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Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Real Question About Gannongate 

James Guckert, (AKA Jeff Gannon) has become a classic whispering story, of the type the left always complains about when one is used on a reality-based political figure. For reasons that seem to be a mixture of ethics, cowardice, and tactics, most organs of the mainstream media have steered largely clear of the story about this fellow ‘journalist.’ What the story needs now is not whispering, but solid reporting on the real issues.

For anyone trapped under a rock these past weeks, the basics are: An organization known as Talon News (see their offline page and explanation) hired ‘Jeff Gannon,’ who covered the White House for his archconservative employer on an unprecedentedly long string of ‘day passes’ to the White House Press Room. He posed questions draped in political rhetoric against Democrats which were reliably soft and easily answerable. Gannon attracted attention when one of these questions went so far over the line into cheerleading, mistakenly describing a Rush Limbaugh crack about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid as a quote from the Senator himself, that other members of the WH Press finally wrote stories about Gannon’s credentials.

That’s when the story began to get murky. Talonnews’ status as a legitimate member of the press was questioned. ‘Gannon’ turned out to be a nom d’plume for James Guckert. Guckert had a storied past as an escort and purveyor of sex photos. All this was of questionable news value, but high entertainment value.

What prompts me to post on the issue at this point is that there IS a serious news story here. Digging past all the questions of the White House using a member of the press to get out of trouble in conference situations, OK-ing credentials for a questionable reporter, or having a too-cozy relationship with a news organization whose sole mission in life appears to be designed around bailing out the Administration in the press room, there’s a deeper problem.

This guy, despite his lack of ability to dig for anything but the easiest story, was scooping the rest of the press on matters like the identity of Valery Plame as a CIA operative (As you recall, her covert status was ‘outed’ by leaks to retaliate against her husband, Joe Wilson, for disputing claims that Iraq was getting yellowcake uranium from Niger during the run-up to war). These are matters of state and national security that should have been secure, much less given out to a reporter who was more shill than gumshoe. How could that happen, and what does it portend for future disasters that could harm Americans and American military/intelligence officers?

I reference an exchange between ‘Gannon’ and an internet poster on Freerepublic.com on March 9, 2004 that illuminates his access to secret documents on Valery Plame’s identity as a CIA operative as quoted by spiderleaf at Daily Kos:

****

To: Jeff Gannon

That is simply not true, Jeff.

You are ensnared because you made reference to a government document, which appears to have been a forgery. You need to tell the Grand Jury who made you privy to that document. ---JohnGalt

To: Jeff Gannon

What was the document you referred to in the interview with Wilson? ---JohnGalt

To: JohnGalt

I disagree with your characterization of the document itself, but that aside, I maintain that I am under no obligation whatsoever to reveal my sources. That is a fundamental element of maintaining a free press. ---Jeff Gannon

(spiderleaf:) In that exchange Gannon makes a sloppy mistake. How can you disagree with the characterization of a classified document that you hadn't seen? Looks like he was leaked it after all... or he must really trust his source.

****

If we set aside the hype around the Gluckert/’Gannon’ story, there still remains an essential question about the use of secret national security documents and their illegal distribution to him from an Administration source. This story should have legs and needs to be pursued until we have more answers than questions.

'Jeff Gannon:' Best Questions... 

May 10, 2004: "Q In your denunciations of the Abu Ghraib photos, you've used words like 'sickening,' 'disgusting' and 'reprehensible.' Will you have any adjectives left to adequately describe the pictures from Saddam's rape rooms and torture chambers? And will Americans ever see those images?
"MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up, Jeff, because the President talks about that often."

July 15, 2004: "Q Last Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that shows that Ambassador Joe Wilson lied when he said his wife didn't put him up for the mission to Niger. The British inquiry into their own prewar intelligence yesterday concluded that the President's 16 words were 'well-founded.' Doesn't Joe Wilson owe the President and America an apology for his deception and his own intelligence failure?"

April 1, 2004: "Q I'd like to comment on the angry mob that surrounded Karl Rove's house on Sunday. They chanted and pounded on the windows until the D.C. police and Secret Service were called in. The protest was organized by the National People's Action Coalition, whose members receive taxpayer funds, as well as financial support from groups including Theresa Heinz Kerry's Tides Foundation.
"MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say that, one, we appreciate and understand concerns that people may have. I would certainly hope that people would respect the families of White House staff."

