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- August 22: A UN human rights expert criticizes US military authorities in Afghanistan on Saturday for barring him from visiting detention centers, and describes one Kabul prison he did visit as "inhuman." The lack of transparency "raises serious concerns about the legality of detention and conditions of those detainees," Cherif Bassiouni says. Former prisoners have said they were tortured and abused while in US custody in Afghanistan, raising concerns that the mistreatment of US-held prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that was uncovered this year was not an isolated episode. The US military, which this month had been expected to release an internal report on allegations of prisoner abuse, turned down Bassiouni's request to visit centers where suspected militants are held. Bassiouni was allowed to visit Kabul's notorious Pul-i-Charkhi jail, run by Afghan authorities, where about 725 Taliban members and their Pakistani allies are being held. (Reuters/Truthout)
- August 22: The Chicago Tribune's William Rood, a journalist who served with John Kerry in Vietnam, breaks a 35-year silence to discuss his knowledge of Kerry's service. Rood says the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and other critics of Kerry's service are little more than opportunistic liars. "It's...harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue," he writes in an op-ed for the Tribune. During a Viet Cong rocket and gun attack in February 1969, Kerry led his boat and two others, including Rood's, at the enemy. Though Kerry won the Silver Star for unusual bravery for the attack, the SBVT's new book, Unfit for Command, condemns the tactic as "stupidity, not courage." Rood says Kerry was praised by their task force commander for providing a "shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy." The SBVT accuses Kerry of embellishing his war record for electoral gain, a charge denied by the Kerry campaign. Rood knows better. "There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam...three officers and 15 crew members," Rood writes. "Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened.... One is John Kerry...who won a Silver Star for what happened.... I am the other."
- Rood says Kerry, the tactical commander, asked Rood and other officers to join him in charging the enemy in the event of an ambush, which was all too likely to happen. "We agreed that if we were not crippled by the initial volley and had a clear fix on the location of the ambush, we would turn directly into it, focusing the boats' twin .50-calibre machine-guns on the attackers and beaching the boats," Rood writes. "We routed the ambush, killing three of the attackers. The troops, led by an army adviser, jumped off the boats and began a sweep, which killed another half dozen VC, wounded or captured others." Rood has always been reluctant to discuss his experiences in Vietnam, but writes, "What matters most to me is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it. ...The survivors of all these events are scattered across the country now. ...With the debate over that long-ago day in February, they're all living that war another time." Though Rood's is the latest in a raft of refutations of the Swift Boat Veterans' assertions, and the SBVT members have been proven to be liars who have fabricated a swath of accusations against Kerry at the behest of contacts within the Republican power structure, the media will continue to tout their claims. (Chicago Tribune/Truthout, BBC)
- August 22: The GOP has decided not to characterize vice-presidential candidate John Edwards as a "trial lawyer" any longer; instead, they will now call him a "personal injury lawyer." "A 'trial lawyer' is someone you see on television during prime time, like one of the characters from Law and Order," says Republican political marketer Frank Luntz, who has been supplying Republicans with lethal locutions harvested from focus groups since working with Newt Gingrich on the Contract With America. "A 'personal injury lawyer' is the person you see on TV at 1:30 in morning, saying to call him if you want to sue someone. A 'trial lawyer' is okay. It suggests you have a skill. A 'personal injury' lawyer suggests you're a shyster." Interestingly, Edwards, too, avoids the term "trial lawyer," which is often used by right-wingers to suggest antibusiness attitudes.
