George W. Bush, Head of the American Dominionist Church/State

February 29, 2004 at 4:25 pm
Contributed by:


This is one of the most frightening, incredible, scholarly articles I have ever read about George Bush and the Dominionist religious movement to which he and much of the GOP apparently belong. If you’re not entirely clear on why this administration seems so bent on destroying the walls between church and state, or how “compassionate conservatism” should look so much like Machiavellianism in practice, you should definitely read this article. It explains so much of the underlying motivations of the whole religious right, in fact, that I’d go so far as to call it required reading.

Here’s a small excerpt:

Dominionists have gained extensive control of the Republican Party and the apparatus of government throughout the United States; they continue to operate secretly. Their agenda to undermine all government social programs that assist the poor, the sick, and the elderly is ingeniously disguised under false labels that confuse voters. Nevertheless, as we shall see, Dominionism maintains the necessity of laissez-faire economics, requiring that people “look to God and not to government for help.”[13]

It is estimated that thirty-five million Americans who call themselves Christian, adhere to Dominionism in the United States, but most of these people appear to be ignorant of the heretical nature of their beliefs and the seditious nature of their political goals. So successfully have the televangelists and churches inculcated the idea of the existence of an outside “enemy,” which is attacking Christianity, that millions of people have perceived themselves rightfully overthrowing an imaginary evil anti-Christian conspiratorial secular society.

When one examines the progress of its agenda, one sees that Dominionism has met its time table: the complete takeover of the American government was predicted to occur by 2004.[14] Unless the American people reject the GOP’s control of the government, Americans may find themselves living in a theocracy that has already spelled out its intentions to change every aspect of American life including its cultural life, its Constitution and its laws.

And this quote, taken from Machiavelli himself, is chilling:

“Let a prince therefore aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged honourable and praised by every one, for the vulgar is always taken by appearances and the issue of the event; and the world consists only of the vulgar, and the few who are not vulgar are isolated when the many have a rallying point in the prince.”

The Despoiling of America

How George W. Bush became the head of the new American Dominionist Church/State

By Katherine Yurica

February 11, 2004


It’s the End of the World As We Know It

February 28, 2004 at 6:50 pm
Contributed by: Chris


After a
week of taking a break from GRL, I’m ready to bring you up to date. But it’s not
like the world has been standing still. Indeed, the news of the last week has
been breathtakingly, crushingly bad, from every direction, and that’s in part
why I haven’t written about it. It’s very demoralizing. Still, I wish I had the
energy to bring you the key points of all that I have read about it, but it’s
just not feasible for one guy, with no budget, no staff, a life to lead and an
income to make. I know that some of you rely on GRL for most of your world news (gulp!),
but I can’t promise you that it will be a reliable source. You should subscribe
to Truthout, the Progress Report, From the Wilderness, MoveOn, The Daily
Misleader, and a few other sites that can do that for you (I read all of those
and more, myself). See a list of great newsletters sites here.

But I
can try to bring you up to date on the most important story of all: the
impending oil crash. AKA, the end of the world as we know it. This is the story
that renders all else–including all the politics that I have written about in
GRL–utterly trivial.


GOP Helps Turn USA Into Tanzania

February 20, 2004 at 1:36 am
Contributed by:


Thanks to Cirrito for submitting this excellent article. As he commented:
“I’ll tell you, the revolving door from government to business, and business to government is really getting me sick. We have oversight agencies stacked to the gills with operatives from the industries they are supposed to be regulating, and we have high level government employees jumping ship to corporations and industries that ultimately influence and shape policy.”

The “foxes guarding the henhouse” theme is one we’ve explored on GRL for a while now, but I thought that was very well said. If the GOP (and often they are the real force behind the scenes when we mistakenly point to “the Bush administration”) continues to succeed at corrupting all of the oversight groups that we depend on to safeguard our health and wealth, there’s really no point in continuing with the sham of oversight at all. It’s ultimately a lot of expense and waste, and we should just do away with it. And I’m sure that, on that point, the GOP and I would be firmly agreed.

On to the article: Like a good doctor, New York commentator Deroy Murdock examines the recent Medicare bill with a magnifying glass, and finds it crawling with corruption.

Here’s a little excerpt:

So, to review: Taxpayers are stuck with a program that costs 35 percent
more than when their bamboozled representatives approved it last
November. Top officials win golden parachutes stitched together by
interests they have legislated and regulated. Trampled House voting
practices, a federally-funded TV deal for GOP political consultants and
a bribery probe all frost this ugly cake.

This is why movement conservatives are so grumpy. They are sick of
knocking themselves out to promote limited government and fiscal
prudence, only to watch their solemn beliefs burn to a crisp in the
increasingly Third World crucible called Republican-controlled

A few centrist Republicans (and the very few who actually stand for values and are true to them, like John McCain) are starting to complain. But will that be enough to save the soul of the Republican Party? Or will they allow the foxes to kill every last chicken, until there’s no point in hanging out in the henhouse at all anymore? (Maybe that’s the ultimate logic behind Bush’s fantasies about colonizing space.)

I hope, for the sake of our country, that the Republicans will stand up for their stated values as they so often claim to do, hold these shifty bastards accountable for the damage they’re doing to the country, and stop the looting of America. They’re in control of all three branches of government, and we’re all at the mercy of their ethics. I pray they won’t let us all down.


by Deroy Murdock

Source: Scripps Howard News Service

NEW YORK – The Tanzanianization of America proceeds apace.

This word encapsulates Washington’s steady slide from transparency, the
rule of law, and First World political norms toward an equatorial
standard of public integrity. Tanzania, among Earth’s most corrupt
nations, foreshadows the ultimate destination of America’s government.

Hyperbole? The Clintons’ virtual auction of presidential pardons as they
looted the White House, for example, oozed the sickly-sweet fragrance of
a banana republic.

Alas, Republicans suffer this malady, too.

Consider the brand-new Medicare drug benefit. Citizens can debate the
merits of the biggest entitlement since 1965. However, every American
should deplore the shifty way it was enacted and the shady deals now
benefiting powerful people associated with this law.

The White House stunned taxpayers when it announced January 29 that the
new Medicare benefit’s 10-year price tag would be $534 billion rather
than the $395 billion advertised when President Bush signed it December
8. This news startled Congressional Democrats and Republicans, many of
whom opposed this bill.

Now it appears they were hoodwinked.

Late last month, Congressional analysts acquired a June 11 forecast from
Medicare’s Office of the Actuary. It priced the Senate drug bill at
$551.5 billion, approximating the White House’s $534 billion cost for
the similar, final measure. Had Congress learned this promptly, this
bill would have flopped.

Rep. Pete Stark (D – California) said on January 30: “I am confident
that they [the Administration] knew prior to the vote on the Medicare
bill that their estimates would continue to be considerably higher than
those of the Congressional Budget Office,” which foresaw spending $395

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson claimed, “There was
no attempt to keep our number camouflaged,” according to the February 2
New York Times. Yet Thompson himself invoked CBO’s thriftier estimate on
Fox News November 24, while the Senate considered this bill.

When congressional Democrats sought these projections, they slammed into
a brick wall named Tom Scully, then-Administrator of the Center for
Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“They don’t have the right on the Hill to call up my actuary and demand
things,” Scully told the Associated Press June 25. “These people work
for the executive branch, period.” Scully said he would release these
data “if I feel like it.”

The AP’s Laura Meckler added that officials in Congress and at HHS said
“Scully threatened to fire Foster if he released his memo.”

Scully’s muzzling of Foster either undermined or violated the 1997
Balanced Budget Act. The House-Senate agreement cited in that law
explains that the Office of the Actuary “serves both the Administration
and the Congress.” This conference report adds: “The process of
monitoring, updating and reforming the Medicare and Medicaid programs is
greatly enhanced by the free flow of actuarial information from the
Office of the Actuary to the committees of jurisdiction in the

Thompson now concedes HHS generated unflattering estimates but failed to
share them with members of Congress. “I did not tell them because it was
not my responsibility,” Thompson said. Yet it evidently was his
responsibility last November 22 to ignore congressional customs, patrol
the House floor at 5:00 a.m., and dragoon members during a two-hour,
53-minute tally that torched the House’s 15-minute-vote procedures.

This protracted ballot may have helped someone attempt to bribe retiring
Rep. Nick Smith (R -Michigan), a bill opponent who said that for his
vote, he was offered “$100,000-plus” from “business interests” to his
son’s congressional campaign. To his credit, Smith’s “No” vote stuck.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating these allegations.

Meanwhile, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R – Louisiana), the bill’s co-author,
stopped chairing the House Energy and Commerce Committee February 16. He
reportedly was offered over $2 million annually to join Pharma, the drug
association that lobbied for Tauzin’s legislation. If he accepts, his
salary could be a sort of royalty for creating this measure.

“If you want to know the price of selling seniors down the river,” House
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said, “it’s approximately
$2 million a year, if you want to hire the manager of the bill on the
floor of the House.”

Scully, the departed Medicrat, spun through the revolving door and
twirled onto two hospital companies’ boards and into Alston & Bird, a
Washington law firm that performs healthcare work. Secretary Thompson
granted Scully an undisclosed May 12 waiver that allowed him to seek
employment even as he negotiated the Medicare bill with Congress and
medical lobbyists.

Democratic Reps. Stark and Illinois’ Jan Schakowsky wrote Thompson on
December 10 after they finally saw Scully’s waiver. They were
“absolutely shocked that it could pass muster.” They continued: “For
seven months, Members of Congress who relied on Mr. Scully for
information were kept in the dark about the fact that he was actively
engaged in looking for employment with firms that have significant
interests in the issues at stake.” They added: “It is not intended that
high-ranking government officials be actively trolling for work in the
very industry they are being entrusted to regulate and oversee on behalf
of the public.”

In apparent response to this situation, White House Chief of Staff
Andrew Card issued a memo January 6 that said only the White House could
issue waivers allowing top officials to seek positions with companies
they supervise.

On yet another front, $12.6 million in TV ads now state, “Same Medicare.
New benefits.” These tax-funded commercials were placed by National
Media Inc., a Bush-Cheney ’04 partner company.

So, to review: Taxpayers are stuck with a program that costs 35 percent
more than when their bamboozled representatives approved it last
November. Top officials win golden parachutes stitched together by
interests they have legislated and regulated. Trampled House voting
practices, a federally-funded TV deal for GOP political consultants and
a bribery probe all frost this ugly cake.

This is why movement conservatives are so grumpy. They are sick of
knocking themselves out to promote limited government and fiscal
prudence, only to watch their solemn beliefs burn to a crisp in the
increasingly Third World crucible called Republican-controlled

New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps
Howard News Service.

Censure President Bush – Contact Your Congressmen

February 19, 2004 at 9:33 pm
Contributed by:


MoveOn has organized a campaign to censure President Bush for lying to us about the war in Iraq. If you’re angry about this illegitimate and unneccessary war that has cost us over $100 BILLION so far, while our infrastructure and state budgets are crumbling for lack of federal funds, then please contact your Congressmen and ask them to support the call for Censure of President Bush.

I have called both of my senators and my House representative today. In fact, I made contact cards for them in my Outlook and cell phone so that I can easily dial them up again in the future. I suggest that you do the same!

For more information, see MoveOn’s letter, below.

Don’t let them get away with this.

Thursday, February 19, 2004 11:40 AM
To: Chris Nelder
Subject: Censure:
Call Senators Feinstein and Boxer

Dear MoveOn member,

This is
a key week in our campaign for Censure.  Our Senators and Representatives
are home from DC on recess, so it’s a great time to call their local
offices.  They’ve got to hold President Bush accountable for deliberately
hyping and distorting the facts about Iraq’s supposed WMDs.

To make an
impressive show of support for Censure, we need everyone to help out.  Can
you please call your Senators and Representative now?

Make sure their staffers know you’re a constituent. 
Then urge your representatives to Censure President Bush.  Let them know,
politely but firmly, why it’s important to you that he be formally

organizing calls all this week, but we’ll only ask you to call once, and we’ve
timed the arrival of this email to make it as likely as possible that you’ll get
through, if you call now.

Our Censure campaign has picked up incredible
momentum.  Already, more than half a million MoveOn members have signed
onto our petition calling on Congress to censure President Bush for misleading
us into war.

We’re advertising in the Washington Post and on radio
stations around the country, and we’ve written letters to our newspaper
editors.  Now it’s time to call.

Americans are outraged.  A new
poll says “a majority of Americans believe President Bush either lied or
deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass
destruction in order to justify war.” [1]  A recent Newsweek cover asks
“Will Anyone Pay?” [2] 

Even Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly is now
admitting that Bush misled us, saying, “I was wrong.  I am not pleased
about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this.”

The fact is, President Bush was planning for war with Iraq from his
first days in office. [4]  Having made that decision, he ran a campaign of
misinformation, hype and hysteria that led us into war. 

Before the
war, Bush was repeatedly told there was no definitive evidence that Iraq
possessed weapons of mass destruction. [5]  He knew Iraq was not a nuclear
threat. [6]  He knew there was no Iraq connection to 9/11. [7]  Iraq
posed no imminent danger to the United States.  There was no case for a
pre-emptive war.

Yet Bush relentlessly led us into a war that has cost
500 American lives, left 3,000 seriously injured, and wasted tens of billions of
dollars.  Thousands of Iraqis have been killed as well.

Bush has betrayed our trust, and there must be consequences. 

call your Senators and Representative now.

Thank you, for all you


–Adam, Carrie, Eli, James, Joan, Laura, Noah,
Peter, Wes, and Zack
  The Team
  February 19th,

P.S.: If you haven’t already signed the petition for censure, please
do, at:


Washington Post, “Most Think Truth Was Stretched to Justify Iraq War”,

Newsweek, Cover, 2/9/04:

O’Reilly on Good Morning America, as quoted in Reuters, “Pundit O’Reilly Now
Skeptical About Bush”, 2/10/04:

Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, 60 Minutes, 1/11/04:

“The Selling of the Iraq War: The First Casualty,” The New Republic,
Defense Intelligence Agency Report, 6/13/03:

International Atomic Energy Agency Report, 10/8/98:
and Washington Post,
“Bush Aides Disclose Warnings from CIA”, 7/23/03.

[7] Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, “Bush: No Link to 9/11 Found”, 9/18/03:

Partisan Politics in CBS\’ Advertising Policies

February 19, 2004 at 8:57 pm
Contributed by:

Hey folks,

Thought I’d share an e-mail I just sent to the local and national offices of CBS after finding out that, under pressure, CBS has reversed its decision and will begin running the Bush administration’s controversial (and misleading) Medicare ads.

As is often the case, I first heard about this outrage through the Progress Report. Quality stuff, made fresh daily. If you’re not already signed up, I’d encourage you to do so.