Feb. 10, 2004: "Q Since there have been so many questions about what the President was doing over 30 years ago, what is it that he did after his honorable discharge from the National Guard? Did he make speeches alongside Jane Fonda, denouncing America's racist war in Vietnam? Did he testify before Congress that American troops committed war crimes in Vietnam? And did he throw somebody else's medals at the White House to protest a war America was still fighting?

-for video of this and more Crooks and Liars

Friday, February 25, 2005

Joe Nomentum 

Recently, we posted an alert to Connecticut friends that Senator Joe Lieberman was ruminating about supporting privatization on some level. In addition to prompting voters to contact his office, his dalliance has now spurred discussion among insiders that the Senator’s Joementum may be slowing to zero among party professionals.

Josh Marshall now reports that, “Just this morning I was talking with some political players involved in the Social Security fight and they were wondering how quickly a few hundred thousand dollars of seed money could be raised to fund a decent primary opponent to run against Lieberman next year. And I have say, I think they could raise it pretty quickly.”

Could Joe’s tough talk about the Bush Administration in January have faded already? Maybe not. His website, while waffling about “making some changes soon,” goes on to say the following:

“Senator Lieberman is unconvinced by the President’s proposal to privatize Social Security through the establishment of private savings accounts carved-out of the current system. Based on what he knows of the plan, the private savings accounts would not preserve the essential guaranteed Social Security benefit and would add trillions of dollars of debt.”

Will Senator Joe stake out more plain prose before prompting prognosticators to prod pols to petition for a primary?

Perhaps...

Fighting Back! 

"We are going to run a national campaign to defeat the president's privatization plan. The president and his supporters in Congress are messing with the third rail; we're going to make sure they get zapped."

—Brad Woodhouse,
Americans United to Protect Social Security

Labor unions have united to launch a major new organization, slated to raise up to $50 million to fight the privatization of Social Security. 200 organizations have already decided to coordinate efforts through the group.

For more, see Jeffrey Birnbaum in today’s Washington Post.

RIP, Danny 

While thinking about Iraq, you might go back to Roswell with Richard Cranium at the All Spin Zone and lament that the war hits home in many corners of this big country.

"What I'm going to New York to do is stir up trouble." 

Just one more time, listen to Hunter Thompson, rambling away on Iraq and the culture of fear in the United States. The Gazetteer, a blog from north of the 49th parallel, brings us the good Doctor in a prewar 2003 interview with his Colorado community radio station.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Attack of the Slime Patrol- Part Deux 

Maureen Dowd is on the case today. See her rip of the Swift Boat slime attack on AARP for some good clean fun.

The USA Next/Rove et al attack on AARP as an authority on Social Security privatization started in the gutter, with a hand grenade thrown at gay marriage ("this worked last year, let's see if we can confuse 'em again"), which according to Alex Chee, even disregarded the privacy rights of the couple whose picture was presented in the attack ad. Somehow, we are supposed to see a picture of a gay couple, a crossed-off photo of a soldier, and assume that AARP is promoting gay marriage at the expense of our troops.

It's not working and hopefully it's the beginning of the end for these cretins, whose methods are so crude and offensive that even the most fundamentalist homophobe should know they're being played.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pension Reform, Real Security- Pt 2 

While Social Security itself is only truly threatened by the Administration's attempts to 'save' it, the goal of increasing retirement savings for all Americans can be addressed without tampering with what works as a baseline protection for older Americans.

The Center for American Progress has made a four-point proposal, the first of which is 401k reform. Without endorsement, I think this idea is worth discussion, since the real question we should be considering is the larger issue of pension reform and encouraging private savings, not killing off the safety net of Social Security.

Gene Sperling at The Center proposes the following:

"A Universal 401(k) to Promote Ownership, Savings and Bipartisanship: Progressives and conservatives alike should support serious efforts to increase savings, ownership and wealth creation for typical hardworking families. Yet these goals are achievable without dividing Washington by carving up Social Security into private accounts. The president and progressives could both protect Social Security’s guaranteed benefit and promote ownership with a new Universal 401(k) that offers all Americans a private retirement account on top of Social Security, and uses government funds to match contributions made by middle income and lower-income workers. The Universal 401(k) would spread individual savings and wealth creation to tens of millions of American families currently falling through the cracks by offering all Americans the generous incentives and automatic savings opportunities that the best employer-provided 401(k)’s offer their employees."