- Focus groups and marketing strategies have changed the way American politicians speak. When New Jersey governor James McGreevey recently told the public of his sexual orientation, he used the phrase, "I am a gay American," not simply, "I am gay." Focus group analysis showed that the terminology affected people's reactions to his statement. Similarly, oil companies no longer "drill for oil," at least not on the Bush campaign trail, they "explore for oil." "Climate change" instead of "global warming" and "death tax" instead of "estate tax" are two other memorable Republican focus group phrases. Political advisors use the same strategies and forms of analysis as do Madison Avenue advertisers; in many cases, the same people who gave you a memorable phrase for laundry detergent or a new car are giving us the phrases used by our lawmakers. "What you want is not only how your side views the issue but how the other side does," says Costas Panagopoulos, executive director of the political campaign management program at New York University. "That way you can co-opt it and use it to your advantage." Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Packaging the Presidency, tells us, "Repetition is a clue. It's safe to say that when you hear a phrase first in a speech, then it's repeated in ads and elsewhere, that it's been tested." To her ear, Bush's use of the phrase "turning the corner" sounds labored, unlike, say, Kerry's more generally extemporaneous promises of a more "sensitive" foreign policy. "It wasn't a smart choice of words, and it wasn't repeated," Jamieson explains. Republicans usually lead Democrats in the use of marketing phraseology, going back to the 1966 campaign of Ronald Reagan for the California governor's seat, and hammered into place by GOP political guru Lee Atwater. (New York Times/Sacramento State University)
- August 22: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd slams the Bush campaign for relying on the lies and slanders of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and tasks the Kerry campaign for not responding more vigorously to the allegations of cowardice and treason. "It's easy for the Bushes to stay gallant. They delegate the gutter," she writes. "There are always third-party political assassins, ostensibly independent, to do the dynasty wet work. W.'s old pal and running partner, Lee Atwater, set up the Bush modus operandi: Lay in the weeds while craftily planting plausibly deniable surrogates to slice up your rival." She continues, "The weird thing is, given how transparently the Bushes play the game of staying above the fray even as their creepy-crawly surrogates do dishonorable and undignified things, their rivals always seem caught off guard when the third parties show up to rip their throats out. ...Just as the Bush campaign dragged out fringe veteran surrogates in South Carolina to slime [John McCain] the former POW for being antiveteran, now the stomach-turning Swift boat attackers are sliming a war hero as a war criminal. They started their vengeful and brazen campaign in May, after plotting since winter. But John Kerry is only now forcefully responding -- though he should have had a response ready, since the Nixon tool John O'Neill has dogged him since '71." Bill Clinton said of the attacks, "Whenever they hit me, I hit 'em back. And whenever they came up with a charge I didn't believe was true, I answered back." But while Kerry's response has been lacking, as Dowd writes, "Meanwhile, the Bush crew is shamelessly doing to Mr. Kerry what it once did to Mr. McCain: suggesting that the decorated Vietnam vet has snakes in his head and a temperament problem. 'Senator Kerry appears to have lost his cool,' Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford on Friday. And the Bush campaign chairman, Marc Racicot, said on CNN that Mr. Kerry looked 'wild-eyed' responding to Swift boat muck. It makes sense for W. to use surrogates to do his fighting, just as he did when he slid out of Vietnam and just as he did when he sent our troops to fight his administration's misbegotten vanity war in Iraq." (New York Times/Neil Rogers)
- August 22: Dissension is breaking out among the ranks of neoconservatives, with author Francis Fukuyama, one of the most renowned intellectuals of the movement, breaking ranks to sharply criticize the neocons' long-standing arguments in favor of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Fukuyama is being rebutted by his former friend and fellow neocon Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, as "breathtakingly incoherent." The neocons are closing ranks. In the next issue of Commentary magazine, neocon icon Norman Podhoretz will print a lengthy defense of the Bush administration's foreign policy called "World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win." Like his fellows, Podhoretz argues that the US needs to "liberate" other Middle Eastern countries to choke out Islamic terrorism: "Like anybody else in the world who is sane, I am very much worried about Iran gaining nuclear capacity," Podhoretz said recently. "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although I wouldn't be heartbroken if it happened." Fukuyama and Krauthammer "are two of the intellectual heavyweights among neoconservatives, and their dispute is real," says Gary Rosen, managing editor of Commentary. "People are looking for guidance on this, and these are two strong proponents of opposing views within the movement."
- Fukuyama says he harbored private doubts about the invasion all along, although he kept quiet about them then. "I figured it was going to happen anyway, and there wasn't anything I could do about it," he says. "I believed it was a big roll of the dice, and I didn't believe it was a wise bet. But on the other hand, it was a roll of the dice, and for all I knew, it might have worked. It turned out to be even worse than I anticipated." Krauthammer, in his defense of the war, has become "strangely disconnected from reality," Fukuyama wrote. "One gets the impression that the Iraq war has been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based vindicated." Like many other critics of the war, he argues that Krauthammer and other neoconservatives were overconfident about turning Iraq into a democracy, too quick to dismiss arguments of longtime allies, and too willing to give up the practical advantages of partnership with other nations. Most of all, though, he says that Krauthammer and other supporters of the war mischaracterized Iraq and Islamic radicals as an immediate threat to the existence of the US, a claim that justified immediate intervention. The USSR arguably threatened the existence of the United States, Fukuyama argues, but Iraq never did. But, Fukuyama says, he retains his neoconservative principles -- a belief in the universal aspiration for democracy and the use of American power to spread democracy in the world. He says he is acknowledging the mistakes to preserve the credibility of the neoconservative movement. (New York Times/Truthout)
