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Warren County, Ohio, magistrate Andrew Hasselbach throws out a challenge by Ohio resident David M. Neal to President Obama’s qualifications to serve as president. Before the election, Neal filed a complaint that demanded Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner either prove Obama is a US citizen (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008) or throw him off the ballot. Hasselbach writes that Neal gave too much credence to Internet rumors surrounding Obama’s citizenship, and writes: “The onus is upon one who challenges such public officer to demonstrate an abuse of discretion by admissible evidence—not hearsay, conclusory allegations, or pure speculation. It is abundantly clear that the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint concerning ‘questions’ about Senator Obama’s status as a ‘natural born citizen’ are derived from Internet sources, the accuracy of which has not been demonstrated to either Defendant Brunner or this magistrate.” Neal had asked that Brunner obtain documents from the Federal Elections Commission, the Democratic National Committee, the Ohio Democratic Party, and possibly Obama himself to verify that Obama was born in Hawaii and not elsewhere. Neal asserted that the authentic certificate provided by the Obama campaign (see June 13, 2008) is not an original, and therefore not valid proof of birth. Neal, who maintains a politically oriented Web site, says he is part of what he calls a nationwide grassroots movement questioning Obama’s citizenship. When he filed the complaint, he said, referring to a local school: “When I enrolled my son in Knothole, I had to show his birth certificate.… This guy is running for president of the United States.” In arguing against Neal’s motion, Assistant Attorney General Mike Schuler told the court: “One can conservatively estimate that more than 3 million Ohioans intend to vote for Senator Obama. Mr. Neal asks this court to disenfranchise those 3 million voters based solely on rumor and innuendo.” (Cincinnati Enquirer 10/31/2008)

Conservative radio host Michael Savage, who has previously accused President-elect Barack Obama of being part of “the first affirmative-action [campaign] in American history” (see February 1, 2008), of being a radical Islamist (see January 10, 2008, February 21, 2008, and April 3, 2008), and of being sympathetic to the Nazis (see March 13, 2008), says Obama will oversee the “wholesale replacement of competent white men” from government jobs through the federal, state, and even local levels. As reported by the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Savage tells his listeners: “You haven’t seen any of what’s coming in this country. You are going to see the wholesale replacement of competent white men, and I’m targeting exactly the group that’s gonna be thrown out of jobs in the government. And I’ll say it, and I’ll be the first to say it, and I may be not the only—the last to say it. I am telling you that there’s gonna be a wholesale firing of competent white men in the United States government up and down the line, in police departments, in fire departments. Everywhere in America, you’re going to see an exchange that you’ve never seen in history, and it’s not gonna be necessarily for the betterment of this country.”
Accusation of 'Social Promotion' - Savage says that Obama was “socially promoted” to the presidency, a disparaging reference to the practice of promoting children to higher grades even if they have not done the work necessary to be promoted, and says: “If you’re socially promoted your whole life and nobody challenges you because you’re of the proper constitution and composition and you look exactly right and no one’s—everyone’s afraid to say a word to you, why, you then go to Harvard, you then go to the law review, you then get elected, you then get elected to the next level. This is what happens in a country that’s intimidated by its own policies and its own fears.” (Media Matters 11/19/2008)
Obama Avoided Mention of Race on College Application? - Some of Obama’s classmates recall that when he applied for Harvard Law School, he refused to indicate his race so as to avoid benefiting from affirmative action, an action the Obama campaign has declined to affirm or deny. In 1990, as a law student defending the program, Obama wrote that he had “undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action” during his educational career. (Swarns 8/3/2008)

The conservative Washington Times, a staunch opponent of President-elect Barack Obama, publishes an editorial predicting that the incoming Obama administration will, in some form or fashion, move to “exterminate” babies with disabilities and other “useless” Americans through its promised reform of the US health care system, similar to actions taken by the Nazis before World War II. The Times provides a brief synopsis of Adolf Hitler’s “T4 Aktion” program designed, in the words of the Times, “to exterminate ‘useless eaters,’ babies born with disabilities. When any baby was born in Germany, the attending nurse had to note any indication of disability and immediately notify T4 officials—a team of physicians, politicians, and military leaders. In October 1939 Hitler issued a directive allowing physicians to grant a ‘mercy death’ to ‘patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.’ Thereafter, the program expanded to include older children and adults with disabilities, and anyone anywhere in the Third Reich was subject to execution who was blind, deaf, senile, retarded, or had any significant neurological condition, encephalitis, epilepsy, muscular spasticity, or paralysis. Six killing centers were eventually established, and an estimated quarter-million people with disabilities were executed.” The Times draws a parallel between the Nazis and the Obama administration’s support for legal abortion and for physician-assisted suicide, which it equates with “euthanasia.” The incoming administration will, the Times fears, begin “selecting” babies with disabilities for what apparently will be “selective abortions.” It quotes the Reverend Briane K. Turley as saying: “Were God’s design for us left unhindered, we could naturally expect to welcome 40,000 or more newborn infants with Down syndrome each year in the US. And yet we have reduced that number to just under 5,500. These data strongly indicate that, in North America, we have already discovered a new, ‘final solution’ for these unusual children and need only to adapt our public policies to, as it were, ‘cure’ all Down syndrome cases.” Turley, the Times notes, claims that “there is growing evidence suggesting that, among health care practitioners and systems, the central motivation behind legally enforced or high pressure screenings is economics.” The Times then adds: “[A]nd the results seem to bear him out. America’s T4 program—trivialization of abortion, acceptance of euthanasia, and the normalization of physician assisted suicide—is highly unlikely to be stopped at the judicial, administrative, or legislative levels anytime soon, given the Supreme Court’s current and probable future makeup during the Obama administration, the administrative predilections that are likely from that incoming administration, and the makeup of the new Congress.” The Times predicts a new “final solution” of “extermination” that will start with disabled infants and will progress “from prenatal to postnatal to child to adult.” (Washington Times 11/23/2008) The editorial anticipates the “deather” claims that many conservatives will make in the summer of 2009 (see January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, and August 13, 2009).

President-elect Barack Obama faces another challenge to his presidency—an Internet-based effort to block the US Electoral College from certifying him as president, according to a report from the Christian Science Monitor. The challenge centers on long-debunked accusations that Obama is not a US citizen (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). The Electoral College meets on December 15 to cast its votes, as garnered through the November 4 election results. The Constitution requires that the president be a US citizen; the people behind this effort insist that Obama was born in Kenya, and not in Hawaii as his birth certificate attests. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall says: “Most of the world thinks this is settled except for a few conspiracy theorists. In the 2000 election… Republican electors felt under siege, and I expect the Democrat electors may end up feeling the same way [this time].” North Carolina elector Wayne Abraham (D-NC) says he has received three letters and a phone call asking him not to vote for Obama. “I was surprised, but I’m not worried about it,” he says. “As I said to the lady on the phone, I figured that the Bush administration had ample opportunity to investigate Senator Obama, and if they had discovered he was not truly a citizen they… would have let us know.” Immigration law expert Peter Spiro of Temple University says the entire issue is a “nonstarter, because Obama was born in Hawaii.” The biggest effort of the attempt to stop the Electoral College from certifying Obama’s presidency is a lawsuit in California brought by failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes (see November 12, 2008 and After). Lawyer Philip Berg, who has lost a lawsuit challenging Obama’s citizenship (see August 21-24, 2008), says: “People are going after electors now because they can only vote for a qualified candidate, and [Obama] hasn’t shown he’s qualified. I think we have enough trouble—we don’t need a fake president.” Melanie Siewert of Kenansville, North Carolina, says the questions surrounding Obama’s citizenship have moved her to get involved in politics for the first time in her life. “I’m not asking electors to overturn their vote, but really to, before we vote, to make absolutely sure,” she says. She says she has contacted most of North Carolina’s 15 electors. “This is not being a sore loser or racist. This is just about ensuring that our leader is being truthful about who he is.” Presidential historian Perry Leavell says: “Human beings will always go for myth because it’s compelling, dramatic, and, if it were true, it would be able to change history. You can go back into the history of the American presidency and find over and over again people… who are prepared to believe the exact opposite of what all the data would say.” Constitutional law binds state electors to cast their votes for the candidate who won their state. (Christian Science Monitor 11/26/2008) The Electoral College will vote for Obama as president. (WRAL-TV 12/15/2008)

A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” (Alexander 11/30/2008)

A portion of the advertisement that runs in the Chicago Tribune.A portion of the advertisement that runs in the Chicago Tribune. [Source: We the People (.org)]Robert L. Schulz, a wealthy anti-tax activist from upstate New York and the chairman of the We the People Foundation, takes out the second of two ads in the Chicago Tribune questioning whether President Barack Obama is a “natural born citizen” and thusly eligible to be president. Schulz confirms that his non-profit foundation spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on the ads. The ads echo long-debunked claims that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is fraudulent (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). Cases challenging Obama’s citizenship have been thrown out of numerous state courts (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and the State of Hawaii has vouched for the authenticity of the Obama birth certificate, which by state law is locked in a state government vault with all other such “long form birth certificates” issued by Hawaiian officials (see July 1, 2009). Schulz’s ad raises the following claims:
bullet The birth form released by Obama was “an unsigned, forged, and thoroughly discredited” live birth form, Schulz says. Digital and real copies of Obama’s birth certificate have been examined by experts, including members of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and pronounced real (see August 21, 2008).
bullet According to Schulz, “Hawaiian officials will not confirm” that Obama was born in their state. Hawaiian officials initially did resist releasing a copy of the certificate, citing state privacy laws. However, Hawaii’s health director and head of vital statistics reviewed Obama’s birth certificate in the department’s vault and vouched for its authenticity (see October 30, 2008).
bullet Schulz says that legal affidavits state Obama was born in Kenya. Those affidavits were filed by challengers to Obama’s citizenship, and those challenges have been dismissed by a variety of courts (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
bullet Obama’s paternal grandmother is recorded on tape saying she attended Obama’s birth in Kenya, Schulz says. Schulz is referring to claims by street preacher Ron McRae who interviewed the second wife of Obama’s grandfather, Sarah Obama, via long-distance telephone (see October 16, 2008 and After). The audiotape clearly shows that the assembled Obama relatives, and the translator who spoke to McRae, repeatedly stated that Obama was born in Hawaii.
bullet Schulz says that “US law in effect in 1961 [the year of Obama’s birth] denied citizenship to any child born in Kenya if the father was Kenyan and the mother was not yet 19 years of age.” Schulz is incorrect. US law states that any child born in the US is a legitimate citizen regardless of his parents’ nationalities and/or citizenships. Obama’s father had dual Kenyan/British citizenship, and his mother was a US citizen. Had Obama been born outside of US territory and his mother Ann Dunham been under 19 years of age, which she was, Obama would indeed not have been a citizen at the time of his birth, though the provisions of this law were subsequently loosened and made retroactive for government employees serving abroad and their families. The point is moot, because Obama was born in a hospital in Honolulu.
bullet Schulz says that in 1965, Obama’s mother relinquished whatever Kenyan or US citizenship she and Obama had by marrying an Indonesian and becoming a naturalized Indonesian citizen. Schulz has produced no evidence to back this claim; Dunham did not file any of the documentation required to renounce one’s US citizenship, and even so, would not have jeopardized Obama’s citizenship in doing so. Obama and his mother moved to Indonesia in 1968, and returned to Hawaii while Obama was still in grade school. Schulz provides a reproduced Indonesian school document that states Obama’s citizenship at the time as “Indonesian,” but the same document lists Obama’s birthplace as “Honolulu, Hawaii.” (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008)
Schulz claims his challenges to Obama are not motivated by political partisanship. “We never get involved in politics,” he says of We The People. “We avoid it like the plague.” However, Schulz has done battle with local and state authorities for years; in 2007, a federal judge ordered him to shutter his Web site because he and his organization were, in the words of the Justice Department’s tax division, using the site to promote “a nationwide tax-fraud scheme.” Schulz now says he is being targeted by government operatives who are attempting to silence him. He says his group attempted to buy a similar ad in USA Today, but could not afford the cost. (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008; Koppelman 12/5/2008)

Salon columnist Alex Koppelman explores the widening sets of claims that purport to prove President Barack Obama is not a US citizen—the heart of the so-called “birther” conspiracy theory. The Obama campaign long ago produced a valid birth certificate that allowed Obama to run legitimately as a presidential candidate (see June 13, 2008), Obama’s mother Ann Dunham has also affirmed her son’s citizenship, and Hawaiian officials have confirmed that Obama was indeed born in a hospital in Honolulu (see October 30, 2008). However, some on the right continue to promulgate the tale of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship, or Indonesian citizenship, or British citizenship. The Chigago Tribune recently ran a paid advertisement questioning Obama’s citizenship (see December 3, 2008). Conservative news and opinion blogs such as WorldNetDaily run stories on a near-daily basis challenging Obama’s citizenship, or producing hoax “birth certificates” that “prove” Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya, or other locales (see July 20, 2008). Plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging Obama’s citizenship in a number of state courts, all of which have been rejected (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and a similar case goes up for review in the Supreme Court (that case also challenges Republican presidential contender John McCain’s citizenship, as McCain was born in the former Panama Canal Zone to parents serving in the US military, another legitimate way of securing citizenship—see March 14 - July 24, 2008 and August 21-24, 2008). Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, notes that some people will never let go of the idea that Obama is not a citizen, no matter what level of proof is provided. “There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” he says. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it.… Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.” Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant, he says. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates, agrees. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Berlet says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.” Social psychologist Evan Harrington adds: “One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special. The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they’ll have convenient ways to discredit [it].” Koppelman notes that during the presidential election, so-called “birthers” said that they would drop their claims if only Obama would release the “long form” of his birth certificate, even though to do so would be to violate Hawaii’s privacy laws, which keep all such documents under lock and key. During the campaign, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, released a statement saying she had verified that the state has the original birth certificate on record (see October 30, 2008), and that Obama’s Hawaiian birth is a matter of state record. Experts with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, part of the FactCheck (.org) organization, have examined the certificate and verified its authenticity (see August 21, 2008), as has PolitiFact (see June 27, 2008). Koppelmann notes that the conspiracy theory has grown to the point where talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage have suggested that Obama used the occasion of his grandmother’s death to go to Hawaii to alter the record (see November 10, 2008). Koppelman notes that many who align themselves with the “birther” movement are well-known conspiratorists. Author Jerome Corsi, who attacked Obama’s citizenship in a pre-election book (see August 1, 2008 and After), has spoken of “secret government plans” to form a “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, asserts that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the US government (so-called “trutherism”). Another critic, Andy Martin, who seems to be the source of the rumor that Obama is a Muslim and is a strong “birther” proponent, was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law (see October 17-22, 2008). Robert Schulz, who ran the Tribune ads, is a well-known tax protester and anti-government rhetorician. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)

The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. (Senate Armed Services Committee 12/11/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009) (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) (Landay 4/21/2009) A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” (Landay 4/21/2009)
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). (Senate Armed Services Committee 12/11/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009)
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. (Senate Armed Services Committee 12/11/2008 pdf file)

Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” (Rose 12/16/2008) On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” (Shane 4/22/2008)

Glenn Beck, the former CNN Headline News talk show host who has just signed with Fox News, has a discussion with Fox chief executive Roger Ailes about his intentions as Fox’s newest host. Beck later recalls: “I wanted to meet with Roger and tell him: ‘You may not want to put me on the air. I believe we are in dire trouble, and I will never shut up’.” Far from warning Beck to tone down his rhetoric, Ailes tells Beck that Fox’s primary mission is now to serve as the opposition to the newly elected President Obama (see November 4, 2008). According to Beck, Ailes tells him: “I see this as the Alamo. If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we’d be fine.” One of Beck’s primary themes on Headline News has been his fear that the US is becoming a socialist nation, a theme he says Ailes encourages him to develop on Fox. Fox vice president Bill Shine will say: “I think we’ve been doing a very good job of trying to point out some things that maybe some other news organizations haven’t pointed out. We’re kind of looking for things that people aren’t being told.” Major Garrett, Fox’s White House correspondent, will say: “[T]here very may well be a curiosity about the Fox brand interacting with the Obama brand. There may be an expectation of a higher degree of skepticism” (see October 13, 2009). One of Beck’s first additions to his Fox studio is a caricature of Obama drawn to resemble former Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. (Gold 3/6/2009)