While it would be the height of folly to propose an alternative to the President’s plan until he’s committed his own to legislation, it makes sense for people who care about the underlying issue of securing retirement for all Americans to think about the bigger picture.

Help Save Darfur Refugees 

Nicholas Kristof writes in today’s NY Times about Darfur. He has included photos taken there of the genocide in the hopes that readers will be awakened to the killing and demand that our governments do something to stop it. Kristof also provides links to websites with more information.

The organization True Majority has already been doing exactly the kind of action Kristof advocates. Go to their site and register; they will let the computer figure out who you write to and supply sample text. Unlike Kristof, True Majority places responsibility directly on the Bush Administration for refusing to back action at the World Court in the Hague against the Darfur killers, many of whom are known. The reasons for this are so cowardly as to be despicable. It's to denigrate the Court's authority in case they should someday prosecute Americans for crimes against Guantanamo prisoners... (another day, we'll discuss that).

Whatever you do, do something. Oxfam is doing great relief work and detailing the crimes there for the world. If only in the smallest way, each person’s involvement increases the pressure to end the killing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Wait for It, Wait for It...Oh, Never mind 

David R. Francis at the Christian Science Monitor has suggested another solution to the Social Security ‘crisis.’

“Do nothing.

That's right. Ignore the doomsayers. Wait for a decade or two, and see if the gloomy predictions are coming true.

It's not as crazy as it sounds because of one simple fact: No one really knows whether the forecast of a solvency problem will come true or just gradually fade away.

Why? Because economists have great difficulty making accurate long-term projections. And 75-year economic forecasts - upon which all the current alarm is based - are about as reliable as the Farmers' Almanac.

A little history helps to clarify the picture. In 1995, the Social Security Trustees said the program would be unable to pay full benefits in 2030. Now, a decade later, the date is 2042.”

Francis goes on to quote several economists who are certain of only one thing: that the prudent thing to do is to wait and see how the numbers unfold.

He concludes, “The last major reform of the Social Security system was done in 1983. It was within months of not being able to pay all promised benefits. Today, projections say it has 13 years (or 37 years) to reach that stage.”

...Oh, yeah‚— it's a MAJOR crisis.

Simply Monstrous 

PSoTD blog has sampled an opening sting for the Negroponte confirmation hearings.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Swift Boat Attack Ordered on AARP 

Glen Justice reported today on the new offensive under way in the Bush Administration’s war on Social Security.

Since stage one of the Social Security ‘shock and awe’ plan has unexpectedly shocked the American public without inspiring awe, stage two is being designed with a viciousness sure to get the attention of even the most listless audience. Yes folks, the Swifties are being brought back for a reprise of the hatchet haircut they so successfully gave John Kerry last year. Who’s this year’s lucky winner? Why AARP (American Association of Retired People), of course. They oppose privatization and therefore, must die.

“"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, president of USA Next and former deputy under secretary of the interior in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. "We will be the dynamite that removes them."

Though it is not clear how much money USA Next has in hand for the campaign - Mr. Jarvis will not say, and the group, which claims 1.5 million members, does not have to disclose its donors - officials say that the group's annual budget was more than $28 million last year.”

USA Next has engaged many of the consultants who orchestrated last year’s Swift Boat Veteran attack ads and publications, designed to soften up John Kerry before the Democratic Convention. Their strategy is apparently focused on portraying AARP as a liberal organization whose goals are not representative of their membership’s views.

"We are going to take them on in hand-to-hand combat," said Mr. Jarvis.

Imagine the older Americans involved, locked in a death grip with the likes of Art Linkletter, USA Next’s National Chairman. It's not going to be pretty. If you work for AARP, it's time to buy a shredder.

"Social Security" 

Brian Lehrer's Blog has a little of the etymology behind the term, “Social Security.” While the President is banging around the country pretending to have some clue what it means, it might be a good time to read up on what the people who invented it thought.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) 

I’ll never forget discovering Hunter S. Thompson’s writing as a young reader of Rolling Stone Magazine and an ardent follower of the ill-fated ‘McGovern for President’ campaign. Thompson ripped the cover off of journalism’s staid surface and used literature’s conventions to dig into the truth of what was happening beneath that veneer of “who, what, when and where.”