US and Israel sabotaging peace process between Israel and Palestine
- August 23: A covert deal between the US and Israel for support of Israel's expansion of settlements in the West Bank is destroying what remains of the Middle East peace process, according to Palestinian officials. American officials are privately admitting they have abandoned their demands that Israel freeze settlement activity, and have given Jerusalem tacit permission to build thousands of new homes on the disputed land. Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinian prime minister, says the US position would destroy the peace process, and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, says America's unilateral redrawing of the "road map to peace" is "a very grave development." Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, with the support of the US, is backing a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in return for permanent settlements in the West Bank. The peace process was redrawn in private meetings between Bush and Sharon, and in more detail by national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and Sharon's advisor Dov Weissglas. "In these meetings the US has indicated areas where Israel cannot build," says a European diplomat. "Israel has taken that to mean it is permissible to build in other areas. The US is effectively deciding how the West Bank will look in the future. It's a huge shift in policy." Jeff Halper, an Israeli political activist who specialises in Israel's control of the Palestinian territories, adds, "Effectively a new road map has been drawn between the US and Israel which the United Nations, the European Union and Russia do not agree with." Qureia says he is waiting for confirmation of the shift in US policy, adding that he would be shocked if it were true: "I can't believe that America is now saying that settlement expansion is all right. This will destroy the peace process." (Guardian/Truthout)
- August 23: An independent panel chaired by former defense secretary James Schlesinger finds that leadership failures at the highest levels of the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff and military command in Iraq contributed to an "Animal House [of] sadism" environment in which detainees were abused at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities, in a widespread atmosphere of chaos and abuse. The Schlesinger report does not name names, but implicitly faults Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as well as his top civilian and military aides, for not exercising sufficient oversight over a confusing array of policies and interrogation practices at detention centers in Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq. The military's Joint Staff, which is responsible for allocating military resources among the various combatant commanders, is criticized for not recognizing that military police officers at Abu Ghraib were overwhelmed by an influx of detainees, while the ratio of prisoners to guards was much lower at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The report also criticizes the top commander in Iraq at the time, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, for not paying close enough attention to worsening conditions at Abu Ghraib, instead delegating oversight of prison operations to subordinates. The four-person panel, handpicked by Rumsfeld, includes Schlesinger, former defense secretary Harold Brown, former Republican representative Tillie Fowler, and General Charles Horner, a retired four-star Air Force officer who led the air campaign in the Persian Gulf war in 1991. All four members of the panel are also members of Rumsfeld's advisory panel, the Defense Policy Board; all four reject calls for Rumsfeld's resignation. The Schlesinger panel interviewed only about two dozen people, but it focused on senior policy makers and commanders. The panel is the only inquiry to interview Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General John Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East. The report also confirms the fears of many Pentagon officials, most notably General Eric Shinseki, that Rumsfeld was not ordering nearly enough troops to Iraq in 2003 to get the job done correctly. (New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian)
- August 23: Newsweek reports that insurgent attacks against truckers in Iraq have brought civilian trucking inside the country to a virtual standstill, stopping deliveries of foodstuffs and other key supplies. The insurgents' favorite tactics include robbery, arson, and kidnapping. Abdul Majid Habashneh, head of the Truckers Association of Jordan, calls the situation "a disaster." He says 30 Jordanian drivers have been killed in the past year, and 300 trucks have been either stolen or lost. Only 4% of Jordan's fleet of independent trucks (which once totaled 11,500) are now operating. "It's never been this bad, even during the [beginning] of the war," says Habashneh. Three months ago, 1,500 Jordanian trucks plied Highway 10 between Amman and Baghdad every day. Now only 30 a day make the perilous trip. The Jordanians aren't the only foreign traders suffering, and with Iraq so heavily dependent on foreign trade, the effect on the Iraqi economy and civilians is harsh. The highways spanning the 600 kilometers from the Turkish border to Baghdad are crawling with saboteurs. The Turkish International Transport Association has declared a total ban on supplying goods to US forces in Iraq. 33 Turkish drivers have been killed, kidnapped or injured over the past 12 months. Turkey's trade with Iraq doubled last year, but it is certain to fall off dramatically with a trucking moratorium. The even longer highways from Kuwait, usually much more heavily guarded by US troops, have also seen a spate of kidnappings and robberies. Around Baghdad, truck stops are deserted.