Amy Kremer, a former flight attendant who will go on to found the Atlanta Tea Party and become the chair of the Tea Party Express, writes of her extreme disgust with the certification of Barack Obama as president (see January 20-21, 2009). Kremer has previously expressed her conviction that Obama is not an American citizen (see October 2008). She writes: “I have lost all hope on this issue of OBami’s eligibility to be president of the United States. I am totally disillusioned after sitting and watching Congress certify the Electoral College vote on CSPAN without one objection.” (Politico 2010; Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)

Susan Crawford.Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. (Woodward 1/14/2009; Glaberson 1/14/2009) His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. (Glaberson 1/14/2009)
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” (Woodward 1/14/2009)
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” (Woodward 1/14/2009)
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” (Woodward 1/14/2009)

Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” (US Department of Justice 1/15/2009 pdf file; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009)
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” (Jack Balkin 3/3/2009) In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” (Lewis 3/2/2009) Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. (Smith and Eggen 3/3/2009)

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has already launched attacks on President-elect Barack Obama, including attempting to blame him for the global recession even though he has not yet taken office (see November 5-12, 2008). Today he tells his listeners that he hopes Obama’s administration is a failure. (Limbaugh’s words are publicly reported by the liberal organization ThinkProgress; his remarks are carried on his Web site, but are accessible only to those who pay for access.) Limbaugh says, “I disagree fervently with the people on our [Republican] side of the aisle who have caved and who say, ‘Well, I hope he succeeds.’” Limbaugh says “a major American print publication” has asked him to write a brief statement on his “hope for the Obama presidency.” Limbaugh’s response: “So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, ‘Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.” When Limbaugh is interrupted by someone in the studio laughing, he continues: “What are you laughing at? See, here’s the point. Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ Why not? Why is it any different, what’s new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don’t care what the Drive-By story is. [Limbaugh often refers to the mainstream media as the ‘drive-by media.’] I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: ‘Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.’ Somebody’s gotta say it.” (Shakir 1/20/2009)

President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office as administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. His wife Michelle holds the Bible used to administer the oath, which will be redone the second day because of a minor error in Roberts’s delivery.President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office as administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. His wife Michelle holds the Bible used to administer the oath, which will be redone the second day because of a minor error in Roberts’s delivery. [Source: Access Hollywood]Barack Obama (D-IL) is officially inaugurated as president of the United States. He is the 44th US president. He was elected on November 4, 2008 (see November 4, 2008), and then went through a short transition period. (LoBianco 1/20/2009) Obama is forced to retake the oath of office after Chief Justice John Roberts errs in delivering it during the inaugural ceremonies. Roberts administers the “second” oath in the White House’s map room; Roberts asks Obama if he is ready and Obama says, “I am, and we’re going to do it very slowly.” Roberts initially said the word “faithfully” out of order, prompting some conservative bloggers and reporters to claim that Obama’s presidency is illegitimate. White House counsel Greg Craig says: “We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.” The oath properly reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (CNN 1/21/2009) Obama takes the first oath on a Bible that belonged to former President Abraham Lincoln, on loan from the Library of Congress. The second oath is taken without a Bible, which is allowed under the Constitution but will lead to further criticism from Obama opponents. (Naughton 1/22/2009)

After taking office as president (see January 20-21, 2009), Barack Obama instructs new CIA Director Leon Panetta to develop options and find new resources for pursuing Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that while “a lot of good” had been done during the Bush administration years, resources for the CIA’s bin Laden hunt “fluctuated over time.” As part of the effort, the CIA increases the number of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011)
Obama: Bin Laden Must Be Killed - In the spring of 2009, Obama tells his top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda can never be truly defeated unless bin Laden is killed, and the US needs the closure his death would provide. Obama allegedly says: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.… I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.” (Tapper 6/9/2011)
New Attitude towards Pakistan - Part of the change is a new attitude towards the government of Pakistan. President Bush had close personal ties to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But Musharraf resigned shortly before Obama became president (see August 18, 2008), making those ties moot. An unnamed former top Bush administration official will later say: “For a long time there was a strong inclination at the highest levels during our time to work with the Pakistanis, treat them as partners, defer to their national sensitivities.… There was some good reason for that.” But, this person says, the Obama administration “do seem more willing to push the envelope.” In 2011, former senior State Department official Vali Nasr will say: “Obama was fundamentally honest that the United States and Pakistan were on different trajectories in Afghanistan. Under Bush, there was this pretense that we were all in this war on terror together.” The Obama administration is increasingly skeptical about Pakistan’s promises to act against militants, and the US is more willing to act on its own to get militants hiding in Pakistan. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011)

President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009) “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009) Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” (US News and World Report 1/23/2009)
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. (Collinson 1/22/2009) Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009; Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009)

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. (Halloran 1/26/2009)

Media critic and columnist George Neumayr writes that the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan will include enforced abortions and euthanasia for less productive citizens. Neumayr calls this claim a once “astonishingly chilly and incomprehensible stretch [that] is now blandly stated liberal policy,” basing it on the Democrats’ plan to provide money to the states for “family planning.” Neumayr equates the funding, which would go for such initiatives as teaching teenagers about the use of condoms and measures to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, to the famous Jonathan Swift essay of 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” which satirically suggested that impoverished Irish families might sell their children to rich Englishmen for food. “Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper,” Neumayr writes. “Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] proposes stimulating the US economy by eliminating them. Other slumping countries, such as Russia and France, pay parents to have children; it looks like Obama’s America will pay parents to contracept or kill them. Perhaps the Freedom of Choice Act can also fall under the Pelosi ‘stimulus’ rationale. Why not? An America of shovels and scalpels will barrel into the future. Euthanasia is another shovel-ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama’s plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus too. Controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs. It’s all stimulus in the Brave New World utopia to come.” Like a Washington Times editorial from months earlier (see November 23, 2008), Neumayr uses the term “final solution” for the Democrats’ economic proposal, the term for the Nazis’ World War II-era extermination of millions of Jews and other “undesirables.” He writes: “‘Unwanted’ children are immediately seen as an unspeakable burden. Pregnancy is a punishment, and fertility is little more than a disease. Pelosi’s gaffe illustrates the extent to which eugenics and economics merge in the liberal utilitarian mind.” “Malthus lives,” he says, referring to the 19th century scholar Thomas Robert Malthus, whose theories of ruthless natural selection predated Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Neumayr goes on to accuse “Hillary Clinton’s State Department” of preparing to set up programs of “people-elimination,” predicated on what he calls “UN-style population control ideology” and “third-world abortions.” (Neumayr 1/27/2009)

John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” (Yoo 1/29/2009) Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” (Army 9/2006) And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. (Yoo 1/29/2009) In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” (Yoo 1/29/2009)

Attorneys for Jose Padilla, a US citizen convicted in 2007 of material support for terrorist activities (see May 8, 2002 and August 27, 2002) say that senior Bush administration officials knew Padilla was being tortured ever since being held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina naval brig (see June 9, 2002). The lawyers say Bush officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have known, because of the command structure and because Rumsfeld approved harsh interrogation tactics (see December 2, 2002). Padilla and his mother are suing the government for employing a wide variety of harsh interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extended periods of isolation, forcible administering of hallucinogenic drugs, threats of death and mutilation, and enforced stress positions, as well as for violating his rights by holding him as an enemy combatant without due legal process. Both Rumsfeld and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are named as defendants. Tahlia Townsend, an attorney for Padilla, says: “They knew what was going on at the brig and they permitted it to continue. Defendants Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were routinely consulted on these kinds of questions.” The Justice Department is trying to get the case dismissed. (Byrne 1/30/2009) Justice Department lawyers claim that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would damage national security. They argue that a court victory for Padilla “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.… Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” Padilla is seeking a symbolic $1 fine from each defendant along with a favorable ruling. (Richey 1/29/2009)

Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore, appearing as a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s show, compares Social Security to “a big Ponzi scheme.” Moore and Beck are discussing the issue of the US debt, and Moore compares the cycle of different government agencies buying and selling portions of the debt to one another to Social Security, saying: “It’s very much like the way Social Security works. It’s a big Ponzi scheme. It’s like a big vault of IOUs.” (Media Matters 2/2/2009; Media Matters 9/7/2010) Beck will later call Social Security a “Stalinist” program designed to forcibly redistribute wealth to poorer citizens (see January 27, 2010).

George W. Bush’s former political guru Karl Rove echoes incorrect statements made by former Bush lawyer John Yoo. In an op-ed, Yoo claimed that President Obama’s prohibition against torture, and the mandate for US interrogators to use the Army Field Manual as their guide, prevents interrogators from using long-established, non-invasive techniques to question prisoners (see January 29, 2009). In an address at Loyola Marymount University, Rove tells his listeners: “The Army Field Manual prohibits ‘good cop, bad cop.’ All that stuff you see on CSI—the Army Field Manual prohibits it.… If you stop collecting that information, you begin to make America more at risk.” (Maddaus 2/3/2009) Both Rove and Yoo are wrong. The Army Field Manual explicitly permits many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo and Rove claim it bans. (Army 9/2006)

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann slams former Vice President Dick Cheney for Cheney’s recent warnings concerning the policies of President Obama (see February 4, 2009). Olbermann calls Cheney’s remarks a “destructive and uninformed diatribe… that can only serve to undermine the nation’s new president, undermine the nation’s effort to thwart terrorism, and undermine the nation itself.” Cheney said that the Obama administration seems “more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.” Olbermann responds by asking: “What delusion of grandeur makes you think you have the right to say anything like that? Because a president, or an ordinary American, demands that we act as Americans and not as bullies; demands that we play by our rules; that we preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; you believe we have chosen the one and not the other? We can be Americans, or we can be what you call ‘safe’—but not both?” Olbermann says that the Bush-Cheney policies—the so-called “Bush System,” as recently dubbed by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo (see January 29, 2009)—“[s]tart[ed] the wrong war, detain[ed] the wrong people, employ[ed] the wrong methods, pursue[d] the wrong leads, utilize[d] the wrong emotions.” He continues: “We, sir, will most completely assure our security not by maintaining the endless, demoralizing, draining, life-denying blind fear and blind hatred which you so thoroughly embody. We will most easily purchase our safety by repudiating the ‘Bush System.’ We will reserve the violence for which you are so eager, sir, for any battlefield to which we truly must take, and not for unconscionable wars which people like you goad and scare and lie us into. You, Mr. Cheney, you terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years, and now it is time for you to desist, or to be made to desist. With damnable words like these, sir, you help no American, you protect no American, you serve no American—you only aid and abet those who would destroy this nation from within or without.” (Olbermann 2/5/2009)

Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals.Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals. [Source: Media Matters]The Wall Street Journal, Fox News anchors, conservative Web news purveyor Matt Drudge, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh promulgate a discredited claim by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that the economic recovery bill pending in Congress includes a provision that would have the government “essentially dictate treatments” for sick Americans. McCaughey wrote a commentary for Bloomberg News on February 9 that makes the claim (see February 9, 2009); Drudge and Limbaugh echo and add to the claim the same day. The next day, the Wall Street Journal’s senior economic writer, Stephen Moore, appearing on Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, joins news anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly in promoting the same claim (see October 13, 2009), with Moore saying that the provision would “hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore credits Limbaugh with informing him of the claim, saying: “I just learned of this myself yesterday. In fact, Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of it on his radio show and it just—it caused all sorts of calls into congressional offices.” On February 10, Limbaugh takes credit for spreading the claim, telling listeners: “Betsy McCaughey writing at Bloomberg, I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media. Well, it’s—it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it.” McCaughey is wrong in the claim: according to an analysis of the legislative language by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, “the language in the House bill that McCaughey referenced does not establish authority to ‘monitor treatments’ or restrict what ‘your doctor is doing’ with regard to patient care but, rather, addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients ‘to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.’” Moore says: “[T]his news story really has exploded on the public scene in just the last 24 hours, Bill. We’ve been just inundated with complaints from people about the implications of having the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore later goes on to add that the bill “especially will affect elderly people, because one of the ways, if we move more towards a nationalized health care system, as this bill would move us one step towards that, what you have to do to restrain costs—what many other countries do, like Canada and Britain, is they essentially, Bill, ration care. And they tell patients you are eligible for this kind of care, but this is too expensive. And so what this bill would essentially do is set up a kind of pricing mechanism to tell people, yes, we can afford to treat you for this, but not that.” Moore encourages viewers to “express their outrage over this” before Congress takes the issue up. Kelly adds another false claim: that the bill discourages doctors to act on their own judgment and promotes medical decisions “in the spirit of uniform health care.” Kelly notes, “That sounds dangerously like socialized medicine.” Hemmer also makes the false claim that the legislation contains “rules [that] appear to set the stage for health care rationing for seniors, new limits on medical research, and new rules guiding decisions your doctor can make about your health care.” Hemmer calls the provision a “midnight health care insertion” into the Senate spending bill. (Media Matters 2/10/2009)

Fox News on-air graphic repeating a typo from the original Senate Republican Communications Center press release.Fox News on-air graphic repeating a typo from the original Senate Republican Communications Center press release. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News anchor Jon Scott, co-anchor of the “straight news” program Happening Now, uses research provided in a Senate Republican Communications Center (SRCC) press release to make dubious claims about how the Obama economic recovery plan “grew, and grew, and grew” over time. While Scott reports the claims, Fox displays seven graphics illustrating them. The graphics’ textual content hews so closely to the SRCC’s press release that it even repeats a typographical error found in the original memo. Scott and the on-air graphics cite the SRCC’s original sources for their information, which include Politico, the Congressional Quarterly, the Denver Post, the Washington Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, but neither Scott nor the graphics acknowledge the SRCC as the source of the research. The typo is in the seventh and last graphic, incorrectly citing the date of a Wall Street Journal article as “12/19/09.” The next day, Scott apologizes, but only for the typo, prompting Washington Post media critic and CNN host Howard Kurtz to say: “We sometimes jab at the pundits for using talking points, but in the case of Fox News anchor Jon Scott, it was literally true this week.… You should be apologizing for using partisan propaganda from the GOP without telling your viewers where it came from. Talk about missing the point” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 2/10/2009; Media Matters 2/15/2009)

The Washington Times spins off a recent op-ed by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to claim that the Obama administration will attempt to save money by euthanizing old people, disabled people, and sickly infants. The editorial begins with the “chilling” idea of a national medical information database that will allow the government to “track… your every visit to a health care provider—where you went, who you saw, what was diagnosed, and what care was provided.” The Obama administration, the Times claims, will use that information to decide which people deserve the more expensive lifesaving treatments and which ones must be denied in the interest of cost efficiency. “If it costs too much to treat you, and you are nearing the end of your life anyway, you may have to do with less, or with nothing,” the Times writes. “You just aren’t worth the cost.… What nondescript GS-11 will be cutting care from Aunt Sophie after her sudden relapse before he or she heads to the food court for some stir fry?” The elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, all “whose health costs are great and whose ability to work productively in the future” will, the Times writes, be allowed to die or even exterminated. So will premature babies, badly wounded soldiers, and others as yet to be determined. The Times again cites Nazi Germany’s “T4 Aktion” program of forcibly euthanizing less productive citizens (see November 23, 2008) as a likely template for the Obama program. (Washington Times 2/11/2009)

Unsuccessful House candidate Steve Beren (R-WA), now working for an Internet marketing firm, begins promoting a rally organized by Seattle blogger Keli Carender (see February 10, 2009). According to Beren, he became aware of Carender’s rally by hearing interviews with her on radio shows hosted by Kirby Wilbur (see (February 11, 2009)) and David Boze. An hour after Beren’s announcement, Carender announces that she will again be interviewed by Boze, and says Beren will speak at her rally. (Keli Carender 2/12/2009; Steve Beren 2/16/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009) Carender’s rally is later considered one of the seminal events in the nascent “tea party” movement (see February 16-17, 2009).

