Highlights of This Page
Hastert purges House Ethics Committee to help DeLay. Bush resubmits 12 rejected nominees to the federal appeals courts. Appellate court rules that Cooper, Miller must testify in Plame leak case. Negroponte named as first Director of National Intelligence.
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
- February 1: The World Bank holds a closed, secret meeting to discuss Iraq's economy. In coordination with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank officials decide to slash its subsidies for the provision of food and fuel to Iraqi citizens, a decision that further devastates the Iraqi economy already caught in a tremendous depression. (Greg Palast)
Hastert purges House Ethics Committee to help DeLay
- February 2: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert takes the unprecedented step of purging the House Ethics Committee of any Republican who might actually show an interest in investigating House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for a raft of criminal and ethical violations. Chairman Joel Hefley and fellow committee members Kenny Hulshof and Steven LaTourette are removed, Hulshof presided over the investigative subcommittee that is charged with investigating DeLay, and earned the speaker's ire when he objected, along with LaTourette, to changes by the House leadership that weakened Congress's ethics rules. Hastert, of course, spins a different tale about why the three were removed. Through his spokesman John Feehery, he says that Hefley had been removed because he was at the end of the time he could serve under House rules, a limitation that could easily be waived by Hastert. As for Hulshof, Feehery says, "It wasn't really removing him. It was more like relieving him of his duty. The speaker doesn't like to have people who are such talented legislators like him have to spend so much time on ethics." Hulshof tells a different story. "I believe the decision was a direct result of our work in the last session," he tells reporters. He had asked Hastert to be allowed to stay, and notes that the Republicans who remain on the committee had actually served longer. LaTourette says, "I think clearly he changed the makeup of the committee because people were for whatever reason not happy with the committee." Two of the new Republican members, Lamar Smith and Tom Cole, contributed generously to DeLay's legal defense fund. The Washington Post observes, "Mr. Smith and Mr. Cole could well be called on to judge Mr. DeLay's conduct, because the committee postponed any action on Mr. DeLay's fundraising activities during the state probe. It will be incumbent on them, and on the panel's new chair, to demonstrate their diligence and independence despite the intense political pressure they are likely to face." (Washington Post)
- February 4: Bush explains how he intends to "save" Social Security: "Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red." (Greg Palast)
"You work three jobs? ...Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." -- George W. Bush, to a divorced mother of three, February 4, 2005
- February 5: Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the UN and a close friend of the Bush family, visits the White House with some electrifying news: he thinks he knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding, and has a plan to kill him. An Afghan had walked into the Saudi embassy in Pakistan and said he knew where bin Laden was hiding. He offered to point out the exact location on a map. In return, since he was endangering the lives of himself and his family by passing along such information, he asks that he and his family be taken to Saudi Arabia to live. The Saudis, after doing some preliminary investigations, believe the Afghan to be credible, and they make the deal for asylum. The position on the map seems plausible. Bandar tells Bush that the Saudis plan on sending a military or intelligence unit to the area and get bin Laden. "We;re not going to go through a trial," Bandar explains. "We get him, we kill him. Get it over with." Bush approves, saying, "Go ahead. I could care less." Bandar doesn't get along with the CIA director, Porter Goss, so he contacts Rob Richer, the CIA division chief for the Near East and South Asia. "We're going to Pakistan," Bandar informs Richer. "I can't take orders from you," Richer replies. But almost instantly, Richer gets his orders through the proper channels. He and another expert from the CIA soon fly to Pakistan on Bandar's plane. Once there, Richer begins an evaluation. The results are disappointing. The Afghan walk-in is well known to both the CIA and Britain's MI-6 as a known fraud who has tried selling this scam before. Why hadn't the Saudis and the local CIA agents been able to figure all this out before lighting a fire under Washington? Richer asks. "Because nobody ever shares sources with anybody," says one of the people involved. "That is standard modus operandi. He was a fabricator. He was looking for money basically." The operation is a bust. (Bob Woodward)
- February 8: A team of Bush administration agents, including CIA operatives, search the files of former senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson in order to destroy evidence. Richard Perle, under investigation for passing classified intelligence to Israel, is a former Jackson staff member. (Seattle Times/Daily Kos)
- February 10: Philip Zelikow returns from Iraq with his assessment of the situation. Zelikow, sent by his friend and colleague Condoleezza Rice, is a historian and co-author of a book with Rice along with other books, and had recently completed a controversial term as executive director of the 9/11 commission. Rice trusts Zelikow; he had the license to go anywhere and ask anyone anything. His report, classified as secret, goes directly to the new secretary of state, and is quite grim. Although the January elections that had so buoyed the White House were indeed a landmark success in Iraqi history, the country is still on the verge of civil war and chaos, Zelikow reports. He calls Iraq "a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary change." The concept of Iraq as a "failed state" is shocking to Rice -- a nation doesn't get any worse than that in geopolitical terms. (Rice later buffs Zelikow's words, saying that Iraq was in danger of becoming a failed state.) Though the insurgency is "being contained militarily," Zelikow writes, it is still "quite active," leaving Iraqi citizens feeling "very insecure." Little has changed in the US Green Zone since the imperial days of Paul Bremer, with personnel still very limited in their mobility and insulated from the realities of the rest of the country. The Sunnis feel more disconnected than ever from their country, and pose a "danger of a backlash."
