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Jerome Corsi, author of a widely debunked smear against Democratic candidate Barack Obama (see August 1, 2008 and After), says in a WorldNetDaily article that since the Obama campaign has responded to his book with a Web page called “Unfit for Publication,” it is conceivable that an Obama presidency will create “a censorship department in which a book critical of a President Obama might be banned from publication.” (WorldNetDaily 9/7/2008) Corsi has previously suggested that Obama is likely to create a “department of hate crimes” and put critics such as himself in jail (see August 16, 2008).

Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto, becomes president of Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf resigned as president the previous month after growing pressure suggested he could be impeached (see August 18, 2008). A three-week election campaign quickly followed, and Zardari easily won the election (an electoral college vote, not a general election). Zardari’s elections completes Pakistan’s return to civilian rule after Musharraf seized power in a military coup nine years earlier. (Or 9/9/2008)
"Mr. Ten Percent" - Zardari has a troubled history of numerous corruption allegations. His popular nickname, “Mr. Ten Percent,” refers to the widespread belief in Pakistan that he took a cut from many business deals when his wife Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s. He spent 11 years in prison on corruption charges, although he was never actually convicted of a crime. Bhutto seemed poised for a return to power, but when she was assassinated in late 2007, Zardari essentially took her place as head of her political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Supporters say he has matured during his years in prison. (Wonacott 9/5/2008)

Walid Shoebat.Walid Shoebat. [Source: TalkGuests (.com)]Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that Walid Shoebat, who claims to be a reformed terrorist and is now a favorite guest of right-wing radio hosts, tells host G. Gordon Liddy that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is “definitely a Muslim,” a patent falsehood that has been repeatedly debunked (see January 22-24, 2008). Shoebat also repeats another widely debunked falsehood, that terrorist groups such as Hamas have proclaimed their support for Obama. Shoebat briefly discusses Obama’s supposed “indoctrination” in Indonesian “madrassas” (as a child, Obama was educated in an Indonesian Catholic school for a brief period), then says: “No one is called Hussein unless he is Muslim. So it is very clear that Barack Hussein Obama is definitely a Muslim.” Anyone who leaves the Muslim faith is to be killed, Shoebat claims, so Obama is by definition a Muslim by dint of still being alive. Shoebat also says: “from al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas, every single Muslim terrorist organization supports Barack Hussein Obama. So why would Americans want to have a president that is connected to Islam and that is proud to be Muslim?” (Media Matters 9/11/2008)

The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial questioning Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s record at Columbia University in New York City. Obama began his attendance at that university in 1981 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1983. The Journal does not directly assault Obama’s record of attendance, nor does it challenge the diploma he earned there, but instead accuses Obama of “barely mention[ing] his experience” at Columbia in his two published memoirs, accuses the Obama campaign of “refus[ing] to answer questions about Columbia and New York—which, in this media age, serves only to raise more of them,” and asks: “Why not release his Columbia transcript? Why has his senior essay gone missing?” (There is no senior thesis—see October 21, 2009). After noting that the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) has refused to release McCain’s records from the US Naval Academy, the Journal calls Obama “a case apart” because of his lack of “a long track record in government.” It accuses Obama, in his memoirs, of “play[ing] up certain chapters in his life—perhaps even exaggerating his drug use in adolescence to drive home his theme of youthful alienation—and ignor[ing] others.” Citizens and journalists attempting to “exercise… due diligence” in the days before the presidential election are, the Journal claims, “meeting resistance from Mr. Obama in checking his past.” The Journal claims that one of Obama’s Columbia-era roommates, Sohale Siddiqi, has confirmed Obama’s transformation in New York from a dissolute youth to a serious young man, telling an Associated Press reporter: “We were both very lost. We were both alienated, although he might not put it that way. He arrived disheveled and without a place to stay.” The Journal writes, “For some reason the Obama camp wanted this to stay out of public view,” and claims, “Such caginess is grist for speculation.” It speculates that Obama’s Columbia transcript might “reveal Mr. Obama as a mediocre student who benefited from racial preference,” though, noting that Obama later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, says he obviously “knows how to get good grades.” The Journal echoes “others” who “speculate about ties to the Black Students Organization, though students active then don’t seem to remember him,” along with tales from “the far reaches of the Web [about] conspiracies about former Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became the candidate’s ‘guru and controller’ while at Columbia in the early 1980s.” The Journal notes that Brzezinski “laughs, and tells us he doesn’t ‘remember meeting him.’” The Journal concludes that few remember Obama during his two years in New York. “Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him,” it reports. Obama himself has told biographer David Mendell that during his time at Columbia, “I was just painfully alone and really not focused on anything, except maybe thinking a lot.” The Journal concludes: “Put that way, his time at Columbia sounds unremarkable. Maybe that’s what most pains a young memoirist and an ambitious politician who strains to make his life anything but unremarkable.” (Wall Street Journal 9/11/2008)

Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest investment bank in the US, files for liquidation after huge losses in the mortgage market, a crippling loss of investor confidence, and its inability to find a buyer. Lehman’s collapse began as the mortgage market crisis unfolded in summer 2007, when its stock began a steady fall from a peak of $82 a share. Fears were based on the fact that the firm was a major player in the market for subprime and prime mortgages, and that as the smallest of the major Wall Street firms, it faced a larger risk that large losses could be fatal. As its crisis deepened in 2007 and early 2008, the investment bank defied expectations more than once, as it had many times before, such as in 1998, when it teetered after a worldwide currency crisis, only to strongly rebound. Lehman managed to avoid the fate of fellow investment bank Bear Stearns, which was bought by JP Morgan Chase at a bargain basement price under the threat of bankruptcy in March 2008 (see March 15, 2008). By summer, however, Lehman’s roller-coaster ride began to have more downs than ups. A series of write-offs accompanied new offerings to seek capital to bolster its finances. (New York Times 9/16/2008)

AIG logo.AIG logo. [Source: American International Group (AIG)]In an historic move, the federal government bails out insurance corporation AIG with an $85 billion loan, giving control of the firm to the US government. After resisting AIG’s overtures for an emergency loan or other intervention to prevent the insurer from falling into bankruptcy, the government decided AIG, like the now-defunct investment bank, Bear Stearns, was “too big to fail” (see March 15, 2008). The US government will lend up to $85 billion to AIG. In return, the government gets a 79.9 percent equity stake in warrants, called equity participation notes. The two-year loan will carry a LIBOR interest rate plus 8.5 percentage points. LIBOR, the London InterBank Offered Rate, is a common short-term lending benchmark. The bailout comes less than a week after the government allowed a large investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., to fold (see September 14, 2008). As part of the loan agreement, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insists that AIG’s chief executive, Robert Willumstad, steps aside. Willumstad will be succeeded by Edward Liddy, the former head of insurer Allstate Corp (see September 18, 2008). (KARNITSCHNIG et al. 9/16/2008) Shares in AIG drop to $3.75 on the news. (Bloomberg 3/5/2009)

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is “not black.” As reported by the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Limbaugh asks the rhetorical question: “Do you know he has not one shred of African-American blood?… He’s Arab. You know, he’s from Africa. He’s from Arab parts of Africa.… [H]e’s not African-American. The last thing that he is is African-American.” Media Matters documents this claim being advanced as far back as February 14, when blogger Kenneth Lamb wrote that Obama “is actually Arab-American [and] not legally African-American.” Lamb produced no evidence of his claim, but since then, conservative bloggers and some radio hosts have repeated the claim. In reality, Obama’s father was a African from Kenya, in the black part of Africa, and his mother was a Caucasian American. (Media Matters 9/22/2008)

John LaBruzzo.John LaBruzzo. [Source: Daniel Erath / Times-Picayune]Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo (R-Metarie) says he is considering a legislative proposal to offer poor women $1,000 to be sterilized. LaBruzzo says that poor people who receive government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people. Offering poor women money to have their fallopian tubes “tied” would lower their birth rates, LaBruzzo explains. “We’re on a train headed to the future and there’s a bridge out,” he says of what he calls potentially dangerous demographic trends. “And nobody wants to talk about it.… What I’m really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare.” Such payments would be voluntary, he says, and might include other forms of birth control, including vasectomies for men. He would also consider tax incentives for college-educated, higher-income couples to have more children. LaBruzzo, who represents the same district that sent former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke to the Louisiana State House in 1989, is receiving criticism that calls his proposal racist, sexist, unethical, and immoral. LaBruzzo counters that since more white people are on welfare than black people, his proposal is not targeting race. “It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, he’s a racist,’” LaBruzzo says. “The hard part is to sit down and think of some solutions.” LaBruzzo is opposed to abortion in any form, and describes his sterilization program proposal as providing poor people with better opportunities to avoid welfare, because they would have fewer children to feed and clothe. (Waller 9/23/2008)

Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), realizes that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is going to win the upcoming presidential election (see November 4, 2008). In preparation, Ailes begins hiring an array of conservatives to join his network (see November 3, 2003, July 2004, and October 26, 2009), many of whom he intends to groom for the 2012 presidential race. By the time the election is over, Ailes will have hired Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s political guru, and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate. (Ailes is able to woo both Rove and Huckabee away from CNN, which also offers them positions as paid commentators.) Soon, Ailes will hire several more possible Republican contenders, including the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Ailes fully intends to use Fox News as a platform for launching Republican presidential bids (see May 22, 2011), but his decision to hire Rove, Huckabee, Palin, and the others is also business-driven. A close friend of his will explain: “It would be easy to look at Fox and think it’s conservative because Rupert [Murdoch, the media executive who owns the Fox networks] and Roger are conservative and they program it the way they like. And to a degree, that’s true. But it’s also a business. And the way the business works is, they control conservative commentary the way ESPN controls the market for sports rights. If you have a league, you have a meeting with ESPN, you find out how much they’re willing to pay, and then everyone else agrees to pay the same amount if they want it.… It’s sort of the same at Fox. I was surprised at some of what was being paid until I processed it that way. If you’re ABC and you don’t have Newt Gingrich on a particular morning, you can put someone else on. But if you’re Fox, and Newt is moving and talking today, you got to have him. Otherwise, your people are like: ‘Where’s Newt? Why isn’t he on my channel?’” Ailes met secretly with Palin in September 2008, and will continue to court her for Fox after the campaign, even loaning her a private jet owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN will decline to offer her a position, and Ailes, through programming chief Bill Shine, will negotiate a three-year, $3 million deal to have Palin as a regular contributor and a host of prime-time specials. Amid all of this, Ailes does not want Fox News to be seen as an arm of the Republican Party (see December 2002 and October 11, 2009). (Sherman 5/22/2011) In 2010, the press will report that Fox News has “exclusive rights” to broadcast and interview four presumed 2012 Republican candidates, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum (see September 27, 2010).

A Web graphic accusing presidential candidate Barack Obama of beginning his political career in the home of college professor William Ayers.A Web graphic accusing presidential candidate Barack Obama of beginning his political career in the home of college professor William Ayers. [Source: Kickin and Screamin (.com)]Republican vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) accuses Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) of “palling around with terrorists” who intend to attack American targets. Palin, telling audiences in Colorado and California that it is “time to take the gloves off,” says Obama has ties to the 1960s-era radical group Weather Underground through an acquaintance, University of Illinois at Chicago professor William Ayers. Obama, Palin says, “is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” The Weather Underground was once labeled a domestic terrorist group by the FBI. Ayers served on a board with Obama and held a fundraiser for Obama’s Senate run in 1995. Obama has condemned Ayers’s connections with the Weather Underground, and most media organizations have discounted any ties between the two men. The Weather Underground has been defunct for decades. Palin says she is not attempting to “pick a fight” with Obama, but is telling campaign audiences about Obama and Ayers because “it was there in the New York Times… and they are hardly ever wrong.” Ayers, she says, “was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol.’ Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes.… This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for for all of us.” Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan condemns Palin’s remarks, and cites a list of media outlets that have debunked the so-called Obama-Ayers connection. “Governor Palin’s comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign’s statement this morning that they would be launching Swiftboat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation’s economic ills,” Sevugan writes. He also notes that the New York Times is one of the media outlets that debunked the connection, stating, “In fact, the very newspaper story Governor Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Senator Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less ‘pals,’ and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was eight.” The Obama campaign calls the attempt by the McCain-Palin campaign to link Obama to Ayers part of a campaign of “dishonest, dishonorable assaults against Barack Obama.” (Orr 10/5/2008)

As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Chris Baker promotes an Internet video that features a Harlem preacher calling Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s mother “trash.” Baker discusses the video, by the Reverend James David Manning of ATLAH World Missionary Church, on his radio show, and posts the video on his Web site. Baker says of the video: “Oh God, you have to—you have to see this. This guy—I mean, this guy just goes off. And he’s not really wrong, either. That’s the best part, at least, you know—at least, in my hate-filled opinion.” Manning contrasts Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose daughter Bristol is carrying a child out of wedlock. Manning says: “The difference between Obama’s mama and Bristol Palin is that Obama’s mama was trash. I mean, she was dirt. She was a bag of trash sitting on the sidewalk waiting there in Honolulu on one of those streets for the garbage truck to come by and pick her up and take her to the dump.… [M]y mama told me back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s, the only kind of white women that would take up with a black man back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s was a trashy white woman. The only kind of white woman that would take up with a black man in the ‘50s and the ‘60s was a sloozy, was a floozy, was a lowlife, snail-eating, white woman. That’s the kind of woman that Obama’s mama was.… Want to talk about Bristol Palin? Let’s talk about that piece of trash called Obama’s mama. Want to talk about Bristol Palin? Let’s talk about that trash that hatched Obama. Yeah.” Obama’s mother, who died in 1995, was a white American, and his father was a black African. (Media Matters 10/8/2008)