According to economists and other finance experts, most of the major US banks are broke, awash in losses from bad bets that overwhelm the banks’ assets. (Link TV 2/10/2009; Wolf 2/10/2009) None of the experts focus on individual banks, and there are exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Consumers and businesses do not need to fret about their federally insured deposits, and even banks that are technically insolvent can continue operating, and could recover their financial health once the economy improves. Until there is a cure for banks’ bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, since banks cannot resume the lending needed to restart commerce.
Suggested Response - Economists and experts say that the answer is a larger, more direct government role than the recently-unveiled Treasury Department plan. The Obama-Geithner plan leans heavily on sketchy public-private investment funding to buy up the banks’ troubled mortgage-backed securities. Experts say that the government needs to delve in, weed out the weakest banks, inject capital into surviving banks and sell off bad assets. “The historical record shows that you have to do it eventually,” said Adam Posen, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Putting it off only brings more troubles and higher costs in the long run.” The Obama administration’s recovery plan could help spur a timely economic spurt, and the value of the banks’ assets could begin to rise. Absent that, the prescription would not be easy or cheap. Estimates of the capital injection needed range from $1 trillion and beyond. By contrast, the commitment of taxpayer money is the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout approved by Congress last fall.
Pessimism - In a new report Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, estimates that total losses on loans by American financial firms and the fall in the market value of the assets they hold will reach $3.6 trillion, up from his previous estimate of $2 trillion. (Roubini 2/10/2009) Of the total, he calculates that American banks face half that risk, or $1.8 trillion, with the rest borne by other financial institutions in the United States and abroad. “The United States banking system is effectively insolvent,” Roubini says. (Lohr 2/13/2009)

Nationally prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin promotes an anti-economic stimulus rally in Seattle being organized by an area math teacher, Keli Carender (see February 10, 2009 and February 12, 2009), writing: “There should be one of these in every town in America. What are you doing?” Malkin also posts a response from Carender expressing her gratitude at the mention, and adding: “I wanted to give the Coloradans some advice for gathering folks there, and believe me, you have the time. I got the permit for the park here on Tuesday, and now look, by Sunday, it is ALL OVER THE PLACE. I emailed everyone I knew. I emailed friend’s parents who I knew were Conservative, I emailed my parents’ friends, bloggers, etc. I called everyone I could think of, policy think tanks, ‘movers and shakers’ in the Seattle Republican Party, Conservative organizations, college professors, etc. (From this I have forged a relationship with the chairwoman of the National Black Republican Association who is going to write a statement for me to read, as she cannot get to Seattle on Monday.) I called local Conservative talk radio stations and they have been running it all week. I lived and breathed this thing for four days, which did cause me to miss a couple of things here and there, but it is totally worth it. Basically everyone, you just have to do it. Call up your police station or parks department and ask how you can obtain a permit, and then just start advertising. The word will spread. I am only one person, but with a little hard work this protest has become the efforts of A LOT of people. To the people who think this won’t help I say this: this protest will not stop the bill. I have no illusions that it could. I’m hoping for a few things though. One, that the Conservatives and Libertarians and Republicans in Seattle can finally meet each other and see they are not alone. There are actually quite a lot of us here, but we are very quiet, and that MUST STOP. We need to show that we exist. Second, we need to show support for the Republicans and Democrats that voted against the porkulus. If they think, for one second, that they made a bad choice, we have no chance to fight. Third, it sends a message to [President] Obama and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] that we are awake and we know what’s happening, and we are not going to take it lying down. It is a message saying, expect more opposition because we’re out here. That’s it! I hope everyone across the country can get something going too!!!” (Michelle Malkin 2/15/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009) Carender’s rally is later considered one of the seminal events in the nascent “tea party” movement (see February 16-17, 2009). Liberal blogger Jane Hamsher will note, “First [tea party] rally organized on a three week-old blog with help from folks from Fox News Radio, the Young Republicans, the Young America’s Foundation (CPAC—see (February 11, 2009)), and a GOP House candidate who works for an Internet marketing firm.” (Hamsher 4/15/2009)

Keli Carender at the Seattle ‘porkulus’ rally. Blogger Michelle Malkin promoted the rally and provided food for the protesters.Keli Carender at the Seattle ‘porkulus’ rally. Blogger Michelle Malkin promoted the rally and provided food for the protesters. [Source: Taxing Tennessee (.com)]Covering the anti-economic stimulus “porkulus” rally in Seattle (see February 16-17, 2009), conservative blogger Michelle Malkin uses the term “tea party” in conjunction with the protests, perhaps for the first time. In a blog post largely made up of photos from the Seattle rally, Malkin titles the post “From the Boston Tea Party to your neighborhood pork protest.” Malkin credits Seattle blogger and organizer Keli Carender with single-handedly organizing the rally, though liberal blogger Jane Hamsher will later note that Carender had assistance from Malkin, members of Fox News Radio, a representative of the Young America’s Foundation, and a Republican politician who works for an Internet marketing firm (see February 15, 2009). The conservative blog Instapundit cites protests to follow in Denver, Nashville, and New York City. (Michelle Malkin 2/16/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009)

Protesters in front of the Colorado State Capitol wave anti-Obama, pro-Ayn Rand signs and large ‘checks’ from the federal government representing ‘pork’ spending.Protesters in front of the Colorado State Capitol wave anti-Obama, pro-Ayn Rand signs and large ‘checks’ from the federal government representing ‘pork’ spending. [Source: People's Press Collective / Michelle Malkin]Hundreds of protesters gather on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol to protest President Obama’s signing of the economic stimulus legislative package (see February 16, 2009). The rally is organized by, among others, the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), the Independence Institute, and blogger Michelle Malkin. Former House Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is one of the speakers, along with a number of state and local Republican politicians. Malkin writes after the rally: “[H]opefully, [the rally] will spur others to move from the phones and computers to the streets. Community organizing helped propel Barack Obama to the White House. It could work for fiscal conservatism, too.” Liberal blogger Jane Hamsher later notes that the Independence Institute is funded by the Coors Foundation’s Castle Rock Foundation, which operates as something of a “mini Heritage Foundation in Colorado.” Beer billionaire and conservative financier Jeffrey Coors sits on the board of the Institute. Hamsher later writes, “According to Michelle Malkin, second rally organized by Koch/Americans for Prosperity, Coors/Independence Institute, former GOP congressman and Independence Institute fellow Tom Tancredo.” (Michelle Malkin 2/17/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009)

Conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas uses a recent editorial by health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to accuse the Obama administration of planning a “euthanasia” program to exterminate hapless Americans. President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, Thomas writes, “means the government will decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t. It is survival of the fittest in practice.” Thomas then writes that the Obama administration’s support of legal abortions will inevitably lead to “euthanasia” of older and less productive citizens. He quotes a 1979 book by theologian Francis Schaeffer and future Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? as saying, “Will a society which has assumed the right to kill infants in the womb—because they are unwanted, imperfect, or merely inconvenient—have difficulty in assuming the right to kill other human beings, especially older adults who are judged unwanted, deemed imperfect physically or mentally, or considered a possible social nuisance?” Thomas then writes, “No one should be surprised at the coming embrace of euthanasia.” Schaeffer and Koop’s prediction that “the next candidates for arbitrary reclassification as nonpersons are the elderly” now “seems to be coming true,” Thomas writes. He also repeats a claim from the 92-year-old Koop that in 1988, he had suffered from an ailment that temporarily paralyzed him. Under Britain’s government-run health care, Koop claims, “I would have been nine years too old to have the surgery that saved my life and gave me another 21 years.” Soon, Thomas writes, “dying will become a patriotic duty when the patient’s balance sheet shows a deficit.” (Thomas 2/18/2009)

CNBC stock analyst Rick Santelli’s “impromptu” on-air “rant” against President Obama’s economic stimulus program, in which Santelli calls for a “tea party” protest and tells viewers he intends to begin organizing a “Chicago Tea Party,” galvanizes nascent “tea party” groups around the nation. Chicago radio producer Zack Christenson has already registered the Internet domain “chicagoteaparty.com” (see August 2008), and hours after Santelli’s rant Christenson puts up a “homemade” tea party Web site. A Chicago Libertarian activist, Eric Odom (see After November 7, 2008), puts up a similar site at “officialchicagoteaparty.com.” The next day, the short-lived “Nationwide Tea Party Coalition” forms. At the same time, a new Facebook group, “Rick Santelli is right, we need a Taxpayer (Chicago) Tea Party,” is created by Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity, and is administered by Odom. The Facebook page leads back to a site called “taxpayerteaparty.com,” run by Americans for Prosperity. Simultaneously, Brendan Steinhauser, the campaign director of FreedomWorks (see March 2, 2009) and another administrator of the Facebook group, begins organizing “tea party” groups—or actually continues his efforts, since on February 9, 10 days before Santelli’s broadcast, he had contacted a Florida activist who had attended a FreedomWorks training session and asked her to organize a protest in Fort Myers. Steinhauser later writes that the day after Santelli’s broadcast: “I just wrote this little 10 quick easy steps to hold your own tea party, wrote it up, and kinda was proud of it and sent it to Michelle Malkin. She linked to it from her blog.” Malkin’s blog is overwhelmed by the response. FreedomWorks staffers call activists around the country asking them to organize “grassroots” tea party organizations, and on March 9, FreedomWorks announces a nationwide “Tea Party Tour,” saying in a statement, “From [Santelli’s] desperate rallying cry FreedomWorks has tapped into the outrage building from within our own membership as well as allied conservative grassroots forces to organize a 25-city Tea Party Tour where taxpayers angry that their hard-earned money is being usurped by the government for irresponsible bailouts, can show President Obama and Congressional Democrats that their push towards outright socialism will not stand.” By February 27, the first official “tea party” events take place, organized by the Sam Adams Alliance, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity. Many of the original organizations will eventually be subsumed by, or merge with, national structures, again primarily organized and funded by FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and other right-wing lobbying organizations. Eventually, six nationwide networks will form (see August 24, 2010). (Hamsher 4/15/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) During this period, conservative media outlets such as the Weekly Standard will claim that the tea party movement was entirely spontaneous in its origins (see March 2, 2009). However, facts stand in the way of that claim (see February 15, 2009, February 16, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 18, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 20, 2010).

Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has a special segment called “War Games” during the week’s broadcasts. In today’s show, he is joined by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer (see February 1996) and retired Army Sergeant Major, Tim Strong. The three discuss what they say is the upcoming “civil war” in America, which, they assert, will be led by “citizen militias” made up of principled, ideologically correct conservatives. Beck says that he “believes we’re on this road.” The three decide among themselves that the US military would refuse to obey President Obama’s orders to subdue the insurrection and would instead join with “the people” in “defending the Constitution” against the government. (Greenwald 2/22/2009) Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s blog “Hot Air” features an entry that calls Beck’s rhetoric “implausible” and “nutty.” (Hot Air 2/22/2009)

Retired Major General Anthony Taguba, who headed an intensive military investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), is one of the most prominent supporters of the call to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention, and torture policies. Taguba joins 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials, former law enforcement officers, and former military leaders in asking President Obama to create a non-partisan commission to investigate those abuses. Even though prosecuting former Bush officials might be difficult, Taguba says, a commission would provide some measure of accountability for the practices Taguba calls “misguided,” “illegal,” “despicable and questionable.” Taguba wants the commission to study the Bush administration’s claims that torture provides good intelligence, which he disputes. He particularly wants the commission to investigate administration officials’ claims that the administration’s policies were legal. Taguba says he supports “a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.… In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.” Speaking about the Bush Justice Department’s findings that torture and indefinite detentions are legal (see Late September 2001, November 11-13, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002), Taguba says: “This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts—lawyers with great intellect, well educated—came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?… Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained, and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.” (Benjamin 2/21/2009)

A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. (Leopold 2/22/2009)

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit is in talks with the US government to increase the amount of public ownership of the bank in a move both politicians and bank bosses hope will avert the need for the ailing corporation to be taken into FDIC receivership (see March 15, 2008). Talks commenced after Citigroup shares dropped more than 20 percent in late trading on Friday, leaving the business with a share value of $10.6 billion, with balance sheet assets of $1.95 trillion. Government receivership of Citigroup is seen as politically unpalatable, and US taxpayers could conceivably own up to 40 percent of Citigroup. Economists see government takeover of the corporation as evidence of other major banks struggling with insolvency. The failure of major banks will have calamitous repercussions. The US treasury says it remains committed to helping the banking industry recover without taking complete control. “Because our economy functions better when financial institutions are well managed in the private ¬≠sector, the strong presumption… is that banks should remain in private hands,” the Treasury Department said in a joint statement with the Federal Reserve. Speculation that a major Wall Street institution could be taken into public ownership toppled the market on Friday, February 20; likely targets were heavily rumored to be Citigroup and Bank of America. Bank of America lost nearly half its share value in three days before rallying late Friday afternoon. The latest talks center on a Treasury Department proposal to convert preference shares in Citigroup into new ordinary shares. This move would not involve additional taxpayer funds, but taxpayers would surrender the guaranteed dividends that come with preference stock, as well as some degree of protection in the event of a corporate collapse. Serious questions remain, such as the price at which new shares are issued. Estimates of the size of the government’s eventual stake range from 25 percent to 40 percent. With this move, Barack Obama’s administration would become a major presence on Citigroup’s ordinary share register, thus diluting the interests of existing investors, and heightening fears of political pressure being brought on US banks. Some analysts suggest that banks relying on taxpayer bail-outs are being encouraged to focus lending and liquidity on the national US market. (Bowers and Wearden 2/23/2009)

Cover of Grabe and Bucy’s ‘Image Bite Politics.’Cover of Grabe and Bucy’s ‘Image Bite Politics.’ [Source: University of Indiana]An Indiana University study shows that the three American broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, systematically favored Republicans in their election news coverage from 1992 through 2004. The study is presented by two professors in the Department of Telecommunications, Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Bucy, and is published in book form, entitled Image Bite Politics: News and the Visual Framing of Elections. The Indiana University press release notes, “Their research runs counter to the popular conventional notion of a liberal bias in the media in favor of Democrats and against Republican candidates.” Grabe says: “We don’t think this is journalists conspiring to favor Republicans. We think they’re just so beat up and tired of being accused of a liberal bias that they unknowingly give Republicans the benefit in coverage. It’s self-censorship that journalists might be imposing on themselves.”
Focusing on 'Image Bites' - Grabe and Bucy focused on visual coverage of presidential candidates. Between 1992 and 2004, they found, candidates were shown more visually over the years, in what the authors call “image bites,” while their verbal statements, or “sound bites,” steadily decreased in average length. Grabe and Bucy examined 62 hours of broadcast news coverage, totaling 178 newscasts, between Labor Day and Election Day over four US presidential elections between 1992 and 2004. Cable news outlets such as CNN and Fox News were not included in the study. The professors are now examining broadcast coverage for the 2008 election.
Favoritism in Visual Coverage - According to the press release: “Grabe and Bucy found the volume of news coverage focusing exclusively on each party—one measure of media bias—favored Republicans. Their research found there were more single-party stories about Republicans overall and in each election year except 1992. When they studied the time duration of these stories, no pattern of favoritism was evident. But they did spot differences when they studied visual coverage, that is, with the volume turned down.” Grabe and Bucy note: “Reporters do exercise control over production decisions. The internal structure of news stories—their placement in the newscast, editing techniques and manipulations related to camera angles, shot lengths, eyewitness perspectives and zoom movements—is at the volition of news workers, free of the influence of image handlers.”
Editing Techniques Favor Republicans - The authors examined several “visual packaging techniques” used in editing a film of a candidate. Two techniques worthy of note were the “lip-flap shot,” in which a reporter narrates over a video of the candidate talking, and the “Goldilocks effect,” wherein a candidate gets the last word in a piece and thus is better remembered by viewers. The “lip-flap shot” is considered so negative for a candidate that it is considered a “violation of professional television news production standards,” according to the authors. Both techniques were employed to the benefit of Republicans, the authors report. Democrats were more apt to be subjected to “lip-flapping,” while Republicans more often got the last word in (except in 2004, when the “Goldilocks effect” was relatively even-handed). Other techniques that are considered detrimental to candidates are extreme close-ups, with a face filling the screen, and long-distance shots. In general, both techniques were used to affect Democrats more often than Republicans. And Republicans garnered more favorable views with such techniques as low-angle camera shots, which the authors say demonstrably “attribute power and dominance to candidates in experimental studies.” Most professional cameramen and journalists are trained not to use low-angle or high-angle shots, says Grabe, and instead to favor more neutral eye-level shots. She notes: “It takes the same amount of time to rig a camera for a low-angle shot as for a more neutral eye-level shot. It doesn’t take any extra effort to be professionally unbiased. There is evidence that the pattern favoring Republicans is stable across networks, because there are no statistically significant differences between them.”
Impact on Poll Numbers - The impact of these negative and positive “packaging” techniques on daily polls was measurable, Grabe says: “When negative packaging over time spiked for a candidate, public opinion generally went down. You can observe the same inverse trend. When detrimental packaging subsides, public opinion is at its highest point. In experimental research, these production features have been shown to have an impact—now we have indications that they have broad impact on public opinion.”
Conclusion - Bucy concludes: “Visuals are underappreciated in news coverage. You can have a negative report. You can have the journalist being opinionated against the candidate. But if you’re showing favorable visuals, that outweighs the net effect on the viewer almost every single time.” (University of Indiana 2/24/2009)

Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event.Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event. [Source: GayPatriot (.net)]Yasha Levine, co-author of a Playboy article alleging that the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” on CNBC was part of a pre-planned rollout of corporate-funded tea party organizations (see February 27, 2009), attends a tea party event at the Santa Monica pier. The event, planned as a “spontaneous” citizen protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies, was planned and supervised by Tony Katz, who organized it through a Facebook page. The event is planned to last 45 minutes, and consists of a quick “meet and greet,” three keynote speakers (an actor, a writer, and a comedian), and as a finale, a quick teabagging ceremony. Levine says the event’s timing is not conducive to attracting large numbers of protesters, being as it takes place at the beginning of a workday. However, she notes, it is quite conducive for media coverage: journalists would “get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.” Levine arrives late, but in time to witness Katz finishing his closing speech and event organizers passing out tea bags. She estimates the crowd size at about 50, “not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days” (see February 19-21, 2009). Some protesters hold anti-Obama signs, others wave signs with anti-tax slogans. At least a third of the crowd, Levine writes, is made up of reporters and other “media types.” At 9:35, Katz exhorts the crowd to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (as throwing them in the ocean constitutes littering) and scream out their anti-tax demands. Levine observes: “It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. Fox News sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch [the Koch family, whom Levine has accused of clandestinely funding many tea party organizations] was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.” (Yasha Levine 2/27/2009)

Citigroup logo.Citigroup logo. [Source: Citigroup]The latest government bailout gives Citigroup bond holders excellent terms and doesn’t provide the bank with new money. Instead, Citigroup cut expenses with the elimination of preferred stock dividends, and also converted shares into common equity at an above-market-value of $3.25, positioning itself to take the first hit if it encounters additional losses. Analysts are predicting that the company’s losses will continue to increase. Since the beginning of 2009, Citigroup’s stock has fallen 78 percent. “Debt holders could eventually be required to participate in further government-led restructuring actions,” Standard and Poor’s says. (Reilly 3/2/2009) Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit tells investors that increasing the bank’s “tangible” common equity from $29.7 billion to as much as $81 billion should “take confidence issues off the table,” about the bank’s loss absorption ability. The bank lost $27.7 billion in 2008, and is predicted to lose $1.24 billion during the first six months of 2009. “There’s no difference here,” says Christopher Whalen, co-founder of Institutional Risk Analytics, a Torrance, California risk-advisory firm. “It won’t fix revenue, and you’re still going to see loss rates.” Whalen says that the government’s efforts are mainly protecting other financial institutions and foreign goverments that are Citigroup bonds holders. “The taxpayer is funding the operating loss and protecting the bondholders,” Whalen notes. “The subsidy for the banks will become one of the biggest lines in Washington’s budget.”
Government Should Organize Citigroup, AIG Bondholders - Whalen also says it would be better if the government organized Citigroup and insurer American International Group Inc. bondholders, since the insurer received a $150 billion US bailout, and also made a deal with the government to convert some of its debt to equity. US government investment fell by more than 50 percent, and the government plans to convert up to $25 billion of its preferred stock to common shares, gaining a 36 percent stake in the bank. At Friday’s closing price of $1.50, government investment is worth approximately $11.5 billion. The bank itself has a stock market value of $8.2 billion as of market closing on February 27.
Analyst: Investors Should Avoid Citigroup Shares - Richard Ramsden, head of a group of analysts at Goldman Sachs Group, recommends that investors avoid investing in Citigroup shares: “It is unclear whether this is the last round of capital restructuring, which means that existing equity may be further diluted in the future.” The bank’s move to convert preferred shares to common equity led Moody’s Investors Service to adjust its senior debt rating for the bank from A3 to A2. Standard and Poor’s also changed its outlook on the bank’s debt from negative to stable. “Citi will face a tough credit cycle in the next two years, which will likely result in weak and volatile earnings,” S&P analyst Scott Sprinzen says. “We cannot rule out the possibility that further government support may prove necessary.” With the first two Citigroup rescue bailouts, the US Treasury bought $45 billion of preferred stock, and the Federal Reserve and FDIC guaranteed the bank against all but $29 billion of losses on a $301 billion portfolio of assets. With the third bailout, the Treasury, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and other preferred stockholders, agreed to take common stock at $3.25 a share, giving up dividends. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel (D-NY), says: “The administration and the past administration have tried so many different ways that we can only hope and pray that this time they get it right. It seems like with the banks it is a never-ending thing.” (Harper 2/28/2009)
Third US Rescue Forces Citigroup Board Changes - The Obama administration demonstrated its willingness to force changes on executives at top banks that receive taxpayer-funded rescue packages by pressing Citigroup to reorganize its 15-member board with new, more independent members. The move sends a message to Wall Street that there are consequences when taxpayer dollars are used to save them. “The government is the new boss, and the new executive committee is no longer on Park Avenue,” says Michael Holland who, as chairman and founder of New York’s Holland & Co., manages nearly $4 billion in investments. (Katz and Keoun 3/2/2009)

Megan McArdle.Megan McArdle. [Source: New Economist (.com)]The Atlantic’s business blogger, Megan McArdle, lambasts Playboy for publishing an article that claims the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” (see February 19, 2009) may have been a pre-planned incident designed to coincide with the launch of a number of “tea party” Web sites and “grassroots” organizations (see February 27, 2009). McArdle says that the suspicious timing of the chicagoteaparty.com Web site launch, hours after Santelli’s “impromptu” rant on CNBC, was nothing more than an example of someone “leap[ing] in when opportunity arose.” McArdle denies that oil giant Koch Industries, or the Koch family, funds the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), and says, “[A]stroturfing [the practice of forming fake ‘grassroots’ organizations clandestinely organized and funded by lobbying groups or corporate entities] doesn’t really seem like their style.” McArdle may not be aware of a recent Wall Street Journal expose of a FreedomWorks “astroturf” endeavor (see May 16, 2008). She does acknowledge that since FreedomWorks does not publicize its donor list, she cannot be sure Koch is not funding the group. She admits that many “tea party” organizations are funded and operated by large conservative PR and lobbying firms, and writes: “So what? Groups—often funded by God knows who—coordinate protests.” McArdle calls the article’s allegation that Santelli participated in a pre-planned, scripted event “potentially libelous,” and writes, “If I were Santelli, I’d sue.” At the very end of her column, McArdle admits that she lives with a former FreedomWorks official, Peter Suderman. She denies that Suderman influenced her writing in any way except to give her an e-mail address of “the right employee to… make inquiries” of at the firm. “I haven’t asked him about his former employer, and he hasn’t told me anything. I debated whether to write about this, but since I’m not actually defending FreedomWorks, I think it’s kosher.” (McArdle 3/2/2009) Shortly after posting her column online, McArdle posts a follow-up, with details of her conversation with FreedomWorks official Brendan Steinhauser. She identifies Steinhauser as “the chap at FreedomWorks who has helped organize the tea parties.” She calls the firm “completely open about their interest in furthering the tea parties” (see May 16, 2008 and March 13, 2009 and After). She says Steinhauser got the idea for the “tea parties” from Michelle Malkin’s blog, which is at odds with Santelli’s claim of “spontaneously” using the term (see March 2, 2009). (McArdle 3/2/2009)

Chuck Norris approved this photo illustration of himself with the tag line, ‘Contrary to popular belief, America is not a democracy, it is a Chucktatorship.’Chuck Norris approved this photo illustration of himself with the tag line, ‘Contrary to popular belief, America is not a democracy, it is a Chucktatorship.’ [Source: ChuckNorrisFacts (.com)]Conservative talk radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck interviews self-described “martial arts master, actor, and political activist” Chuck Norris on his radio show. Beck begins by telling Norris he wants to see a military investigation of Congress: “I was talking about General [David] Petraeus [the commander of US forces in the Middle East] the other day. I mean this sincerely: I would love to have General Petraeus go up to Washington and clean that hornet’s nest out. I’d like him to set up a military tribunal and call them in one by one, okay, going to have a little interview with you. Find out if they’re guilty or innocent of being involved in, you know, all kinds of the scandals that are going on and kick them out.” Norris offers to mete out some extrajudicial justice: “I want to go with General Petraeus myself and be next to him and when he finds out who’s guilty and, you know, dishonest, then I will take care of it for him. Took him out. I’ll choke them out, the ones that he finds dishonest, I will choke them out and stick them into a pile.” Later in the conversation, the two discuss the possibility of Texas seceding from the United States. Norris, a Texas resident, says, “Yeah, we could break off from the union if we wanted to.” Beck agrees: “You do, you call me.… Seriously, you do. I don’t mind having that lone star on my flag. I really don’t mind it. I’ve been out with a seam ripper looking at my flag going, I don’t know, California could go. I’m just saying—” Norris interjects jokingly, “I may run for president of Texas.” (Norris 3/3/2009) Beck is putting together a conservative anti-government movement called “We Surround Them,” and Norris is an enthusiastic supporter (see March 9, 2009). (Glenn Beck 3/10/2009)

Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, calls President Obama a “dictator” as part of a larger diatribe against the president. He calls Obama “a young, articulate rabble-rouser” who “is espousing a message that I call ‘trickle-up poverty’.… Where it ends? I know where it ends, because I’ve studied history. I know where it ends. The signal as to when this begins, when the end begins, will be when he organizes a militia directly under his own control. He will not call it a militia. It will be called, perhaps, the ‘Ecology Corps’ or the ‘Environment Corps,’ or the ‘Global Warming Corps,’ or the ‘Energy Corps.’” Savage may be referring to Obama’s efforts to revive the moribund Americorps, a volunteer organization (see November 11, 2008 and March 31, 2009). “Whatever it will be called, they will all wear uniforms. They will either be blue denim or green denim. They will have the executive power under the ‘urban czar’ to come into your home without any court order to investigate your energy use, but they will be looking for other things as well. Would you have any chance to stand up to this army of Obamaites?” Savage asks, rhetorically, if he has “gone over the edge,” and then says: “I’ve gone over the edge before, and every time I have, I’ve been right eventually. I see the handwriting on the wall. Obama is a dictator.” Savage accuses liberals of failing to understand that any dictatorship, leftist or rightist, “is not going to be good for your children.” He then shouts, “Someone has to oppose this man.” He also claims that the White House “is going after” anyone who criticizes it, and repeatedly mixes his accusations of “government” persecution with “media” persecution of White House or Obama critics. “Fundamentally,” Savage concludes, “we have a dictatorship emerging.… Now I’ll make another prediction. I predict that very soon, Obama will create a crisis along the lines of the Reichstag Fire [the 1933 attack on the Reichstag by Nazi militiamen, who later blamed the fire on Communists, and used the attack to gain control of the German government]. I don’t know what form it will take. But I believe that once the minions are seen for what they are, Rahm Emanuel [the White House chief of staff] and his gang will set off a Reichstag Fire in this country of some kind, and they will” begin arresting US citizens without warrants much as President Lincoln did during the Civil War. “I will tell you as I sit here I fear that every night as I go to sleep.” Savage offers no evidence for any of his claims. (Media Matters 3/4/2009) Two days later, Savage calls Obama a “neo-fascist dictator in the making.” (Media Matters 3/6/2009) Savage has called the landmark civil rights decision Brown v. Board “sickening” (see May 18, 2004), accused Obama of being educated in a radical Islamic madrassa (see January 10, 2008 and April 3, 2008) and being a potential “radical Muslim” (see February 21, 2008), called Obama’s presidential victory “the first affirmative-action election in American history” (see February 1, 2008), accused Obama of being sympathetic towards the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese of World War II (see March 13, 2008), said that homeless Americans should be put in “work camps” (see June 6, 2008), called Obama an “Afro-Leninist” (see June 6, 2008), said that welfare recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008), accused Obama of using his grandmother’s death to conceal his “efforts” to falsify his Hawaiian birth certificate (see November 10, 2008), and accused Obama of planning to fire all the “competent white men” in government once he became president (see November 18, 2008). Other conservatives, including Fox News’s Glenn Beck, will accuse Obama of being a Nazi, or of intending to create a “Reichstag Fire” crisis to gain power (see September 29, 2009 and October 3, 2010).

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN—see October 17-22, 2008), interviewed by conservative radio host William Bennett, decries what she calls the Obama administration’s push for “socialized medicine” and a “new tax on energy,” and says: “If you want to look at economic history over the last 100 years, I call it punctuated equilibrium. If you look at FDR, LBJ, and Barack Obama, this is really the final leap to socialism.… And as the Democrats are about to institutionalize cartels—that’s what they’re very good at—they’re trying to consolidate power, so we need to do everything we can to thwart them at every turn to make sure that they aren’t able to, for all time, secure a power base that for all time can never be defeated.” (Aden 3/5/2009) Bachmann is joined by House colleague Zach Wamp (R-TN), who says of the Obama health care plan: “It’s probably the next major step towards socialism. I hate to sound so harsh, but… this literally is a fast march towards socialism, where the government is bigger than the private sector in our country and health care’s the next major step, so we oughta all be worried about it.” (Weiner 3/5/2009)

Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. (Leopold 3/6/2009)

The head of Canada’s Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, tells the Canadian Senate that Canada’s Army has been so strained by its participation in the Afghanistan war that it may need a one-year “pause” to regroup and rebuild after Canada withdraws troops from that region in 2011. Canada has suffered disproportionately large losses in Afghanistan in comparison with both American and British troops (see January 4, 2008). According to Leslie, the Canadian Army has suffered huge losses in both personnel and equipment, and is dealing with a shortage of experienced officers and soldiers as well as a shortage of functional armored vehicles and mechanics to effect repairs. “We will always be prepared to carry out our various national and international tasks,” he tells the Senate, but emphasizes the need to rebuild and retool the Army. (Campion-Smith 3/9/2009) General Walter Natynczyk, chief of defense staff of the Canadian Forces, agrees, telling a reporter, “It’s an army that’s undergoing an incredible operational tempo right now.” (CTV 3/10/2009)

9/12 Project logo.9/12 Project logo. [Source: Springfield 9/12]Conservative radio and Fox News television host Glenn Beck tearfully announces the inception of the “9/12” project, which he claims is a nonpartisan effort to reclaim the spirit of cooperation and unity that suffused the nation on September 12, 2001, the day after the 9/11 attacks. “We weren’t told how to behave that day after 9/11, we just knew,” he says. “It was right; it was the opposite of what we feel today.” With tears flowing down his cheeks, Beck asks, “Are you ready to be the person you were that day after 9/11, on 9/12?” He assures his viewers, “You are not alone,” and says that the project has already grown into “something that millions are now participating in.” The project is “not about parties or politics or anything else,” he continues, but “about proving that the real power to change America’s course still resides with you. You are the secret. You are the answer.” He apologizes for his on-air weeping, and, holding his hand over his heart, sniffles: “I just love my country, and I fear for it. And it seems that the voices of our leaders and the special interests and the media that are surrounding us, it sounds intimidating. But you know what? Pull away the curtain. You’ll realize that there isn’t anybody there. It’s just a few people that are pressing the buttons, and their voices are actually really weak. Truth is, they don’t surround us. We surround them. This is our country.” He tells his viewers to visit The912Project.com, the Web site for the new organization. Beck then cuts to his producer, Steve (Stu) Burguiere, broadcasting from a “massive gathering” in Hollywood, “one of the most liberal cities in the country.” Burguiere begins reporting from an empty room, and begins by saying, “There’s still no one here.” He reiterates Beck’s opening line of “You’re not alone, unless you’re me.” Beck says, “Well, it must be traffic or something.” (Media Matters 3/13/2009; Media Matters 9/11/2009) Days before, Beck had announced his “We Surround Them” movement (see March 9, 2009), featuring actor/martial arts expert and secessionist Chuck Norris. The two organizations seem to dovetail with one another, and with the “tea party” groups (see April 8, 2009). Bloggers at SaveTheRich (.com) later learn that the 9/12 movement is actually a creation of FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), the conservative, corporate-funded “astroturf” organization behind the 2009 anti-health care protests. The organization begins planning for its September 12, 2009 march on Washington the same day as Beck announces his 9/12 project on Fox. SaveTheRich concludes that the entire project is a collusion between Fox News and FreedomWorks. Beck does not inform his audience of the connections between the organizations and his project. (SaveTheRich (.com) 4/17/2009; Media Matters 9/11/2009)

The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Barnes 3/15/2009; Richey 3/23/2009) “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. (Richey 2/1/2008)
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” (Barnes 3/15/2009; Richey 3/23/2009) The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” (Liptak 3/5/2009)
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). (Barnes 3/15/2009; Richey 3/23/2009)
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” (Toobin 5/21/2012)
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. (Toobin 5/21/2012)
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” (Rucker 1/22/2010) CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).