- The US must expand its influence from Baghdad to be more effective throughout the country, and overcome this disconnected insularity resulting from being holed up in the Green Zone. "[T]he was can certainly be lost in Baghdad," Zelikow writes, "but the war can only be won in the cities and provinces outside Baghdad." He urges that the coalition empower provincial and local authorities to improve security and intelligence, and proposes the creation of Regional Security Teams of military and civilian personnel. These would replace the current patchwork, ad hoc teams from military headquarters, regional embassy offices, and the State Department.
- Zelikow is impressed with the approach taken by Major General Peter Chiarelli, the commander of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, who supports what the military calls "full-spectrum operations" -- Chiarelli's soldiers don't just do typical infantry tasks like killing insurgents, but also work on civil projects that help the local residents. Chiarelli's soldiers do everything from helping citizens hook up their homes to local sewer lines to picking up debris. Zelikow writes that Chiarelli's approach is the one best suited to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi populace, and that the US occupation forces must do everything possible to restore full electricity and fuel availability to the citizenry.
- Money for police training is lacking, Zelikow notes; critical reconstruction is lagging far behind schedule; Kirkuk, the largely Kurdish city that straddles major oil fields, is a powder keg; the banking system is a mess; the agriculture system is a Soviet-era relic; and no real Iraqi justice system exists.
- Overall, Zelikow writes, the US is failing in Iraq because it lacks an articulated, comprehensive, unified policy.
- Zelikow is saying everything Rice believes to be true. She feels a sense of personal responsibility for Iraq, being one of only two people Bush asked for their opinion before declaring the invasion of Iraq, and Rice has been in on the planning for the Iraq invasion and occupation since the beginning. "I own Iraq," she says. "I have to operate that way. I was part of the team that made the decision." The State Department efforts in Iraq were inadequate, and not enough consideration is being given to the political aspects of the counterinsurgency fight. The US has to make a concerted effort to win hearts and minds at the local levels. (Bob Woodward)
- February 12: The media watchdog organization FAIR publishes a cogent commentary by senior analyst and author Steve Rendell summing up how the Fairness Doctrine was lost and why it is necessary for it to be reinstated. In 1969, the US Supreme Court, upholding the Fairness Doctrine in the case Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, wrote, "A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a...frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount. ...[The Fairness Doctrine] is the single most important requirement of operation in the public interest -- the sine qua non for grant of a renewal of license." FAIR sums up the rationale behind the doctrine thusly: "The necessity for the Fairness Doctrine, according to proponents, arises from the fact that there are many fewer broadcast licenses than people who would like to have them. Unlike publishing, where the tools of the trade are in more or less endless supply, broadcasting licenses are limited by the finite number of available frequencies. Thus, as trustees of a scarce public resource, licensees accept certain public interest obligations in exchange for the exclusive use of limited public airwaves. One such obligation was the Fairness Doctrine, which was meant to ensure that a variety of views, beyond those of the licensees and those they favored, were heard on the airwaves. (Since cable's infrastructure is privately owned and cable channels can, in theory, be endlessly multiplied, the FCC does not put public interest requirements on that medium.) The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials. Formally adopted as an FCC rule in 1949 and repealed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan's pro-broadcaster FCC, the doctrine can be traced back to the early days of broadcast regulation." As far back as the Radio Act of 1927, Congress mandated that broadcasts be provided with fairness and balance to a variety of social and political viewpoints.