As reported by progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters, conservative radio hosts echo the claim that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has never produced a legitimate birth certificate proving his American citizenship, a claim long since debunked (Obama long ago posted a copy on his Web site—see June 13, 2008—and document experts and the Hawaii Department of Health will confirm its validity—see June 27, 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, and July 28, 2009). Rick Roberts tells his audience that Obama’s birth certificate “hasn’t… been produced” and that no one in the Obama campaign has ever provided one for public scrutiny. Chris Baker says there “has never been a real birth certificate presented” by Obama. Michael Savage, taking the story one step further, says that the birth certificate “that was produced is a forgery.” Savage also claims that no one in Hawaii, Obama’s birth state, can find the original certificate: It “does not exist, they can’t find it in the Hawaii government. It’s never been produced. The one that was produced is a forgery.… I will never work for a man who has a birth certificate nobody can find. In other words, if you vote for Obama, you’re insane.” Savage goes on to claim that Obama is actually a Kenyan citizen, like his father, another claim long since disproven (see August 1, 2008 and After), and makes an equally illegitimate claim that Obama was educated in an Indonesian madrassa, or radical Islamist school (see January 22-24, 2008), under the name “Barry Soetoro”; Savage even claims that Obama legally changed his name to “Barry Mohammed Soetoro” in Indonesia. No such name change has ever been documented. (Media Matters 10/14/2008) Weeks later, Savage will assert, without proof, that Obama will visit Hawaii to address the issue of the birth certificate and cloak the trip by ostensibly visiting his gravely ill grandmother (see November 10, 2008).

Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that Jerome Corsi, author of a book widely debunked as an attempt to defame presidential candidate Barack Obama (see August 1, 2008 and After) and after leaving Kenya where he had been briefly detained by authorities for peddling his book without a work permit (see October 8, 2008), tells conservative radio host Lee Rodgers that he is a victim of journalistic suppression. “I think the story here is really the suppression of the press,” he says. “I hate to think of what the First Amendment is going to mean. If you write a negative book or criticize Obama, I think you’re now going to have to risk being thrown in jail or killed.” Rodgers agrees, “Yeah, well, that’s the mentality of these people.” Corsi also claims that he has been targeted by the Obama campaign: “I’m telling you, this is scary. I have heard from Obama supporters telling me: one way or another, boy, when we’re in office, we’re going to shut you down.” Corsi has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of censorship by the Obama campaign (see August 16, 2008 and September 7, 2008). Corsi also tells Rodgers that he has “[d]isproved every point” that the Obama campaign made in a “40-page rebuttal” to his book. In reality, Corsi responded to the Obama campaign’s rebuttal by issuing a list of 11 corrections for the next printing, most of which corrected lies identified by the Obama campaign or outside sources. (Media Matters 10/10/2008)