Martha MacCallum.Martha MacCallum. [Source: The Activity Pit]Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, host of Fox’s “straight news” show The Live Desk, airs clips of Vice President Joseph Biden taken during a September 2008 campaign event to falsely imply that Biden is contradicting the Obama administration’s current stance on the economy. MacCallum tells viewers that “after weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune. Take a look at what was said in recent interviews this weekend.” Fox then airs a clip of Biden telling an audience, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” The clip is not from an interview held over the weekend, but from a campaign event held seven months before. MacCallum does not inform her viewers of the timing of the clip, nor does she note that Biden was criticizing Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s economic views, which he characterized as unrealistically rosy. Instead, she goes on to claim that the administration has fundamentally, and dishonestly, shifted its views on the economy from a positive campaign outlook to a more “doom and gloom” viewpoint. In the September 2008 campaign rally, Biden told a Michigan audience: “I believe that’s why John McCain could say with a straight face, as recently as this morning—and this is a quote, ‘The fundamentals of the economy are strong.’ That’s what John says. He says that ‘we’ve made great progress economically’ in the Bush years.… I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn’t run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain.” Alongside the Biden clip, Fox also airs footage of Austan Goolsbee, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. On March 15, Goolsbee told a Fox News Sunday audience that “the core strength of the economy is middle-class workers.” Fox airs that clip immediately after the Biden clip. What it does not air is Goolsbee’s statement just after the broadcast statement, in which he said, “Over the last eight years, before this president came into office, we saw an unbelievable squeeze on the middle class like nothing we have seen in decades.” MacCallum uses the clips to accuse the Obama administration of “singing… a bit of a different tune” now than during the campaign. (Media Matters 3/16/2009) The next day, MacCallum apologizes for asserting the seven-month-old clip was recent. She tells viewers that Fox News “inadvertently used a piece of video of Vice President Biden saying that, quote, the fundamentals of the economy are strong. This video was from the campaign trail, when the vice president was a candidate, and was actually quoting Senator John McCain. When we get something wrong, we admit it. We did so yesterday, and for that, we apologize” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 3/17/2009)

Greg Gutfeld of Fox’s ‘Red Eye’ during the March 17 broadcast.Greg Gutfeld of Fox’s ‘Red Eye’ during the March 17 broadcast. [Source: CTV]The host and panelists on Fox News’s satirical news show Red Eye devote a segment of their broadcast to mocking and denigrating Canadian soldiers’ service in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers have died in disproportionately higher numbers than either their US or British counterparts (see January 4, 2008), and the head of the Canadian Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, has recently testified as to the terrific strain that service has placed on the military branch (see March 9, 2009), facts the Red Eye panelists do not share with their audience. (Progressive media watchdog site News Hounds will note than none of the Red Eye panelists have themselves served in the military of any country.) Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld opens the segment by mocking Leslie’s name, observing that “Leslie” is “an unusual name for a man.” He then says that the Canadian military would prefer to “do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants.” Gutfeld then asks panelist Doug Benson, “Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country?” Benson retorts, “I didn’t even know that they [Canada] were in the war,” and notes that he thought of Canada as a nation where people went to avoid fighting. Gutfeld asks, “Would Canada be able to get away with this if they didn’t share a border with the most powerful country in the universe?” Panelist Bill Schulz answers: “No, they probably wouldn’t. Does this surprise any of us? We have police officers and they have Mounties. Our cops ride heavily armored cars. They ride horses. We have bullet-proof vests. They have wonderful little red jackets that can be seen a mile away. This is not a smart culture, Greg.” (News Hounds 3/22/2009; Dingman 3/23/2009)
Canadian Outrage - The video quickly becomes well known after four Canadian soldiers die in two separate explosions near Kandahar, and many Canadians respond with indignation and outrage. Toronto’s National Star calls the remarks “shockingly ignorant.” Dan Dugas, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says: “We want an apology from this so-called comedian [Gutfeld] and his panel. These are despicable, hurtful, and ignorant comments. No one is laughing and they owe Canada, and more importantly the families of each one of our fallen heroes, an apology for their ill-informed mistakes.” Steve Staples of Ottowa’s Rideau Institute calls the performance a “shameful display” at the expense of Canadian families who have lost family members, and adds, “The dismissal of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan simply rubs salt in the wounds of Canadian families whose sons and daughters have been injured or killed in the war.” MP Denis Coderre calls the performance “a disgrace.” (Canada National Post 3/23/2009)
Apology - Days after the broadcast, Gutfeld e-mails an apology. He says the segment “was in no way an attempt to make light of troop efforts,” and adds: “I realize that my words may have been misunderstood. It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women, and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize. Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous, and ridiculous manner.” Gutfeld had made a statement on Twitter hours before that read, “My apologies to the Canadian military, they probably could at least beat the Belgians.” (Canada National Post 3/23/2009)

Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano hosts radio host Alex Jones on the online program Freedom Watch. Jones says that he has long pointed out “how hundreds of mainstream news articles a week are saying there is a new world order, a global government. It will be run by the very banks that are collapsing society by design, and we will pay carbon taxes to them.… [T]he good news is, I’ve never seen an awakening this big. And I’m seeing, you know, people like Glenn Beck talk about the new world order on Fox. I’m seeing you talk about it for years before him. We’re seeing [CNN host] Lou Dobbs talk about it. We’re seeing, you know, mainline talk show hosts—[radio host Rush] Limbaugh is even talking about global government now. [Radio host] Michael Savage is talking about how he thinks, you know, Obama may stage crises to bring in martial law.” (Media Matters 4/10/2009) Jones is echoing claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010), and that are echoed by Fox News pundits such as Glenn Beck (see March 17, 2009), Bill O’Reilly (see April 1-2, 2009), and others (see April 6, 2009).

Bill Hemmer.Bill Hemmer. [Source: New York Daily News]Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, host of Fox News’s flagship news program America’s Newsroom, hosts several segments touting the April 15 “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009). Hemmer notes protests in Florida and Ohio that occurred in recent days, and directs viewers to the Web site for America’s Newsroom for more information. He says: “Protesters, well, they waved flags and signs and with slogans like ‘Repeal the Pork’ and ‘Our Bacon is Cooked.’ I say, our bacon is cooked. They’re popping up literally all across the country now.… If you go to our Web site, you will find a growing list of these events, hundreds of photos, and a new tea party anthem that you will hear from the man who wrote it and recorded it next hour. And there’s a list of the nationwide Tax Day tea party events coming up on the 15th of April, which will be a huge deal for those organizations. So check it out online right now” (see October 13, 2009). The song is by Lloyd Marcus of the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative People of Color, who has been on what he tells Hemmer was “a 40-city ‘Stop Obama’ tour.” Marcus’s song is extremely critical of President Obama’s policies and supportive of the “tea parties.” The lyrics are posted on FoxNews.com. (Media Matters 4/8/2009)

Fox News contributor Charles Payne, appearing on Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, tells viewers that under the Obama administration the US is moving towards a “one-world” government. Payne is echoing claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010), and that will be echoed by Fox News pundits such as Bill O’Reilly (see April 1-2, 2009) and others (see April 6, 2009). Payne says: “Listen, one day I think that we are heading toward a one-world sort of government. I think Obama probably likes that,” and says moments later, “We’re taking itty-bitty steps towards that.” (Media Matters 3/24/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009) Payne is following recent, similar claims by Fox News guest Alex Jones (see March 18, 2009) and Fox host Glenn Beck and his guests (see March 17, 2009 and March 24, 2009).

Fox News host Sean Hannity and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) join to accuse President Obama of attempting to impose a “dictatorship” in America. Discussing the Obama administration’s plans to implement new financial regulations and oversight, Hannity begins by accusing Obama of “mov[ing] America down the road to socialism.” He asks Gingrich to “explain” to the audience “how dangerous this power grab is.” Gingrich responds: “We are seeing the biggest power grab by politicians in American history. The idea that they would propose that the treasury could intervene and take over non-bank, non-financial system assets gives them the potential to basically create the equivalent of a dictatorship.… Look, it absolutely moves it towards a political dictatorship.” (Armbruster 3/26/2009)

Fox News host Glenn Beck, on his daily radio show, hosts US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to discuss her proposed constitutional amendment “to prohibit the president from entering into a treaty or other international agreement that would provide for the United States to adopt as legal tender in the United States a currency issued by an entity other than the United States.” Beck says to Bachmann: “I don’t want to believe that there are people in our country that would trash our dollar like this. And what’s going to happen is if you start to talk about a global currency, which I’m telling you, there’s no way out of what we’re doing now besides devaluing the dollar to pay off our debt and then have a new currency. There’s just no other way.… [W]hat happens is when you stand up, and when you say those things, then you’re deemed a kook. Then you’re deemed a militia member.” Bachmann says later in the interview: “The president is committing us so much now, and Congress is committing us to so much spending, that the only way out will be for him to continue to print money and have wild inflation. And once that collapses, then it’s a global currency. Well, then we are no more as a nation. We cease at that point.” Beck responds: “I believe it. But convincing everybody else may be a different story.” (Glenn Beck 3/29/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009)

Glenn Beck.Glenn Beck. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times profiles Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, describing him as a “rising star” and “one of the most powerful media voices for the nation’s conservative anger.” Beck’s show typically draws about 2.3 million viewers, putting him third among all cable news hosts behind fellow Fox conservatives Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Beck describes himself as identifying with Howard Beale, the mad “television prophet” of the 1976 film Network, and particularly Beale’s most famous line, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (Stetler and Carter 3/29/2009) (Media pundit Eric Boehlert calls Beck’s attempt to associate himself with Beale “nonsense,” and observes: “Beale’s unvarnished on-air rants… targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television.… Beale’s attacks were not political or partisan. Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.”) (Boehlert 4/7/2009)
Apocalyptic Rhetoric - Though he insists he believes every word he says on his TV show as well as on his daily radio broadcast, Beck also calls himself a “rodeo clown” and an “entertainer” who reminds his listeners, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.” (Beck is a former morning show disc jockey who regularly performs stand-up comedy in shows around the country.) The Times writes that Beck “is capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans.” He regularly preaches against liberal politicians, hosts segments entitled “Constitution Under Attack” and “Economic Apocalypse,” and sometimes bursts into tears. (Stetler and Carter 3/29/2009) Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will note in a later article that Beck regularly terms President Obama a Marxist, a socialist, and/or a fascist. (Boehlert 4/7/2009) In a recent week-long segment titled “War Games,” Beck advocated for armed citizen militias to overthrow the government (see February 20, 2009), though he later denied such advocacy. America is “on the road to socialism,” he tells his viewers, and claims, “God and religion are under attack in the US.” He recently accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of setting up “concentration camps” for citizen dissenters, presumably conservatives. He has accused the Obama administration of trying to “indoctrinate… your child into community service through the federal government” (Media Matters 3/27/2009) , says America is about to go through “depression and revolution” (Media Matters 2/13/2009) , and, three days after the Times article is published, compares the administration’s actions to those in “the early days of Adolf Hitler.” (Media Matters 4/1/2009) He will accuse the government of being what he calls “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.” (Media Matters 3/31/2009)
Voice of the 'Disenfranchised' - Phil Griffin, the president of Fox News cable rival MSNBC, says of Beck: “That’s good dramatic television. That’s who Glenn Beck is.” Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says: “There are absolutely historical precedents for what is happening with Beck. There was a lot of radio evangelism during the Depression. People were frustrated and frightened. There are a lot of scary parallels now.” Conservative writer David Frum calls Beck’s success “a product of the collapse of conservatism as an organized political force, and the rise of conservatism as an alienated cultural sensibility.” Beck’s shows are “for people who feel they belong to an embattled minority that is disenfranchised and cut off,” Frum adds. Fox News senior vice president Joel Cheatwood says Beck’s audience is “somewhat disenfranchised,” and adds, “[I]t’s a huge audience.” Author and media professor Jeffrey Jones says that Beck engages in “inciting rhetoric. People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something.” Beck denies inciting attacks on the government or any other citizens, saying that those “who are spreading the garbage that I’m stirring up a revolution haven’t watched the show.” Fellow talk show host Bill Maher recently accused Beck of producing “the same kind of talking” that led Timothy McVeigh to bomb a federal building in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995); Beck responded by saying in part: “Let me be clear. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the ‘truth’ behind 9/11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those we don’t seem to recognize anymore, who kill in the name of Allah.” (Stetler and Carter 3/29/2009) (The Times does not publish Beck’s next line: “There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth.”) (Boehlert 4/7/2009) He describes himself as having to “be… the guy I don’t want to be—the guy saying things that are sometimes pretty scary, but nobody else is willing to say them.” Currently Beck is the voice of the “We Surround Them” movement (see March 3, 2009) and is part of the “Tea Party” or “teabaggers” civil protest project (see April 8, 2009). (Stetler and Carter 3/29/2009)

The New York Post publishes an article headlined “Scary! Obama nominee wants one world order.” The article, by Post reporter Meghan Clyne, attacks President Obama’s nomination of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Clyne says Koh is a “fan of ‘transnational legal process,’ arguing that the distinctions between US and international law should vanish.” She says that according to Koh’s views, judges should put aside the Constitution in favor of “legal ‘norms’” from other nations’ laws. “Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts,” she writes. “The United States constitutes an ‘axis of disobedience’ along with North Korea and Saddam-era Iraq.” The newly launched Fox Nation, the blog for Fox News, links to the article, which disappears from the Post’s Web archive shortly thereafter. (Fox Nation 3/31/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009) An extraordinarily racist conservative blog, Chimpout, hosts a forum discussion of the article under the heading “Osambo picks another douche bag for his cabinet.” The forum’s thread is part of a larger discussion section entitled “N_gger College” and a subsection entitled “F_cked Up Facts about First Monkey,” an apparent reference to Obama. Commenters immediately begin launching “birther”-styled accusations of Obama being an illegal president because of his “Kenyan birth” (see October 8, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), and say Obama should be relegated to “picking cotton.” (Chimpout 3/31/2009) Days later, Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, conservative editor Cliff Kincaid, and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum will join in attacking Koh (see April 1, 2009, April 6, 2009, and April 9, 2009).

