Agency. Again, critics called the stories bogus. A year later, details of the NSA spying program emerged.

But we have published stories that either proved to be wrong or could never be verified. I was burned by a source on what we thought was a major story about whether or not Bush knew intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was false. The source lied to me and used a fake name. I issued a public apology and pull the story from our database. It happened again in 2004 when we wrote Nancy Reagan had refused to back Bush’s re-election effort. She came out publicly and said we were wrong. We retracted the story and apologized to our readers.

Earlier this year, we published a report that said a Secret Service report said Vice President Dick Cheney was drunk when he shot a lawyer friend on a hunting trip in Texas. A follow-up investigation convinced us no such report existed. We removed the story from our archives and apologized for it. I’m also a recovering alcoholic who must live with the fact that I did some incredibily stupid, unethical, immoral and illegal things when I drank.

Time may yet prove Jason Leopold and Truthout right in their claim of an indictment against Karl Rove but the odds, and Leopold’s checkered past weigh in against them.  Rove’s spokesmen and attorneys have issued denials. Many other news sources report Rove was not, and will not, be indicted.

Some of those news organizations, like The Washington Post and New York Times, have learned painful lessons about the dangers of depending on a reporter’s integrity. Truthout, unless it knew all along that the story was bogus, may learn the same lesson.

In the end all any of us have is the truth and we, as journalists, have an obligation to report it. When we screw the truth and it bites back we must swallow the bitter pill of humility and admit we messed up. Truth demands no less.

 

(NOTE: A detailed look at the Truthout-Leopold-Rove matter can be found in our blog)

Saving America

George W. Bush is an international war criminal who should be arrested, shackled and led to the World Court to stand trial for his many crimes against humanity.

So should be any member of Congress who continues to support the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq and whose actions contributed to the unnecessary deaths of 2,500 American military men and women along with the thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians.

The pathetic, partisan attempt by the Republican leadership in Congress to tie support for the Iraq debacle to the so-called "war on terrorism" is just another sad example of how far this nation has plunged into a immoral and unethical morass that cannot be erased by spin, rhetoric or lame attempts at justification.

The United States of America, a country that once stood for freedom, justice and human rights is now an international bully, a source of worldwide terrorism that poses a far greater threat to world peace than any Islam-spouting prophet hiding in a cave in Afghanistan.

The upcoming mid-term elections in November should not be a battle between Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, right or left. It must be a battle for the survival of our nation. As citizens we can no longer stand by while this cabal of corrupt, power-mad despots destroys what little is left of the America we once respected and loved.

I’m convinced George W. Bush is a madman, a brain-damaged dry drunk whose insanity and megalomania threaten the very existence of America. He represents a clear and present danger to the peace and security of this nation and must be treated as a traitor to the very Constitution he swore to uphold in two inaugurations.

I believe he and Vice President Dick Cheney conspired to undermine the Constitution by illegally increasing the power of the executive branch, using the events of September 11, 2001, to advance personal political agendas.  Neither man gives a damn about this country. They care only about their own power, their own desires and using both to reward those who bought them with financial and political support.

Bush disregards the law as a matter of course, appending "signing statements" to legislation that he plans to ignore because it infringes on his view of absolute power and divine right from God Almighty.

Cheney sees the Vice Presidency as a means to two ends: Pad his own financial portfolio and enrich his friends in the military-industrial complex.

Both men are aided in their criminal enterprise by a corrupt Republican-led Congress, a governing body so riddled with criminals, con-artists and thieves that the Mafia or Columbian drug gangs pale by comparison.

In the best of times, we could count on the checks and balances of the system to save the Constitution but those checks were neutered by single-party governance and a Supreme Court packed with compliant justices.

That’s why Bush and his cronies should be led, handcuffed and shackled, to the World Court, a body not controlled by the right-wing jihad that has hijacked the Constitution and put America in danger.

Since that won’t happen, our other option lies at the ballot box and enough voter anger to throw out every single one of the bitches and bastards who have helped in the overthrow of our government. I’m not talking about just Republicans. I mean every one who still votes for and supports the illegal war in Iraq; every one who still lives large at lobbyists’ expense; every one who sells his or her vote for a campaign contribution and every one who supports the status quo in Washington.

Then, maybe, we can return control of this country to the people. Then, maybe, we can hold a corrupt, immoral President and his legions accountable for their vile acts.

Maybe there’s still time to save this thing called America.