Alaskan Independence Party logo.Alaskan Independence Party logo. [Source: Alaskan Independence Party]Reporters and authors Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert compile an investigative report for Salon that documents the large, if shadowy, network of far-right militia support that Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) enjoys. Palin is running for vice president with presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ). Two of her most powerful supporters are Mark Chryson, the former head of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), and Steve Stoll, a far-right activist and member of the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) known in his home region of the Mat-Su Valley as “Black Helicopter Steve.” Both Chryson and Stoll are large financial contributors to Palin’s various political campaigns, and, as Blumenthal and Neiwert write, “they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during, and after her victory,” referring to her successful campaigns for mayor of Wasilla (see Mid and Late 1996) and, later, Alaska’s governor. Chryson’s AIP fought to eliminate taxes, support what it called “traditional family” values, remove all restraints from gun ownership, and perhaps most controversially, force Alaska to secede from the United States. Still a proud AIP member, Chryson tells the reporters that he still has “enough weaponry to raise a small army in my basement,” but assures the rest of the nation, “We want to go our separate ways, but we are not going to kill you.” Under Chryson’s leadership and on into the present, the AIP works to connect with like-minded secessionist movements from Canada to the Deep South of the US. Chryson is from Wasilla, Palin’s hometown, and during the 1990s his support was critical in making Palin the mayor of Wasilla and later the governor of Alaska. He and Stoll played an equally critical role in shaping her political agenda after her victories. Governor Palin often worked closely with Chryson as he and the AIP worked to successfully advance a wave of anti-tax, pro-gun legislative initiatives, and helped Chryson put through a change in Alaska’s Constitution to better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias. As both mayor and governor, Palin and Chryson worked together to extract revenge against local officials they disliked. Palin often took Chryson and Stoll’s advice on hiring government officials. “Every time I showed up [in Wasilla] her door was open,” Chryson says. “And that policy continued when she became governor.”
Originally Saw Palin as Too Accomodating with Democrats - Chryson first met Palin in the early 1990s, when he was a member of a local libertarian pressure group called SAGE, or Standing Against Government Excess. He met her through SAGE founder Tammy McGraw, who was Palin’s birth coach. Palin was a leader in a pro-sales tax citizens group called WOW, or Watch Over Wasilla, which helped her win a seat on the Wasilla City Council in 1992. Chryson liked her, but considered her too willing to work with council Democrats to be of use to him. Chryson was then jockeying to become head of the AIP, a powerful political party that in 1990 had elected Wally Hickel (AIP-AK) as governor; Palin wanted to be mayor of Wasilla. Chryson and Palin quickly determined that they could help one another. Chryson became leader of the AIP in 1997, and saw Palin as a chance for the AIP to take its message more mainstream. He helped quiet the more racist members and platform planks of the AIP, and reached out to Alaska’s growing Christian-right movement by emphasizing AIP’s commitment to “traditional family” values and its opposition to gay rights. Chryson even succeeded in softening the AIP’s insistence on secession. Chryson is an expert at crafting his political message to appeal to disparate groups, and succeeded in forging alliances with white supremacists, far-right theocrats, neo-Confederates, and more moderate right-wing groups that do not advocate open racism, rebellion, Christian theocracy, or violence. In 1995, Palin’s husband Todd joined the AIP, further cementing Chryson’s increasing support of Palin.
Palin Secured AIP Support for Mayorality - With Stoll, Chryson helped gain Palin the mayorship of Wasilla in the 1996 election, comforted by Palin’s steady move rightward as she continued her tenure on the city council. Palin’s opponent in that election, Republican John Stein, will later say of Chryson and Stoll: “She got support from these guys. I think smart politicians never utter those kind of radical things, but they let other people do it for them. I never recall Sarah saying she supported the militia or taking a public stand like that. But these guys were definitely behind Sarah, thinking she was the more conservative choice.… They worked behind the scenes. I think they had a lot of influence in terms of helping with the back-scatter negative campaigning.” Chryson helped Palin craft a successful campaign based on personal attacks on her opponents, both Stein and her Democratic opponent. Palin characterized Stein as a closet Jew and a sexist, both mischaracterizations, and falsely challenged the legal status of his marriage. Wasilla resident Phil Munger, a close friend of Stein’s, recalls, “I watched that campaign unfold, bringing a level of slime our community hadn’t seen until then.” Chryson helped Palin thwart a local gun-control measure (see June 1997). Chryson and Palin attempted to name Stoll to an empty seat on the Wasilla City Council, but were thwarted by another councilman, Nick Carney, who considered Stoll too “violent” to be a successful council member.
Implementing AIP Agenda as Governor - Chryson recalls helping Governor Palin slash property taxes and block a measure that would have taken money for public programs from the Permanent Fund Dividend, or the oil and gas fund that doles out annual payments to citizens of Alaska. Palin endorsed Chryson’s unsuccessful initiative to move the state legislature from Juneau to Wasilla. She was successful at helping Chryson get pro-militia and gun-rights language into the Alaska Constitution. In 2006, Chryson helped Palin bring Hickel on board as the co-chairman of her gubernatorial campaign; Hickel’s presence meant the implicit endorsement of the AIP for Palin’s candidacy. Hickel later said of his support, “I made her governor.” Hickel now supports Palin’s bid for the vice-presidency, spurred in part by her explicit endorsement of the AIP agenda (see March 2008).
Infiltrating the Mainstream - Chryson has long advocated that AIP members “infiltrate” both Republican and Democratic parties, and points to Palin as a model of successful infiltration. “There’s a lot of talk of her moving up,” AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark says of Palin. “She was a member [of the AIP] when she was mayor of a small town, that was a nonpartisan job. But to get along and to go along she switched to the Republican Party.… She is pretty well sympathetic because of her membership.” It is possible, Blumenthal and Neiwert speculate, that Clark saw Palin as so closely aligned with Chryson and the AIP that he wrongly assumed she was an official member. Chryson understands that as a vice-presidential candidate, Palin has no intention of espousing secessionist or racist views. Indeed, he hopes that her inauguration will represent the beginning of a new and deeper infiltration. “I’ve had my issues but she’s still staying true to her core values,” Chryson says. “Sarah’s friends don’t all agree with her, but do they respect her? Do they respect her ideology and her values? Definitely.” (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008) In the days after this article appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will say that her husband Dexter’s recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)