— Lee

Partisan Politics in CBS’ Advertising Policies

As disapointed as I was when CBS caved into pressure from the right wing and other Reagan apologists and pulled “The Reagans” miniseries*; as outraged as I was (as an active member of MoveOn.Org) by the refusal to air “Child’s Play,” deeming it a spot that ran counter to CBS’ stated policy against airing ads that contain an “advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance;” as shocked as I was to then see that CBS was airing the completely misleading and partisan Medicare prescription drug law ads… I finally thought there was some hope for fairness when CBS pulled that ad while awaiting a full General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation.

The GAO investigating an ad? Why on Earth would that be necessary? It’s simple: It’s trying to determine whether the ad is an improper and illegal expenditure of taxpayer monies for political purposes. It is. We, the taxpayers — a group of which you, dear reader, are a fellow member — paid for this ad. An ad that was, coincidentally no doubt, produced by Bush’s own campaign media firm. Guess what? They also do ads for the drug industry, which stands to benefit tremendously from this new Medicare law. They should — after all, they helped write it.

That hope for fairness has evaporated now that CBS has announced that it will lift its restriction on the inacurate and partisan election-year Medicare ads and allow them to run. Until this decision is reversed, or CBS’ airwaves opened up to a full and fair public debate, my family and I will avoid all CBS stations.

Shame on you, CBS.

Lee Thompson

* PS: Here’s an excerpt from an interesting article on CBS’ handling of “The Reagans” by the Columbia Journalism Review. I encourage you to read it in its entirety at

CBS made three mistakes in its handling of “The Reagans”:

Its first mistake was to produce an entertainment series that focused on President Reagan’s personal life while he is suffering from serious illness and being cared for by his wife. That’s called bad taste.

Its second mistake was to succumb to outside pressure by abruptly canceling the series and putting it on Showtime, its more restricted cable network. That’s called setting a terrible precedent.

CBS’s third mistake was to deny that it had caved in to outside pressure and claim it was a “moral call.” That’s called misleading.

By canceling “The Reagans,” CBS set a dangerous example for dealing with the pressures that invariably arise to kill controversial programs before they can be seen. The network’s weakness will only encourage future protesters from the left and right to demand that programs they don’t like be pulled. Such programs, especially news documentaries on tough issues, are already network television’s most endangered species. If “The Reagans” had not been a drama but a legitimate CBS News documentary, would CBS still have canceled it? Instead of running for cover and fobbing off “The Reagans” on Showtime, CBS should have run it, made television time available to give critics and supporters their say, and let the people decide for themselves.

Lord of the Right Wing

February 19, 2004 at 12:10 am
Contributed by:

Time for a little humor, don’tcha think? Here’s a little animated trifle featuring Dubya as Gollum.

Lord of the Right Wing

Bush, the Great Pretender

February 17, 2004 at 11:59 pm
Contributed by:


I deemed this BuzzFlash interview of author Paul Waldman worthy of wider distribution not just for being another tour of the Bush team’s history of serial lying, but because it examines the tactics of the lies, the techniques of “Hot” Karl Rove, and the complicity of the media in allowing it all to happen.

How does the Bush administration manage to get away with telling the same lies over and over again, even after they’ve been revealed as lies, and still get people to believe them? How does his homespun, non-intellectual cowboy image let him get away with it? And how have they convinced the press to give Bush a pass on these lies because he’s just not that smart?

This article may have some answers.

Paul Waldman, Author of “Fraud: The Strategy Behind The Bush Lies And Why The Media Didn’t Tell You,” Talks with BuzzFlash about Why Bush is a Complete and Irredeemable “Fraud.”


February 13, 2004

are better at it than Democrats because they have to be. If everybody
just said: Okay, who’s looking out for me? — in Bill O’Reilly’s words
— and voted accordingly, well, Republicans would only have 1 percent
of the votes, because that’s who they’re looking out for. So they have
to be much more sophisticated at it, and they have to work a lot harder
at controlling the language. They have to work a lot harder at telling
those stories, right? This is something that you see in election after
election — the Republicans tend to talk about values, and Democrats
tend to talk about programs. Democrats often get lost in the details.
Now the details are all things that will reflect well on them. But
it’s much harder to get people to understand a whole long list of programs
than it is to get them to understand a story.

are very good at telling these stories. And they’ve constructed a
very pleasing
and easy-to-understand story about George W. Bush —
that he was sort of the wayward son. Then he found God. He became a serious
person. He ran for President. He’s a man of upstanding moral values.
And then Sept. 11th happened, and he rose to the challenge, and he‘s
the savior of us all. And that’s why, to put it bluntly, I’m sure Karl
Rove gets down on his knees and thanks God for Sept. 11th every day because
any time they’re in trouble, what do they do? They announce a new threat,
and they say this is all about terrorism. And if you ask George W. Bush
what time he is, he’ll say: In the wake of Sept. 11th, it’s 3:15. So
it’s a powerful story and it activates people’s fear and anger, and all
those emotions that we all felt on Sept. 11th. And they’re going to keep
activating them as long as they can because they know that it works.”

Paul Waldman

Rarely have we found a writer that so cohesively builds the case that
Bush is a fraud. And, unlike BuzzFlash, the author of “FRAUD” is
restrained and patient as he unfolds his case that the image of George
W. Bush is a strategically manufactured artifice.

As the book jacket notes:

some point, George W. Bush took a good long look at who he was and
what he wanted for the country and decided that the American people
never buy it if he gave it to them straight.” So Bush and his political
machine made their decision: the American people would have to be lied

They would construct a persona that would be everything Bush was not.

They would take the same reactionary agenda and cloak it in comforting
catchphrases and pleasing visuals, presenting to the public a false image
of sympathy.

they would repeat this message endlessly.

power of the fraud lies in the ability of the Bush machine to manipulate
the press, and thereby avoid having the truth exposed. Waldman’s
findings reveal an astonishing record of how the nation’s media
not only
given Bush a pass again and again, but have failed to follow
up on even the most openly dishonest parts of the Bush agenda.”

Paul Waldman is the past associate director of the Annenberg Public
Policy Center and holds a Ph.D. in communications. He is currently the
executive editor of The Gadflyer, an Internet magazine about politics.

Strategy Behind The Bush Lies And Why The Media Didn’t Tell You” is
available at

Here is the BuzzFlash Interview with Paul Waldman.

* *

BuzzFlash: You have a book called Fraud about the person who’s sitting
in the White House. If we accept that the image of Bush that is portrayed
to the country through his speeches — and, as Karl Rove likes to say,
through pictorial images of photos and television video — is a fraud,
what is Bush’s motive and the motive of the people behind him to commit
the fraud?

Paul Waldman: I think where it comes from is the fact that — and I
say this in the Introduction — that at some point he had to have sat
down and taken a good, long look at who he was and what he wanted to
do, and come to the realization that, if he gave it to the American people
straight, they wouldn’t buy it. They would not have elected somebody
who had accomplished so little and had been given so much. They wouldn’t
sign on to this agenda that’s at odds with their own interests.

So if that’s the position you’re in — you’ve got this agenda, you’ve
got a candidate who has really so little to commend himself, other than
his name, and has spent his entire life walking on a path laid before
him with wealth and influence, and has so little in common with the people
that he’s going to be claiming to represent — then you’ve got to come
up with a story. And that story is going to be a false one.

So what do they do? They said we’re going to create this persona that
isn’t somebody who went to Andover and Yale and Harvard, whose father
was a President and whose grandfather was a Senator, and who, his entire
working life, had never had a real job. It’s all been about his Daddy’s
friends giving him money to lose.

They created this persona that he’s a regular guy, a Texas cowboy. He
bought a ranch just before the campaign started so he could go down there
and clear brush. He exaggerates his drawl whenever he can. He does “home
to the heartland” tours to show that the place where he comes from, and
the people who vote for him come from, is the real America. And if you
live on the East coast or the West coast, or you live in a state that
votes for Democrats, then you must not be a real American. So that’s
part of it — the creation of this persona, this kind of regular guy
who doesn’t, in fact, represent the interests of his class.

Then you have the second problem, which is: What do you do about this
agenda? Well, the agenda is not going to change. That we know. So what
they did was they created this wonderful thing called “compassionate
conservatism.” Now what’s compassionate conservatism? I think the best
summation of it is if you go to the Bush campaign website —
— you can see a “Compassion Photo Album.” Now what’s the Compassion
Photo Album? It is — I kid you not — two dozen pictures of George W.
Bush with black people. That’s the compassion photo album. And that pretty
much sums up what compassionate conservatism is.

BuzzFlash: You mean photo ops with minorities as the sum total of compassionate

Paul Waldman: Exactly. You know, you stick him in a room full of black
people and he will hug them ‘til the cows come home. The cameras will
click away, and it’ll be wonderful for everybody. There’s an event that
took place that I mention in the book where —

BuzzFlash: Excuse me for interrupting you, but it’s somewhat ironic
that when he was informed of 9/11, he was in a minority classroom in
Florida reading a children’s book.

Paul Waldman: One of the things that’s so shocking, if we can just digress
on that for a moment, is that everyone talks about his tremendous performance
on 9/11. I don’t think it was that tremendous. He got informed of the
second plane – okay, not the first plane – the second plane. He knew
that America was under attack, and he stayed in that classroom for 10
more minutes. Ari Fleischer held up a sign that said: “Don’t say anything
yet,” and so Bush went on reading this children’s book for 10 more minutes
instead of saying, “I’m sorry children. I have to go.” He hung around
as if it really wasn’t all that urgent.

And then he kind of bounced around the country, making very awkward
statements that didn’t really seem to be very inspiring. It wasn’t until
they coulc actually write something for him to say that he began to take
on the appearance of a President.

BuzzFlash: What happened then in that classroom is sort of indicative
of the real ineptitude and impotency of Bush without his handlers running
the show. Here he is, placed in a photo op situation, part of a Karl
Rove strategy. And the biggest crisis to hit this country in anyone’s
memory — nearly 3,000 people lost — and he’s sitting in a classroom
basically until he’s told what to do. Hardly the take-charge President,
as you say. And then what did he do? He made a brief statement that someone
wrote for him, and then he flew west to Louisiana while the country is
in dissaray.

Paul Waldman: But it was so important for everyone to feel like we had
a commanding leader that reporters in particular were falling all over
themselves — and to this day — to talk about how wonderful his performance
was on that day.

BuzzFlash: Let’s get back to compassionate conservatism. The fraud is,
in part, to advance an agenda that the public doesn’t buy, and we see
this borne out in polls. He may have a high favorability rating, but
at the same time, when people are polled on his individual policies,
particularly domestic policies, he loses in a landslide on most of those.

Paul Waldman: Absolutely. And that’s another thing that is largely a
myth. You see reporters repeat this all the time — that Bush is a tremendously
popular President. Well, he was tremendously popular right after Sept.
11th, and that has kind of stuck in their minds. If a trained seal had
been President on Sept. 11th, he would have gotten 90 percent approval
ratings. But the fact is, right now, Bush is not a tremendously popular
President. His popularity ratings are sort of in the low- to mid-‘50s,
which is okay by historical standards. It’s not fantastic. It’s not terrible.

The Washington Post recently asked, “Who are you going to vote for?”
It was Bush: 48; Democrats: 46. So that’s a tie. But this idea that he’s
so tremendously popular and everybody just loves him sticks in the public
mind because it sticks in reporters’ minds. They’re, to a certain extent,
kind of still locked in that post-Sept. 11th feeling that everybody just
loves Bush.

There’s an interesting parallel with Ronald Reagan here. There’s an
article that was written by a communications scholar named Michael Schudson
some years back. He looked at the Gallup polls on popularity ratings,
and he wrote this piece called “The Myth of Ronald Reagan’s Popularity.”
This is after Reagan had already left office. And what he found was that,
again, by historical standards, Reagan was kind of in the middle. He
had better ratings than Nixon and Carter, but worse than most other presidents.
But Schudson’s explanation was that reporters, to a certain extent, sort
of felt like the American people must have been dupes. Reagan’s people
were so good at these terrific photo ops, and reporters saw how well
they were staged and just figured, well, the American people certainly
must be buying it, because look how pretty those pictures are. They must
love Reagan, when, in fact, they really didn’t. He was reasonably popular,
popular enough to win reelection. But he wasn’t beloved by every American.

And the same kind of thing is happening with Bush. If anything, they’re
even more skilled. They put the Reagan team to shame. Nobody can put
together a photo op like the Bush administration can. So there’s a similar
kind of thing that goes on. They see him land on the aircraft carrier,
and reporters all say: Wow, look at that fantastic photo op. People must
just be lapping this up. Everybody must love this guy.

You know what? The American people aren’t that dumb. There was a Gallup
poll right before the carrier landing happened, and then one right after
it. His popularity went down by one point, so it’s not like everybody
saw it and said: Wow, he’s such a fantastic wartime leader, we just love
him. But that idea has lodged itself in reporters’ minds, and they keep
repeating it – that he’s so fantastically popular.

BuzzFlash: You were associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy
Center at the Annenberg School for Communication. BuzzFlash constantly
focuses on the issue of communication, and in many of our interviews
we ask people about image and meaning. Going back to what you just said
about the carrier landing, people like the infamous Chris Matthews and
others analyzed it as though it were a performance and not something
that was an extension of policy. In the media today, you have celebrity
pundits who can’t divorce themselves from looking at politics as entertainment.
And in that sense, they look at Bush’s performance at projecting himself
as President, rather than how is his performance as the leader of the
American government.

Paul Waldman: I think it goes even beyond the celebrity pundits to prominent
reporters in general. Many years ago, I had a conversation with a White
House correspondent for a major newspaper, and I asked her about this
question of covering the strategy and not covering the policy details.
And she said, “Look, I’m not an expert on welfare policy. I’m not an
expert on foreign policy. What I’m an expert on is politics, and that’s
what I’m going to write about.”

The way that ends up manifesting itself is in theater criticism, and
the irony is that reporters tend to be very, very cynical. They assume
that the motives that candidates and politicians offer are always false,
and they always are concealing some sort of vaguely sinister strategic
motive. But the irony is that they reward good image-making and they
punish bad image-making. So even though they’re cynical, they’re also
playing right into the hands of somebody like Karl Rove, because he knows
all too well that it’s not a question of whether or not you are going
to try to construct some kind of theater. You’re going to be evaluated
based on whether it came off well or not.

If you have a good photo op, you’re going to get praised. If you fall
off the stage like Bob Dole did, then you’re going to get criticized.
Reporters believe when they’re doing this stuff that they’re kind of
in the know, and their cynicism is holding politicians to account. But
it really isn’t. All it’s doing is insisting that they put on good theater
as opposed to bad theater.

