Saturday, April 19, 2008

FT: McCain Facing Hypocrisy Accusations

The champion in fighting earmarks and special interests is subject to assusations of hypocrisy . On Friday, Sen. McCain released his tax records making McCain the last of the candidates to do so. However, McCain neglected to disclose his wife's tax records. Cindy McCain is "the heiress to a large Arizona beer distribution company, whose wealth is estimated at more than $100m."

The Financial Times' Andrew Ward reports:

John McCain on Friday faced accusations of hypocrisy for failing to disclose his wife’s tax records, despite his promise to bring greater transparency and accountability to government.

The Arizona senator declared income of $419,731 in 2007 – a fraction of the multi-million dollar earnings reported by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rivals.

But the disclosure excluded the income of his wife, Cindy, the heiress to a large Arizona beer distribution company, whose wealth is estimated at more than $100m (€63.5m, £50.2m).

Mrs Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, this month reported joint income of $20.4m for 2007, while Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, declared $4.2m.

Presidential candidates are under no obligation to release tax records but it has become customary to do so as a signal of transparency.

This year’s disclosures have come at a sensitive moment. Amid a sharp slowdown in the US economy, the candidates are out to prove who is most attuned to the concerns of voters.

Mr McCain and Mrs Clinton have both sought to portray Mr Obama as an “elitist” since his remarks about “bitter” small-town voters.

Mr McCain is considered one of the wealthiest members of Congress because of his wife’s fortune. The McCain campaign said the couple had kept separate finances throughout their 27-year marriage, and that Mrs McCain would not release her tax records in order to protect their children’s privacy.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, described the excuse as a “red herring” and said presidential candidates and their families must accept close scrutiny.

“McCain has been the most outspoken about ethics so he is held to a particularly high standard of transparency,” she said, predicting that Mrs McCain would eventually be forced to disclose her records.

In 2004, John Kerry, the then-Democratic presidential nominee, initially refused to make public the tax returns of his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, heir to a $500m fortune, until three weeks before the election.

Mr McCain’s income included a Senate salary of $161,708 and $176,508 in book royalties. The 71-year-old, who would be the oldest first-term president if elected, also received a navy pension of $58,358 and Social Security income of $23,157.

Mr Obama’s household income jumped from $991,296 to $4.2m last year – most of it from book sales – as he launched his bid for the presidency.

The Clintons’ disclosure showed that they earned $109m over the past eight years – mostly from Mr Clinton’s books and speeches – representing a sharp turnround from the heavy debts and legal bills they faced after leaving the White House.

Ad Watch: Clinton/ALP

This ad is airing in Pennsylvania over the final weekend ahead of Tuesday's primary. The ad is paid for by the American Leadership Project, a pro-Clinton 527 group.

Monsanto, Inc.

A great independent French documentary exposing US special interests that have subjected consumers world-wide to severe health risks.

Sunday Talking Heads Preview

This Week with George Stephanopoulos
--Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace
--Sen. Charles Schumer, Clinton Backer
--Sen. Dick Durbin, Obama campaign co-chair
--Karl Rove, Republican Strategist

Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer

--Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Obama Backer
--Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., Clinton Backer
--Joe Trippi, Democratic Strategist

Meet The Press with Tim Russert
--Chief Strategist David Axelrod, Obama Campaign
--Chief Strategist Geoff Garin, Clinton Campaign

The 'Disinformation' Campaign

(Source: New York Times)
The New York Times' David Barstow provides a breath of fresh air
in a day in age when the media has become obsessed and over-run by spoon fed half-truths emanating from a select few recycled talking heads with many questionable ties and interests. In fact, his most recent article sheds light on Barstow's counterparts that I have just mentioned. Barstow exposes the Bush Administration's campaign of, what Soviet propagandists use to call 'disinformation.'

I've embedded the full text below, but as it is a lengthy read, I suggest reading it HERE.

April 20, 2008
Message Machine
Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. “The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

It was, Mr. Whitman added, “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct of the war. Several, like Jeffrey D. McCausland, a CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage that touched on business interests.

“I’m not here representing the administration,” Dr. McCausland said.

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said. And whatever the contributions of military analysts, they also noted the many network journalists who have covered the war for years in all its complexity.

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

“Good work,” Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general, consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving fresh talking points in late 2006. “We will use it.”

Again and again, records show, the administration has enlisted analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents. For example, when news articles revealed that troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor, a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues: “I think our analysts — properly armed — can push back in that arena.”

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

John C. Garrett is a retired Army colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional materials, he states that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Mr. Garrett’s special access and decades of experience helped him “to know in advance — and in detail — how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies.

In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between his dual roles. He said he had gotten “information you just otherwise would not get,” from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to identify opportunities for clients. “You can’t help but look for that,” he said, adding, “If you know a capability that would fill a niche or need, you try to fill it. “That’s good for everybody.”