David Neiwert.David Neiwert. [Source: Quotd (.com)]Author and reporter David Neiwert appears on CNN’s Newshour program to discuss a recent article he co-wrote for Salon that revealed details of Governor Sarah Palin’s (R-AK) support from far-right militia and secessionist groups in Alaska (see October 10, 2008). Palin is now running on the Republican presidential ticket with John McCain (R-AZ). CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez is particularly interested in discussing Palin’s connections with the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a political third party in Alaska that advocates an array of far-right initiatives, including the secession of Alaska from the United States. Sanchez notes that between 1995 and 2002 Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP, and according to Neiwert’s article Sarah Palin has had her political career shaped by AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson. Neiwert explains the AIP to Sanchez, saying, “Well, what we have known about the AIP for some time is that they were basically the Alaskan contingent and the ‘Patriot Movement,’ which, in the lower 48 states, manifested itself as people who form militias, tax protesters, constitutionalists, and that sort of thing.” Neiwert refuses to directly compare the AIP to the ideology of the far-right militia groups that spawned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez asks, but says that McVeigh and the AIP “basically come from the same sort of ideological background.” Neiwert does not consider the AIP a particularly violent group, and calls it “a pretty benign organization,” but affirms that most AIP members “despise” the US government. He notes that Chryson told him and co-author Max Blumenthal that Todd Palin was never particularly active in the AIP, saying, “Basically, he signed up, joined the party, and then was not active at all.” He also confirms that Sarah Palin was most likely not a member of the AIP, but, as Sanchez says, “[S]he does have some ties to either members or its causes.” Palin rose to power in Wasilla, Alaska, through the auspices of the AIP, Neiwert says, both as a city council member and later as mayor (see Mid and Late 1996). Sanchez runs a video clip of Palin’s videotaped address to the AIP convention in 2008 (see March 2008). Sanchez confirms that Palin attended the convention personally in 2006, because, Neiwert says, “she was campaigning there for governor. And the AIP did not have a gubernatorial candidate that year. And its members essentially endorsed Sarah as their party’s standard-bearer.” Neiwert then explains Chryson’s program of “infiltrating” AIP members into positions of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, and notes that the Salon article quoted Chryson as being particularly proud of having “infiltrated” Palin into such a high level of influence. “[T]he AIP has specifically had a program of infiltration aimed at getting members and their sort of camp followers promoting within the other political parties,” he says. “And, obviously, the Republican Party is a lot closer in Alaska to the AIP than the Democratic Party is.” The McCain campaign sends a message to CNN during the Neiwert interview from campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb that reads: “CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Senator [Barack] Obama’s religion. No serious news organization has tried to make this connection. And it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first.” Sanchez notes that CNN has been trying for hours to get the McCain-Palin campaign to prepare a response to the Neiwert interview, which begins after 3:00 p.m. EST. Neiwert notes that the AIP is not a religious organization, saying: “Some of the members are very definitely fundamentalist Christians, but the AIP, itself, is not involved in religious issues, except to the extent that it is involved with the Constitution Party of the United States. This is the larger national umbrella that they organize under. And the Constitution Party is definitely a theocratic party.” (CNN 10/14/2008) After the interview, Neiwert posts on a liberal blog, Crooks & Liars, that like CNN, he attempted to elicit a response or rejoinder from the McCain-Palin campaign and received no response until the broadcast. Neiwert notes that his interview was not in any way a “smear,” because “[a] smear by definition is untrue. However, everything in our story is fully documented. We’ve even posted the relevant documents here so readers can judge the accuracy of the story for themselves.” He also notes that the interview said nothing about Palin’s faith or religious beliefs, but was strictly “about her conduct as a public official.” He concludes, “If Team McCain wants to convince anyone this is merely a ‘smear,’ they’re going to have to demonstrate some falsity or distortion first.” Neiwert says that some Palin defenders respond with the accusation that he is attempting to find Palin “guilt[y] by association.” He counters: “But ‘guilt by association,’ by definition, involves an entirely irrelevant association.… Palin’s associations with the ‘Patriot’ right, however, are entirely relevant, because they reflect directly on her conduct as a public official and her judgment. They also, I should add, reflect on a deeper level the kind of right-wing populism she’s been indulging in recent weeks.” (Neiwert 10/14/2008) In the days after this interview appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will later say that AIP party officials’ recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and will reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)

Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey lambasts CNN for what he calls an attempted “smear” against Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK). Rainey is referring to a segment recently aired on CNN (see October 14, 2008) that interviewed author and columnist David Neiwert, who recently co-wrote an article about Palin’s connections to the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008). Palin has already demanded that the McCain-Palin campaign issue a statement repudiating the CNN segment, a decision the campaign did not acquiesce to (see October 15, 2008); it is unclear whether Rainey had any knowledge of Palin’s demand, though McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sent a message to CNN calling the segment “a smear” that was aired during the segment itself. Rainey writes that the Neiwert interview was little more than “a reheated, overwrought, and misleading story that seemed designed to yoke Sarah Palin and her husband to the most extreme secessionists in Alaska.” He acknowledges that Palin’s husband Todd Palin once belonged to the AIP, and writes, “[H]is wife, the governor and now Republican vice presidential nominee, has been friendly with some of its members.” (The article by Neiwert and co-author Max Blumenthal goes into significant detail about how AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson have steered Palin’s rise to power from her days as a Wasilla city council member.) Rainey accurately notes that neither Neiwert, Blumenthal, nor CNN have shown that Palin has echoed the AIP’s central platform call for Alaska’s secession from the United States. He calls Alaskan politics “eccentric,” and says that in Alaska, the AIP “is not so far out on the fringe. An AIP member won the governorship in 1990. And party members have been in the thick of the state’s public life for decades. Members run the gamut from states-rights enthusiasts to radical secessionists who have advocated extreme measures to free Alaska from the United States.” Rainey criticizes CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez for “front-loading” his segment with “outrageous pronouncements from AIP founder Joe Vogler, now deceased,” including Voger’s famous pronoucement: “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won’t be buried under their damn flag.” Rainey draws a comparison to Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “old pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.,” then writes, “[T]o my knowledge, no direct connection between Vogler and Gov. Palin has been reported.” (Rainey 10/15/2008) In a rejoinder published on the liberal news blog Crooks and Liars, Neiwert notes that in the CNN interview, he was careful not to associate Palin directly with far-right radicals such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez attempted to do, and notes, “Part of covering and writing about the Patriot movement involved listening and watching carefully to distinguish them, because to some extent, you had to give the mainstream conservatives the benefit of the doubt when it came to their actual intent in getting involved with these groups.” However, Neiwert goes on to say, the connections between Palin and the AIP are quite strong and well detailed. He also notes that AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark said flatly in 2007 that Palin “was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town (see Mid and Late 1996)—that was a non-partisan job. But you get along to go along—she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won’t go into that. She also had about an 80 percent approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.” He also notes that Clark later disavowed his claim of Palin’s membership in the AIP. However, Neiwert writes, “it’s clear that Clark and many others within the AIP viewed Palin as ‘one of ours.’ And as we have demonstrated, they did so with good cause.” He concludes that it is a “cold reality that Palin has a real history of empowering these extremists, and pandering to their conspiratorial beliefs, from her position of public office. And the question is whether that would continue from a position of real power in the White House.” (Neiwert 10/15/2008)