BuzzFlash: I recall reading several years ago about people’s recall
and news sources. We are such an entertainment-driven society — news
is geared toward ratings and sweeps weeks, and advertising is dependent
upon viewership. I think it was after the 2000 election, where people
in some sort of focus group were shown negative ads, news reports, and
newspaper articles. Two days later, they were asked about the sources.
When asked about a negative attack upon a politician, they couldn’t distinguish
where it came from. Although the public generally decries negative campaign
advertising, the source of news becomes a blur to the American public
in general.

Paul Waldman: That’s because we don’t classify information when we receive
it, along with its source, necessarily. We get a piece of information,
and we store it into our memory. But it can often get disconnected from
where we saw it. Campaigns count on that. One of the things that they
do sometimes is try to confuse you about what the source is, so they
try to make their ads look vaguely news-like.

There have been a couple of cases where people have done that to the
extreme. In Bob Torricelli’s last Senate race against Dick Zimmer in
New Jersey, Zimmer aired an ad that was a fake sort of newsbreak. “Breaking
news: Torricelli under fire for corruption,” or whatever. That was an
extreme case of somebody trying to confuse you about where the source
was. The mistake they made is that since they aired it over and over
and over again, viewers eventually said: Wait a second, I saw this breaking
news thing yesterday and the day before. They’re trying to screw with
me. And it backfired on them because it was such a blatant attempt to
fool people. But they nonetheless adopt a lot of the visual tropes of
news, and it is, to a certain extent, in order to help you to kind of
forget where you got the information from.

BuzzFlash: Let’s go back to this notion of what makes news nowadays
— the projection of the Bush fraud. Karl Rove was quoted in a New Yorker
piece a couple weeks ago saying, very disdainfully toward the media,
that only the headline counts, and reporters only want the good headline,
because they’re going to be rated on what brings readers or viewers to
their publication or television broadcasting. So as long as we supply
them with the good headline, that’s all we need to do.

He was being what’s called disarmingly candid because the Bush administration,
and Rove’s office in particular, seems masterful. Whenever Bush gets
in a corner, whether it was Enron, Ken Lay — I mean, we can go down
the list of maybe a hundred things that have been damaging to them —
Karl Rove comes up with some headline that knocks whatever is negative
and revealing about the Bush administration off the front page, and invariably
the press goes along with it, except for maybe a few print publications.
Certainly television goes with the headline, and then the Democrats don’t
continue an offense about the damaging revelation, and it just dies because
the White House has released a distracting headline.

Paul Waldman: The critical information ends up far down the story, which
means that on TV, which is basically a headline service, it never gets
in at all. They’re very good about forging ahead. They never apologize
for anything. And the press has been so compliant and kind of beaten
down that if you look back over these stories, some of which you just
mentioned, it’s incredible how they just disappeared.

Take Harken Energy, where Bush may well have committed insider trading.
There’s a lot of money involved. Dumped over $800,000 worth of stock
after apparently hearing that his company was engaging in Enron-style
accounting, and their stock was about to tank. If it had been Bill Clinton,
well, let’s think about the amount of ink that was spilled over Whitewater.
Now what was Whitewater about? Even people who spend every day thinking
about politics can’t tell you, because it was basically about nothing,
and they found nothing. But we spent $70 million investigating it. And
Harken just disappears. They ran a couple of stories for a couple of
weeks, and then it just went away.

BuzzFlash: One of the traits of the Bush administration is the old slogan:
If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. Or, I guess a variation
on that is: If you tell a lie five times, it becomes the truth, which
seems a hallmark of the Bush administration. Let me ask you about a couple
things and just see your reaction in terms of media. When it first came
out that Bush had been briefed before he went off to Crawford in August
of 2001 that al-Qaeda was planning a massive terrorist attack on the
United States, it was derailed. Bush suddenly decided it was time to
have a Department of Homeland Security — I’m pretty sure that’s the
story that derailed the August briefing story. The press seems to have
no memory that this President was opposed to a Department of Homeland
Security. Something comes out that’s damaging to him, and suddenly he
comes out championing it.

I’m getting to is when Condoleezza Rice was asked about the briefing,
she said, “But
we never thought they would use planes to fly into buildings.”

Paul Waldman: The other thing about when she got asked about the briefing
was that she said: No, it wasn’t about attacks on the United States.
It was about attacks overseas. And that was false.

BuzzFlash: No one challenged her, and it did not become a big scandal
— the way you prevent a hijacking is the same way you prevent a hijacking
that results in flying planes into big buildings. It doesn’t matter.
You didn’t prevent the hijacking. Her attitude was: Well, we’d kind of
been warned about hijackings, but not about flying planes into buildings.

How does that happen? A 5-year-old could knock that excuse down and
say: How can you be National Security Advisor if you can’t understand
that both would be prevented in the same way?

Paul Waldman: I think the press, ever since the beginning, has bought
that line that the Bush administration is comprised of grownups. If nothing
else, these people are competent, and they know what they’re doing. And
even a huge failure like failing to prevent Sept. 11th has done nothing
to damage that view amongst the press. They continue, in the face of
all evidence to the contrary, to hold to that view that no matter what
you think about their policies, these people really know what they’re

BuzzFlash: Even when they say things that reveal they absolutely don’t
know what they’re doing.

Paul Waldman: I think part of it is that they’re so good at sort of
forging ahead and not being willing to even grant the premise of criticism,
and changing the subject.

BuzzFlash: We had an editorial at one point called “The Banality of
Lying,” which noted that they lie so frequently and so brazenly that
it’s hard for some people of the press to accuse them of lying because
they’re so audacious.

Paul Waldman: That is a strategy. And Bush never apologizes for anything,
and it’s been very effective. Even in cases you can find where he’ll
repeat the same lie over and over and over again, and there will be somebody
pointing that out, he just keeps going because he knows that there’s
not going to be a cost. And this actually brings me to a point that I
think is really important that a lot of liberals misunderstand. It’s
easy to make fun of Bush for not being too smart, and for the way that
he trips over his words. But when liberals do that, I think they’re making
a big mistake because he wants liberals to make fun of him. It makes
liberals look like snobs, and it reiterates this idea that he’s just
an ordinary guy, because if he went to Andover and Yale and Harvard,
he wouldn’t be a guy who trips over his words.

What the press does in a presidential campaign is they sort of home
in on what they think each candidate’s Achilles’ heel is. And they tell
the public: This is what you have to know about this guy, and this is
the area of potential danger. For Gore, it was the idea he was a liar.
And for Bush, it was the idea that he was stupid. And once they decided
that Bush was stupid, they gave him permission to lie.

There’s a quote that I cite from Cokie Roberts — if you want to know
what the conventional wisdom among reporters is, you can just listen
to what she’s got to say. After the first debate, Gore made some utterly
trivial inaccurate statements about the girl who has to stand in her
classroom when in fact she had a chair, or he went to the fires in Texas
with the director of FEMA when it was actually the deputy director. And
Bush told a number of falsehoods that were actually consequential and
were meant to deceive people about what he wanted to do. What Cokie Roberts
said was that with Bush, “you know he’s just misstating.” And that’s
a quote. You know he’s just misstating, as opposed to it playing into
a story about him being a serial exaggerator.

That’s what reporters felt. If Bush said something that wasn’t true,
oh, well, you know, he’s not too smart, so he must have just made a mistake,
so we don’t have to hold him accountable for his lies. And we may not
even have to say that what he said was wrong.

And when they realized that this was going on, the Bush team knew that
they had struck political gold: He was never going to be held accountable
for the things that he said. After the State of the Union last year,
when he said that Saddam was looking for uranium in Africa, one White
House aide said: Well, the President’s not a fact-checker. And this is
always their line. It’s not his fault because he’s George W. Bush. He’s
not too smart. He’s doing what he thinks is the right thing. But he doesn’t
have to be held accountable for the things that he says.

I’ve had it with that. When he was running for President, he said that
he was going to usher in the responsibility era. Well, it’s time for
him to take some responsibility.

BuzzFlash: In September of last year, on a Friday, which is often when
the administration releases information that can be damaging or undercut
their credibility, a statement is released on behalf of President Bush
in which he states that basically there is no indication that Saddam
was tied with al-Qaeda.

It was an enormously significant admission on the part of administration
that had done everything possible, through a number of psychological
linguistic techniques, to get the American public to believe that the
majority of the hijackers on Sept. 11th were Iraqi. At one point, 70
percent of Americans thought that. Then Bush suddenly admits there was
no connection, and two days later, if I recall, Vice President Cheney
appears on television and once again says we have reason to believe that
there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. So the Vice
President, who many say is really the brains behind the operation, along
with Karl Rove, says something completely contrary to what the President
has said just two days ago, and there’s barely a ripple in the press.

Paul Waldman: And Bush only said it because he got asked the question
directly, and it had begun to become controversial because Cheney has
been always the one who has said the most outrageous things when it came
to Iraq –that Saddam actually has nuclear weapons, that he’s going to
be attacking any minute now. What happened was, after one of these statements,
Bush actually got asked directly by a reporter: Do you believe that Saddam
was involved with Sept. 11th? And he said no, because there was no escaping
it when he got asked so directly. But yes, you’re right, and I wrote
a piece in the Washington Post about this — that reporters just don’t
know how to say: The President lied. They especially don’t know how to
say it if he lies in a clever way.

They didn’t have to say the words “Saddam planned Sept. 11th” in order
to plant that idea in the public mind. All they had to do was to keep
repeating the words “Saddam” and “Sept. 11th” in the same sentence over
and over and over.

BuzzFlash: Which is a technique called mirroring.

Paul Waldman: Yes. And people would make the connection in their own
minds because we know that Saddam is a bad guy, and al-Qaeda is bad.
And they’re all sort of Middle Eastern, so why wouldn’t there be a connection
between them? The other thing that they do was they hyped these meaningless
connections. Bush said, I think it was in his State of the Union, or
maybe it was the U.N. address — I can’t remember specifically — that
a senior member of al-Qaeda has received medical treatment in Baghdad.
First of all, the guy wasn’t in al-Qaeda. He was in a different terrorist
group. But that actually proves absolutely nothing. By that standard,
President Bush is in league with al-Qaeda, too, because there have been
members of al-Qaeda that have been found in the United States.

BuzzFlash: Not to mention the close Bush family relationship to Saudi
Arabia, to the bin Laden family and so forth.

Paul Waldman: They knew that they wouldn’t have to say it explicitly.
They could get 70 percent of the people to believe that Saddam was involved
in Sept. 11th if they just kept repeating the two ideas and linking them
as closely as they could, over and over and over and over again. That
inoculates them against the charge of lying, so when they’re accused
of making that connection, they can say: We never said it. This is something
that you might call Clintonian or Clintonesque.

BuzzFlash: Parsing.

Paul Waldman: Yes. Going back afterward and saying, well, if you look
back at exactly what I said, that’s not what I said. You’ve seen Republicans
in recent days make this argument, too. Now that we know that Saddam
had no weapons, you’ve heard Republicans say: He never said the threat
was imminent. Now how is it that he never said that? Well, the word “imminent”
does not seem to have passed his lips. But, of course, he was telling
us over and over that if we didn’t attack Iraq, Iraq was going to attack
us, and soon. But since the word “imminent” was never heard, you now
have Republicans saying: He didn’t say the threat was imminent. But of
course he did. That’s what he wanted us to think.

The most appropriate definition of lying is whether you say something
that intentionally leads the person who hears you to come to a false
conclusion. That’s the kind of lie that Bush is more apt to make, particularly
on Iraq, as he did, although there are certainly plenty of things that
he said that are literally false. You can rattle off a whole list of
those, whether it’s the uranium from Africa, the aluminum tubes, or,
the unmanned aerial vehicles that were supposed to be able to spread
chemical weapons over the eastern United States.

BuzzFlash: It’s an endless quagmire of lying that was created for the
intention of deception. And I guess you’re saying what the Republicans
are doing now is what they accuse Clinton of one minor thing having to
do with a sexual activity. But they’re distinguishing between technically
lying and the intent to deceive. They’re saying those are two different

Paul Waldman: Right.

BuzzFlash: So maybe there was intent to deceive, although they’re not
really acknowledging that. But they’re kind of saying Bush didn’t technically

Paul Waldman: The intent to deceive is what’s important.

BuzzFlash: Well, to us, an intent to deceive is a lie, whether or not
the wording was phrased in a way that you could say that he absolutely
said that, and it was a lie. But you could put A and B together and it
becomes a lie. Clearly the entire pre-Iraq campaign — even Powell now
acknowledges he lied, and no one seems to care. Powell now says they
didn’t really have firm evidence. They seem to be inoculating themselves
by stipulating to the facts, but saying it wasn’t intentional lying.

Paul Waldman: Right. And the thing is, if you actually go back and look
at what they said, they’re now saying: Well, we just didn’t really know;
the evidence was sketchy, and so we were just laying it out there. But
the important point is that when they presented that evidence, much of
which was false, they didn’t tell us that it was vague and ambiguous.
Bush gave us in his State of the Union speech one year ago with specific
numbers on tons of biological weapons that they were supposed to have
had, and numbers of missiles, and in Powell’s speech to the U.N. It was
truly amazing, if you hear that speech to the U.N., all across the country,
people said, well, that’s it. Case closed. The case has been made, because
Colin Powell, who everyone respects so much, because he’s the moderate,
he’s the honest one – he laid it out and that’s it.

We talked about those aluminum tubes. This was something that was extremely
controversial within the Administration. Why? Because every expert who
knew about enriching uranium said these things are useless for enriching
uranium. They’re for conventional rockets, and the Iraqis happen to be
telling the truth on this one. And that was the conclusion of everyone
who knew what they were talking about.

Now they had some intelligence analysts who didn’t know much about enriching
uranium who said they could take the tubes, and maybe they could hollow
them out and do this long involved process where maybe they could use
them for enriching uranium. And that was what ended up carrying the day.
But when Powell got to the U.N., what did he say? He said that the consensus
of most experts who have looked at it said that these can be used for
enriching uranium. And Condoleezza Rice said they can only be used for
enriching uranium. And they were lying. That was not the consensus of
most of the analysts. They were almost useless for enriching uranium.

They presented all these things as though they were certainties — that
there was really no ambiguity about it. And now, when it turns out that
all these things were false, they’re saying: Well, we weren’t really
sure. We were just putting it out there saying maybe it was a possibility.
But that’s not the way they presented it to us at the time.