At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio commentary. “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay,” he wrote in January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge strategy in Iraq.

Conversely, the administration has demonstrated that there is a price for sustained criticism, many analysts said. “You’ll lose all access,” Dr. McCausland said.

With a majority of Americans calling the war a mistake despite all administration attempts to sway public opinion, the Pentagon has focused in the last couple of years on cultivating in particular military analysts frequently seen and heard in conservative news outlets, records and interviews show.

Some of these analysts were on the mission to Cuba on June 24, 2005 — the first of six such Guantánamo trips — which was designed to mobilize analysts against the growing perception of Guantánamo as an international symbol of inhumane treatment. On the flight to Cuba, for much of the day at Guantánamo and on the flight home that night, Pentagon officials briefed the 10 or so analysts on their key messages — how much had been spent improving the facility, the abuse endured by guards, the extensive rights afforded detainees.

The results came quickly. The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.

“The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false,” Donald W. Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, reported live on CNN by phone from Guantánamo that same afternoon.

The next morning, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army general and NBC analyst, appeared on “Today.” “There’s been over $100 million of new construction,” he reported. “The place is very professionally run.”

Within days, transcripts of the analysts’ appearances were circulated to senior White House and Pentagon officials, cited as evidence of progress in the battle for hearts and minds at home.

Charting the Campaign

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”

Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were trifling compared with what Ms. Clarke’s team had in mind. Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. “We didn’t want to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Mr. Meyer said.

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Rather than complain about the “media filter,” each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time, Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be “writing the op-ed” for the war.

Assembling the Team

From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names. Ms. Clarke’s team wrote summaries describing their backgrounds, business affiliations and where they stood on the war.

“Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” said Mr. Krueger, who left the Pentagon in 2004. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment for this article.)

Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.

Several were defense industry lobbyists, such as Dr. McCausland, who works at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. “We offer clients access to key decision makers,” Dr. McCausland’s team promised on the firm’s Web site.

Dr. McCausland was not the only analyst making this pledge. Another was Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general. Soon after signing on with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William Cohen, himself now a “world affairs” analyst for CNN. “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market — whether in the United States or abroad — requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers,” the company tells prospective clients on its Web site.

There were also ideological ties.

Two of NBC’s most prominent analysts, Barry R. McCaffrey and the late Wayne A. Downing, were on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein. Both men also had their own consulting firms and sat on the boards of major military contractors.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”

The Selling of the War

From their earliest sessions with the military analysts, Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides spoke as if they were all part of the same team.

In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.

“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”

The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”

At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke’s staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Mr. Krueger said. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, he added, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

On April 12, 2003, with major combat almost over, Mr. Rumsfeld drafted a memorandum to Ms. Clarke. “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over,” he wrote.

By summer, though, the first signs of the insurgency had emerged. Reports from journalists based in Baghdad were increasingly suffused with the imagery of mayhem.

The Pentagon did not have to search far for a counterweight.

It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,” starting with the military analysts.

The memorandum led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr. Bush’s request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.

The group included four analysts from Fox News, one each from CNN and ABC, and several research-group luminaries whose opinion articles appear regularly in the nation’s op-ed pages.

The trip invitation promised a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”

The situation, as described in scores of books, was deteriorating. L. Paul Bremer III, then the American viceroy in Iraq, wrote in his memoir, “My Year in Iraq,” that he had privately warned the White House that the United States had “about half the number of soldiers we needed here.”

“We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat,” Mr. Bremer recalled telling the president during a private White House dinner.

That dinner took place on Sept. 24, while the analysts were touring Iraq.

Yet these harsh realities were elided, or flatly contradicted, during the official presentations for the analysts, records show. The itinerary, scripted to the minute, featured brief visits to a model school, a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave and even the gardens of Babylon.

Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show, spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House line: No reinforcements were needed. The “growing and sophisticated threat” described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded, isolated and on the run.

“We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaimed.

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.

But if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how the president’s $87 billion would be spent. It also was a chance to gather inside information about the most pressing needs confronting the American mission: the acute shortages of “up-armored” Humvees; the billions to be spent building military bases; the urgent need for interpreters; and the ambitious plans to train Iraq’s security forces.

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

“Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.,” Mr. Cowan recalled in an interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al Anbar,” he said.

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. “They can’t shoot, but then again, they don’t,” one officer told them, according to one participant’s notes.

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were unanimous.

“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.

Access and Influence

Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it gave fuel to complaints that “mainstream” journalists were ignoring the good news in Iraq.

“We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official wrote in an e-mail message to Richard B. Myers and Peter Pace, then chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Its success only intensified the Pentagon’s campaign. The pace of briefings accelerated. More trips were organized. Eventually the effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States Central Command.