- Yet, US and Iraqi authorities are insisting that the insurgents are having no effect on the US war effort. While military convoys aren't being attacked for the most part, many less vital Coalition supplies come in civilian trucks. Muhammed Suleiman Saley, a Jordanian, was carrying ice cream and meat to US bases in Tikrit a month ago when he and his truck disappeared without a trace. When another Jordanian driver, Nawaf Isaf Hussein, took the same route, he carried a false manifest for his cargo of uniforms, hoping it would ensure safe passage. But bandits had already been tipped off. They shot out the wheels of his truck and burned his cargo. "Be glad that you're alive and [can] go back to your family," he says they told him. Even though the US Army now pays as much as $2,500 per trip to a Jordanian driver, four times the normal rate, Hussein doesn't plan to return. Worst of all, from some viewpoints, the insurgent attacks have cut the delivery of Iraqi oil to foreign distribution points in half, from 1.9 million barrels a day to less than 900,000. (MSNBC)
- August 23: The Bush administration is going ahead with plans to drill for oil in Alaska -- not in the disputed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but in the federally unprotected Western Arctic Reserve, a 23.5-million acre wilderness area west of Prudhoe Bay on the north coast of Alaska that is home for tens of thousands of caribou and tens of millions of shorebirds and waterfowl. The Western Arctic Reserve contains America's largest single block of unprotected wilderness. The WAR was set aside in 1923 as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a potential oil source for the US Navy in the event of an emergency. It remained largely untouched through World War II and the 1970s' oil crisis, but the oil and gas industry has been able to muscle its way into the area in recent years. The environmental damage that will be done by unrestricted oil drilling in the area will be immeasurable. (National Resources Defense Council)
- August 23: Nearly $1.9 billion in US taxpayer funds and materials bought with those funds for use in Iraq, formerly declared missing, have turned up -- stolen by Halliburton. Halliburton officials either "forgot" to document the missing funds and materials, or "redirected" them away from the military and into their own hands. Many of the redirections were personally authorized by former CPA chief Paul Bremer, who left Iraq two days before the deadline to turn over control of the government to an Iraqi temporary council, and hours before the release of the first report documenting the systematic thefts. Oversight of the money, largely drawn from Iraqi oil revenues, has been lax in the extreme, as a June 2004 New York Times article reported: "The teams have become famous in Iraq for the way they have spread across the country, commissioning repairs and paying for them from satchels bulging with $100 bills shipped by plane from a Federal Reserve vault in East Rutherford, New Jersey. At least $1 billion has been distributed in this fashion -- by some estimates more than $2 billion. 'The military commanders love that program, because it buys them friends,' said an administration official, referring to the cash distribution. 'You want to hire everybody on the street, put money in their pockets and make them like you. We have always spent Iraqi money on that.'" AlterNet's Pratap Chatterjee writes, "In other words, despite access to billions of dollars for reconstruction, the CPA has done little to serve the interests of either the American taxpayer or the Iraqi people. The reconstruction effort has, however, been a cash bonanza for companies like Halliburton."
- Whistle-blowers from Halliburton have testified to a plethora of wasteful practices, such as paying $100 for a bag of laundry and abandoning $85,000 trucks for the lack of a spare tire. Meanwhile, other companies like Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) were shipping armored Humvees for company executives on specially chartered jets and paying themselves $200 an hour to run a US propaganda television station that no one was watching. An internal Pentagon audit shows that Halliburton has failed to account for "more than $1.8 billion" it has received so far for providing logistical support to troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Halliburton's excuse, quickly accepted by the Defense Department, is that it lacked the staff to adequately account for the money. But Halliburton has also denied any accounting problems. In written testimony submitted to Congress, Halliburton's own auditor, Marie de Young, revealed that the company's internal auditors (nicknamed the "Tiger Team") were not doing their job properly. De Young, who was hired in December 2003 to help oversee Operation Iraqi Freedom contracts, told Congress: "When the Tiger Team examined a subcontract, they just checked to make sure that all the forms were in the file. ...They didn't assess the reasonableness of the price or consult with site managers. The team's sole purpose was to close as many subcontracts as possible, under the mistaken assumption that everything that was closed prior to the arrival of the government audit team would be exempt from further scrutiny." She told Congress, "I had been advised by subcontract administrators who quit the company that employees get moved around when they get too close to the truth. ...Ironically, other previous managers who tolerated bad practices were promoted to better paying jobs in Iraq or Houston or Jordan." Worse, Halliburton housed the Tiger Team at the five-star Kempinski Hotel in Kuwait, paying each of them a whopping $10,000 per month to live in luxurious accomodations. At the time, US soldiers were required to live in tents at a cost of $1.39 a day. When the military asked Halliburton employees to move into the tents, they refused. (AlterNet)
- August 23: Republican election officials in Florida admit that their focus is to restrict and discourage blacks from voting. "A Democrat can't win a statewide election in Florida without a high voter turnout -- both at the polls and with absentee ballots -- of African-Americans," says a source close to the Republican establishment in Florida. "It's no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible. Black votes are Democratic votes, and there are a lot of them in Florida." So far Florida has tried to use a racially biased and tremendously skewed "purge list," with thousands of legitimate black voters listed for "purging" from their county electoral rolls, and far fewer Hispanics than statistics allow for (Hispanics in Florida tend to vote Republican). Now law enforcement officials are intimidating and terrorizing black voters in Orlando, a hub of black Democrat activity. Those actions are being investigated, but columnist Bob Herbert says for the Republicans, the conclusions of that investigation are all but irrelevant: "From the GOP perspective, it doesn't really matter whether anyone is arrested in the Orlando investigation, or even if a crime was committed. The idea, in Orange County and elsewhere, is to send a chill through the democratic process, suppressing opposing votes by whatever means are available." (New York Times/Truthout)
- August 23: Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper testifies in court in the Valerie Plame Wilson outing case, avoiding contempt of court charges stemming from his previous refusal to testify. Cooper testified about his contacts with Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, who apparently revealed the name of Plame, a covert CIA operative, to Cooper as part of a White House attempt to smear Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson. Cooper agreed to testify after his source, Libby, waived his privilege to remain unidentified by Cooper (see the above items). "Matt would have gone to jail if Libby didn't waive his right to confidentiality...and we would have fought all the way to the Supreme Court," says Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly. "Matt has been absolutely steadfast in his desire to protect anonymous sources." The reporter who broke Plame's identity in his column, conservative columnist Robert Novak, has refused to confirm whether he has testified in front of the grand jury, though he has done so.