BuzzFlash: You write an exquisitely detailed book, very cogent, noting
that we basically have a fraud in the White House: a man who pretends
that he is something that he isn’t, a great pretender. What we have is
Bush branded as something he’s not. And it’s kind of like trying to sell
someone a product when they don’t really need it and persuading them
that it’s going to make their life better. But if someone tries to sell
you a peanut butter sandwich, and you taste it and realize it’s turkey,
you can send it back. But within the White House —

Paul Waldman: They’ll make you pay and convince you the turkey is what
you wanted all along.

BuzzFlash: And persuade you of that. Basically they’ve created a brand
identity for Bush, and they keep pushing that based on advertising principles
and so forth. At what point do you expose that you’re being told you’re
getting prime rib but really you’re getting horsemeat? They’re pretty
good at selling horsemeat as though it were sirloin steak.

Paul Waldman: They are. And they wouldn’t be able to do it without the
cooperation of the news media.

BuzzFlash: When you say “cooperation,” let me ask you something about
the dynamics of the media. We talk a lot on BuzzFlash about the corporate-owned
media, but let’s not get into that, because that’s a whole other issue.
Let’s talk a little bit about the news cycle at this point in time, and
what cable television has done and the nature of the 24-hour headline
news cycle.

The Bush administration, and Karl Rove in particular, seem to be brilliant
at surfing the headlines — whenever they’re in a crisis, they jump on
a new wave, and people forget about the last wave. How are they aided
by information technology? We’re surrounded by information. If you work
out at the gym, there’s six television sets. You’ve got CNN. You’ve got
the Internet. Newsprint seems as slow as molasses now. Do we have so
much information we can no longer determine what’s important?

Paul Waldman: I think most of us don’t use all that information. Most
people get their news from the top-level stuff — their hometown newspaper
and the national network news shows. Every argument is out there somewhere.
But Bush doesn’t care if there’s a stinging piece in The Nation that
really gets to the heart of and lays out the facts about something bad
that they’ve done. He doesn’t care, because he knows that so few people
are going to see it. So they can ride those waves.

I think that too many reporters see themselves implicitly as kind of
stenographers to power. And since the Bush White House is driving the
agenda, if the Bush White House says, We’re going to change the subject
now, and we’re not going to talk about this criticism — reporters just
go along because they’re at the White House, and the Bush people are
setting the agenda. For them to stand up and say: Hold on a second —
we need to talk about weapons of mass destruction; you were saying that
all along, but now, all of a sudden, you changed the subject and now
it’s about how Iraq was a humanitarian mission. For them to do that requires
a little bit of courage, and courage is in short supply in the Washington
press corps these days. They know that if they speak out too loudly,
they’re going to get blacklisted by the White House. They also know that
they are going to be deluged with accusations of liberal bias. That cry
is a strategy the Republicans employ to get reporters not to report honestly.

So they just keep going – well, we’ll just write about today’s photo
op. And it’s that kind of combination of intimidation and fear that leads
them to just go along. I think that they are very successful at defining
some things as out of bounds. For instance, I saw an article in the L.A.
Times the other day about a Wesley Clark event where somebody asked a
question about George Bush being a deserter. And Clark actually answered
it, and said something sort of vague and noncommittal about whether he
thought that Bush was a deserter. But the incredible thing was that the
story didn’t explain what the guy was talking about — about Bush not
showing up for a year’s worth of his National Guard duty.

Now I know that the reporter who was reporting on that story knows what
the story is. But the fact that he would not even explain it and instead
leave it absolutely impenetrable to almost any reader — that, to me,
is a frightening indication of how their reporters sort of see that there
are some kinds of criticism — well, we’re just not going to talk about
that. That’s out of bounds to discuss the fact that Bush didn’t show
up and fulfill his National Guard duty.

That’s the kind of thing that I find really frightening — the fact
that they’re beaten down on a day-to-day basis, and just go along with
the White House line. It’s tragic and it’s a betrayal of their obligations
to the citizenry. But it’s not too surprising.

BuzzFlash: This administration sells itself as an administration of
integrity, but it’s perhaps the most dishonest administration in recent
memory. It says it’s Godly, but in the Iraq war, almost every denomination,
including the President’s own, and the Catholic Church, opposed the Iraq
war. Yet the President said God directed him to do this. It’s kind of
Orwellian. When you look at its actions vs. his words, it’s almost invariably
the opposite of what it says.

Going back to your academic background in communications and journalism
— and James Moore talks about this in Bush’s Brain a bit — Karl Rove
understands that Bush’s role is to create a story, create a brand identity.
And everything Bush does is part of elaborating on that story. You talk
about it in your book. You said they had to make him into the cowboy.
And God knows the only time he ever cuts any brush on his Crawford ranch
is during a photo op. Democrats seem to focus on issues — with the primaries
now, we’re seeing them attacking each other on issues. The Bush Republican
Party focuses on telling a story about Bush — the man of integrity,
the man of God, the man of homespun, cowboy values who’d rather be back
on his ranch. And that story seems to go a long way with a large segment
of the American public.

Paul Waldman: Republicans are better at it than Democrats because they
have to be. If everybody just said: Okay, who’s looking out for me? —
in Bill O’Reilly’s words — and voted accordingly, well, Republicans
would only have 1 percent of the votes, because that’s who they’re looking
out for. So they have to be much more sophisticated at it, and they have
to work a lot harder at controlling the language. They have to work a
lot harder at telling those stories, right? This is something that you
see in election after election — the Republicans tend to talk about
values, and Democrats tend to talk about programs. Democrats often get
lost in the details. Now the details are all things that will reflect
well on them. But it’s much harder to get people to understand a whole
long list of programs than it is to get them to understand a story.

Republicans are very good at telling these stories. And they’ve constructed
a very pleasing and easy-to-understand story about George W. Bush —
that he was sort of the wayward son. Then he found God. He became a serious
person. He ran for President. He’s a man of upstanding moral values.
And then Sept. 11th happened, and he rose to the challenge, and he‘s
the savior of us all. And that’s why, to put it bluntly, I’m sure Karl
Rove gets down on his knees and thanks God for Sept. 11th every day because
any time they’re in trouble, what do they do? They announce a new threat,
and they say this is all about terrorism. And if you ask George W. Bush
what time he is, he’ll say: In the wake of Sept. 11th, it’s 3:15. So
it’s a powerful story and it activates people’s fear and anger, and all
those emotions that we all felt on Sept. 11th. And they’re going to keep
activating them as long as they can because they know that it works.

BuzzFlash: They have their nominating convention focused around September

Paul Waldman: Exactly. They have never hesitated for an instant to milk
every ounce of political gain they could out of it. I think you’re right
on the Democrats because there’s this feeling among Democrats, often
a sort of frustration. They say we’re the party that stands for the ordinary
people. And there are a lot more ordinary people than there are millionaires.
So how come we don’t win every election by 90 percent? It’s because Republicans
are better at telling these stories, and they’re better at simplifying
things because they have to be.

BuzzFlash: And they’re better at conveying that story for the media,
and taking advantage of the headline cycle. It seems the Democrats don’t
quite understand how to tell that story through the media, and how to
connect emotionally with people.

Paul Waldman: I know some who do it. But the thing is that the Republicans
are much better organized when it comes to these kinds of questions.

BuzzFlash: They’re much more disciplined.

Paul Waldman: If you surf around cable news, what you see is that they’re
all talking using the same language. They’re all making the same arguments.
And the Democrats are all over the map. They just haven’t gotten their
act together. I must say that George W. Bush has a way of concentrating
Democrats’ minds. And I think BuzzFlash is a part of this. The Democrats
are tired of getting the shit kicked out of them. And they are starting
to stand up and say enough is enough — we’re going to fight back. Part
of that is getting organized, and you do see that beginning to happen.
We’ll see over this election and the ensuing years and decades whether
the movement that we’re seeing the beginnings of right now really takes
hold. But that will remain to be seen.

BuzzFlash: The goal of brand identity is to sell a product that’s predictable.
So if you buy Kraft Cream Cheese in Philadelphia or you buy Kraft Cream
Cheese in Los Angeles, that Kraft Cream Cheese tastes exactly the same.
The Republicans, who are much more into advertising and business, tend
to see politics as the selling of a product. There’s a Bush brand, and
they’re consistent and they respect hierarchy. If this is the way we’re
supposed to sell Kraft Cream Cheese, this is the way we’re going to sell
Bush. We all stick to the consistent message points. Democrats and independents,
by their very nature, value diversity. And so it’s a little harder to
come out with a branded image because the very nature of diversity goes
against the very concept of what makes branding successful.

Paul Waldman: Yes, but you know what? If you actually get deep into
the Republicans, you find a lot of diversity there, too. And you find
a lot of competing interests. The Libertarians are different from the
conservative Christians, who are different from the corporatists. But
they understand and appreciate power in a way liberals don’t. I think
part of what it means to be a liberal is to have an outsider mindset.
The liberal heroes are people who were pushing from outside the system
— people like Martin Luther King, the women’s suffrage movement, the
environmental movement. These are all cases where people from outside
the system pushed the system for change. Republicans understand that
you make the greatest strides towards your agenda when you have power.
Let’s not say Democrats, but liberals are not completely comfortable
with the idea of power. When power’s on the line, Republicans say: We’re
going to put aside our parochial interests, and we’re all going to get
behind this guy, because even if he’s not 100 percent of what we want,
when he’s in office, we’re going to be getting what we want. Right now,
there are thousands of committed conservatives who are working every
single day to undermine the values that liberals and progressives hold
dear. If you want to see our agenda advanced, we have to get hold of
institutional power. You can’t do it without it. Pushing from outside
is necessary at times. It’s necessary at almost all times. But you also
can’t do almost anything without somebody in the position of authority
to make something happen. And that’s what Republicans understand.

There was a point — I think it was the NAACP Convention — where a
couple of candidates, including Gephardt and Lieberman, didn’t come.
And Kweisi Mfume subjected them to this public humiliation afterward,
where they had to go and grovel before him. And James Carville said something
very interesting afterwards. He said, the NRA doesn’t demand that George
W. Bush come to their convention and hold a rifle over his head, because
they just know that when he gets into office, he’s going to do what they

not interested in the symbolic stuff. They’re going to work for his
election anyway, even if he doesn’t do that symbolic stuff. And liberals
get too caught up in that symbolic stuff, and they’re not comfortable
enough with the idea that what you need in order to advance your
agenda is power. Republicans have no hesitation to seek power. That’s

Making Your Vote (Not) Count

February 17, 2004 at 2:00 pm
Contributed by:


The second of today’s posts, like the first, is another example of the slow-motion train wreck of American Democracy.

Ever since the debacle of the 2000 Florida election, in which the voter rolls were illegally purged and tampered with by Katherine Harris, handing a 537 vote “victory” to George Bush, our attempts to preserve the honesty of voting in America have been met with increasing resistance. Let’s bring the problem up to date.

First, if you haven’t already, check out these stories about the basic problems of the electronic voting machines and their utter lack of security.

Then take a little trip down memory lane and remember all that Katherine Harris did in the 2000 election in this powerful animation from the ever-incisive Eric Blumrich.

Bring yourself up to date on the debate about electronic voting and the security issues therein with this MSNBC article from yesterday.

Then, explore the Verified Voting site to learn how you can fight for this issue in your state, and where you can donate to help the cause. True Majority has also set up a simple “store” where you can donate to their The Computer Ate My Vote campaign.

You can be sure that at least one California senator is trying to fight the good fight. See the response I got, below, from Sen. Boxer, to my letter to her about this issue.

But in Florida, Boca Raton Congressman Robert Wexler’s suit to force Florida’s voting machines to produce a paper trail has been dismissed.

If you care about your democracy–I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on–I hope you will contact your congressmen to insist on verifiable, secure voting. I wonder what they’ll say. Something tells me you’re not all going to get the kind of response I got from Sen. Boxer.


February 17, 2004

Dear Mr. Nelder:

Thank you for contacting me regarding
electronic voting. I appreciate the opportunity
to review and respond to your comments.

You will be pleased to learn that I
recently introduced legislation to address the
shortcomings of current Direct Recording
Electronic (DRE) voting systems.

The Secure and Verifiable Electronic Voting
Act (SAVE Voting), S. 2045, will ensure that
Americans have an electronic voting system that
is modern, secure, and verifiable by the upcoming
November elections. SAVE Voting would require a
voter-verified, permanent paper trail for each
vote cast. It would also impose greater security
standards by making sure that access to the DRE
machines and software is limited to approved
personnel who have had background checks.
Finally, SAVE Voting would provide financial
assistance to states to help pay for the costs of
adding printers to DRE machines.

Again, thank you for contacting me about
this issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me
in the future.


Barbara Boxer

United States Senator

Police and FBI Investigate Antiwar Protesters

February 17, 2004 at 1:26 pm
Contributed by:


We knew it was coming, it was only a matter of time. It started with the New McCarthyism, was legalized with the Patriot Act, and now we’re right back where we were in Hoover’s day, using taxpayer dollars to infiltrate democratic citizens’ groups, and investigate individuals who exercise their freedoms of speech and assembly. Local police are keeping files on them, and putting them on an air travel no-fly list.

Who are these subversives and terrorists? Why, they’re the worst kinds: retirees, schoolteachers, nuns, veteran civil rights activists, and Green Party members.

America has seen this kind of thing before. Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover ran COINTELPRO, a program of surveillance and sabotage against political dissidents. COINTELPRO watched violent groups like the Ku Klux Klan and, later, the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers, but it also spied on and harassed thousands of innocent people, including Martin Luther King Jr.

COINTELPRO’s abuses came to light in 1971, when a group of activists calling themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Penn., and stole several hundred pages of files.

Is that what we’re headed for here? Are citizens going to have to break into an FBI office to put an end to these abuses of civil liberties that are so common under the Bush administration and John Ashcroft’s Justice Department?

Thanks to Ashcroft, FBI agents are now allowed to monitor public meetings even if they don’t have any reason to suspect that there’s any criminal activity being committed or planned.

“Now, that means if there is a rally of people who are criticizing the United States and its policies and saying that the United States will someday perhaps be destroyed because of that, the FBI agent can go and listen to what’s being said,” Ashcroft told CNN’s Larry King in May of 2002.

Apparently so. The new watchword on the beat is: “If you dissent, you’re a terrorist.”

Use ’em or lose ’em, people.

–COutlawing dissent

Spying on peace meetings, cracking down on protesters, keeping secret files on innocent people — how Bush’s war on terror has become a war on freedom.


– – – – – – – – – – – –

By Michelle Goldberg


Feb. 11, 2004  | 

The undercover cop introduced herself to the activists from the Colorado Coalition Against the War in Iraq as Chris Hoffman, but her real name was Chris Hurley. Last March, she arrived at a nonviolence training session in Denver, along with another undercover officer, Brad Wanchisen, whom she introduced as her boyfriend. The session, held at the Escuela Tlatelolco, a Denver private school, was organized to prepare activists for a sit-in at the Buckley Air National Guard Base the next day, March 15. Hurley said she wanted to participate. She said she was willing to get arrested for the cause of peace. In fact, she did get arrested. She was just never charged. The activists she protested with wouldn’t find out why for months.