The scale reflected strong support from the top. When officials in Iraq were slow to organize another trip for analysts, a Pentagon official fired off an e-mail message warning that the trips “have the highest levels of visibility” at the White House and urging them to get moving before Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld’s closest aides, “picks up the phone and starts calling the 4-stars.”

Mr. Di Rita, no longer at the Defense Department, said in an interview that a “conscious decision” was made to rely on the military analysts to counteract “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts, he said, generally had “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war, and the combination of their TV platforms and military cachet made them ideal for rebutting critical coverage of issues like troop morale, treatment of detainees, inadequate equipment or poorly trained Iraqi security forces. “On those issues, they were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen,” he said.

For analysts with military industry ties, the attention brought access to a widening circle of influential officials beyond the contacts they had accumulated over the course of their careers.

Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a consultant who helps small companies break into the military market. Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the Pentagon leadership. “You start to recognize what’s most important to them,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.”

Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts viewed their special access as a business advantage. “Of course we realized that,” Mr. Krueger said. “We weren’t naïve about that.”

They also understood the financial relationship between the networks and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the “hit,” the number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon “sources,” the more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts prominently advertised their network roles.

“They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level,” Mr. Krueger said. “This has been highly honed.”

Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to exploit this dynamic. “That’s not something that ever crossed my mind,” he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he said.

The analysts met personally with Mr. Rumsfeld at least 18 times, records show, but that was just the beginning. They had dozens more sessions with the most senior members of his brain trust and access to officials responsible for managing the billions being spent in Iraq. Other groups of “key influentials” had meetings, but not nearly as often as the analysts.

An internal memorandum in 2005 helped explain why. The memorandum, written by a Pentagon official who had accompanied analysts to Iraq, said that based on her observations during the trip, the analysts “are having a greater impact” on network coverage of the military. “They have now become the go-to guys not only on breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues,” she wrote.

Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show. When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts.

“We knew we had extraordinary access,” said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that “some four-star could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’ ” For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. “I know a snow job when I see one,” he said. He did not share this on TV.

“Human nature,” he explained, though he noted other instances when he was critical.

Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were careful not to express them on air.

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

“ ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

“Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”

Pentagon Keeps Tabs

As it happened, the analysts’ news media appearances were being closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any trace of the analysts, be it a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” or an interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.

Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing Pentagon themes on all the networks.

“Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concluded.

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents. And some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, “just upfront information,” while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not always agree with the administration or each other. “None of us drink the Kool-Aid,” General Scales said.

Likewise, several also denied using their special access for business gain. “Not related at all,” General Shepperd said, pointing out that many in the Pentagon held CNN “in the lowest esteem.”

Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense officials only minutes after being on the air.

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.

“The strategic target remains our population,” General Conway said. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.”

“General, I just made that point on the air,” an analyst replied.

“Let’s work it together, guys,” General Conway urged.

The Generals’ Revolt

The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

“Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”

“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”

There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”

“Frankly,” one participant said, “from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative.”

An analyst said at another point: “This is a wider war. And whether we have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn’t mean a tinker’s damn if we end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that’s not a threat to us.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, taking notes.

But winning or not, they bluntly warned, the administration was in grave political danger so long as most Americans viewed Iraq as a lost cause. “America hates a loser,” one analyst said.

Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could reverse the “political tide.” One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to “just crush these people,” and assured him that “most of the gentlemen at the table” would enthusiastically support him if he did.

“You are the leader,” the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. “You are our guy.”

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: “In one of your speeches you ought to say, ‘Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.’ And then you just go down the list and say, ‘All right, we’ve got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine a world like that.’ ”

Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

“When you said ‘long war,’ you changed the psyche of the American people to expect this to be a generational event,” an analyst said. “And again, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job...”

“Get in line,” Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.

The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.

Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports, circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated many of the Pentagon’s talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted “frequently and sufficiently” with his generals; that he was not “overly concerned” with the criticisms; that the meeting focused “on more important topics at hand,” including the next milestone in Iraq, the formation of a new government.

Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:

“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”

“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.

View From the Networks

Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.

Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told General Petraeus during the call to “keep up the great work.”

“Hey,” Mr. Garrett said in an interview, “anything we can do to help.”

For the moment, though, because of heavy election coverage and general war fatigue, military analysts are not getting nearly as much TV time, and the networks have trimmed their rosters of analysts. The conference call with General Petraeus, for example, produced little in the way of immediate coverage.

Still, almost weekly the Pentagon continues to conduct briefings with selected military analysts. Many analysts said network officials were only dimly aware of these interactions. The networks, they said, have little grasp of how often they meet with senior officials, or what is discussed.

“I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating,” said Rick Francona, a longtime military analyst for the network.

Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe their analysts’ military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least limited information about their business ties. But many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” said Mr. Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.

“The worst conflict of interest was no interest.”