- Fitzgerald is convinced, wrongly, that Libby had been Cooper's main source for the Plame information (Cooper's main source was, in reality, Karl Rove). As a result, Fitzgerald had agreed to limit his questioning to Cooper's conversations with Libby. If Cooper testifies that Libby told Cooper about Plame, he will have two witnesses -- Cooper and NBC's Tim Russert -- to contradict Libby's testimony that he had not outed Plame to either reporter (Libby lied to the grand jury, saying that he had learned of Plame's identity from Russert). Instead, Cooper tells Fitzgerald that he had learned about Plame's identity from another White House source before he ever spoke with Libby. Cooper does refute Libby's testimony in that Libby never said to him that any reporters had told Libby or any White House official that they already knew about Plame's identity as a CIA agent, nor did Libby say that he didn't even know Joseph Wilson had a wife. So Cooper can testify that Libby lied to the grand jury. But now Fitzgerald has information that another White House source was involved in outing Plame, but according to the agreement between Fitzgerald and Cooper's lawyers, he can't ask about the second source. Fitzgerald and FBI investigator Jack Eckenrode had interviewed every Bush official whom they thought could possibly have been Time's source. None of them, besides Libby, had ever acknowledged speaking to Cooper. Obviously, someone besides Libby had lied. Fitzgerald wanted to know who it was. (Washington Post, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- August 23: The absentee ballot in Florida's Palm Beach County is criticized as being even more confusing than the infamous "butterfly ballot" of 2000. It was accepted by elections supervisor Theresa LaPore, who helped design the 2000 ballot that misled thousands of Palm Beach voters to cast their votes for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore, and helped cost Gore the presidency. The ballot asks voters to connect broken arrows to select their candidates. "People do the craziest things when they're asked to connect the arrows," said Stephen Ansolabehere, former director of the Voting Technology Project, a collaboration between the California and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology. LaPore is dismissive, saying she would receive complaints about any ballot design she chose. (AP/Truthout)
- August 23: The Bush administration's revamped regulations concerning overtime wages go into effect. Those regulations make it far more difficult for hourly-wage employees to earn overtime by reclassifying their jobs as salaried positions -- those employees could then be forced to work additional hours without being paid for them. While the administration asserts that no more than 107,000 workers will lose their eligibility, and 1.3 million workers will gain the right to overtime, the reality is that up to six million workers will lose their eligibility for overtime. "Why would anyone want to take overtime pay away from as many as six million Americans at a time when they need that money the most?" says vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. "And why would anyone support this new rule which could mean a pay cut for millions of Americans who have already seen their real wages drop again this year?" Critics of the new rules say they are another example of the Bush administration's taking regulatory steps that please businesses, which have lobbied for years to revamp the overtime regulations. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, has issued a report, which many Democrats have relied on, concluding that the rules will exempt about six million workers from overtime coverage. Among those, the institute said, are 1.4 million low-level salaried supervisors, 130,000 chefs and sous-chefs and 900,000 workers with graduate or college degrees who will now be considered professional employees. The administration has accused the institute and the AFL-CIO of engaging in a partisan campaign of misinformation on the issue. Democratic senator Tom Harkin, who has failed in repeated attempts to win passage of a bill to roll back the rules, says he will introduce new legislation to try again. "This strikes right at the heart of a fundamental labor right," Harkin says. "These vague regulations will hurt rather than help Americans with their overtime pay, while the administration's public posture is all smiles and happy talk." Three former Labor Department officials under Clinton and the first Bush have concluded in a report that the regulations would hurt American workers. Labor Department officials call the criticisms "partisan." (New York Times)
- August 23: Months after the Swift Boat Veterans launched their slander campaign against John Kerry, Kerry is finally responding with a TV ad of his own refuting their charges and linking the organization directly to the Bush campaign. Kerry's advisers had originally planned not to spend any money on advertising in August, but shifted gears last week in the face of concern voiced by Democrats outside the campaign that Kerry was not moving aggressively enough to deal with this threat. Meanwhile, former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, a World War II veteran, has come out in support of the SBVT charges, and called on Kerry to repudiate his antiwar activities of the 1970s. "He's got himself into this wicket now where he can't extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars," says Dole. "There's got to be some truth to the charges." Obeying Bush campaign mandates to focus the issue on Kerry's antiwar activities, Dole says, "I mean, one day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.'"