Chris Hurley was just one of many cops all over the country who went undercover to spy on antiwar protesters last year. Nonviolent antiwar groups in Fresno, Calif., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Albuquerque, N.M., have all been infiltrated or surveilled by undercover police officers. Shortly after the Buckley protest, the Boulder group was infiltrated a second time, by another pair of police posing as an activist couple.

Meanwhile, protesters arrested at antiwar demonstrations in New York last spring were extensively questioned about their political associations, and their answers were entered into databases. And last week, a federal prosecutor in Des Moines, Iowa, obtained a subpoena demanding that Drake University turn over records from an antiwar conference called “Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!” that the school’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil libertarian legal group, hosted on Nov. 15 of last year, the day before a protest at the Iowa National Guard headquarters. Among the information the government sought was the names of the leaders of the Drake University Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, its records dating back to January of 2002, and the names of everyone who attended the “Stop the Occupation!” conference. Four antiwar activists also received subpoenas in the investigation.

On Tuesday, after a national outcry, the U.S. Attorney’s Office canceled the subpoenas. Still, says Bruce Nestor, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild who is serving as the Drake chapter’s attorney, “We’re concerned that some type of investigation is ongoing.”

In the early 1970s, after the exposure of COINTELPRO, a program of widespread FBI surveillance and sabotage of political dissidents, reforms were put in place to prevent the government from spying on political groups when there was no suspicion of criminal activity. But once again, protesters throughout America are being watched, often by police who are supposed to be investigating terrorism. Civil disobedience, seen during peaceful times as the honorable legacy of heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., is being treated as terrorism’s cousin, and the government claims to be justified in infiltrating any meeting where it’s even discussed. It’s too early to tell if America is entering a repeat of the COINTELPRO era. But Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Law in Manhattan, says, “There are certainly enough warning signs out there that we may be.”

As a new round of protests approaches — including worldwide antiwar demonstrations on March 20 and massive anti-Bush actions during the Republican National Convention in August and September — experts say the surveillance is likely to increase. “The government is taking an increasingly hostile stance toward protesters,” says Michael Avery, president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor of constitutional law at Suffolk University. In the run-up to the Republican Convention, he says, “I’m sure the government will be attempting to infiltrate political groups. They may send agent provocateurs into political groups. They’re no doubt compiling reports on people. We have to stand up against that.”

No one knows the extent of the political spying and profiling currently being carried out against critics of the Bush administration and American foreign policy — which may be the most disturbing thing about the entire phenomenon. “Presumably if they’re doing their jobs well, we’ll never know,” says Fogel. Activists have also been unsuccessful at finding out why they’re being watched, and under whose authority.

What we do know, though, is that several of the police departments that have been accused of spying on protesters — including the Aurora, Colo., Police Department, where Hurley works — are part of Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These are programs in which local police are assigned to work full-time with FBI agents and other federal agents “to investigate and prevent acts of terrorism,” as the FBI’s Web site says. According to the FBI, such JTTFs have been around since 1980, but the total number has almost doubled since Sept. 11, 2001, to 66.

A Polk County deputy sheriff assigned to a Joint Terrorism Task Force served the subpoenas in Iowa. According to Nestor, the deputy sheriff even handed out business cards that identified him as part of the JTTF. On Monday, though, after what Nestor describes as a “tremendous public reaction” following news reports of the JTTF’s involvement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Des Moines issued a written statement denying that the investigation was being conducted by the task force.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office confirms that the investigation is a collaboration between the FBI, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office — all of whom, Nestor notes, serve on the JTTF. It focuses on a case of misdemeanor trespassing on government property that took place on Nov. 16, near the antiwar protest. According to Nestor, the case involves someone who “walked up to a closed gate” outside the National Guard’s armory, “had a conversation with the guards and got charged with trespassing.” The police and FBI are now investigating whether people at the antiwar conference entered into some kind of conspiracy to break the law — in other words, whether they planned acts of civil disobedience.

“They appear to be taking the stance that if any individual, as part of or in relation to a protest, commits an act that might be a violation of federal law, that they can subpoena and investigate any records of any meeting that person may have gone to in the days or even months proceeding,” says Nestor.

Avery suggests that such investigations will have a chilling effect on the planning for future protests. “The risk is that if there’s some kind of demonstration or protest activity that involves trespassing, [the JTTF] is saying they can ask people what political meetings have you been to lately, who was there, what did you talk about,” says Avery. “People are allowed to meet and talk and debate political issues without being spied on by the government.” At least, they used to be.

Whether or not a Joint Terrorism Task Force was behind the Iowa investigation, JTTFs have already been implicated in political spying. In a three-ring binder from the Denver Police Department Intelligence Unit obtained by the Colorado ACLU, a section labeled “Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List” contained printouts made in April 2002 from the Web sites of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, American Friends Service Committee, Denver Justice and Peace Committee and the Rocky Mountain Independent Media Center. One of the printouts, a copy of which is available on the ACLU’s Web site, is the American Friends Service Committee’s calendar of upcoming antiwar events.

Last November, the New York Times revealed a leaked FBI memo asking local police to report protest activity to their local Joint Terrorism Task Force. The bulletin, sent to law enforcement agencies on Oct. 15, 2003, warned about antiwar protests planned for Oct. 25, saying, “While the FBI possesses no information indicating that violent or terrorist activities are being planned as part of these protests, the possibility exists that elements of the activist community may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or dangerous acts.”

The bulletin went on to list common protest methods including marches and sit-ins, as well as “aggressive tactics” used by “extremist elements,” including vandalism, trespassing, physical harassment, formation of human chains and the use of weapons.

“Even the more peaceful techniques can create a climate of disorder, block access to a site, draw large numbers of police officers to a specific location in order to weaken security at other locations, obstruct traffic, and possibly intimidate people from attending the events being protested,” it warned.

It ended by saying, “Law enforcement agencies should be alert to these possible indications of protest activity and report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

The Colorado activists who attended nonviolence training with Chris Hurley remember her as shy and timid. She didn’t arouse suspicion at either the training session, where people practiced staying calm even when confronted by aggressive police, or the next day, when she showed up at the demonstration.

On March 15, around 300 people protested near the Buckley base, but only 18 (not including Hurley) engaged in civil disobedience by sitting in the road and blocking the base’s entrance. The action was no secret — the Colorado Coalition Against the War had informed police of what it intended to do in advance. “We always have a police liaison when we have a civil disobedience,” says participant Terry Leichner, a 54-year-old psychiatric social worker and veteran activist. “We always work with police so there’s no violence.”

The Aurora Police Department doesn’t deny that the activists told them exactly what they planned to do. Indeed, they use that fact as a rationale for infiltrating the group. “Prior to the actual protest, this group came to the police department and told us they were going to conduct criminal acts in our city,” says Kathleen Walsh, the Aurora Police Department’s public information officer. “We have a responsibility to the citizens of Aurora to investigate.” Walsh insists that the activists’ willingness to tell the police their plans didn’t mitigate the need to spy on the group. “Can you guarantee me that people don’t lie to police?” she said. Walsh asked that further questions — including those about Hurley’s connection to counterterrorism investigations — be submitted in writing. She has yet to answer them.

Having been warned in advance, the police arrived quickly to remove the Buckley demonstrators. They wore riot gear, but didn’t need it — the protesters, including Hurley, were arrested without incident, and the whole thing was over in an hour. All 19 arrestees were taken to a holding cell, where the activists say Hurley seemed nervous. Nancy Peters, a 56-year-old protest organizer, recalls trying to comfort her, but Hurley didn’t say much. While the rest of the group exchanged stories, Leichner says, Hurley was “noncommittal.” When they were released, she didn’t attend a meeting the activists had to plan legal strategy, but according to Peters, she asked to be kept informed.

None of the activists found out that Hurley was an Aurora police officer until the discovery phase of their trials last spring.

By then, though, their lawyers had reason to be suspicious. A month after the Buckley protest, the Colorado Coalition was infiltrated again, by an undercover officer from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, which is also part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force. This time, the group realized something was up.

On April 14, the activists planned to meet with Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, a supporter of the war, and ask him to present a “peace resolution” to Congress. Several of the activists planned to refuse to leave his office unless he acceded to their demands, which no one expected him to do.

Peters, who was arrested at Buckley, was one of the organizers of the Allard action and was going to be on hand to bail out activists taken to jail. Again, the Colorado Coalition held a nonviolence training session the day before for those planning to be arrested.

Peters remembers unloading her car outside the church where the training was held when she saw a couple walking by, looking like they were “killing time” before finally going inside. The man, a muscular guy who looked to be in his 30s, introduced himself as Chris Taylor and said the woman with him was his girlfriend. In fact, his name was Darren Christensen and he was an undercover officer, as was Liesl McArthur, the woman he was with. As the Rocky Mountain News reported in December, much of his usual undercover work involved “being solicited on line for deviant sex.”

Unlike Hurley, Christensen immediately made the activists nervous. “A couple of people from the group came up and said, ‘Who are they? Do you know them from any other events?'” says Peters. “He was pumping for information, asking questions about whether there was a group that was more radical and had a different focus, more like the black bloc or the anarchists.”

At the time, though, it didn’t occur to anyone that the police would be interested in spying on them. So they let Christensen participate, even after he made what Peters thought was an outlandish suggestion.

“It was in the evening when we were trying to figure out our general plan,” she says. “We didn’t know whether the police would be blocking the entrance to Allard’s office.” They were discussing whether the six people planning the sit-in should go in as a group, or one by one, in order to evade attention. “[Christensen] said, ‘Look, why don’t we just walk right through their line?’ We were like, whoa, nobody wants to get their heads blown off,” says Peters. “We are peaceful, nonviolent group. We’re not trying to storm a building.”

The next day, the group met beforehand to coordinate. Everyone who planned to get arrested gave Peters bond money, except for Christensen, who said his girlfriend would bail him out. The six entered Allard’s office at 1 p.m., and by 5 p.m. they’d all been arrested.

“I raced over to the jail,” says Peters. “There were several people there, including his ‘girlfriend.’ I was trying to find out who’d been booked and what their bail was, but none had been put into the system yet.”

Peters was standing in the jailhouse lobby and talking on a pay phone when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Christensen walking out the door. “He had a phony story about how his girlfriend got him out,” she says. “I asked, ‘Can I see your summons?’ He didn’t have one.”

Peters passed her concerns on to her group’s pro bono defense attorneys, who soon found that although six people had been arrested, only five had been charged. Then, while reviewing the Buckley case, they noticed that while 19 people had been arrested there, only 18 were charged. Eventually, by subpoenaing police records, the attorneys figured out that police had sent the undercover agents to infiltrate the group.

Once exposed, Hurley turned up in court to watch the protesters’ trials.

“When she came to court, she just seemed so arrogant,” says Ellen Stark, a 57-year-old preschool teacher who is part of the group arrested at Buckely. “She was not at all apologetic about her activities and the fact that she had lied to us. She just looked at us with disdain.” None of the activists have been able to get any answers from officials about why they were being watched. “I couldn’t interest anybody on the Aurora City council to even meet with me,” says Stark. “Nobody would talk to me.”

America has seen this kind of thing before. Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover ran COINTELPRO, a program of surveillance and sabotage against political dissidents. COINTELPRO watched violent groups like the Ku Klux Klan and, later, the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers, but it also spied on and harassed thousands of innocent people, including Martin Luther King Jr.

COINTELPRO’s abuses came to light in 1971, when a group of activists calling themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Penn., and stole several hundred pages of files.

In his recent history of COINTELPRO, “There’s Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan and FBI Counterintelligence,” David Cunningham writes, “These files provided the first public disclosure of a range of Bureau activities against targets such as the Black Panther Party, the Venceremos Brigade, the Philadelphia Labor Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, and college students with ‘revolutionary’ leanings.”

Eventually, damaging revelations about COINTELPRO led the FBI to adopt reforms designed to prevent a repeat of Hoover’s excesses. Attorney General Edward Levi laid out a set of standards for FBI domestic surveillance. “These so-called Levi Guidelines clearly laid out the criteria required for initiated investigations, establishing a standard of suspected criminal conduct, meaning activity (rather than merely ideas or writings, which had been adequate cause for targeting groups and individuals as subversive during the COINTELPRO era),” Cunningham writes. “The guidelines also stipulated as acceptable only particular investigative techniques, making it considerably more difficult to initiate intrusive forms of surveillance.”

The Levi guidelines didn’t end all political spying — in the 1980s, the FBI targeted the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador, or CISPES. As the ACLU reports, “Strong evidence suggests that CISPES was targeted for investigation because of its ideological opposition to then-President Reagan’s already controversial foreign policy in Latin America. The FBI persisted in an intensive six-month investigation of CISPES in which it often reported the group’s activities to the Department of Justice in a prejudicial and biased manner.” Yet most civil libertarians believe that even if the rules were occasionally broken, they still worked to protect First Amendment rights.

Contrary to the claims made by defenders of Bush administration policies, the Levi guidelines would not have impeded an investigation of al-Qaida. As Cunningham points out, cases “with suspected ties to ‘foreign powers’ were not subject to this criminal standard.” Nevertheless, after Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued new rules gutting the Levi guidelines. Thanks to Ashcroft, FBI agents are now allowed to monitor public meetings even if they don’t have any reason to suspect that there’s any criminal activity being committed or planned.

“Now, that means if there is a rally of people who are criticizing the United States and its policies and saying that the United States will someday perhaps be destroyed because of that, the FBI agent can go and listen to what’s being said,” Ashcroft told CNN’s Larry King in May of 2002. In other words, merely arguing that U.S. policies may result in the country’s destruction justifies FBI snooping. This gives the FBI investigative license far beyond even that it enjoyed during the COINTELPRO period, let alone under the Levi Guidelines.

There’s no way to know how often the FBI is actually monitoring protesters. The cases that have come to light so far have involved local police officers, not federal agents, and in most instances it’s unclear whether they’ve been working in concert with the FBI. For example, last year in Fresno, the antiwar group Peace Fresno discovered they’d been infiltrated when an undercover cop who’d been attending their meetings was killed in a motorcycle accident. When his obituary was published, members of Peace Fresno realized that the man they knew as Aaron Stokes was really Aaron Kilner, a member of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department’s anti-terrorism unit.

There is a Joint Terrorism Task Force in Fresno, but members of Peace Fresno and their lawyers have not yet been able to find out whether Kilner was spying on them for the FBI, and whether he gave the FBI any information about their activities.