Mr. Allard and other analysts said their network handlers also raised no objections when the Defense Department began paying their commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq — a clear ethical violation for most news organizations.

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.

Yet even where controls exist, they have sometimes proven porous.

CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one of its main military analysts, General Marks, was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.

General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed, and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.

“We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN said in a written statement.

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil’s military business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6 billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July 2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.

“We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him,” CNN said.

A Day In The Life ~ Saturday, April 19th

-- 11:30 am ET: Attends event with voters, Wynnewood, PA
-- 2:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Paoli, PA
-- 3:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Downingtown, PA
-- 6:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Lancaster, PA
-- 8:45 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, Harrisburg, PA


-- 9:30 am ET: Attends rally with voters, West Chester, PA
-- 12:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, West Lawn, PA
-- 3:00 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, York, PA
-- 7:00 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, California, PA
-- 9:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, McKeesport, PA


-- 9:45 am ET: Attends event with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, Wilkes-Barre, PA
-- 1:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Meadville, PA
-- 3:20 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Hermitage, PA
-- 5:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Beaver Falls, PA
-- 8:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Waynesburg, PA

At the White House and Beyond. . .

-- 11:25 am ET: Participates in a press conference with the President of the Republic of Korea, Camp David, MD


-- 11:25 am ET: Holds news conference with President Bush, Camp David, MD
-- 4:45 pm ET: Participates in photo opportunity with Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, Washington, DC

Friday, April 18, 2008

Picture of the Week

(Source: Al-Jazeera News)

The Chinese government may rule with an iron-fist, but they sure know how to set-off some day time fireworks in celebration of this coming summer's Olympic games.

Just Build a Wall

Ah, the proven historical successes of walls. It worked in Germany and seems to be working for Israel-Palestine (note: sarcasm), we hope it will work on the US-Mexico border, why not try it in Iraq?

The New York Times' Michael R. Gordon has the details:

Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

On Wednesday night, huge cranes slowly lifted heavy concrete blocks into place under a moonless sky. The barriers were implanted on Al Quds Street, a major thoroughfare that separates the Tharwa and Jamilla districts to the south from the heart of Sadr City to the north.

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.

In fairness to the military leaders, erecting walls to contain dangerous enclaves has seen some success in curbing violence the past.
Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.

However, such walls also have a history of increasing sectarian divisions. Much like the "success" of the surge, even if the wall does reduce violence, it will almost certainly exasperate the political divide consuming Iraq. The reduced violence is artificial. The US military is currently paying Shiite militias and Sunni tribal leaders to not fight us and each other (they still do, but to a mildly reduced degree). Setting up physical barriers between sects within the country fuels the "us versus them" mentality and reduces any chance of the various parties coming together. Just another example of the US plugging the hole in the dam with a finger.

Ad Watch: Obama/SEIU

SEIU, the largest labor union in North America, released a new ad in Pennsylvania praising Obama as the best candidate to stand up to the oil lobby.

The Debate & The Fallout

See this Talking Points Memo mash-up of the best of the debate:

Obama's (justified) response at a rally in North Carolina the next day:

And... Hillary complains about Obama's complaining. However, Jake Tapper points out the utter hypocrisy of such complaints about complaints:

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, said of Obama, "I know he spent all day yesterday complaining about the hard questions he was asked. Being asked tough questions in a debate is nothing like the pressures you face inside the White House. In fact, when the going gets tough, you just can’t walk away because we’re going to have some very tough decisions that we have to make. I think we need a president who can take whatever comes your way. ...When the going gets tough you can’t run away."

Thursday, former President Bill Clinton said, "When I watched that debate last night, I got kinda tickled when the other guy's – after the [debate], her opponents', oh, the people working were saying, 'Oh this is so negative, why are they doing this.' Well they've been beatin' up on her for 15 months. I didn't hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa."

If you haven't heard whining from your wife or from the Clinton campaign, Mr. President, then with all due respect, you haven't been paying attention.

The Clintons and the Clinton campaign have been complaining about the media and tough questions and the like for months. It's one of their talking points, for the love of Pete.

Want evidence?
After a November debate when Clinton -- then the clear frontrunner -- was attacked by the many other Democrats on stage, the Clinton campaign even put together a youtube video complaining of the "Politics of Pile-on."

And at the Cleveland debate seven weeks ago, Clinton complained that she always got the first question, and about the media coverage in general.

Bill Clinton has whined about the media coverage so much and often it would be difficult to list every example. In a February interview with WMAL radio in Washington DC, the former president griped that "the political press has avowedly played a role in this election. I've never seen this before...they’ve been active participants in this election, and you know what the objective studies done."