Dick Morris discussing the economy on Fox News.Dick Morris discussing the economy on Fox News. [Source: Fox News]Conservative political pundit Dick Morris tells a Fox News audience that the recent G20 economic summit advocated a “global approach” to the current economic crisis, and discussed putting both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Reserve under the control of the International Monetary Fund—a position not advocated or discussed by anyone in the Obama administration. He worries that there will soon be what he calls “a supernational authority run by bureaucrats, not by elected officials, that will be telling the elected governments, including the United States, what its [economic] regulations should be.” President Obama is far more amenable to the idea of allowing a multinational authority to control the US economy, Morris insists, and adds that Obama intends to preside over what he calls “a global redistribution of income, downward,” using environmental policy as “an excuse.” “We’re about to meet Barack Obama the internationalist,” Morris continues, “not fighting for American interests, but looking for global coordination.” He concludes, “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We’re going to kill ATF agents because the UN’s going to take over’—well, they’re beginning to have a case.” (Media Matters 3/31/2009)

Twice in the same broadcast, Fox News airs a segment called “FOXFacts” that echoes almost verbatim claims made in a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan appears for an interview on Fox News’s Happening Now, a “straight news” broadcast, hours after his editorial appears in print, and is interviewed by co-host Jon Scott. The seven “FOXFacts,” which appear on-screen during the interview, are nearly identical to the claims and even the wording of Ryan’s editorial. In February, Scott passed off a Republican press release as independently researched news, even to the point of repeating a typographical error from the press release (see February 10, 2009). Ryan and the accompanying FOXFacts claim that the Republican budget proposal achieves lower deficits than the Obama plan, prioritizes national defense and veterans’ health care, rejects Obama’s “cap-and-trade scheme,” makes permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, lowers capital gains and dividend taxes, repeals estate taxes, and slashes corporate income taxes. An hour later, while interviewing Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Scott again airs the same “FOXFact” graphics. (Media Matters 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/1/2009; Wall Street Journal 4/1/2009) Before appearing on Fox, Ryan admits to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that the Republican “budget plan” is nothing more than a “marketing document” containing few specifics (see April 1, 2009).

Rick Santelli, the CNBC commentator whose on-air “rant” is credited for sparking the right-wing “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), refuses to take part in the upcoming April 15 anti-tax rallies being put on across the country by various “tea party” organizations (see April 15, 2009). CNBC spokesman Brian Steel says Santelli is “not going and not in any way involved” in the protests. Fox News anchors Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity are joining with protesters in Sacramento and Atlanta, respectively, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plans to attend a rally in New York. Organizers say over 300 different protests will take place across the nation. Eric Odom, who owns a Chicago-based “tea party” Web site, says, “We have fully confirmed protests in 360 cities” and he is “very confident that all the protests will happen.” Odom predicts that the rallies featuring Cavuto and Hannity will bring at least 5,000 to 10,000 participants. He stresses that the protests will be made up of people from “all walks of life,” not just conservatives opposed to the Obama administration’s policies. Odom does not mention Santelli’s non-involvement. (Delaney 4/2/2009)

Fox News on-screen chyron falsely claiming Obama’s 2010 budget is four times larger than biggest Bush budget.Fox News on-screen chyron falsely claiming Obama’s 2010 budget is four times larger than biggest Bush budget. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast, America’s Newsroom, displays an on-screen “chyron” that falsely claims the 2010 budget proposed by President Obama—$3.6 trillion—is four times the largest budget ever submitted by former President Bush. As progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes, Bush submitted a $3.1 trillion budget for 2009 and a $2.9 trillion budget for 2008 (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 4/3/2009)

’America’s Newsroom’ advertisement featuring Bill Hemmer.’America’s Newsroom’ advertisement featuring Bill Hemmer. [Source: Zap2It (.com)]Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, host of Fox News’s flagship news program America’s Newsroom, interviews several people involved with the April 15 “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009), including Felicia Cravens, the organizer of an April 15 “tea party” in Houston. During the interview, Fox News displays information about the protest on screen. Though both Hemmer and Craven call the protests “non-partisan,” Fox displays protest footage throughout the interview criticizing President Obama. At the end of the segment, Hemmer directs viewers to go to the Web site of his program for more information about the protests. Hemmer also interviews FoxNews.com contributor Andrea Tantaros, who says of the upcoming protests, “People are fighting against Barack Obama’s radical shift to turn us into Europe.” The program also states that “Tea Parties Are Anti-Stimulus Demonstrations” and part of a “Growing Revolution” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 4/8/2009)

Screenshot of Fox News promoting the ‘Tea Party’ rally in Houston.Screenshot of Fox News promoting the ‘Tea Party’ rally in Houston. [Source: Fox News / Media Matters]Republican lawmakers announce their intention to join with right-wing protesters on April 15, 2009, in what is envisioned as a nationwide protest against the Obama administration’s tax policies. The primary organizers are the think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, and right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin. They say that under President Obama, taxes are “too high” and freedoms are being “eroded.” They have also called for Obama’s impeachment and refer to him as “Obama bin Lyin” and other derogatory nicknames.
Republicans, Neo-Nazis, Secessionists Joining in 'Tea Party Protests' - Malkin has called the movement the “Tea Party Protests,” in an attempt to connect the protests with the American Revolution’s Boston Tea Party. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is sponsoring legislation to honor the protests. Representatives David Davis (R-TN), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), John Fleming (R-LA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Bob Latta (R-OH), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) will attend local protests, as will Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) and former Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ). Officials from Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) and Representative Sam Graves’s (R-MO) office will attend the rallies as well, and Representatives Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Tom Rooney (R-FL) are urging their constituents to attend tea party protests. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who heads American Solutions for Winning the Futures (ASWF) and who will speak at the New York City rally, is encouraging his supporters to join the protests, and has provided them with what he calls a “toolkit” of talking points. ASWF is funded by oil and energy interests, and led the recent “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign. ASWF has been an official “partner” in the Tea Party campaign since March. The Tea Party Protests are being joined by gun rights militias, secessionists, and neo-Nazi groups.
Protests Orchestrated by Lobbyist Organizations and Promoted by Fox News - The protests are being heavily promoted on Fox News, which intends to hold all-day “news reports” on April 15 featuring several of its commentators, including Glenn Beck (see March 3, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren, live at different venues. Many of the protest organizers’ Web sites feature one or more of the Fox commentators as part of their promotion efforts (see October 13, 2009). Beck is one of several Fox commentators and hosts who claims that the protests are “grassroots” organizations “spontaneously” led by “ordinary people,” but in reality, the protests are being orchestrated by two lobbyist-run and lobbyist-organized organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. According to progressive news site Think Progress, “[t]he two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests.” Freedom Works staffers are coordinating conference calls among protesters and working with conservative organizers to give them what it calls “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country” as well as guides featuring talking points and instructions on delivering a “clear message” to the public and the media. Freedom Works has set up numerous Web sites, some of which Think Progress claims are deliberately constructed to appear as the work of amateurs, to promote the protests. In Florida, Freedom Works took over the planning of events. Americans for Progress is writing press releases and planning events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states. Think Progress calls these activities “corporate ‘astroturfing,’” which it defines as corporations’ attempts to orchestrate events appearing to be grassroots, citizen-led actions. Freedom Works is headed by former Texas Republican Representative Dick Armey, who is a lobbyist for the firm DLA Piper; Americans for Prosperity is headed by Tim Phillips, who is a former partner of right-wing activist Ralph Reed in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. Americans for Prosperity has organized numerous pro-oil company “grassroots” events. (Fang 4/8/2009; Media Matters 4/8/2009; Fang 4/9/2009)

Spencer Bachus.Spencer Bachus. [Source: Chicago Tribune]US Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) tells a group of local leaders in Trussville, Alabama, “Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists.” Asked to clarify his comment, Bachus tells a reporter that 17 members of the House of Representatives are socialists. (Bouma 4/9/2009; Alarkon 4/9/2009)
Only Names One of 17 - When pressed, Bachus only names one of his “socialists”—Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has repeatedly recommended that the US adopt a program of “democratic socialism” similar to some practiced in Scandinavian countries. He refuses to name the other 16. Sanders asks rhetorically: “Has Spencer released his list yet? Everybody’s waiting with bated breath.” He adds, “I think at the very least he has to tell people what his definition of socialism is—and I think, yeah, he should tell us who he was referring to, who’s on the list.”
Possible Reference to Congressional Progressive Caucus - Many Congressional staffers and advisers believe that Bachus is referring to some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning coalition of 77 House members founded by Sanders in the early 1990s. Although the caucus has not espoused socialism in any form, it does advocate reduced military spending, universal health care, and higher taxes on the rich. Right-wing groups have long labeled the caucus’s agenda as “fringe-left socialism”; one hard-right pundit, WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, has called the caucus “Congress’s very own Red Army… marching the nation inevitably toward its self-proclaimed socialist ideal.”
Differing Definitions - Politico’s Glenn Thrush writes that the term “socialism” has different meanings for different people. “To many on the left, it’s a relatively benign—if outdated—term, representing an activist, interventionist government that prioritizes economic security over the unfettered freedom of the marketplace. To many on the right, it’s practically an epithet—suggesting a return to Soviet-style Communism or a leap toward a hyper-regulated European brand of capitalism that stifles innovation and hikes taxes. It’s safe to say that more people in Bachus’s suburban Birmingham district—the most GOP-tilting seat in the country, according to the Cook Political Report—view socialism as a bad, bad thing.”
Mixed Reactions - Doug Thornell, speaking for Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), says of Bachus’s accusation: “House Republicans’ solution to the current economic crisis is to launch head-scratching, ‘50s-style accusations against unidentified members of Congress. Next thing you know they’ll be going after beatniks and calling for the auto industry to bring back the Edsel.… With all the challenges we face, it’s stunning this is what Republicans are talking about. They sound like a broken record of GOP low points from the 2008 campaign.” Erin Kanoy of the Heritage Foundation is glad Bachus “called out” his colleagues, saying: “I think that people expressing where they see someone on the political spectrum has tended to be an off-limits thing and very politically incorrect—but sometimes I think you’ve got to call a spade a spade. If Bachus believes members of Congress are part of this movement, he should be able to say it.… He’s really reflecting a much larger frustration with the landslide of legislation that we’ve had coming at us that seems to be marching towards socialist government.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist agrees with Bachus’s position, but says he should not have gotten into the subject of lists. “We shouldn’t get into a labeling thing with the other side,” Norquist says. “We shouldn’t call them socialists—we should call them stupid because they are spending all this money we don’t have.” Sanders notes that conservatives tried to tar Barack Obama with similar accusations: “They said a lot of this stuff about Obama during the [presidential] campaign, calling him a socialist, and trying to instill fear in people” (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, and March 5, 2009). Many progressive and liberal bloggers have accused Bachus of launching an attack on Democrats worthy of the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s. (Akers 4/10/2009; Thrush 4/14/2009)
Defending Socialism, Decrying 'Scare Tactics' - In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Sanders writes: “I doubt that there are any other socialists, let alone 17 more, in all of the Congress. I also respectfully doubt that Spencer Bachus understands much about democratic socialism.… At its worst, Washington is a place where name-calling partisan politics too often trumps policy.… [B]randing someone as a socialist has become the slur du jour by leading lights of the American right from Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh. Some, like Mike Huckabee, intentionally blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism. ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,’ Huckabee told last winter’s gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference. If we could get beyond such nonsense, I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared to places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where, by and large, the middle class has a far higher standard of living than we do.… [W]e should be prepared to study and learn from the successes of social democratic countries. Name-calling and scare tactics just won’t do.” (Sanders 4/22/2009)

Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast, America’s Newsroom, repeatedly airs video clips promoting the upcoming “tea party” protests for April 15 (see April 8, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Host Bill Hemmer urges viewers to attend protests near them, and alerts them to “virtual tea parties” being hosted on Fox’s “non-partisan” Web site Fox Nation. One clip exhorts viewers to “say no to biased media and yes to fair play and free speech,” and then prompts them to “express your views, your values” at Fox Nation. Hemmer then tells viewers that commentators Glenn Beck (see April 15, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren are reporting and helping host protests in four separate areas around the nation. “Can’t get to a tea party?” Hemmer asks. “Fox Nation hosts a ‘virtual tea party.’ You can check it out on the site.” During Hemmer’s pitch, Fox News airs a clip of a protest sign with “NO to socialism!” written across an American flag with a Soviet-style hammer and sickle in place of the 50 stars (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 4/13/2009)

FreedomWorks logo.FreedomWorks logo. [Source: FreedomWorks]The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. (Fang 4/14/2009)
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). (Fang 4/14/2009)
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” (MSNBC 8/14/2009; MSNBC 8/17/2009)
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. (Phillips 5/16/2008)
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. (Center for Responsive Politics 2009; Fang 4/14/2009; MSNBC 8/12/2009) In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009) DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. (MSNBC 8/7/2009)
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009)

Fox News host Glenn Beck, broadcasting live from a “tea party” protest at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, interviews Joe Horn, who was charged with shooting to death two illegal immigrants whom Horn says he caught burglarizing his neighbor’s home. The Alamo is the site of the Republic of Texas’s 1836 stand against the Mexican Army, and apparently Beck’s interview of Horn is chosen to symbolize American “resistance” to Mexican immigrants. “It’s a different world in Texas,” Beck says, and Horn replies, backed by cheers from a small audience behind Beck, “Thank God for it.” Regarding the shooting, Horn says, “I thought it was the right thing to do, and I did it.” As Beck retells the story, Horn saw the two men burglarizing the neighbor’s home, called 911, and, before the police could respond, told the 911 operator that he was going to the home to “stop them.” Defying the operator’s request not to confront the two, Horn took his shotgun to the neighbor’s home and shot both intruders, killing them. (His admission of shooting them triggers wild cheering; the Fox News cameras focus on a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waved from the crowd.) Horn claims that the men were approaching him when he opened fire. The crowd cheers at Beck’s retelling of another story of a homeowner shooting an alleged burglar, and cheers at every subsequent mention of guns and shootings. “Joe, what kind of world are we living in that people don’t understand you have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Beck asks. Horn says he had no intention of “letting those two men kill me,” even though police investigations showed that he shot both of them in the back, apparently as they were fleeing, and he told the 911 operator before leaving his home, “I’m going to kill them.” Neither one of the alleged burglars was armed. Texas prosecutors failed to indict Horn. (Blumenthal 12/13/2007; Media Matters 4/15/2009)

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, interviewing Brent Bozell of the conservative media watchdog organization Media Research Center, lets slip an admission that her network provided public relations services to the “tea party” protests that took place yesterday (see April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009 and October 13, 2009). Kelly says: “You know, Brent, it’s been interesting because Fox News covered these tea parties, and we were one of the only organizations to give it any publicity or PR prior to the fact that it happened, and it was so under-covered by virtually every news organization. Why is that? Why was it so ignored up until the very last day by virtually everyone?” Talking Points Memo reporter Brian Beutler calls Kelly’s comment “a media version what some of us like to call a Kinsley gaffe”; such a “gaffe” is defined as an instance where a politician mistakenly tells the truth. (Beutler 4/16/2009) Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes: “Fox News is ostensibly a news outlet. Obviously, it’s not a legitimate journalistic enterprise, and equally obvious was the fact that it was doing ‘public relations’ work for the conservative rallies. But Megyn Kelly isn’t supposed to admit this on the air. As for the substance of her concerns about the legitimate news organizations, Kelly is no doubt convinced that there’s a nefarious media bias at play, but it’s at least possible major outlets didn’t have much pre-event coverage because there wasn’t that much, you know, news. Most mainstream outlets didn’t feel the need to do ‘p.r.’ work for enraged partisans in advance of their protests. That’s probably a good thing.” (Benen 4/16/2009)

Marcy Wheeler.Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009; Shane 4/19/2009) Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009) Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. (Abrams 4/28/2009)