Not that there’s much information to give. “This is a group that passes petitions and goes to city council meetings,” says Nicholas DeGraff, a Peace Fresno organizer. “When we have a demonstration, we call the police ahead of time.” The group, he says, is made up of “retirees, grandparents, schoolteachers and community workers. Your model citizens just participating in democracy.”

The group has around 200 people on its membership roster, says DeGraff, with an active core of about 25 people. In early 2003, Kilner paid a $12 membership fee and joined them. He told the group that he didn’t work and lived off an inheritance. In the weeks before the war in Iraq, he came to meetings and participated in the weekly demonstrations Peace Fresno held at a local intersection.

He said little, DeGraff recalls, and never volunteered to do anything beyond passing out flyers. Most of the time, says DeGraff, he sat in a corner and took notes. Even after the war, he kept coming, showing up at meetings every few weeks. When the group went to Sacramento to protest at a WTO ministerial meeting in June, he went with them. He died in August.

Peace Fresno has since been assured by the Fresno Sheriff’s Department that it is not under investigation and has never been under investigation. That may be true in some bureaucratic sense, but the fact remains that an anti-terrorism agent spent half a year surveilling them. “It’s equating dissent with terrorism,” says DeGraff. “It’s saying if you dissent, you’re a terrorist.”

In fact, that’s exactly what some law enforcement officers have said.

On April 2 of last year, the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, which is under the auspices of the state Justice Department but whose regional task forces include FBI agents, issued a bulletin warning to police about potential violence at an antiwar protest scheduled for the Port of Oakland. An Oakland Tribune investigation found that the Anti-Terrorism Information Center had little substantive information regarding possible violence. “Intelligence records released under open-government laws reveal the thinking of CATIC and Oakland intelligence officials in the days leading up to the protest,” said a June 1 story by Ian Hoffman, Sean Holstege and Josh Richman. The agencies, they wrote, “blended solid facts, innuendo and inaccurate information about anti-war protesters expected at the port.”

The protest did in fact turn violent, but according to documentary evidence the violence was precipitated by the police, who fired on demonstrators with wooden bullets and beanbags. The Tribune reported that, according to videotapes and transcripts of radio transmissions of the event, there’s no evidence of “protesters throwing objects at police or engaging in civil disobedience until 20 minutes after police opened fire.”

So why was the warning issued in the first place? In an interview with the Tribune, Mike Van Winkle, spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, issued a remarkably broad definition of terrorism. “You can make an easy kind of link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest,” he said. “You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act.”

This egregious statement, in which a law enforcement representative takes it upon himself to judge the legitimacy of democratic protest, seems to confirm the worst fears of civil libertarians that Bush’s “war against terror” is actually a war against dissent. Of course, whether Van Winkle actually believes that antiwar protesters are as dangerous to the citizens of California as al-Qaida is impossible to say. But it’s not just rhetorical excess or fascistic impulses that lead officials to speak of demonstrators as terrorists. They may actually have a bureaucratic and financial incentive to do so.

“This is a good way for police officers to get terrorism points,” says Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU . “They have to justify the dollars they’re receiving from the federal government for homeland security. We’ve seen a massive inflation of terrorism statistics on the federal level. Every Arab who has a phony drivers license is now called a terrorist by the Justice Department, so they can say, ‘We’ve arrested thousands of terrorists.’

“This is the perfect example of not learning the lessons of 9/11,” he continues. “The FBI was not sufficiently focused on the possibility that a group like al-Qaida would commit a serious terrorist attack. One real failure since 9/11 is that, when they call everything a ‘terrorist,’ they’re still not sufficiently focused on actual terrorists. There’s an overbroad definition of domestic terrorism in the PATRIOT Act, and it’s had a spillover effect into state and local governments who want to justify their antiterrorism funding and mission.”

In a Nation article from May 2002, Robert Dreyfuss wrote of that spillover effect. The Justice Department, he reported, had offered billions of dollars in anti-terror subsidies to local governments, but first they had to show that there were “potential threat elements” in their area.

“Under the Justice Department program each state was asked to conduct a county-by-county assessment of potential terrorist threats in order to qualify for the federal largesse,” Dreyfuss wrote. “In each city and county local police were required to identify up to fifteen groups or individuals called potential threat elements (PTEs). The Justice Department helpfully points out that the motivations of the PTEs could be ‘political, religious, racial, environmental [or] special interest.’ At a stroke, the Justice Department prompted 17,000 state and local police departments to begin monitoring radicals.”

Thus even if the FBI isn’t working directly with local police to spy on protesters, the messages coming from the Justice Department influence the agencies below, says Edgar. “The Ashcroft Justice Department has set a terrible example,” he says. “They’re sending the wrong message around the country to the state and local police. Local and state police will follow the FBI’s example on a lot of things. On top of that, add big grants for homeland security and you’ve got a recipe for a lot more political spying.”

This is the first of two parts.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

About the writer
Michelle Goldberg is a staff writer for Salon based in New York.

A thousand J. Edgar Hoovers

State and local police are taking it upon themselves to investigate antiwar activists — and in the computer age, the threat to our civil liberties is even greater than it was in Hoover’s day.


Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Read Part 1.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

By Michelle Goldberg


Feb. 12, 2004  | 

Political spying has many costs. One is that it poisons communities, putting dissidents in the same social position as criminals, co-conspirators or untrustworthy elements. Jennifer Albright, a 30-year-old lawyer in Albuquerque, N.M., believes such spying cost her her job with the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office.

On Tuesday, March 25, two days after marching in a permitted demonstration against the war, Albright, then an assistant district attorney, was called into her boss’s office and put on leave. The reason? Local police said she had identified undercover agents in the crowd at the protest, which she denies. Three days later, Albright was fired.

At the time, Deputy Chief of Police Ruben Davalos told the Associated Press, “One of the officers said that (Albright) actually walked straight up to the officer and stood face-to-face and stared at him for a period of time.” He also said she was “seen pointing directly at the officers and getting others to see who they were in the crowd.”

Albright denies this. “I didn’t identify anybody,” she says. “I don’t recall seeing anyone that I knew was an officer, let alone an undercover officer.”

Yet clearly there were undercover officers there, confirming a belief long held in Albuquerque’s activist community. “Law enforcement has always appeared at any kind of peace group,” says Albright. “At any antiwar group, it’s just assumed that there’s at least one undercover officer.” Antiwar meetings, she says, are typically opened with someone saying, “We welcome all the law enforcement that is here. If you have any questions you can ask us now, and if you’d like to talk to us discreetly, we understand.”

According to Maria Santelli, an employee at the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center, where many antiwar demonstrations are organized, people are advised not to say anything at the center that they don’t want police to hear. “If you want to say something covert, if direct action is planned without cooperation from police, we advise people not to speak in here,” she says.

Jeff Arbogast, public information officer for the Albuquerque Police Department, which is part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force, refuses to say whether the department sends undercover cops to antiwar meetings. He defends the department’s decision to use undercover agents at antiwar protests, saying, “We received intelligence information regarding the potential for people that could be present for other than peaceful purposes.” Arbogast won’t say where the intelligence came from.

Today, Albright works for a small criminal defense firm and plans to move into civil rights law. She’s contemplating a lawsuit against the D.A.’s office, but says, “In all honesty it hasn’t hurt my career. If anything it’s bettered my career.” Still, she calls what happened to her a “witch hunt.”

She believes the police are motivated at least in part by personal hostility. “My point of view, which I tried to discuss with my boss before I was fired, is that I’m being retaliated against by the police department,” she says. “Many law enforcement officers have prior military service. In talking to some of the officers, they seemed to take a real personal affront to anyone thinking the war is wrong. They said, ‘That’s a personal attack on us.’ Somehow they equate themselves with the military.”

The Albuquerque police haven’t returned calls for comment.

Albright’s story sounds unique, but across the country, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Abby Puls also had her job threatened by undercover cops who accused her of exposing them.

Puls, a 24-year-old Spanish translator who works on contract in the city court, was part of the People’s Alliance, a group of antiwar activists who planned to demonstrate at the Federal Building the day the war started. They had also agreed to meet that night at Grand Rapids’ Community Media Center to plan further actions, including acts of civil disobedience.

On March 20, as bombs fell on Baghdad, Puls went to the protest as planned and saw two people she knew. At the courthouse, Puls had gotten to know a few of the undercover cops who work on drug cases — she even considered them friends. “Really funny, wild guys,” she says, but not guys she expected to see protesting the war in Iraq.

So when she saw them at the Federal Building, she asked them what they were doing there. They told her, “Just hanging out, don’t tell anyone.” She says she didn’t, but that other protesters figured out what they were up to. “They are so obviously not part of our group and can’t answer questions without sounding like cops,” Puls writes in an e-mail from Argentina, where she was traveling with a friend. “One of my friends came with a woman (cop) who started arguing with me in favor of the war at an antiwar protest — smart.” Later, another one of the officers posed for a picture holding a sign. The picture was posted on the Web, where Puls says someone else I.D.’d him.

That evening, about 40 people gathered at the Community Media Center to plan further actions. Puls couldn’t make it, but even without her there to identify anyone, antiwar organizer Jeff Smith says one attendee, a quiet, clean-cut, well-built man in his 30s, made him uneasy.

“There were a few people in the room we didn’t really know, so we passed around a sheet of paper to get people’s names and phone numbers,” says Smith, who runs the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy, a group that teaches media literacy and is housed in the Community Media Center. During a break in the meeting, Smith called the number the man had given, and found that it didn’t work.

When the meeting resumed, the man was gone. Almost immediately, though, two police cars pulled up, saying that someone had reported “inappropriate behavior.” They demanded the name of the owner of the building — a building the Community Media Center has occupied for three years — and wanted to know what it was used for.

The next day, there was another rally at the Federal Building, and Puls was there. As she was leaving, a man sitting in the passenger seat of a tan Ford Taurus called her over. There was another man in the driver’s seat and a woman in the back. The passenger asked if she was the interpreter who works at the court. “Yes, my name’s Abby,” she said, and took the first man’s outstretched hand. He shook her hand but didn’t let go.

“Abby what?” he said.

“I repeat, ‘Abby,’ and he repeats the question this time with a firmer grip,” Puls says. “It’s starting to hurt so I tell him my last name.”

After she told them her name, the man in the driver’s seat accused her of identifying an undercover cop at the meeting the night before. He threatened her with arrest for hindering and opposing an officer. Then he told her, “I don’t know how you are employed at the court, contract or employee, but if these judges find out you’re choosing sides against the police, they may not want you in the courthouse translating. I’m not threatening you, I just want to warn you that if you I.D. us you’ll be arrested. You happen to have an advantage working at the courthouse.”

Puls took the threat seriously. She says she lost work when, after she was quoted in the paper at an antiwar demonstration, a conservative judge in the court that serves the cities of Grandville and Walker mentioned to her boss that he’d seen her name in the paper, and then suggested that she not come to his courtroom for a while, until things “cooled down.”

“My boss told me this and, it being his contract, I agreed,” she says, adding that she only lost about three hours of work. She talked to a lawyer acquaintance, she says, but the lawyer told her that while the court couldn’t deny her work for her political views, “being contracted makes it easier for them to not hire us back under other pretenses.”

The next Sunday, there was another meeting at the Community Media Center. Puls was late, but about a dozen others had arrived when a man and a woman showed up whom many of the activists suspected of being undercover cops. “Someone told them, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come into this meeting,'” says activist Erica Freshour. “We’ve never seen them before, and our town is small enough that we know the regulars. We can also kind of tell the people who have never been to a demonstration before but are really into it.”

The man threatened to call the police, says Freshour. “We kind of laughed, thinking, ‘You are the police!'”

Just then, Puls arrived. She reached the top of the stairs when she saw the couple trying to get into the meeting. It was the driver of the Ford Taurus and the woman who’d been sitting in the back. Before they saw her, “someone pushes me into the hallway and says there is a vice cop and we are moving locations,” Puls says. They had the meeting at a private home.

After that, Smith says, throughout the spring and summer police cars would frequently park outside the Community Media Center. He has since met with the community relations officer for the Grand Rapids Police Department to try to find out why his group was being watched, but says the officer hasn’t been cooperative. Working with the ACLU, his group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any documents related to surveillance of the People’s Alliance or the Community Media Center, but they haven’t received anything yet.

Sgt. William Corner of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division acknowledges that the force uses undercover cops at political demonstrations to “keep an eye on whether anyone broke any laws.” Asked whether undercover officers were sent to attend meetings at the Community Media Center, he said, “As far as I know, there were not, but if there were I wouldn’t tell you that there were,” because it’s against department policy to reveal the activities of undercover police to the general public. Police were clearly paying attention to the Community Media Center, though — Corner said the department was “made aware of” the meetings and had gathered information about them on the Internet.

The Grand Rapids Police Department is not part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force, and it’s likely that the department undertook surveillance of antiwar activists on its own. Such local, community-based political spying is nothing new. In the ’60s and ’70s, says the ACLU’s legislative counsel, Timothy Edgar, local police established counterintelligence squads that mimicked COINTELPRO — and they were actually responsible for the harassment of activists.

“Most people who have any memory of the civil rights era and may have attended a demonstration and been observed by the government, the people who were tracking what they were doing, nine times out of 10 that would have been a state or local intelligence squad, not the FBI,” says Edgar. “It’s really many J. Edgar Hoovers that pose the greatest threat to civil liberties.”

One big difference between then and now, though, is that without computers, the information collected by a thousand local J. Edgar Hoovers couldn’t be quickly disseminated throughout the nation and the world.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, police departments all over the country had ‘red squads,'” says Chris Pyle, a politics professor at Mount Holyoke College and one of the country’s foremost experts on domestic surveillance. “Although their work was never as well documented as that of the FBI and the military, it was far more extensive. There was considerable swapping, and it tended to go from the locals to the nationals.”

Pyle saw it firsthand at the national level. A former captain of Army intelligence, Pyle exposed the military’s domestic spying operations and went on to work for Sen. Frank Church during the congressional investigation of COINTELPRO. Today’s domestic spying, he says, isn’t nearly as extensive as it was at the height of the movement against the Vietnam War, largely because there aren’t as many protests. Yet the surveillance we’re seeing now, he says, is likely to increase if the antiwar and anti-Bush movements grow, and it may imperil civil liberties more than J. Edgar Hoover ever could.

“What we’re seeing is something much larger in scale and danger than anything that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s,” he says. “That’s because of computers. Now, instead of having these agencies working in semi-isolation or occasional cooperation, there’s the equivalent of the great Alaska pipeline running between them, and the information flows in both directions. In addition, in the 1950s or ’60s, it took weeks of pavement pounding and doorknobbing for the FBI or police or military to collect personal information about people, the kind of information you need to put them under surveillance. Today that kind of information can be obtained by a few computer keystrokes. The harassment potential is much greater.”