A Day In The Life ~ Friday, April 18th

-- 10:30 am ET: Attends town hall meeting with voters, Erie, PA
-- 3:30 pm ET: Attends town hall meeting with voters, Williamsport, PA
-- 6:00 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, Philadelphia, PA

-- 6:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Merrillville, IN

-- 11:00 am ET: Participates in town hall meeting with Rep. Joe Sestak, Radnor, PA
-- 6:00 pm ET: Participates in a conversation with Maya Angelou, Winston Salem, NC

-- 9:30 am ET: Attends event with voters, Moon Township, PA
-- 12:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Connellsville, PA
-- 2:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Somerset, PA
-- 6:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Fort Washington, PA
-- 7:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Lansdale, PA
-- 9:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Philadelphia, PA

-- Attends Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC

At the White House and Beyond. . .

-- 8:30 am ET: Speaks at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC
-- 11:10 am ET: Delivers remarks to Americas Small Business Summit 2008, Washington, DC
-- 4:00 pm ET: Welcomes the President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-Bak and Mrs. Kim Yoon-Ok, Camp David, MD
-- 7:00 pm ET: Attends social dinner with the South Korean President and Mrs. Kim Yoon-Ok, Camp David, MD

-- 10:00 am ET: Speaks at the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Washington, DC

-- 7:30 am ET: Attends breakfast with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, Washington, DC

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ballin' Bama

Not all that relevant, but after last night's debate, Obama deserves some fluff. Here he is on Real Sports with Bryant Gumble.

Top Issues: War in Iraq and the Economy

Released today: ABC News/Washington Post on American attitude towards the economy and the Iraq War.

Iraq as a “Must-Win”
Now Rejected by 2-1

A record number of Americans say winning the war in Iraq is not necessary for the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism to succeed, countering John McCain’s view of the conflict and aiding his Democratic opponents’ chances in November.

Deep concern about the economy also works for the Democrats, and it’s an even more dominant issue; 90 percent say it’s in bad shape and nearly eight in 10 don’t think the government’s stimulus checks will help. But McCain pushes back strongly enough on other issues to keep the contest a close one, this ABC News/Washington Post poll finds.

All told, six in 10 Americans cite either the economy or the war as the most important issue in their vote for president, and they favor Barack Obama, by 18 points, or Hillary Clinton, by 11, over McCain. Among the remaining four in 10 who cite other issues, however, McCain holds 14- and 23-point leads over Obama and Clinton, respectively.

These divisions underscore the likely strategies of the candidates in the months ahead; no wonder, for example, that McCain gave a major speech on the economy this week, seeking to level the field on that issue.

IRAQ – Of the two, Iraq may be the tougher challenge for McCain: A supporter of the war, he’s argued that success there is necessary for the United States’ broader interests. But in this poll Americans by a record 2-1 margin, 61-31 percent, say winning in Iraq is not necessary to defeat terrorism more generally. That view’s evolved since January 2007, when the public divided evenly on the question.

People who see the war in Iraq as essential to countering terrorism are among McCain’s strongest supporters; he leads either Obama or Clinton in this group by more than 3-1. Among the six in 10 with the opposite view, however, he trails by 35 and 23 points, respectively.

Vote Preference
To win war on terror... McCain-Clinton McCain-Obama
U.S. must win in Iraq 73-21 72-22
Can succeed without Iraq 35-58 29-64

That perhaps could turn if basic views of the war change. But they’ve seemed fixed in cement for more than a year: In this poll 64 percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting, almost precisely the average in a dozen ABC/Post polls in the past 14 months. It been a majority steadily for nearly three and a half years, and opposition is more intense, with strong opponents of the war outnumbering strong supporters by 2-1.

Despite successes of the surge in U.S. forces, moreover, 57 percent now say the United States is not making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq, up 6 points from last month. And 56 percent say the United States should withdraw even if civil order is not restored, a number that tipped to a majority in January 2007 and has stayed there since. In spring 2004, by contrast, the public by 2-1 opposed withdrawing in the absence of civil order.

IMPORTANCE – Asked, in an open-ended question, the most important issue in their vote, 41 percent of Americans say the economy, 18 percent the Iraq war, with the remaining four in 10 dispersed among a range of answers. That marks dramatic growth in concern about the economy, and a concomitant decline for Iraq, since last fall.

As noted, Obama and Clinton both lead McCain among voters focused on the economy or the war; McCain leads among others.

Vote Preference
Most important issue McCain-Clinton McCain-Obama
Economy 42-51% 39-53%
War in Iraq 39-55 34-61
All other mentions 58-35 53-39

ICC: Justice or Colonialism?

BBC World offers a thought provoking question: This World asks whether Charles Taylor's trial [before the International Criminal Court] will bring accountability to the continent of Africa or will it be seen as a new colonialism in what some Africans regard as "a white man's court"?

I don't think anyone would deny that Charles Taylor is vicious tyrant worthy of severe punishment.