The Obama administration sends mixed signals on whether or not to go forward with investigations and possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who may have advocated or authorized the illegal torture of detainees in US custody, as detailed in two recent information releases (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, says the White House does not favor investigations or prosecutions. But three days later, Obama contradicts Emanuel, saying he favors a Congressional investigation, and if his Attorney General, Eric Holder, believes criminal prosecutions are warranted, he would not block them. “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions,” Obama says, “I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” (Stephen 4/23/2009)

Brian Kilmeade.Brian Kilmeade. [Source: Chattahbox (.com)]Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, says he “feel[s] better” knowing that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). “Guess what?” Kilmeade says. “Maybe if he were so scared of caterpillars [referring to militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida’s torture by insects—see August 1, 2002]… maybe he should have thought about that before he helped plot the taking down of 3,000-plus people on 9/11.” (Kilmeade is either unaware of, or ignoring, reports that show Zubaida may not have been a member of al-Qaeda and had no involvement in the 9/11 planning—see March 28, 2002, Shortly After March 28, 2002, and April 9, 2002 and After.) Kilmeade continues: “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.… It’s unbelievable that people care more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, uh, his health, than they would about the future attacks that are being hatched.” (Media Matters 4/20/2009)

The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 pdf file; Knowlton 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 pdf file; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009) The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. (Landay 4/21/2009)
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 pdf file; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 pdf file; Agence France-Presse 4/21/2009; Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009) According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/20/2008 pdf file)

Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity displays his angry support for torture and waterboarding on his show, in response to the controversy over the recently released Senate report on torture (see April 21, 2009). Hannity says: “Barack Obama is so weakening our defenses in every regard, sucking up to all the world’s dictators, that people are gonna die because of what Barack Obama is doing right now. People are going to die.” When a guest objects that Americans may die because of the Bush administration’s torture policies, and that American torture policies are “spawning terrorists,” Hannity accuses her of “blam[ing] America” for terrorism, and begins shouting: “They [terrorists] are not Americans! They are at war with us!” He then raises a football over his head and says, “Imagine this is [9/11 plotter] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s head.” He slams it on the table and shouts: “Dunk it in water so we can save American lives! You bet!” (Media Matters 4/22/2009)

Chyron displayed during Fox News broadcast touting Republican ‘watchdog’ efforts on Democratic spending.Chyron displayed during Fox News broadcast touting Republican ‘watchdog’ efforts on Democratic spending. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer tells his viewers that Fox is “keeping up” with four “interesting” projects reportedly funded by the economic stimulus act. Hemmer says that the research on the projects was done by Fox News itself. He does not tell viewers that the research, and the text and graphics displayed on-screen during his report, come directly from the Web site of Eric Cantor (R-VA), the Republican House Minority Whip. Cantor’s site lists 12 so-called “wasteful spending” projects funded by the recovery act. The four cited by Hemmer are from a section of Cantor’s site called “Washington Watch Report,” which calls itself “your one stop shop to learn about examples of government waste that have been uncovered by House Republicans.” The four projects include a skate park in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; an “art walk” in Rochester, New York; funding for a homeless project in Union, New York; and a transportation study in Ohio. Hemmer and guest Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) list each project and then criticize it. During the segment, Pence twice promotes Cantor’s Web site, and concludes by saying: “I commend you all. I commend my colleagues and the Republicans’ whip’s office with the Washington Watch Web site. People can go online and read more of these—we’re finding more everyday.” During Pence’s concluding statement, Fox News displays a “chyron” at the bottom of the screen that reads, “GOP Watchdog Exposes Wasteful State Spending of Gov’t Money” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 4/23/2009)

House Minority Leader John Boehner, protesting the release of a Senate report on the torture of prisoners in US custody (see April 21, 2009), acknowledges, probably inadvertently, that the techniques used on those prisoners amounted to torture. “Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques,” Boehner tells reporters. “That was clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their director of national intelligence and their CIA director.” Boehner says the report’s release is “inappropriate” because it will alert enemies as to the kind of tactics being used, and because knowledge of the techniques being used could “denigrate” the US and its allies. “This is another sideshow here in Washington,” Boehner says, referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding torture. “When it comes to what our interrogation techniques are going to be or should be, I’m not going to disclose, nor should anyone have a conversation about what those techniques ought to be. It’s inappropriate. All it does is give our enemies more information about us than they need.” Boehner cites the 9/11 attacks as justification for the use of torture, and for keeping knowledge of torture programs secret. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel later attempts to clarify Boehner’s use of the word “torture,” saying: “It is clear from the context that Boehner was simply using liberals’ verbiage to describe these interrogation techniques. The United States does not torture.” (Grim 4/24/2009)

As calls mount for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee (see April 21, 2009), who signed off on two key Bush-era torture memos as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), some friends of Bybee’s say that he now regrets signing the memos. “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” says a fellow legal scholar who refuses to allow his name to be published. “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context—of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.” The scholar adds: “On the primary memo, that legitimated and defined torture, he just felt it got away from him. What I understand that to mean is, any lawyer, when he or she is writing about something very complicated, very layered, sometimes you can get it all out there and if you’re not careful, you end up in a place you never intended to go. I think for someone like Jay, who’s a formalist and a textualist, that’s a particular danger.” Democratic lawmakers complain that Bybee won quick Senate confirmation for his judgeship (see February 5, 2003) in part because he did not discuss the memos during his confirmation hearings. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, “If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed.” Leahy says that now, “the decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign.” ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says that whatever regrets or caveats Bybee may be experiencing are moot. “I don’t think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law,” Jaffer says. “These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They’re not objective legal memos at all.” (Vick 4/25/2009; Shakir 4/25/2009)

Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. (Frick 4/26/2009)

Journalist Steve Benen notes that former President Bush promised that any American who performed torture on prisoners would be prosecuted (see May 5, 2004). In light of Bush’s statement, Benen writes: “‘Full investigation.’ We want to know ‘the truth.’ We believe in ‘justice.’ ‘We act’ in response to allegations of torture. We’re transparent and discuss developments ‘with the media.’ To fail to answer questions is to act like a ‘dictatorship.’ It seems to me if Democrats are looking for an excuse to do the right thing, they don’t have to say much more than, ‘We’re doing what Bush told us to do.’” (Benen 4/27/2009)

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former federal judge and a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s broadcast, says: “How about floating a constitutional amendment amongst the states? Let’s rescind the 16th Amendment. That’s the income tax. If 25, 30 states start thinking about it and talking about it seriously, the Congress will take note because they will be scared to death it will starve them out of existence. And they won’t be able to regulate progressively or retrogressively how we live.” (Media Matters 9/7/2010) The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for its repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see April 28, 1999). (Media Matters 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute 2011)

Fox News correspondent Molly Henneberg, during a broadcast of Fox’s “straight news” show America’s Newsroom, repeats the false claim made by religious groups that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) would allow individuals or groups to “be prosecuted for their religious beliefs.” Some conservative religious groups have claimed that, under the proposed legislation, they could be, in Henneberg’s words, “prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well.” Henneberg fails to report that Section 8 of the bill says: “Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the Constitution,” and the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The House Judiciary Committee’s report on the bill clearly states, “Nothing in this legislation would prohibit the constitutionally protected expression of one’s religious beliefs.” Henneberg does not report the committee’s finding. Later in the broadcast, anchor Bill Hemmer notes that supporters claim “there’s nothing in this law that will stymie the free expression of any religion” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 4/29/2009)

The announcement that Supreme Court Justice David Souter is retiring is already sparking a tremendous fundraising effort among conservative opposition groups, according to the Congressional Quarterly. “This is a nuclear weapon for the conservatives out there,” says conservative fundraiser Dan Morgan. “When you do fundraising, there’s an emotional component in this, and boy the emotion is there magnified times 100.” President Obama is expected to choose a replacement for Souter who is somewhat left of center, a choice that will be portrayed by right-wing groups as a threat to their positions on abortion, gun rights, gay marriage, and property rights, among other “hot-button” social and legal issues (see May 26, 2009). The upshot: lots of money gathered to oppose Obama’s prospective nominee. “Although Souter may be a more difficult case to make as his voting record is center-left, it does open the door for discussion of who, and how left a replacement, President Obama may choose,” says veteran Republican fundraiser Linus Catignani. “It also gives clarity to the power of the presidency and generates lots of chatter regarding the fact that Obama may make up to four replacements in short order. That obviously paints a very scary picture for many conservatives.” Catignani says that when conservative Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito (see September 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) were nominated, Republican fundraisers used them as touchstones for their efforts to gather money—that time in the interest of promoting and defending the nominees. Democrats used their nominations to raise funds in opposition, much as Republicans are doing now, and Democrats will use the nomination to raise funds in defense of Obama’s nominee. Souter’s replacement will energize and invigorate a flagging and dispirited conservative base, says former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman. “This can be a catalyst properly handled that can get people back into a sense of stakeholdership.” It can also be used to energize Democrats to fund efforts to thwart the Republicans’ own efforts to derail the nomination. Morgan says: “The Supreme Court is great. That’s going to be mail, that’s going to be phone calls. The clients I work with are in meetings already. There are letters being written already.” (Allen 5/1/2009)

New Republic legal correspondent Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, writes an analysis of appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, considered by many to be a leading candidate to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Rose from Poverty to Consideration for High Court - Rosen gives a brief biographical sketch of Sotomayor, whom he labels as a “compelling” candidate both for her legal accomplishments and her life story. Sotomayor is the daughter of poor Puerto Rican immigrants, grew up in the South Bronx, and graduated with high academic honors from Princeton and Yale. She has served as a prosecutor, a corporate litigator, and a judge. If nominated and confirmed, Sotomayor would be the Court’s first Hispanic member and only its third female member. She has the support of both New York senators, Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Conflicting Opinions Largely from Anonymous Sources - Rosen notes that her former clerks praise her as “demanding but thoughtful” and “commit[ted] to legal fairness,” a “rule-bound pragmatist—very geared toward determining what the right answer is and what the law dictates, but her general approach is, unsurprisingly, influenced by her unique background.” Rosen quotes several anonymous sources—“nearly all… former law clerks… or former federal prosecutors in New York”—who, he says, question “her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.” According to one former law clerk, Sotomayor is “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” egotistical, and “domineering.” In contrast, one of his named sources, fellow Second Circuit appeals court judge Jose Cabranes, said of her, “She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media.” Anonymous sources tell Rosen that Sotomayor is more apt to quibble with a colleague’s grammar and syntax rather than the focus of their legal arguments. Another former clerk praises Sotomayor for being tough-minded and “impressive.” Rosen admits that he has not read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions “to have a confident sense of them,” nor has he “talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths. It’s possible that the former clerks and former prosecutors I talked to have an incomplete picture of her abilities. But they’re not motivated by sour grapes or by ideological disagreement—they’d like the most intellectually powerful and politically effective liberal justice possible. And they think that Sotomayor, although personally and professionally impressive, may not meet that demanding standard.” Rosen concludes that President Obama would be taking an unnecessary “gamble” by nominating her to the high court. (Rosen 5/4/2009)
Repercussions of Analysis - Rosen’s column triggers several demeaning characterizations of Sotomayor in the conservative press (see May 4, 2009 and May 5, 2009), characterizations that will intensify when she is nominated for the Court (see May 26, 2009). His use of anonymous sources to base his negative coverage will be repudiated by a number of critics (see May 5, 2009).

Fox News chyron accusing Democrats of voting to protect pedophiles but not veterans.Fox News chyron accusing Democrats of voting to protect pedophiles but not veterans. [Source: Media Matters]Several Fox News anchors and commentators, along with the Fox News Web site, falsely claim that House Democrats tried to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles by voting against an amendment to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA). The legislation defines as a federal crime specific acts of violence or attempted violence “because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person.” The amendment, advanced by Representative Steve King (R-IA), stated that “the term ‘sexual orientation’ shall not include pedophilia.” Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) noted that federal statutes already exclude pedophilia from the definition of “sexual orientation,” and called King’s amendment “unnecessary and… inflammatory in terms of insinuations.” Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, commentator Sean Hannity, and Fox Nation now characterize the Democrats’ successful opposition to King’s amendment as an attempt to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles. All three claim that Democrats defended pedophiles while refusing to defend veterans.
Hannity: 'Special Category for Pedophiles' - Hannity tells his viewers, “Democrats just voted to extend special legal protections to pedophiles.” He also falsely claims that the Democrats inserted a “special category for pedophiles” in the legislation. Interviewing King, Hannity says: “I want to be perfectly clear. So hate—we have a hate crimes bill, and you’re saying, all right, we should exempt pedophiles. Every Democrat says no.” King calls Hannity’s characterization “absolutely right,” and says that “on the top of that, the amendment that I offered to exempt pedophiles from a special protected status was after Tammy Baldwin, one of the lead sponsors on the bill, had argued that the sexual orientation, special protective status in the bill, only covered heterosexuals and homosexuals, so that doesn’t include a pedophile. But she opposed the amendment anyway, as did all the Democrats, as you just showed tonight.” Later, Hannity asks King, “Is it safe to say that Democrats were willing to protect pedophiles?” and King replies: “Sean, it is a matter of Congressional record. Absolutely true—beyond any doubt whatsoever.” Hannity and King then claim that Democrats refused to support another section that would create “special protection” for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. King calls the Democrats’ actions furtherance of the “agenda… of the homosexual activists.”
Hemmer: Protecting Pedophiles, Not Veterans - Fox’s “non-partisan” newscast, America’s Newsroom, runs an on-screen “chyron” that claims, “House Dems vote to protect pedophiles, but not veterans.” Anchor Bill Hemmer tells viewers that Democrats “voted to give special protection to pedophiles” (see October 13, 2009).
Fox Nation: Defending Pedophiles over Veterans - Fox Nation, which claims to be free of bias, runs a headline saying, “House Democrats Defend Pedophiles Over Veterans.” (Media Matters 5/6/2009)

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former federal judge and a guest on Fox News host Glenn Beck’s broadcast, advocates repealing the 16th Amendment, something he has done previously on Beck’s show (see April 28, 2009). Beck asks about “this solution that you and I have talked about on a constitutional amendment, or a threat of a constitutional amendment.” Napolitano replies: “If two-thirds of the states ask the Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider the adoption of this amendment, which I’ll describe in a moment, as it gets closer and closer to the two-thirds necessary and Congress would be required to call the convention, you’ll see some reaction on the part of Congress to attempt to placate the states that want to call this. Now, the constitutional amendment is a simple one. It simply abolishes the 16th Amendment and states affirmatively that Congress shall have no power to tax the personal incomes of individual persons. If that were enacted, it would starve the federal government back into the original footprint that the founders intended for it. But as it gets closer to enactment, Congress will have to do something for fear that it might be enacted.” (Glenn Beck 5/6/2009; Media Matters 9/7/2010) The 16th Amendment allows Congress to collect income taxes. It was passed by Congress and submitted to the states in 1909 and ratified in 1913, both under President William Howard Taft. Recently, far-right Republicans (see 1951-1967, 1970-1972, 1976-1978, Early 1980s, and 1985) and tea party activists have begun calling for its repeal, joined by some members of Congress (see April 28, 1999). (Media Matters 9/7/2010; Legal Information Institute 2011)