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail was my avenue of discovery to his books, most particularly to Hell’s Angels, which changed the nature of American journalism. His firsthand, participatory look at the outlaw motorcycle tribe forced every student of nonfiction writing to look again at the safe distance we’d all been taught to keep from our subjects and to step a little closer, be a little braver. We’ll all be forever in his debt for this too-short body of work. One hopes we can carry on his tradition without the medication.

It’s a shock, but not particularly a surprise to hear he put a bullet in his head. To read Thompson was to be painfully aware of the demons that inhabited him. His writing was too immediate and honest to have omitted any lurid detail. His excesses, both personal and literary, were part of what made Thompson hard to dismiss in his youth and probably the major part of what made his career shorter than it should have been. You get the feeling, though, that he wouldn’t live—or write, any other way

I’ll miss your withering critiques of American culture. ‘Cause I’m a lightweight, I’ll wait till tonight, but I’m knocking back a glass of Wild Turkey for you. Thanks, Dr. I hope you’re in a better place.

Brooklyn, Next Abu Ghraib? 

If anyone here in the New York area thought torture was a concoction served only overseas, Larry Cohler-Esses at the Daily News has a disquieting scoop to share with us about Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. Abuse of detainees and terrorism suspects has apparently been Standard Operating Procedure there since September 11, 2001 (and one wonders...how much longer?).

According to Cohler-Esses, “the detainees - none of whom were ultimately charged with anything related to terrorism - alleged in sworn affidavits and in interviews with Justice Department officials that correction officers:

Humiliated them by making fun of - and sometimes painfully squeezing - their genitals.

Deprived them of regular sleep for weeks or months.

Shackled their hands and feet before smashing them repeatedly face-first into concrete walls - within sight of the Statue of Liberty.

Forced them in winter to stand outdoors at dawn while dressed in light cotton prison garb and no shoes, sometimes for hours.”

“…The Justice Department's inspector general has substantiated some of the prisoners' allegations - and some incidents were captured on videotape. But the Justice Department has declined to prosecute any federal correction officer at MDC.”

(by way of Billmon)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Say it Ain't So, Joe... 

Jumpin' Joesafat! Stop the presses. No Joementum!

News flash from talkingpointsmemo...

Joe Lieberman is once again making noises about entertaining Social Security privatization. All you Connecticut suburbanites here in the tri-state area— it's time to call the Senator's office and remind him he's still in the party of Roosevelt. At least, last time he ran for the Presidency, Vice Presidency, and Presidency again, he was...

Truth and Negroponte 

For more reasons to insist that John Negroponte not be confirmed as Intelligence Chief, I suggest a look at David Corn's reprise of his post when Negroponte was appointed envoy to Iraq. As for many of us, it’s Negroponte’s tenure in Honduras and his cozy relationship with death squad activity there that is most troublesome to Corn.

“He has been credibly accused of rigging a human rights report that was politically inconvenient. This is a bad omen. The fundamental mission of the intelligence community is to provide policymakers with unvarnished and valuable information-even if it causes the policymakers headaches. But there's reason to believe that Negroponte did the opposite in tough circumstances. If that is the case, he would not be the right man to oversee an intelligence community that needs solid leaders who are committed to truth-finding.”

“…As a 1995 Baltimore Sun series noted, "A comparison of the annual human rights reports prepared while Negroponte was ambassador with the facts as they were then known shows that Congress was deliberately misled." The Sun reported, "Time and again...Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives." But this didn't make it into State Department reports. Had Honduras been found to be engaging in systematic abuses, it could have lost its US aid--thwarting the Reagan Administration's use of Honduras to support the contras.”

As Corn and the Baltimore Sun point out, the fact that Negroponte has already shown his willingness to distort the facts on the ground in order to protect Administration policy from inconvenient truths should disqualify him from leadership in intelligence. One source the President and the Congress should be able to depend on for hard truths is our own intelligence agencies. If the person overseeing them is willing to bend the truth in order to protect neocon policy, the entire point of an independent intelligence chief is negated.

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