However, while Taylor stands trial in The Hague, President Bush and former Prime Minister Blair are exempt from any international charges simply because they oppose any international judiciary branch that they do not control.

I don't believe any further background information is needed to discuss the question at hand:

Is Taylor's trial at the Hague is going to be the first of many, finally bringing accountability and good governance to the people of Africa?

Or, in choosing to punish Taylor ahead of the many Western leaders who flout international rules, have we already opened ourselves to accusations of politics over justice?

Pressing Mugabe

Recall the Zimbabwean election that took place over two weeks ago today. Still, no progress has been made. In fact, the Mugabe government has yet to release the polling numbers from the April 1st election. Today, Zimbabwe's neighbor and the biggest regional power, South Africa, applied greater pressure on Mugabe, calling for the rapid release of results from Zimbabwe’s presidential election.

“The situation is dire,” said Themba Maseko, a South Africa government spokesman in Cape Town. “When elections are held and results are not released two weeks after, it is obviously of great concern.”

Per Reuters:

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Maseko’s statement Thursday reflected a change of position by Mr. Mbeki himself. But Mr. Mbeki has been under criticism at home for his insistence on quiet diplomacy in dealing with the crisis in Zimbabwe, where the economy has collapsed, bringing hyper-inflation, shortages of food and fuel and 80 percent unemployment. Millions of people have fled to South Africa.

South Africa, the biggest regional power, had previously hesitated to join international expressions of concern about the delay in issuing the result of the vote, in which the opposition says Mr. Mugabe was defeated.

And the response from the Mugabe government:
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Mugabe’s government accused Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, of treason and of working with Britain, the former colonial power, to topple Mr. Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe to independence and has been its leader for 28 years.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Mr. Tsvangirai was a British puppet.

The Guardian has more on the international pressure applied to the Mugabe government:
In a statement released by the host nation, Japan, the G8 expressed "deep concern" about rising tension in Zimbabwe and urged a "speedy, credible and genuinely democratic resolution".

Zimbabwean officials accused Mugabe's election rival Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), of acting as a puppet to seek "regime change" in Britain's former colony.

The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, yesterday bluntly censured Mugabe, telling the UN security council: "No one thinks, having seen the results of polling stations, that President Mugabe has won."

A Day In The Life ~ Thursday, April 17th

-- 9:00 am ET: Meets with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Washington, DC
-- Attends town hall meeting with voters, Raleigh, NC
-- Attends rally with voters, Greenville, NC

-- 10:00 am ET: Meets with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Washington, DC
-- 2:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Philadelphia, PA
-- 8:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Philadelphia, PA
-- Appears as a guest on The Colbert Report

-- 9:15 am ET: Attends event with voters, Erie, PA
-- 11:30 am ET: Attends event with voters, Warren, PA
-- 1:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Saint Marys, PA
-- 3:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Brookville, PA
-- 5:30 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Clearfield, PA
-- 7:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Lock Haven, PA

-- 11:00 am ET: Meets with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Washington, DC

At the White House and Beyond. . .

-- 10:10 am ET: Speaks to the recipients of the President's Environmental Youth Awards, Washington, DC
-- 1:15 pm ET: Meets with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Washington, DC
-- 2:35 pm ET: Holds press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Washington, DC
-- 6:50 pm ET: Welcomes Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mrs. Brown with the First Lady, Washington, DC
-- 7:00 pm ET: Hosts a social dinner with the First Lady for Prime Minister Gordon brown and Mrs. Brown, Washington, DC

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bush Offers Rhetoric, Not Action, in Curbing Greenhouse Emissions

Speaking from the Rose Garden, President Bush delivered a lot of talk of curbing greenhouse emissions. After suffering from severe drought, Australia embraced the Kyoto Protocol, making the US the only nation that has not. Instead of setting an example through bold action, Bush urged other leaders to do what he has not. Per the New York Times' Andrew C. Revkin:

President Bush, in a Rose Garden speech on climate change, challenged the world’s biggest (and most polluting) countries to immediately end trade barriers on energy-related technology, beef up a fund to help bring less-polluting energy options to poor countries, and commit to curbing their greenhouse-gas emissions.

President Bush set the less than modest target date of 2025 to end the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, but again, he offered no bold government initiative, such as a tax or caps on carbon emissions, to solve the problem.
Mr. Bush rejected the approaches pursued by Congress so far, most of which have focused on mandatory limits on emissions. Instead, he described a set of incentives that, he said, would spur the energy transition that needs to take place (along with ending fights over nuclear power and other energy infrastructure).

He was immediately criticized on various fronts by environmentalists, some scientists, and political opponents, who said he was simply recasting existing economic and technological trends as change, that he was trying to derail congressional initiatives (promoted mainly by Democrats and a small cluster of moderate Republicans), and that he was continuing an eight-year pattern of delay in attacking the creeping, but momentous, climate problem.