- The Fairness Doctrine never mandated that every program be internally balanced, nor did it mandate equal time for opposing points of view. It never required that the balance of a station's programming be anything close to 50/50. And, in spite of what Rush Limbaugh claims, the Fairness Doctrine never stood in the way of the domination of the radio airwaves by conservative talk show hosts -- in fact, not one doctrine-based decision from the FCC ever concerned itself with talk shows. Not one conservative talk show host or commentator was ever "muzzled" or forced off the air by any doctrine-based rulings. As Rendell writes, "The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views." Far from restricting freedom of speech, as was alleged in the Red Lion case and by a plethora of conservative talk show hosts such as Limbaugh, the doctrine was found time and again to actually advance freedom of speech. "There is no sanctuary in the First Amendment for unlimited private censorship operating in a medium not open to all," wrote conservative Supreme Court justice Byron White. The Media Access Project observed in 1994, "The Supreme Court unanimously found [the Fairness Doctrine] advances First Amendment values. It safeguards the public's right to be informed on issues affecting our democracy, while also balancing broadcasters' rights to the broadest possible editorial discretion." Many different sides of the political spectrum were allowed to express their views over the nation's airwaves under the doctrine, and it was supported by groups from the left and right, including the ACLU, the NRA, and the hard-right Accuracy in Media.
- Basically, the doctrine allowed for aggrieved citizens who felt a station was improperly airing only one side of an issue to have the opportunity to force that station to air opposing viewpoints. "Reasonable opportunity for presentation of opposing points of view" was the relevant phrase. If a station disagreed with the complaint, feeling that an adequate range of views had already been presented, the decision would be appealed to the FCC for a judgment. According to Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of MAP, scheduling response time was based on time of day, frequency and duration of the original perspective. "If one view received a lot of coverage in primetime," says Schwartzman, "then at least some response time would have to be in primetime. Likewise if one side received many short spots or really long spots." But the remedy did not amount to equal time; the ratio of airtime between the original perspective and the response "could be as much as five to one," says Schwartzman. Rendell writes, "As a guarantor of balance and inclusion, the Fairness Doctrine was no panacea. It was somewhat vague, and depended on the vigilance of listeners and viewers to notice imbalance. But its value, beyond the occasional remedies it provided, was in its codification of the principle that broadcasters had a responsibility to present a range of views on controversial issues."
- The entire premise of the doctrine is a sensitivity to opposing points of view, and the refusal of the government to countenance the domination of one point of view -- liberal or conservative, secular or religious -- on the nation's airwaves. That viewpoint was challenged by the platoons of anti-regulatory extremists brought in under Ronald Reagan. Reagan's FCC head was Mark Fowler, a former broadcast industry lawyer called "the James Watt of the FCC." Fowler is famous for calling television "a toaster with pictures," and expressing his contempt for any regulation whatsoever of the airwaves. To Fowler, the medium should be almost entirely market-based. The one restriction Fowler and his deregulators approved of was the continuance of licenses for broadcasters, a necessity to avoid a chaos of broadcasters competing for the same bandwidth. But only regulation for corporate convenience was considered appropriate, not regulation for the public good. Fowler and his colleagues on the commission, most of whom like himself were Reagan appointees, revived the old argument that the doctrine violated the first amendment by giving government a modicum of editorial control over broadcasters. And, they argued, the doctrine actually worked to stymie free debate, because stations who feared license challenges because of problems over response time and content. Fowler's FCC simply stopped enforcing the doctrine years before the commission formally revoked it. In 1986 a controversial decision by circuit court judges Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, both Reagan appointees, ruled that the Fairness Doctrine had never actually been a law as part of the 1959 Communications Act. "We do not believe that language adopted in 1959 made the Fairness Doctrine a binding statutory obligation," Bork wrote, because the doctrine was imposed "under," not "by" the Communications Act of 1934. Bork and Scalia held that the 1959 amendment established that the FCC could apply the doctrine, but was not obliged to do so -- that keeping the rule or scuttling it was simply a matter of FCC discretion. "The decision contravened 25 years of FCC holdings that the doctrine had been put into law in 1959," MAP responded. The doctrine was dead, and in 1987 was repealed by the FCC under new chairman Dennis Patrick, a former Reagan White House aide. A bill to reinstate the doctrine passed Congress but was vetoed by Reagan in 1988; another attempt to reinstate the doctrine failed in 1991 when George H.W. Bush threatened another veto.