- Democrats acknowledge that the continuing discussion of the SBVT allegations is damaging Kerry. Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist not involved in the presidential race, says, "It may be voters presume there are two sides in this contest and one side is attacking the other and they blame Bush for the attacks." Carrick says that the Kerry campaign is at a pivotal moment. "They've turned this into a raging national press story," he says of the SBVT. "It is certainly keeping Kerry from discussing his own issues and agenda and getting on the offensive." Another Democrat close to the campaign is more pessimistic: "When you're basically running on your biography and there are ongoing attacks that are undermining the credibility of your biography, you have a really big problem." On CNN, Dole misstates Kerry's record by saying, "John Kerry's a hero, but what I will always quarrel about are the Purple Hearts. I mean, the first one, whether he ought to have a Purple Heart -- he got two in one day, I think. And he was out of there in less than four months, because three Purple Hearts and you're out." Kerry did not receive "two [Purple Hearts] in one day," but received them in December 1968, February 1969, and March 1969. The wound from the second Purple Heart left shrapnel in his left thigh that still resides there today. (Interestingly enough, when the cameras are off, Dole, after making his pronouncement that "there's got to be some truth to the charges," says to CNN's Wolf Blitzer of Kerry's charges, "You should be ashamed. He was right." Apparently Dole lacks the integrity to come out publicly and voice his objections. Also, in February 2004, Dole said flatly of Kerry, "senator Kerry is a war hero.")
- The Kerry campaign has also found three other Swift Boat veterans, Rich McCann, Jim Russell and Rich Baker, who served with Kerry in Vietnam and are willing to discuss their memories of serving with Kerry. "He was the most aggressive officer in charge of Swift boats," says Baker. "With no disrespect to anyone out there, the whole Swift boat operation took courage and guts every time you stepped on those boats. But John Kerry was one step above the rest of us." And after Bush again refused to denouce the SBVT attack ads, instead saying only that he denounces all such 527-produced ads, Kerry's running mate John Edwards lashes back: "Today, George Bush faced his moment of truth and he failed. He failed to condemn the specific attacks on John Kerry's military record. We didn't need to hear a politician's answer, but unfortunately that's what we got." Retired admiral Roy Hoffmann, a founder of the anti-Kerry group, says in response, "It would make no difference if John Kerry were a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, Swift Boat Veterans would still be speaking the truth concerning John Kerry's military service record in Vietnam, his actions after returning home and his lack of qualifications to be the next Commander in Chief." This is hard to believe considering the fact that the group is almost completely funded by Texas Republicans, headed by John O'Neill, a Republican who has been a bitter political opponent of Kerry since at least 1971, and a raft of connections between the group and the Bush campaign has been proven. Both Baker and McCann say that the SBVT claims of their "neutrality" in the upcoming election are wrong: both are former Bush voters who intend to vote for Kerry this time. McCann says he has demanded that the SBVT remove his name from their Web site for a month, without results.
- Kerry's former crewmate Del Sandusky says at a news conference that he witnessed the combat missions for which Kerry received Silver and Bronze stars and two of his three Purple Hearts. "He deserved every one of his medals," Sandusky says. "William Sweidel, a decorated Korean War veteran who appeared with Sandusky, says that he voted for both Bushes for president but will support Kerry because of these attacks. "I called the campaign to express outrage. I was disappointed. I was diminished," Sweidel says. "Nobody was talking about how it was hurting all veterans to have them criticize Kerry's medals. The whole system is now suspect based on what these people are saying. It's pernicious." Phil Butler, who spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, took issue with suggestions by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that Kerry's antiwar protests caused the POWs to be treated badly. "I lived with two of the POWs who are now in that group -- Mr. [Ken] Courdier and Mr. [Paul] Gallanti -- and I am telling you, they are full of it. We never heard a blooming thing about John Kerry while we were there," says Butler, who contacted the campaign months ago to support Kerry and only recently heard back from Kerry's veterans coordinator, John Hurley.