Democratic Debate Tonight

Don't miss Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama squaring off tonight in a two-hour debate from Philadelphia. The debate is just six days before the Keystone State's April 22nd primary. Bring yourself up to speed with Rick Klein's The Note to see what's at stake in tonight's showdown.

The debate is airing on ABC Network Television and will begin at 8pm ET.

Ad Watch: Clinton

Both camps are busy pumping out new ads. The latest from the Clinton camp, "Closed". will air throughout Indiana.

Ad Watch: Obama

The Obama camp put out yet another response ad, decrying Clinton's negative tactics.

Ad Watch: Obama

Team Obama put out their official response ad to Clinton's attack on the 'bitter' remark. The 30 second TV spot will be airing throughout Pennsylvania.

A Day In The Life ~ Wednesday, April 16th

-- Attends Jewish Community Meeting, Philadelphia, PA
-- 8:00 pm ET: Participates in the ABC Philadelphia Democratic Primary Debate, Philadelphia, PA

-- 10:30 am ET: Attends event with voters, Evansville, IN
-- 3:30 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Indianapolis, IN
-- 6:30 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Anderson, IN

-- 9:30 am ET: Delivers remarks to Building Trades National Legislative Conference, Washington, DC
-- 8:00 pm ET: Participates in the ABC Philadelphia Democratic Primary Debate, Philadelphia, PA

-- 9:15 am ET: Attends event with voters, Indiana, PA
-- 11:00 am ET: Attends event with voters, Kittanning, PA
-- 1:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Clarion, PA
-- 3:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, New Castle, PA
-- 5:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Cranberry Township, PA

-- 10:00 am ET: Attends economic summit with business and academic leaders, South Milwaukee, WI (closed to public)

At the White House and Beyond. . .


-- 10:30 am ET: Hosts arrival ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI with the first lady, Washington, DC
-- 11:15 am ET: Meets with Pope Benedict XVI, Washington, DC
-- 2:45 pm ET: Delivers remarks on the environment, Washington, DC
-- 7:30 pm ET: Hosts a dinner in honor of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI with the first lady, Washington, DC

-- 10:30 am ET: Participates in arrival ceremony, Washington, DC
-- 11:15 am ET: Attends private meeting with President Bush, Washington, DC
-- 12:00 pm ET: Departs White House via Popemobile, Washington, DC
-- 5:15 pm ET: Participates in Parade to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
-- 5:20 pm ET: Arrives at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
-- 5:30 pm ET: Attends vespers in the Crypt of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
-- 6:00 pm ET: Delivers address to bishops, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC

-- 8:30 am ET: Releases the Consumer Price Index for March, Washington, DC

-- 8:30 am ET: Releases the March report on housing starts, Washington, DC


-- 9:15 am ET: Releases the March report on industrial production, Washington, DC
-- 2:00 pm ET: Releases the Beige Book, Washington, DC

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

McSame Old Economy

Today, Sen. McCain talked on his least favorite subject: the economy.
In 2005, McCain confessed his lack of understanding for economic issues. "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated," he said.

What has he (or, more likely, his crack team of economic advisors) proposed?

Sen. McCain has a list of recommendations:

  • Scrapping the 18.4 cent federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day
    of this year.
  • A doubling of the tax exemption for dependents to 7000 from 3500
  • Promising at some (unspecified) point to offer an alternative tax system
    with two rates and a "generous standard deduction."
  • Extending the Bush tax cuts (which he opposed earlier this decade)
  • Cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent
  • Banning Internet taxes permanently

His lack of knowledge in the realm of economics shines brightly. When facing a receeding economy, with a growing population below the poverty line and the largest inequality the country has seen in decades, Sen. McCain proposes cutting corporate taxes from 35% to 25%. Who's "out of touch" with the American worker now?

His proposal to cut the gas tax puts a temporary band-aid on the issue and would be detrimental to the future of our economy. Most economists do not approve of such a plan. It would encourage an increase in driving. If McCain truly desires to free the American people from the strangle of the gas pump, he would invest the billions of dollars in revenue from the gas tax into R&D for renewable and sustainable transportation and energy. The gas tax also feeds directly back into repairing and building new infrastructure. Without the tax, reduced investment in infrastructure would severally bruise the construction industry that has already been devastated by the housing slump. Inversely, if construction were to see a boom from government investment, the resulting increase in jobs and wages would be a good jump start to the economy (much more effective than handing out $600 checks anyway).

McCain also wants to continue to dump billions of dollars into Iraq for years to come. So where will he generate this revenue? The short answer, he won't. McCain will continue to drive up our country's sky-rocketing deficit. However, to be fair, I will highlight the ONE additional revenue generating plan he has proposed:
  • Forcing affluent seniors to pay higher premiums if they join Medicare"Part D," which provides subsidized drug benefits (this phased-in fee hike would target seniors earning 80 000 per year or more, per a McCain spokesperson. McCain himself does not specify income level which would be impacted.)