- It isn't hard to see how the landscape of political coverage in the media has changed since the 1980s. Most political viewpoints aired by mainstream broadcasters reflect a center-right or hard-right viewpoint, when they are aired at all -- since the demise of the doctrine, American broadcasters provide much less political and social coverage, period. Television news and public affairs programming has declined markedly on both a national and local level, even with the advent of such national cable news networks as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. 25% of broadcast stations don't bother to offer any news or public affairs programming at all. And almost all of the opinion on the airwaves is conservatively oriented. Most cities and population centers have nothing except conservative talk broadcast to them, and are given only the option to listen to conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Michael Reagan, among others. A favorite local format is called "Hot Talk," packaging one right-wing commentator after another with nothing else offered. Disney-owned KSFO in San Francisco is a good example of this kind of programming. Lawyer Edward Monks studied the offerings of talk radio in his town, Eugene, Oregon, and found that listeners got 80 hours a week of conservative and Republican talk programming, and zero of liberal or Democratic programming. Monks says that his studies have proven that Eugene is all too representative. "Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society," he says. "There is nothing fair, balanced or democratic about it." (FAIR/CommonDreams)
Bush resubmits 12 rejected nominees to the federal appeals courts
- February 14: Bush formally resubmits twelve controversial nominees to lifetime seats on the federal appeals courts. These re-nominations include several individuals who were blocked by the Senate during the last Congress because of their extreme views on environmental and other issues, including former mining and beef industry lobbyist William Myers. "President Bush picked Valentine's Day to send a message of confrontation to the Senate," says Earthjustice's Glenn Sugameli. "He apparently has no intention of trying to heal the wounds he caused when he nominated these individuals the first time around, after it became clear that their records showed a pattern of clear and unjustifiable hostility to environmental protections." (Judging the Environment)
Appellate court rules that Cooper, Miller must testify in Plame leak case
- February 15: A three-judge appeals court panel rules unanimously that reporters Judith Miller and Matt Cooper must testify before the grand jury of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in regards to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. "There is no First Amendment privilege protecting the evidence sought," rules the majority. In a concurring opinion, Clinton appointee David Tatel says that while 49 states and the District of Columbia have some version of journalistic "shield laws" protecting journalists from testifying about their sources, there is no such federal statute. In ten redacted pages of Tatel's opinion not presented to the public until a year later, Tatel discusses at length the grand jury testimony already given that Fitzgerald used to demonstrate his need for Miller's and Cooper's testimony, and Tatel concludes that on balance, Fitzgerald's need for information outweighs the reporters' need to protect their sources. The leak of Plame's name had "marginal news value," Tatel writes, but compelling the reporters to identify their sources is "essential" to "remedying a serious breach of the public trust." Tatel notes that Fitzgerald already has testimony that contradicts Lewis Libby's grand jury testimony, and observes, "The special counsel appears already to have at least circumstantial grounds for a perjury charge." Tatel notes that perjury "is itself a crime with national security implications." Both Time and the New York Times say they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
- Suddenly the New York Times's Miller, whose reputation is in tatters for enthusiastically spreading administration-sourced propaganda that helped make the case for war against Iraq, is now transformed into a First Amendment crusader. "I have to be willing to go to prison," she tells CNN. "I think the principles in this case are so important to the functioning of a free press and to the confidentiality of sources that I just have to be willing to do that." Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for a Free Press, says, "This has rehabilitated her image a bit." But behind the united front presented by the Times, uncertainties abound. Miller doesn't trust executive editor Bill Keller after Keller's May 2004 editorial questioning Miller's WMD reporting. She isn't sure Keller will go to the mat for a reporter who was so deeply embedded with the Bush White House. And some reporters question the entire issue. The Washington Post's David Ignatius notes that with the possibility of perjury charges against Miller's White House source (Libby, though Ignatius does not know this), "Does a reporter's confidentiality agreement extend to protecting a cover up?"