Meanwhile, information that’s put into the system tends to spread. “Today, you have at least a dozen American agencies contributing information to each other’s computer, and scores of foreign intelligence agencies contributing information,” says Pyle.

Once a file is started on someone, it’s difficult to erase, Pyle says.

That’s bad news for protesters interrogated by the New York City Police Department about their political activities last year. As the ACLU reports, between February and April of 2003, the “NYPD had forced hundreds of protesters charged with minor offenses to surrender information about their political affiliations and prior protest activity. That information was being collected on a recently disclosed form titled ‘Criminal Intelligence Division / Demonstration Debriefing Form.'”

In response to an ACLU complaint, the police department stopped the interrogations and promised to destroy the records relating to them.

But Pyle says that once created, such files have a way of proliferating — and smearing the reputations of those on them, in a kind of Orwellian version of the game “telephone.” “After Sept. 11, the FBI sent out a list of ‘persons of interest’ to a few corporations, casinos and airlines in a desperate attempt to increase security,” he says. “These security departments then copied the lists, integrated them with their own lists and sent it to their friends. Within a month, there were 50 of these lists on the Internet. They’d been reproduced and reissued, by intelligence agencies, police departments or corporations from as far away as Brazil and Italy. But now most of the lists said these are terrorists or terrorist suspects, not persons of interest.”

“I have never been more worried,” Pyle says. “I was not nearly as worried when I was on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, or when COINTELPRO was exposed.”

Back then, he says, “I figured we could stop this kind of stuff.”

– – – – – – – – – – – –

About the writer
Michelle Goldberg is a staff writer for Salon based in New York.

MoveOn surpasses the Christian Coalition

February 16, 2004 at 11:45 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Chalk up one for us! The MoveOn Voter Fund organization has crossed the two million membership mark, and is still going strong. They have demonstrated that they can effectively mobilize large numbers of voters to make themselves heard, as shown by their recent success in calling CBS on their hypocrisy and forcing them to not run the Medicare ad.

Democrats and centrists of all stripes are finally getting mobilized in this country. We are building coalitions. We’re creating think tanks. And yes, people like George Soros are pouring in large infusions of money to make efforts like this work. We have even had record turnouts at caucuses and primaries all over the country. People are finaly waking up to the fact that if they want their country back, they’re going to have to get up and take it back. Slowly but surely, it’s happening, and in large part, it’s due to the efforts of organizations like MoveOn. If you haven’t already, won’t you consider sending them a small donation and joining their mailing list? Make yourself heard.

Following is today’s letter to their membership.



Douglas Brinkley review of "American Dynasty"

February 16, 2004 at 6:22 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Here is another interesting book review on American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush
by Kevin Phillips.

Less intellectual and more politically neutral than Paul Krugman’s excellent review of the same book, this essay is great reading, and full of talking points over which, perhaps, Democrats and Republicans alike can get real.

In Their Own Words: The Lies about WMD

February 16, 2004 at 6:00 pm
Contributed by: Chris


At the risk of beating a dead horse, here’s a useful compilation of the lies that the Bush administration has trotted out to support the war in Iraq. Another sordid story. I think it’s clear that’s the nation is now aware of the credibility gap. And by continuing to distort the truth, and rewrite their own history, and deny their own words, they’re only going to widen it.
Just out of curiosity, I thought I’d look up the first time I started posting about the missing WMD. It was May 29 of last year. In a way, it’s amazing that we’re still even arguing about this.
Here are some past articles I posted on the subject.


President Match – Find Your Perfect Candidate

February 16, 2004 at 5:46 pm
Contributed by:

Here’s a useful little online wizard you can run to find out which candidate is most aligned with you on various issues. You answer about a dozen questions, and it ranks the candidates for you. I admit, I was fairly suprised to learn that I was 100% in alingment with Kucinich! Poor Kucinich. Poor me, that I can’t hope to elect Kucinich! Anyway, for your amusement, my results are below.

Give it a try and send me yours (or post them in a comment here).

President Match

Here are my results, for your amusement. Sharpton third? Too bad they took Clark
out, I would have liked to rank him.


1  Kucinich Score: 100%

Party  Democrat
Has Held Elected Office  Yes
Served in the Military  No
with other candidates
2  Kerry Score: 92%

Party  Democrat
Has Held Elected Office  Yes
Served in the Military  Yes
with other candidates
3  Sharpton Score: 89%

Party  Democrat
Has Held Elected Office  No
Served in the Military  No
with other candidates
4  Dean Score: 84%

Party  Democrat
Has Held Elected Office  Yes
Served in the Military  No
with other candidates
5  Edwards Score: 79%

Party  Democrat
Has Held Elected Office  Yes
Served in the Military  No
with other candidates
6  Bush Score: 4%

Party  Republican
Has Held Elected Office  Yes
Served in the Military  Yes
with other candidates

Should We Ban Corporations?

February 16, 2004 at 1:30 pm
Contributed by:


Some of the most advanced thinking in the areas of sustainability, social justice, and environmental protection have come to the same conclusions: it’s time we rethink the corporation, and put the power back in the hands of the people.

Corporations are a Frankenstein monster that we created to serve us, but which have turned against us. Without the personal ethics and responsibility of a person, but holding greater liberties and rights than a person, a corporation is free to pursue its own best interest, without regard for the welfare of the people on which it is built.

Corporations have increasingly dominated the economic landscape since they were first created in the 1600s in England. But some say their days are now numbered, and it is time to replace them with structures that enhance the well being of the entire society, rather than just enriching the few who control the corporation.

Here’s an interesting quote on the topic (thank you, Lou Dobbs). Can you guess the source?

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.
It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .
It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes
me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war,
corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places
will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong
its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth
is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety
of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.
God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

–Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864

[Source: What Lincoln Foresaw:
Corporations Being “Enthroned” After the Civil War
and Re-Writing the Laws Defining Their Existence

Chilling, isn’t it? And he we are again today. Well, let’s look at some alternatives.

POCLAD, the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, is “13 activists working with individuals and existing groups to launch democratic insurgencies that put corporations once again subordinate to ‘We the People.’ We are looking for people experienced in stopping corporate harms who want to rethink organizing strategies, exercise democratic authority at the local level, and strip fundamental powers-such as free speech and due process-from corporations.” They invite your participation in this dialogue.

Taking a legal tack on the problem is the movement to eliminate the legal status of personhood that corporations enjoy. As the corporation is a legal fiction we created in granting corporate charters, then we may also disband the corporate charter. There is much work being done in this area, from grand theory to citizens’ groups opposing the charters of individual corporations, such as this one in Ohio. For a good backgrounder on this topic, see

How Corporate Personhood Threatens Democracy

How Corporations Became ‘Persons’

The amazing true story of a legal fiction that undermines American democracy.

Corporations were not always so out of control. In 1868, the Supreme Court “ruled that corporations were not citizens within the context of Article IV Section 2 of the constitution. Elaborating the court defined a citizen there to apply only to natural persons, members of the body politic, and owing allegiance to the state. Corporations only had the properties that were conferred on it by the legislature.” [Source: Corporate Law: A History]

Unfortunately, their power seems to have grown considerably since then.

Other approaches to reforming the corporation have come from within, from sustainability-minded business executives with an eye on the future. For them, the goals and the ethos are clear enough, the question is how to implement it. And they are finding some success, as is socially responsible investing, in “doing well by doing good.” See the Better World article “Corporations and Sustainable Development”
for more on that.

Shall we undertake to tranform the corporation, or shall we put it out to pasture in favor of a new model? Post your comments below.


This Story Brought to You by the Vertically Integrated GetReal Conglomerate

February 16, 2004 at 11:27 am
Contributed by:

I’m guessing that a lot of my fellow liberals who visit this site avoid William Safire’s column in the Times, but today’s is worth a read.

For all its talk of opening up markets in the rest of the world, this administration seems completlely uninterested in preserving market-based competition in the U.S. Indeed it seems interested in just the opposite: stemming “SEC overreach” so that corporations can abuse and manipulate markets. Safire is, of course, an old-school conservative, meaning that he actually has some ideals that extend beyond self-interest, and as such is justifiably outraged by the “vertical integration” of American media.

Real capitalists understand that capitalism means competition within markets, and that the markets themselves must be protected. From that perspective the turn of this century looks not unlike the turn of the last, yet our own Trust-Busting Movement isn’t even a twinkle in the government’s eye at this point.

The Five Sisters


February 16, 2004

Source: The New York Times

WASHINGTON — If one huge corporation controlled both the production and the dissemination of most of our news and entertainment, couldn’t it rule the world?

Can’t happen here, you say; America is the land of competition that generates new technology to ensure a diversity of voices. But consider how a supine Congress and a feckless majority of the Federal Communications Commission have been failing to protect our access to a variety of news, views and entertainment.

The media giant known as Viacom-CBS-MTV just showed us how it controls both content and communication of the sexiest Super Bowl. The five other big sisters that now bestride the world are (1) Murdoch-FoxTV-HarperCollins-WeeklyStandard-NewYorkPost-LondonTimes-DirecTV; (2) G.E.-NBC-Universal-Vivendi; (3) Time-Warner-CNN-AOL; (4) Disney-ABC-ESPN; and (5) the biggest cable company, Comcast.

As predicted here in an “Office Pool” over two years ago, Comcast has just bid to take over Disney (Ed Bleier, then of Warner Bros., was my prescient source). If the $50 billion deal is successful, the six giants would shrink to five, with Disney-Comcast becoming the biggest.

Would Rupert Murdoch stand for being merely No. 2? Not on your life. He would take over a competitor, perhaps the Time-Warner-CNN-AOL combine, making him biggest again. Meanwhile, cash-rich Microsoft — which already owns 7 percent of Comcast and is a partner of G.E.’s MSNBC — would swallow both Disney-ABC and G.E.-NBC. Then there would be three, on the way to one.

You say the U.S. government would never allow that? The Horatius lollygagging at the bridge is the F.C.C.’s Michael Powell, who never met a merger he didn’t like. Cowering next to him is General Roundheels at the Bush Justice Department’s Pro-Trust Division, which last year waved through Murdoch’s takeover of DirecTV. (Joel Klein, Last of the Trustbusters, now teaches school in New York.)

But what of the Senate, guardian of free speech? There was Powell last week before Chairman John McCain’s Commerce Committee, currying favor with cultural conservatives by pretending to be outraged over Janet Jackson’s “costume reveal.” The F.C.C. chairman, looking stern, pledged “ruthless and rigorous scrutiny” of any Comcast bid to merge Disney-ABC-ESPN into a huge DisCast. Media giants — always willing to agree to cosmetic “restrictions” on their way to amalgamation — chuckled at the notion of a “ruthless Mike.”

McCain’s plaintive question to Powell — “Where will it all end?” — is too little, too late. This senatorial apostle of deregulation, who last week called the world’s attention to the media concentration that helps subvert democracy in Russia, has been blind to the danger of headlong concentration of media power in America.

The benumbing euphemism for the newly permitted top-to-bottom information and entertainment control is “vertical integration.” In Philadelphia, Comcast not only owns the hometown basketball team, but owns its stadium, owns the cable sports channel televising the games as well as owning the line that brings the signal into Philadelphians’ houses. Soon: ESPN, too. Go compete against, or argue with, that head-to-toe control — and then apply that chilling form of integration to cultural events and ultimately to news coverage.

The reason given by giants to merge with other giants is to compete more efficiently with other enlarging conglomerates. The growing danger, however, is that media giants are becoming fewer as they get bigger. The assurance given is “look at those independent Internet Web sites that compete with us” — but all the largest Web sites are owned by the giants.

How are the media covering their contraction? (I still construe the word “media” as plural in hopes that McCain will get off his duff and Bush will awaken.) Much of the coverage is “gee-whiz, which personality will be top dog, which investors will profit and which giant will go bust?”

But the message in this latest potential merger is not about a clash of media megalomaniacs, nor about a conspiracy driven by “special interests.” The issue is this: As technology changes, how do we better protect the competition that keeps us free and different?

You don’t have to be a populist to want to stop this rush by ever-fewer entities to dominate both the content and the conduit of what we see and hear and write and say. 

Future World Oil Supply

February 14, 2004 at 10:00 pm
Contributed by:


At 32 pages, this paper is a whopper. But it’s well worth reading to understand the whole picture of global oil and gas reserves and production. It’s packed with data, has lots of great graphs, and some incisive observations.

Here’s a small excerpt to whet your appetite:

7.1 Oil Industry

Oil companies frequently publish reassuring press releases, speeches and “studies” on the future availability of oil; the oil industry has a natural financial interest in doing this:

  • The signal of diminishing resources could induce the consumers to reduce their oil consumption even faster than necessary. In such a case the oil industry would be left with more oil available on the market than consumers would want to buy. Certainly, this would be bad for business.
  • The signal of diminishing resources and hints at “diminishing assets“ could lead shareholders and investors to redirect their investments into new business opportunities with more growth potential. This also would be bad for business.
  • It would be best if consumers and shareholders would stay loyal to oil even at declining production rates and rising prices. This would bring about the highest earnings at minimum costs. Therefore, the best communication is to convince the consumer that any current problems are only temporary – and thus to keep them dependent on oil even in worsening times.
    Because of these motives the industry will never admit that the future availability of oil might be a problem and rather tends to communicate growing reserves. All this however does not necessarily prevent the oil industry from investing in new business areas.

7.2 Consumers and the Public

The consumer is interested in using cheap energy in everyday life to gain as much comfort as possible. Therefore disturbing messages are seen as endangering the present way of life and questioning the own behaviour, and it is therefore very likely that they will be discarded. On the other hand, messages which confirm the present lifestyle find open ears and are readily believed. So in a way the interests of all participants in the market point into the same direction: it is more comfortable not to be aware of the imminent problems caused by peak oil production.

Good reading!

Future World Oil Supply

International Summer School On the Politics and Economics of Renewable Energy at the University of Salzburg

Werner Zittel, Jörg Schindler, L-B-Systemtechnik GmbH, January 2003

“Everybody hates this topic but the oil industry hates it more than anybody else.”

–Colin J. Campbell

\"A Better World\"

February 14, 2004 at 10:41 am
Contributed by:

In a “better” world than this one, TV would be used to communicate important information to people – for example, there would be many channels devoted entirely to free, interactive education. But of course television today is seldom used for such noble purposes, and instead used to control our minds with high-powered psychological cues embedded in commercial advertisements.

These commercials are the creators of many criminals.