Sen. McCain is dreaming if he thinks a chunk of senior citizens paying higher co-pays for their prescription drugs will balance out the 30% reduction in corporate taxes while continuing a $9 billion per month war in the face of a $9 trillion national debt.

The NY Times' Michael Cooper has more:
One of Mr. McCain’s tax proposals would take effect even before the Republican Convention: he called on Congress to suspend the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gas tax from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Mr. McCain said that doing so would provide “an immediate economic stimulus,” but some environmentalists said that the change might encourage more people to use their cars, while Mr. McCain has made combating global warming central to his campaign.


An analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal think tank, estimated that the overall cost of Mr. McCain’s tax cuts would be three times as much as the $100 billion he estimates that he can save. And they questioned whether his programs would really save $100 billion a year.


Neera Tanden, the Clinton campaign’s policy director, called the McCain plan “a corporate lobbyist’s dream.” She said that Mr. McCain had proposed “an economic policy that Americans simply cannot afford,” based on corporate windfalls and tax cuts for the wealthy, and that ExxonMobil, which recently reported record profits, would get a $1.4 billion tax cut under the McCain plan.


What is Huckabee up to now?

Ad Watch: Obama

Sen. Clinton broke the seal of the negative ad jar on Monday. Today, Sen. Obama responds via a web ad. Obama's web-ad will not reach the same viewership as Clinton's TV ad.

At least this ad covers a substantive issue as opposed to a handful of Clinton supporters saying they do not trust Sen. Obama.

Ad Watch: McCain

McCain camp released a new ad today that will be airing in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The ad attempts to cast McCain as an independent, but how exactly does the "Maverick" differ from the Republican party these days?

A Day In The Life ~ Tuesday, April 15th

-- Attends Building Trades Legislative Conference, Washington, DC
-- 1:00 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Washington, PA

-- 11:45 am ET: Attends event with voters, York, PA
-- 3:30 pm ET: Attends rally with voters, Haverford, PA
-- Appears on the Colbert Report

-- 1:30 pm ET: Attends Associated Press Annual Meeting and Luncheon, Washington, DC

-- 10:30 am ET: Attends event with voters, Coatesville, PA
-- 12:45 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Phoenixville, PA
-- 3:15 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Quakertown, PA
-- 5:30 pm ET: Attends event with voters, Easton, PA

-- 9:45 am ET: Delivers economic speech, Pittsburgh, PA
-- 4:10 pm ET: Holds media availability, Villanova, PA
-- 5:00 pm ET: Attends Hardball College Tour Town Hall, Villanova, PA

At the White House and Beyond. . .

-- 4:00 pm ET: Participates in the arrival ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI, Washington, DC

--8:30 am ET: Releases the Producer Price Index for March, Washington, DC

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ad Watch: Clinton

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Clinton released the first negative TV spot in the Keystone State. The ad features several different Pennsylvanians (who were more than likely Clinton supporters before Obama's remarks) attacking Sen. Obama for his 'bitter' comment. Clinton is behind in the polls, the pledged delegates, and her superdelegate lead is slipping; she is desperate.

Berlusconi Comes Out On-Top

Italy's conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi has won the general election as center-left leader Walter Veltroni conceded the election. Early exit polls showed Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PDL) having a commanding lead in both the house and the Senate.

BBC World has a brief profiling of the two candidates maps out the road ahead for Berlusconi:

Mr Berlusconi has served two terms as prime minister, last resigning in May 2006.

The billionaire, believed to be Italy's richest man, is the head of a business empire that spans media, advertising, insurance, food and construction and includes the successful football club AC Milan.

Mr Veltroni, 52, is a former communist who served for seven years as mayor of Rome before taking over the leadership of the centre-left coalition led by Mr Prodi after his government collapsed in January.

The next government faces the task of reviving Italy's ailing economy, with zero growth forecast for the coming year.

Although Italy faces a massive public debt, both candidates promised tax cuts and handouts to voters.

Italy's economy has been suffering from low productivity and a strong euro, and analysts say young people, pensioners and low-income workers are feeling the pressure.

World Bank Responds to World Hunger

It only seems appropriate to follow up a post on the lack of coverage regarding international affairs with reporting on a truly global phenomenon that has been seriously affecting the world's poorest (and least talked about) countries.

The rising prices of foods have led millions to the brink of starvation and catapulted many societies into full blown violence.

Today, the World Bank responded. With help from its twin institution, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank has called for richer nations to contribute $500 million to ease the burden. But is it too little, too late?

(The footage of the children trying to collect the water from the polluted trickling stream the beginning of the video is plainly disturbing.)