- Baker says he thinks that Dole's critical comments about Kerry's medals were inappropriate and that Dole had no "business" judging the injuries for which Kerry received three Purple Hearts. "John Kerry is lucky to be alive today," Baker says. "The fourth Purple Heart could have been an AK-47 through his heart." McCann says that he tried to stay out of politics but that when he saw that the SBVT had identified him on its Web site as being "neutral" on Kerry without asking him, he was furious. Kerry's commendation record "has stood for 35 years and suddenly you've got people coming forward saying, 'Well, I've had second thoughts about this,'" McCann says. "That is dishonoring not only John Kerry, it is dishonoring all veterans." In a follow-up CNN interview, Dole indirectly admits that his comments are politically motivated. Discussing a phone call he received from Kerry about his earlier statements, Dole relates, "I said, 'John, I didn't mean to offend you.' But I said, 'You know, when you continue to attack George Bush...you know, George Bush is my guy.' ...The final words were 'John, I wish you good luck up to a point.'" (New York Times/Truthout, Washington Post, USA Today/Navy Times, MSNBC, Wall Street Journal/Buzzflash)
- August 23: Terry Musser, a Republican state representative, longtime chairman of the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, and the co-chairman of Wisconsin Veterans for Bush, says he is disgusted by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's attacks on John Kerry's service. "I just think it's wrong," says Musser. "[Kerry] was there. He did it. My opinion is that anybody who served anywhere is a hero. And we should not as a nation be trying to tear down people who served and are serving." Musser, a veteran, says Bush should repudiate the SBVT's ads attacking Kerry's service. As for Kerry's mistaken recollection that he was in Cambodia during the 1968 Christmas season (he was in Cambodia in January 1969), Musser says, "Kerry was saying he was in Cambodia, and you have some of the other ones saying he wasn't in Cambodia. It's like, who do you want to believe. I was in the Central Highlands. They could have sent us into Laos. I wouldn't have had a clue. There are no signs saying, 'Welcome to Thailand,' 'Welcome to Vietnam.' Just imagine going up and down any river how easy of a target you are. He was there." Of Kerry's Purple Hearts, Musser is adamant. "Even if you happen to be running into a bunker and hit your head on it during a mortar attack. I knew a guy who got a Purple Heart that way. Is it related to an enemy action? Yeah, you're trying to get the heck out of the road." Musser is strongly opposed to Kerry's antiwar activities after he returned from Vietnam, and says he is amused by Democrats and liberal commentators who have praised his statements criticizing the SBVT. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel/Truthout)
- August 23: Author and media specialist Michael Tomasky says the entire approach of the media towards the Swift Boat Veterans controversy is backwards. Instead of concentrating on the minutiae of Kerry's service, Tomasky writes, the media should be focusing on where Bush and Cheney were in 1968. Using a recent Washington Post dissection of Kerry's tour as a Swift Boat commander as an example, Tomasky writes that "what the story actually proves is that a bunch of liars who have in the past contradicted their own current statements can, if their lies are outrageous enough and if they have enough money, control the media agenda and get even the most respected media outlets in the country to focus on picayune 'truths' while missing the larger story."
- The basic truth of the matter is simple: "John Kerry volunteered for the Navy, volunteered to go to Vietnam, and then, when he was sitting around Cam Ranh Bay bored with nothing to do, requested the most dangerous duty a Naval officer could be given. He saved a man's life. He risked his own every time he went up into the Mekong Delta. He did more than his country asked. In fact he didn't even wait for his country to ask. George W. Bush spent those same years in a state of dissolution at Yale, and would go on, as we know, to plot how to get out of going to Southeast Asia. On that subject, here's a choice quote. 'I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment,' Bush told the Dallas Morning News in 1990. 'Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes.'" That quote, telling as it is, is not being shared with the country's voters. Bush makes it clear that he joined the Guard for the express purpose of dodging service in Vietnam. Kerry volunteered to go. Bush pulled strings to make sure he did not go. That, argues Tomasky, is the real story. "And note how the choice was about bettering himself, not about thinking of a way to best render service that this child of privilege might -- had he been possessed of the moral fiber and sense of duty of, say, John Kerry -- have considered his obligation, especially considering that, on paper at least, he supported the war," Tomasky writes.