A photo from Glenn Beck’s ‘The Civilest War’ broadcast on Fox News. Beck is at far left.A photo from Glenn Beck’s ‘The Civilest War’ broadcast on Fox News. Beck is at far left. [Source: Fox News]Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck writes an article for Fox News promoting his upcoming special program The Civilest War, which he says is an expose of the “tyranny” of the Federal Reserve over the American economy. Beck compares the program to the popular science fiction movie The Matrix, explaining that in the movie: “Nothing was real, the world people lived in was a fabrication—a computer program. Our lives have been like that movie and it is not about Barack Obama. It’s about Obama and [George W.] Bush and [Bill] Clinton and [George H. W.] Bush. It has been going on for years, it is just a play and it goes back to the progressive movement—on both sides of the aisle. In the movie the hero is offered two pills: red to learn the truth about the Matrix; blue to go on living blissfully ignorant to what is really going on. The way to take our country back will short-circuit the Matrix we are living in. And it has to do with gun rights, state’s rights, and what I call the civilest war. It is too much to get into now—but next week take the ‘red pill’ and get the truth.” The hour-long program begins with an adaptation of the famous poem by Martin Niemoller, rewritten by Beck as follows: “I think this is the problem. First they came for the banks. I wasn’t a banker, I didn’t really care. I didn’t stand up and say anything. Then they came for the AIG executives. Then they came for the car companies. Until it gets down to you. Most people don’t see—they are coming for you at some point! You’re on the list! Everybody’s on the list. You may not be rich—as currently defined.” The show features a Utah Republican legislator accusing the federal government of imposing “tyranny” on the citizenry, neo-Confederate historian Kevin Gutzman who gives a very different explanation of the meaning of “constitutional” liberties that would abolish suffrage for women and rights for minorities, and a Montana militia member, Gary Marbut, who concludes that the most sacred rights of the US citizen are to keep and bear arms. (Fox News 5/2009; Beck 5/8/2009; Neiwert 5/15/2009) Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing extremism, notes that the ideas Beck is promoting in The Civilest War are identical to those promulgated by far-right “Patriot” and militia movements in the 1990s, including the idea of absolute “state sovereignty” (see 1983-1995). The ultimate idea behind Beck’s proposals, Neiwert writes, is the dissolution of the federal government and the transformation of the United States into 50 independent and disparate national entities. One of the earliest proponents of Beck’s ideas, Neiwert writes, was former Colorado state legislator Charles Duke (R-CO—see May 15-21, 1996), who still has deep ties to militia and anti-government organizations in the Western states. (Neiwert 5/15/2009; Neiwert 5/15/2009)

Ted Kennedy, shortly before his death.Ted Kennedy, shortly before his death. [Source: Mother Talkers (.com)]Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who has just learned he has terminal and inoperable brain cancer, sends a letter to President Obama about his hope for health care reform. Obama will reveal some of the contents of the letter during a September address to Congress (see September 9, 2009). The letter reads in part: “I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the president who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me—and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination. There will be struggles—there always have been—and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat—that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country. And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will—yes, we will—fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.” Senator Kennedy compares Obama with his brother, former President John F. Kennedy, “who inspired a generation and the world,” and says he has “great hope[s] that as I leave, another young president inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.” (White House 5/12/2009; Koppelman 9/9/2009)

Fox News’s Web site, Fox Nation, features a banner advertisement for May 14’s ‘Tea Party 2.0’ events.Fox News’s Web site, Fox Nation, features a banner advertisement for May 14’s ‘Tea Party 2.0’ events. [Source: Media Matters]As it did with the April 15 “tea parties” (see April 15, 2009), Fox News actively promotes the May 14 anti-tax “tea party” protests scheduled to take place at venues around the country. The protests, dubbed “Tea Party 2.0,” are a major portion of Fox’s coverage before and during the May 14 events. On May 13, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren hosts one of the events’ highest-profile organizers, Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC), speaking on behalf of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), one of the hosts of the events. “If you wanted to go to a tea party on April 15 but could not make it or there was none in your hometown, tomorrow’s your big chance,” she says. She also asks Sanford if viewers can log on to a Web site for more information, and asks for a phone number for more information. During the interview, Fox News shows an on-screen text crawl that reads, “To sign up for Tea Party 2.0 go to: www.thegopcomeback.com” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 5/14/2009; Media Matters 5/15/2009)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely considered a likely candidate for the presidency in 2012, lambasts current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her recent complaints about the CIA never briefing her about the Bush administration’s use of torture. “I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don’t think the speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters,” Gingrich says. Gingrich then launches a personal attack (see September 20, 1990) on Pelosi, saying: “I think this is the most despicable, dishonest, and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.… Speaker Pelosi’s the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses. The fact is she either didn’t do her job, or she did do her job and she’s now afraid to tell the truth.” (ABC News 5/15/2009) Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, also says the CIA lied to him about the Bush administration’s use of torture. He says that the CIA’s records about its briefings of Graham and Pelosi conflict with his own records of his briefings by intelligence officials, and he has no recollection of ever being briefed about “any of the sensitive programs such as the waterboarding or other forms of excessive interrogation.” (Stein 5/14/2009)

One of the billboards erected by WorldNetDaily.One of the billboards erected by WorldNetDaily. [Source: WorldNetDaily]The conservative news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), which has been at the forefront of the “birther” movement challenging President Obama’s citizenship (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 21, 2008, October 24, 2008, November 12, 2008 and After, and December 5, 2008), begins erecting billboards asking “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WND, calls the billboard initiative “the truth and transparency campaign.” The first, a digital electronic billboard, is displayed along Highway 165 in Ball, Louisiana, and two more standard billboards are being prepared for display in Los Angeles and Pennsylvania. Farah says the “national [billboard] campaign is going to be big and long-lasting,” and uses WND to solicit donations for more billboards. Farah says he and the WND staff deliberately chose not to name Obama in the billboards: “There are several reasons we chose the message, ‘Where’s the birth certificate?’ There is only one birth certificate controversy in this country today—despite the near-total absence of this issue from coverage in the non-WND media. This is a grass-roots issue that resonates around the country, as our own online petition with nearly 400,000 signers suggests. In addition, I like the simplicity of the message. I like the fact that the message will cause some people to ask themselves or others about the meaning of the message. It will stir curiosity. It will create a buzz. I’m assuming when these billboards are springing up all over the country, it might even make some in the news media curious. And there’s one more factor that persuaded me this was the way to go. Come 2012, campaign laws will pose restrictions on political advertising mentioning the names of presidential candidates. This one clearly doesn’t. I would like to see the federal government make the case that this is somehow a political ad.” Farah blames “timid elected officials in Washington, corrupt judges around the country, and a news media that show a stunning lack of curiosity about the most basic facts of Obama’s background—especially how it relates to constitutional eligibility for the highest office in the land” for failing to investigate the “birther” controversy. Obama released his birth certificate in 2008 (see June 13, 2008), and since then it has been validated by multiple governmental and independent sources (see June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). Farah, however, is not convinced, and believes the birth certificate “controversy” is part of a larger, sinister scheme by the Obama administration: “As Obama transforms this country from self-governing constitutional republic to one governed by a central ruling elite, the simple fact remains that no controlling legal authority has established that he is indeed a ‘natural born citizen’ as the Constitution requires,” he says. “Obama’s promises of transparency have become a bad joke as he continues to hide simple, innocuous documents like his birth certificate and his student records.” Farah says WND is operating as an “independent watchdog on government” by launching the billboard campaign, and not acting as a partisan organization. “I wish such a campaign were not absolutely necessary,” he says. “I wish there were checks and balances in our political and electoral systems to ensure that constitutional eligibility of presidential candidates was established before politicians could assume the highest office in the land. I wish my colleagues in the news media believed the Constitution really means what it says and pressed this issue as hard as we have pressed it at WND. I wish radio talk show hosts were bold enough to ask this question. But wishing is not enough. It’s time to raise the visibility of this issue vital to the rule of law in America. I ask everyone to pitch in and help WND make a simple yet profound statement: The Constitution still matters.” (WorldNetDaily 5/20/2009) In November 2010, WND will erect a “birth certificate” billboard along Highway 93 near Kingman, Arizona, the small town in which Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh planned the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Other billboards will be erected in Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, and Delaware. (WorldNetDaily 11/8/2010)

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and ABC News correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg misrepresent a remark by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see October 26, 2001 and May 26, 2009) that Kelly tells viewers said “Latina judges are obviously better than white male judges.” Kelly calls Sotomayor’s remarks “reverse racism,” and adds it is “[l]ike she’s saying that Latina judges are obviously better than white male judges.” Kelly goes on to claim, “I’ve looked at the entire speech that she was offering to see if that was taken out of context, and I have to tell you… it wasn’t” (see October 13, 2009). On ABC’s Good Morning America, Greenburg claims that Sotomayor “suggest[ed] that a wise Latino may actually be a better judge than a white man, and that white men have had some attitude adjustments and reached moments of great enlightenment, but there’s a long way to go.” (Media Matters 5/26/2009)

Fox News pundit Sean Hannity attacks the character of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), using carefully selected quotes from former colleagues who remain anonymous. Hannity tells his listeners: “[W]hat do the lawyers who have appeared in her courtroom think of her judicial temperament? Well, not much. The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary solicits commentary from practicing attorneys about our federal judges. Now here’s what some lawyers who have argued before Judge Sotomayor had to say about her. Quote, ‘She is a terror on the bench. She is overly aggressive, not very judicial. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She is nasty to lawyers.’” Hannity does not tell his listeners of some of the other comments about Sotomayor in the Almanac: “very smart,” “very intelligent,” “stern,” “an exceptional judge overall,” and “has a very good commonsense approach to the law.” One commentator wrote: “She can be tough as nails, but, in truth, I think some lawyers give her a hard time or are threatened by her. She’s very accomplished and clearly smart, and, in truth, I think they’re intimidated. She has always been decent enough to me.” Another wrote: “She’s very smart and well prepared, and she expects lawyers to rise to her level. She has very little tolerance for lawyers who can’t match her intellectually.” (Powers 5/28/2009)

Fox News host Glenn Beck, speaking on his morning radio show, tells listeners that the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009) is more evidence of a Marxist “hostile takeover” of the United States. The conflict between Republicans and Democrats over the nomination is nothing more than a “game,” Beck says. “Marxism,” he says. “It is Marxism. She is a Marxist.” As proof, he notes that Sotomayor quoted Socialist philosopher Norman Thomas in her yearbook at Princeton (he does not cite the quote: “I am not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won”), a “socialist… whose quote leads her life.… It has influenced her.” He concludes by asking: “How many Marxists do we have to turn up before we say our country is being taken over? This is a hostile takeover.” (Smith 5/27/2009; Media Matters 5/28/2009)

Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer advises fellow Republicans not to use racial or gender-based attacks against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). Noting that barring an unforeseen incident, she will be confirmed to the high court, Krauthammer writes: “What should a principled conservative do? Use the upcoming hearings not to deny her the seat, but to illuminate her views. No magazine gossip from anonymous court clerks (see May 4, 2009). No ‘temperament’ insinuations (see May 27, 2009). Nothing ad hominem (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, and June 3, 2009). The argument should be elevated, respectful, and entirely about judicial philosophy.” The debate should focus “on her statements about the inherent differences between groups, and the superior wisdom she believes her Latina physiology, culture, and background grant her over a white male judge (see October 26, 2001). They perfectly reflect the Democrats’ enthrallment with identity politics, which assigns free citizens to ethnic and racial groups possessing a hierarchy of wisdom and entitled to a hierarchy of claims upon society.… Vote Democratic and you get mainstream liberalism: a judicially mandated racial spoils system and a jurisprudence of empathy that hinges on which litigant is less ‘advantaged.’” (Krauthammer 5/29/2009)

Right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan continues to attack Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), this time during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. Buchanan continues his allegations that Sotomayor is an “affirmative action nominee” (see May 28, 2009), and mocks her recent discussion of her difficulties with the English language: Sotomayor told a New York Times reporter that during her first years in college, she honed her English skills by reading children’s books, practiced with lower-level grammar books, and worked with a professor who provided her tutoring in the language. Buchanan says in reference to the article: “Well I, again in that Saturday piece, she went to Princeton. She graduated first in her class it said. But she herself said she read, basically classic children’s books to read and learn the language and she read basic English grammars and she got help from tutors. I think that, I mean if you’re, frankly if you’re in college and you’re working on Pinocchio or on the troll under the bridge, I don’t think that’s college work.” The article did not characterize her outside, self-directed remedial work with English as “college work.” Amanda Terkel, a reporter for left-leaning Think Progress, will note: “Buchanan has long claimed that Hispanic immigrants are resistant to learning English and has said that it would be easier for them to ‘assimilate’ if they did so.… So basically, Buchanan yells when Hispanics are allegedly unwilling to learn English. However, when they make an attempt to do so, he mocks them as being dumb.” (Kirkpatrick 5/30/2009; Terkel 6/1/2009)

Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan joins the ranks of Republicans (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 29, 2009) asking for a more moderate and less inflammatory tone in recent criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009 and May 26, 2009). Republicans should “play grown-up,” she advises, in opposing the Sotomayor nomination, and notes that her background—disadvantaged, Hispanic, female—makes her dangerous to oppose too vehemently: “Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die.” Noonan continues: “New York is proud of her; I’m proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that’s what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that’s what they mean, then we’re all empathetic. We’re the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It’s part of our pride. And it’s not bad, it’s good.” Noonan calls Republicans who launch virulent attacks on her racial heritage or gender “idiots,” and writes that instead of “exciting the base,” as one Republican strategist has said the attacks will do, “How about excit[ing] a moderate, or interest[ing] an independent? How about gain[ing] the attention of people who aren’t already on your side? The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you’ve ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog.… They don’t need to be revved, they’re already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist (see May 27, 2009). Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.… The choice for Republicans isn’t between ‘attack’ and ‘roll over.’ It’s broader than that, and more interesting. There’s a new and fresh opportunity here for Republicans in the Senate to be serious, and, in their seriousness, to be seen and understood in a new light.” (Noonan 6/1/2009)

US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy review French troops during Obama’s 2009 visit to Strasburg.US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy review French troops during Obama’s 2009 visit to Strasburg. [Source: Shawn Thew / EPA]Jon Scott and Jane Skinner, hosts of Fox News’s “straight news” program Happening Now (see October 13, 2009), air selectively edited clips of President Obama to give the false impression that he has singled out the US for criticism during a trip to France. The segment hinges on an upcoming trip by Obama to Europe and the Middle East. Scott asks if “the president’s upcoming trip [will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour”; in teasing Scott’s segment, Skinner raises the same point. Both Scott and Skinner then air cropped clips from Obama’s April 2009 visit to France. During his April speech, Obama both praised and criticized actions taken by the US, and criticized anti-American sentiment in Europe. However, Scott and Skinner air carefully selected portions of the speech to give impetus to their contention that Obama only criticized the US during his time in France. Fellow Fox News host Sean Hannity has suggested that Obama embarked on a “blame America first” visit and “apology tour.” On-air text and graphics illustrate the “apology tour” contention. Neither Scott nor Skinner inform their audience that in the same speech, Obama criticized Europe and praised the US. Guest Elliott Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra conspirator (see October 7, 1991), advises Obama “to stop apologizing for our country,” and adds that Obama is making a mistake in spending time talking to Muslims during the trip. (Media Matters 6/2/2009)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) writes what appears to be a retraction or withdrawal of his previous accusations that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is a racist (see May 27, 2009). He writes that he was reacting to the news of remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls his “initial reaction… perhaps too strong and too direct.” Others have criticized his “word choice” in his vilification of Sotomayor, and Gingrich writes, “The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)” (see May 29, 2009). Gingrich then launches an attack on Sotomayor’s “judicial impartiality” and accuses her of “a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system—that everyone is equal before the law.” Gingrich is either unaware of, or ignoring, a recent analysis which disproves the thesis that Sotomayor has systematically exhibited racial bias in her rulings (see May 29, 2009). He calls her a “radical liberal activist” masquerading as a “convention[al] liberal,” and lambasts Obama for believing that “judicial impartiality” is “no longer a quality we can and should demand from our Supreme Court justices.” (Think Progress 4/3/2007; Gingrich 6/3/2009) Liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress notes that Gingrich may not be the most impartial person to weigh in on this issue, having called Spanish “the language of living in the ghetto” and warned of “gay and secular fascism” as an imminent threat to American society. (Think Progress 4/3/2007; Yglesias 11/17/2008)

Pam Farnsworth, the marketing director for Tea Party Nation, asks on Twitter, “Where’s the birth certificate?” referring to President Obama’s supposed lack of a valid birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) and accusations that he is ineligible to be president because of his lack of American citizenship. Farnsworth also writes: “New bill would make Obama a US natural-born citizen. Doesn’t the Constitution mandate he already be one to hold office?” (Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)

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