- Miller has retained her own lawyer, Washington insider Robert Bennett, who represented Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones trial and, years before, represented Casper Weinberger during the Iran-Contra scandal, after being told by another lawyer to remember that Floyd Abrams, the Times lawyer handling the Supreme Court appeal, is representing the Times's interests and not necessarily hers. After Bennett informs her that she could be cited for civil comtempt in refusing to testify, as well as a criminal contempt charge that could land her up to five years in jail, Miller leaves the meeting with Bennett terrified, wondering just how close her interests are to the Times's. As for Cooper, he has no desire to be any sort of crusader. After the appeals court rules against him, he says, "You'd have to be catatonic not to be unsettled by the prospect of a jail sentence. Great career move? I had a pretty good career already." (Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
Negroponte named as first Director of National Intelligence
- February 17: Bush announces that John Negroponte, the US ambassador to Iraq and a veteran of Central American diplomatic and intelligence operations, is to become the first Director of National Intelligence. Negroponte is a disturbing choice, largely because of his extensive connections to the Iran-Contra scandal and his work with right-wing Central American "death squads." Bush and his advisors want the right person for the job, someone who knows both diplomacy and intelligence, and someone not wedded to a particular bureaucracy, either State or Defense or one of the intelligence agencies. And they had to find someone who won't allow another WMD-style intelligence fiasco. For his part, Negroponte is tired of Iraq and wants to come home. Chief of Staff Andrew Card tells Negroponte that the job is so new he can put his own personal stamp on it -- craft the job for directors to come. "How many chances do you have in the US government to build an institution?" Card asks. Bush has few candidates for the job, and he, along with his advisors and staff, feel that Negroponte is far and away the best choice for the position. And unlike so many of the arrogant, bullying officials peppered throughout the Bush administration and in Iraq, Negroponte is tough but smooth, and knows how to handle confrontation without escalating. Bush will name Zalmay Khalilzad as Negroponte's replacement in Iraq. (Bob Woodward)
- February 17: Flushed with the victory of the 2004 elections, Bush political handler Karl Rove issues what authors James Moore and Wayne Slater call "a trumpet call of conquest" to the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. "Four decades ago," Rove intones, "the Republican Party and our movement were relegated to the political wilderness. And today, Republicans and conservatives control the White House, the Senate, the House, the majority of governorships and more state legislative seats than we've had in the last 80 years. That's a pretty remarkable rise." To the cheers of the crowd, Rove promises a total "realignment of American politics."
- Rove's permanent "realignment" is well underway. In 1964, Democrats held 68 Senate seats, 295 House seats, and 33 governorships. Today, Republicans hold 55 Senate seats, 232 House seats, and 28 governorships. Republicans have won 7 of the last 10 presidential elections. "We have seen the rise of a great cause and a powerful movement," he thunders. "Next time one of your smarty pants liberal friends says to you, 'Well, [Bush] didn't have a mandate,' you tell him this delicious fact: This president got a higher percentage of the vote than any Democratic candidate for president since 1964." But the work is just beginning, Rove says. "As the governing party of America, Republicans cannot grow tired or timid. We have a future to make, a nation to renew, values to protect, and an agenda to enact."
- As Bush's deputy chief of staff, Rove is now officially the political filter for every policy decision coming out of the White House. Every single policy decision goes through Rove, who passes or denies it based on its political advantage. As Rove is fond of saying, winning is a process, not an event. The nation's leading theorist on political alignment, Walter Dean Burnham of the University of Texas, says the 2004 elections are historic because they consolidated years of Republican gains. "The whole approach was, we don't want to bother doing the squishy soft middle-of-the-road stuff to try to lure the median voter to our side. That's been orthodox doctrine for political scientists and also for politicians for many decades. And in 2004, it seems this doctrine was simply overthrown." He continues, "What Rove and his friends did this time is say, Let's go out and mobilize the base and forget about the middle, and they were very successful in that. This mobilization of the base represents a clean break with successful political strategies that go back all the way to the early part of the twentieth century. Typically, when you have that kind of thing, you have very high turnout. You get this sense that you're in Armageddon, fighting for the Lord. ...If Republicans keep playingthe religious card along with the terrorism card, this could last a long time." (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." -- George W. Bush, February 22, 2005