- Both Bush and Cheney supported the war -- from afar. Cheney's story is perhaps even more egregrious. He took four student deferments to stay out of Vietnam, and even timed his marriage and the birth of his first child, Elizabeth, to take advantage of deferments that gave preference to married family men over single men. "What a happily timed burst of passion he and Lynn were consumed by!" Tomasky writes. "so, while Kerry was plying the Mekong Delta, Cheney was safe and dry stateside, dropping out of Yale because his grades weren't sufficient to maintain the scholarship the school had offered him." Cheney told the Senate during his confirmation hearings as George H.W. Bush's defense secretary that he "had other priorities" than serving his country in Vietnam. He also said that he "would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." However, the evidence shows that Cheney did everything he could not to be called up for service. "[I]s it really Kerry who deserves scrutiny for how he behaved in 1968 and 1969?" Tomasky writes. "Why shouldn't the major media be doing comparisons of how Kerry, Bush, and Cheney passed those years? Why shouldn't the Washington Post be devoting 2,700 words to a comprehensive look at Cheney's deferments? ...But the Washington Post won't do that, because there exists no Vietnam Veterans for the Truth About Deferments, financed by wealthy Democratic donors and out peddling its wares. ...Our media can sort through the facts in front of their nose and determine, at least some of the time, who's lying and who's not. But they are completely incapable of taking a step back and describing the larger reality. Doing that would require making judgments that are supposedly subjective rather than objective; but the larger reality here is clearer than clear. Just imagine if the situation were reversed: The same people now questioning Kerry's 'character' would have worked to establish Bush as a war hero long ago. They would have labeled Kerry a coward. If by chance a liberal-backed group came forward to question Bush's wartime actions, they would have been called traitors and worse. And the mainstream media would be following the agenda they set every step of the way."
- Tomasky concludes, "You'd think a press corps that has now officially acknowledged that it was had by this administration on the pre-Iraq war propaganda would think twice before letting itself get used one more time. You'd think, for example, that if the editors of the Washington Post were planning 2,700-word takeouts, they might have given priority to an investigation into ties between the White House and the Swift Boat group. If the conventions of mainstream journalism prevent our media from letting readers, viewers, and listeners examine the full truth in its broadest context, then it's time to reexamine those conventions. Until that happens, people who are willing to say anything, and who have the money to back them up, will be setting the agenda, and the media -- once upon a time, a guardian of our democratic traditions -- will be following them." (American Prospect)
- August 23: The GOP is walking a fine line in the battleground state of Ohio, where on the one hand, the state and national parties want to do everything possible to encourage voter turnout on November 2, and on the other, want to distance the Bush campaign from the charges of corruption plaguing the administration of Republican governor Bob Taft. Two GOP consultants to Republican House speaker Larry Householder, Brett Buerck and Kyle Sisk, have become emblems of the systematic corruption and criminality running rampant through Ohio's GOP. Buerck, Sisk, and others have been routinely held up for public ridicule as campaign strategy e-mails from them hit the headlines; in Washington Post John Harris's words, the strategies combine the worst tendencies of "H.R. Haldeman and Barney Fife." The e-mails talk gloatingly of "empire building" and "guerrilla warfare," indulge in scurrilous attacks on a number of state officials, including Blackwell and Taft, and brag openly of collecting huge, and illegal, consulting fees and kickbacks and their inclusion of illegal corporate donations into Ohio elections. "People have gotten caught up in having power for power's sake," says Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell, a personal and political rival of Householder's. "When people don't feel passionate that Republicans can and will make a difference, that makes the president's job that much more difficult." Herbert Asher, a political scientist at Ohio University, notes, "Here in Ohio, you can point to one-party control at the state level and one-party control at the national level, so if you are a voter who is not happy and you want someone to point the finger at, there's just not that many Democrats to blame." To that end, the Bush campaign has distanced itself from Governor Taft and other state Republicans caught up in the ongoing and expanding corruption investigations. (Washington Post)
- August 23: Former Republican field director Nadia Naffe is suing the Florida Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, and the Bush campaign for discrimination over her firing. Naffe, the only African-American field director for the Florida GOP, was fired in April 2004 after complaining that she was only being assigned to work with black organizations, events, and issues. She says she was told by her supervisors, "You understand your people." She refused the assignments and was labeled as insubordinate and "not a team player." The lawsuit says she contacted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and was soon after fired. "Instead of true conservatism, she found herself faced with discrimination and intolerance. And instead of compassion, she found retaliation," says her lawyer. (AP/Left Coaster)
- August 23: Author Thomas Frank, who recently published his analysis of liberalism and conservatism in America's "heartland" titled What's the Matter With Kansas?, discusses the evolution of agrarian populism in his home state of Kansas into rather radical conservatism, lured by the siren call of the right wing to vote against their own interests. He writes, "If Kansas is the concentrated essence of normality, then this is where we can see the deranged gradually become normal, where we can look in that handsome, confident, reassuring, all-American face -- class president, quarterback, Rhodes scholar, bond trader, builder of industry -- and realize that we are staring into the eyes of a lunatic." He says that Democrats have abandoned the working-class populism of former years and become vulnerable to a range of hot-button "wedge" issues while refusing to once again stand for the common man and truly traditional American values. If the Democrats don't reinvent themselves, Frank warns, "Kansas is ready to lead us singing into the apocalypse. It invites us all to join in, to lay down our lives so that others might cash out at the top; to renounce forever our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness." (Buzzflash)