TV commercials tell us that if we aren’t average or better looking, own a late model car, live in a new brick house, in a new suburban neighborhood, on half an acre of bright green lawn, with neighbors to either side of us just the same; if we don’t fit this picture, we are somehow deficient in character and unworthy of respect.

And there you have the basic ingredients of a criminal – a person who thinks he needs these things, and because he doesn’t have these things he develops a poor self-esteem. This is a person who will lie, steel, and cheat to get what he has been taught are the ingredients of a real human being and that without them you are worthless and less than a real human being.

In a better world, people would not be programmed and brainwashed this way by greedy big business, self-serving politicians, and other ruthless people. In a better world, poor people would not have to resort to crime to fulfill their programming. And consequently the crime rate would be virtually nonexistent. Any crime that remained would be looked at with pity, treated as the mental illness it is, and cured.

Oil Crises Delay – A World Price Forecast

February 13, 2004 at 11:45 pm
Contributed by:


Here is the second of today’s articles. At 13 pages, it’s longer and a lot more technical than the other one, but if you’re interested in the specific data about oil and gas production and depletion, and the likely effects on the world economy, this is the article for you. Again, its numbers are a little bit out of date, but the projections and charts still hold. Good, meaty material.

–COil Crises Delay – A World
Oil Price Forecast

Vincent Ramirez,  July 1, 1999


Presented in this short essay are
12 figures which serve to illustrate the present and future relationship
between the world supply and demand of crude oil. A future price forecast
for crude oil is presented in the final chart, 
figure 12.

The simple conclusion of this study
is that severe price pressures will be placed on crude oil as a result
of declining supply, starting between years 2004 and 2010. Demand will
decrease somewhat as supply prices increase, and at some point, around
$30-60 per barrel of oil, alternative energies (natural gas, oil sandstone
deposits and synthetic oil from coal) will economically replace the declining
supply of natural crude oil. A “serious crises” is not predicted by this
study, mainly for the reason that some additional oil reserves will be
found during the transition period to higher prices.


The following terminology is used
throughout these figures, and are defined here.

Ultimate Oil = Discovered Oil + Undiscovered Oil.

Oil Remaining to Produce = (Discovered Oil – Produced Oil) + Undiscovered

Remaining Consumption Time = Oil Remaining / Rate of Consumption


Surprisingly, there is good consensus
opinion amongst professional petroleum scientists about the quantities
in each category, when calculated at these gross scales..  Data for
each of the variables above are provided from two principle sources – the
Oil and Gas Journal, which publishes annual estimates (also available at
the BP-Amoco website), and Petroconsultants S.A., an international petroleum
consulting firm with a particularly large independent database. These latter
data are presented by C.J. Campbell in his book “The Coming Oil Crisis”,

The Campbell book is a thorough treatise
of the topic of this paper.  His estimates of ultimate oil are rather
more conservative than the Oil and Gas Journal, primarily because he does
not accept the large increases in stated reserves for the Middle East Gulf
region during the last 8 years because there was no technical work done
to support these increases. Rather, he believes these increases are the
result of political motives, i.e., the OPEC Cartel quota system is based
on stated reserves.  I was aware of this phenomena prior to reading
Campbell’s position, and I agree with his conclusions on this point.

Undiscovered reserves are estimated
to be 180 billion barrels by Campbell. This is also a median estimate of
the 10+ professionally published estimates, and a number that I agree with,
based on my experience at Shell Oil Company in which we reviewed each of
the 600 sedimentary basins of the world independent of the Oil and Gas
Journal and Petroconsultants S.A. For this report I have used 183 billion
which is Campbell’s number, corrected for arithmetic errors.

Production of undiscovered reserves
is not accounted for by Campbell, though he acknowledges that these 180
billion barrels will be found. In my model, all of the 183 billion barrels
are found and produced prior to 2050.  I find it rather odd that Campbell
makes no account for producing future reserves, but point out that this
is rather masterfully hidden in his production decline tables. Rather,
he calculates that all of the worlds remaining reserves will be found and
produced after year 2050.

The issue of undiscovered reserves,
also known as “yet-to-find” reserves, is not as critical to future supply
constrictions as one might at first imagine. This is important to understand,
as much of the debate concerning future oil supply and impending crises
seems to be not resolvable as there is disagreement over this final “ultimate
reserves” number. The main issue in not “how much”, but rather, “when”
remaining reserves can be brought to market. This issue is addressed systematically
in this report, but suffice to say that maximum and minimum limits can
be quantified which constrain the coming oil supply problem.



Figure 1.  Total World
Oil Consumption. For the last 10 years world crude oil consumption has
increased from 23 to 26 billion barrels per year.

Figure 2.  Total World
Consumption, indicated by region. The world total has increased from 60
to 71 million barrels per day. Note that the Former Soviet Union has decreased
by 50%, and could reasonably be expected to increase in the future. The
Asia Pacific region increased from 12 to 20 million barrels per day during
this period. All other regions have had only modest increases.

Supply from Known Reserves

Figure 3. World Oil Production,
by Region. This chart shows the relative importance of production from
each region.  Note that the USA is in decline. The group “All Others”
includes Mexico, Central and South America, Canada and some smaller Middle
East region countries. Oil production appears less than consumption due
to oil refinery storage and errors in the reported data.

Figure 4. World Oil Production
versus Prices of West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil. Production increases
from 1950 to 1971 resulted in no price increases during this period. However,
minor curtailment of a few billion barrels per year resulted in sharp price
increases. Much debate concerns itself with whether or not this price increase
was real or artificial. Regardless of the cause, this is the one example
of supply restrictions and their resulting crude oil price inflation.

Figure 5. Giant Oil Field
Discoveries. These are displayed by region as bars on the graph, but the
cumulative discoveries and 10 year moving averages are displayed as lines.
Total discoveries (all field sizes), are shown in the gray dashed line;
these data were reported each 10 years and are interpolated between decades
(1996 is accurate also). There is a clear decrease in giant oil fields
discovered since 1965. Note that there is a poor correlation between oil
price, displayed on figure 4, and discovery volume; it seems that the prolific
oil discovery phase outpaced demand. Giant oilfields account for 62% of
the total world reserves.

Figure 6.  Production
of Discovered World Oil Reserves. This is the present decline cycle of
all known reserves. The area under the curves represents the total amount
of reserves. Hence, an increase of the peak production would result in
a steeper decline rate, as the amount of known reserves is fixed. 
This graph provides the minimum case for supply side crude estimates and
is the model presented by Campbell in his “Oil Crises” scenario. I consider
this to be the lower limit of future production, as production from new
reserves should be considered.

Supply from Future Reserves

Figure 7. Ideal Depletion
of a 1 Billion Barrel Oil Field. This is an idealized scenario for production
and is used later in this report to make production curves for “yet-to-find”
oil. This curve shows production for a 30 year production cycle, used in
order to establish a best case scenario of production. Oil production begins
in the second year following discovery. In reality, a 50 year cycle would
be more appropriate since the oil found may not be in a single pool, may
need additional development (long pipelines) which delay first production,
or may have reservoir properties not amenable to fast production.

Figure 8. Discovery Distribution
for Optimistic Scenario. This is the future discovery schedule for the
anticipated 183 billion barrels of oil. These discoveries are scheduled
to occur rather simultaneously in all regions, and rather early, peaking
at 14 billion barrels per year in year 2003. This accelerated schedule
serves to define the limit for the best case depletion scenario.

Figure 9.  Future Production
from Undiscovered Reserves. This is a calculation of expected production
based on the ideal production profile of figure 7 and the accelerated discovery
schedule of figure 8.  This chart shows the yearly and cumulative
production generated from the calculation of these two parameters. This
is the quickest scenario that the discovery of the worlds remaining reserves
could be brought to production. Delays in either discovery or production
will serve to shift these curves to the right, but total production would
be the same.

Figure 10. Model for Depletion
of World Oil Reserves. Historic production is projected forward to year
2050 for minimum and maximum cases. The minimum, shown in green, accounts
for known oil reserves only. The maximum case, shown in red, accounts for
production which includes “yet-to-find” reserves, discovered and produced
at the maximum rates possible. Actual production in the future will lie
between these two curves. Also, the actual decline rate may be flatter,
in which case peak production will be lower.

Oil Prices and World Economics

Figure 11. Relationship between
Crude Oil Prices and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the USA. There is
a direct relationship between crude oil prices and inflation, as shown
on this chart. This suggests rather serious consequences for the future
as supplies decrease, which will occur at some time between 2004 and 2020.
Long before the “crises” stage of world oil depletion, increased oil prices,
caused by slight constrictions in the supply-demand ratio will cause inflation
increases in the US and world economy. Present and historic federal bank
policies have favored increases in interest rates in order to fight inflation
(generally thought to be caused by “hot” economic expansion and labor shortages).
This type of cure-all will also dampen oil sector investments – but at
the time they are needed most, providing double-trouble for the inflationary
problem. This will further reduce oil discovery and production, adding
additional burden to the supply problem, thus creating higher oil prices,
additional inflation, etc.

There is no traditional business
solution for this problem. Supply is fixed.

Figure 12. Future World Oil
Prices. All prices are in 1999 fixed U.S. dollars. There is no accounting
for inflation in this model.

I anticipate that oil prices will
rise rather quickly once the slightest supply constriction is perceived,
starting before 2005, and possibly as soon as 2002. The accompanying inflationary
pressures will hurt businesses other than the oil sector. Costs for the
oil sector will remain relatively fixed initially, except for labor costs.
Stock markets will make their traditional response to inflation, with the
exception of oil companies.

Other energy sources will substitute
partially for oil at some price. Natural gas reserves will help, but serious
pipelines will need to be built, and this will take time. Oil sand deposits
certainly become economic at some price, but not below $30 per barrel minimum,
and preferably $40, based on my own experience in the Canadian provinces.
Synthetic oils manufactured from coal become viable substitutes at around
$60 per barrel, based on the experience gained by German engineers during
WW2. These energy substitutes will keep oil prices bound within “reasonable”
ranges, at $30 minimum but probably nearer to $60 per barrel as real supply
restrictions are realized.


The historic and present cycle of
crude oil production has always been a regime of supply greater than demand
as large fields of cheaply produced oil (i.e., free flowing) have been
readily available. Production from these fields has large impacts on supply
for at least 20 years after their discovery. Though the discovery of new
reserves has tapered to insignificant amounts in the last decade, the production
response to this is not yet generally perceived because “pump prices” remain
flat. This is the result of previous discoveries which are now at their

The world is definitely entering
an era in which demand will be greater than supply. The only question is
when, and is anticipated to be between year 2004 and 2020 by this report;
but rather sooner than later, as the later date involves quite optimistic
variables. Additional petroleum production from natural gas, oil sands
and synthetic crude will delay or resolve future supply problems, but not
at current prices of $18 per barrel. Rather, prices of $30 per barrel are
anticipated  immediately upon first acknowledgement by oil futures
traders of real supply constraints. Subsequent inflationary pressures and
increased production declines will quickly force prices to near $60 per
barrel, at which time significant production from alternatives is feasible.

There are three important things
to note. First, the oil industry is perceived as having sent out this supply
crises alarm several times already. As a result, the public is somewhat
insulated from these warnings, including federal policy makers. I anticipate
that tax and investment policies during the transition to “supply” economics
will exaggerate the coming problem as economists continue to try and stimulate
the non-energy business sector as it has traditionally done. A better solution
would be to stimulate the energy sector early through tax and investment
incentives, thus promoting a stable transition.

A second point worth considering
relates to the future increase in costs of world production. This point
is often overlooked, as it is difficult to evaluate on a macro-economic
scale. However, an analogy for a single oilfield is sufficient to understand
the future costs of world production. Initial production from new oilfields
encounters virgin pressures and these wells flow oil naturally, at prices
around $1 per barrel for direct operating costs (without transportation).
Declining reservoir pressure due to oil production eventually requires
artificial lift to raise oil to the surface, with costs in the $3 to $5
per barrel range. These costs continue to increase as concurrent water
production (and disposal) increases and water eventually becomes 99% of
the total produced fluid before the oil field is abandoned. Additional
oil may be recovered through secondary techniques, but these costs are
around $8 per barrel, minimum, and consume about 20% of the energy, or
crude, produced. All fields are produced in this manner, and costs are
directly related to reservoir pressure.

World production today is dominated
by the Middle East Gulf region which has a large part of its reserves in
fields that still have high reservoir pressures, and as a result production
costs, with transportation, are less than $5 per barrel – currently. This
will change as reservoir pressures naturally decline due to production.
The impact of this is far greater than “future production forecasts” imply,
as a world with Saudi Arabia producing from artificial lift is quite different
than one in which Saudi Arabia produces from free flowing wells – though
the “remaining reserves” might seem significant. The immediate impact is
that threats of $5 per barrel oil will no longer be realistic if all producers
create deficits with temporary overproduction. Thus, the floor price for
crude oil will continue to increase.

The point of  this long explanation
is that total reserves numbers are misleading – as they promote a view
that supply will be fine until the day the last drop of oil is produced
– and on that day, we have a problem. Rather, we should be aware that average
world reservoir pressures are declining naturally, and operating costs
are increasing.  These affects will be felt concurrent with actual
supply constrictions  and will have a dominant impact on future crude
prices, particularly the floor prices.

A third point worth mentioning has
to do with previous responses to oil supply constrictions. The one example
of this occurred from 1974 to 1981, and during this time, oil prices lifted
from to $4 to $38 per barrel. In hindsight, this is often regarded as a
“panic response”, because in fact macroeconomists have concluded there
was no real shortage. Whether or not this is true, I regard the period
of a good example of the oil price volatility to be expected when real
supply constrictions do occur.

“He who produces last makes the most
money” will be the doctrine of the future, though it would hardly seem
that anyone gives any thought to this idea. This concept seems contrary
to modern business principles of valuation based on net present value,
but this is only a result of using flat oil price forecasts far into the

The Oil Crash And You

February 13, 2004 at 2:29 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Today’s harvest has two more articles on Peak Oil and Gas that I recommend to your attention. Both are a bit out of date–1999–but the projections are still accurate and after slight adjustments, the numbers are current.

Here is the first, an excellent overview of the global energy picture, the supply problem, the likely effects, the possible solutions including what you can do, the problems of the hydrogen economy, and the questions of why the oil and gas depletion issue doesn’t have more visibility.

I strongly encourage everyone who wants to get real to read this one and think about what it means for your future. Please read it!



Fake State of the Union Address

February 13, 2004 at 6:37 am
Contributed by:

Fake State of the Union Address

This copy & paste remix of the president’s 2003 State of the Union address isn’t fair, but it’s very funny. (Longtime readers of GRL will remember this from about a year ago.)

Source: Kai Curry

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