Sarah Obama, standing with her step-grandson Barack Obama in a 2009 photograph.Sarah Obama, standing with her step-grandson Barack Obama in a 2009 photograph. [Source: Shooting from the Lip (.com)]Bishop Ron McRae of the Anabaptist Church of North America calls Sarah Onyango Obama, presidential candidate Barack Obama’s elderly step-grandmother. McRae, in Pennsylvania, speaks to Mrs. Obama in Kenya over a garbled and troubled telephone connection; Mrs. Obama uses at least one translator, Vitalis Akech Ogombe (a cousin of Obama’s and the grandson of Sarah Obama), because she speaks Luo and Swahili. (Apparently some, if not all, of the conversation is translated between English, Swahili, Luo, then back to Swahili, and then into English.) Additionally, the conversation takes place during a riotous celebration, and on the Kenyan side is being heard through a speakerphone. McRae set the conversation up through a contact, Kweli Shuhubia, a Kenyan Christian evangelist McRae knows as “Brother Tom,” and who, in an exchange of emails, apparently demanded money and goods for setting up the “operation,” as he and McRae call it. The telephone conversation lasts 14 minutes, and McRae apparently does not inform the Kenyans that they are being recorded. The resulting audiotape creates a firestorm of controversy over President Obama’s supposed birth in Kenya, because it appears that Mrs. Obama says she saw him born in Kenya. McRae quickly makes an edited portion of the audiotape available on the Internet. It says in part:
McRae: - “Could I ask her about his actual birthplace? I would like to see his birthplace when I come to visit Kenya in December. Was she present when he was born in Kenya?”
Ogombe: - “She says yes she was. She was present when Obama was born.”
The edited version does not contain the next portion:
McRae: - “Okay, when I come in December, I would like to go by the place, the hospital where he was born. Could you tell me where he was born? Was he born in Mombasa?”
Ogombe: - “No. Obama was not born in Mombasa. He was born in America.”
McRae: - “Whereabouts was he born? I thought he was born in Kenya.”
Ogombe: - “He was born in America, not in Mombasa.”
McRae: - “Do you know where he was born? I thought he was born in Kenya. I was gonna go by and see where he was born.”
Ogombe: - “Hawaii. She says he was born in Hawaii. In the state of Hawaii, where his father, his father was also learning there. The state of Hawaii.”
McRae: - “I thought she said she was present. Was she able to see him being born in Hawaii?”
Translator: - “No, no.… She was not… she was here in Kenya. Obama was born in America.… Because the grandmother was back in Kenya and Obama was born in America, where he is from, where his father was learning, learning in America, the United States.”
Instead of posting the entire audiotape, McRae will continue to insist that Sarah Obama confirmed Obama’s Kenyan birth. McRae submits an affidavit that states in part: “Though some few younger relatives, including Mr. Ogombe (one of the translators), have obviously been versed to counter such facts with the common purported information from the American news media that Obama was born in Hawaii, Ms. Sarah Hussein Obama was very adamant that her grandson, Senator Barack Hussein Obama, was born in Kenya, and that she was present and witnessed his birth in Kenya, not the United States. When Mr. Ogombe attempted to counter Sarah Obama’s clear responses to the question, verifying the birth of Senator Obama in Kenya, I asked Mr. Ogombe how she could be present at Barack Obama’s birth if the senator was born in Hawaii, but Ogombe would not answer the question, instead he repeatedly tried to insert that, ‘No, no, no. He was born in the United States!’” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, notes that a March 2007 story in the Chicago Tribune featured a quote from reporter Tim Jones, who spoke with Sarah Obama and quoted her as saying that she received a letter announcing Obama’s birth and she “was so happy to have a grandchild in the US.” PolitiFact concludes that the audiotape as presented was “tightly… edited” to give a false impression that Mrs. Obama had seen Barack Obama being born in a Kenyan hospital. (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 pdf file; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 3/6/2009; St. Petersburg Times 4/7/2011) McRae will release his edited audiotape in the last week of October 2008, in an apparent attempt to influence the upcoming presidential election. (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 pdf file)
Explanation of Hoax - Investigative blogger Greg Doudna, who later obtains a copy of the unedited audiotape and makes it, and a transcript, available on the Internet, explains McRae’s reasoning behind the hoax. “In this conversation McRae sought to obtain evidence on tape in support of a conspiracy theory circulating in certain right-wing circles in America, namely, that Barack Obama Jr. was not born in Hawaii in 1961 as represented, but actually was secretly born in Kenya. According to this theory, Obama’s mother, then-18-year-old Ann Dunham, waited until about seven or eight months into her pregnancy to take a grueling transcontinental flight halfway across the world to Kenya, there to discover that because of her pregnancy she was not allowed by an airline to get on the plane back to the US, and so was forced to have her baby—the future president of the United States—in a hospital in Kenya. Motivated by a desire to ensure that her child would be regarded as a US citizen with all rights thereof, she or fellow-conspirator family members plotted to have [Obama’s] birth recorded in Hawaii as if it happened in Hawaii, including placing a notice in a Hololulu newspaper of the birth, which was published a few days later (see July 2008). The plot succeeded (so the story goes), and the secret of the true circumstances of Barack Obama Jr.‘s birth in Kenya was closely held by the family, so much so that neither Ann Dunham nor any other family member ever spoke of a trip of Ann Dunham to Kenya in all the years since.” The “conspiracy” would have worked, Doudna writes, had Obama not decided to run for president. “No witness, document, evidence, or testimony has been produced which locates Ann Dunham anywhere outside the United States at any time in her life prior to 1967, when she and young Barack Jr. went to live for several years in Indonesia. Neither the outgoing Bush administration, the Republican Party, the McCain campaign, nor any of Obama’s earlier rivals for the Democratic nomination disclosed any awareness of evidence that Obama was born in Kenya, or in any other way ineligible to be president. Yet the notion is fervently believed, like an urban legend that will not die.” (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 pdf file)
Audiotape Used in Lawsuit - The edited audiotape will be presented as “evidence” of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship in a lawsuit (see August 21-24, 2008).

Andy Martin.Andy Martin. [Source: Andy Martin]Hawaiian resident Andy Martin files a writ of mandamus in Hawaii’s Supreme Court to compel Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI) to release a certified copy of presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “vital statistics record,” apparently asking that Hawaii ignore federal privacy laws and release the “long form” birth certificate on file for Obama (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, and August 21, 2008). His request is denied. (Schilling 11/13/2008) When his lawsuit is dismissed, Martin responds on a blog for defeated Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton (D-NY), in a posting reprinted on the Free Republic and a number of other conservative blogs. Martin expresses his doubt that Obama has just flown to Hawaii to visit his dying grandmother, apparently referencing conspiracy theories on right-wing radio that Obama went to Hawaii to “scrub” his birth records (see November 10, 2008). He suggests that it is his lawsuit that caused the Obama campaign “to panic and suspend his presidential campaign to head off Andy’s stories.” (Martin has been posting a number of blog entries about Obama being a “covert Islamist”—see October 1, 2007 and April 18, 2008). He is, he boasts, “on the verge of taking down the Obama campaign,” calling himself “the good sheriff stand[ing] alone against the Obama Gang. Eliot Ness and the Untouchables? The Long Ranger? Pick your own hero. Martin vs. Obama explodes into a Hollywood classic.” Martin writes: “I will do my best to defeat Obama even though I essentially stand alone. I stand tall. All of the protagonists are from Chicago. Despite ridicule and envy from Chicago’s corrupt mainstream media, I have spent over forty years successfully fighting crooked politicians like Barack Obama and his Daley Machine cronies.” He cites “support” from Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity, and his own participation as a blog commenter on FoxNews.com and YouTube. He says he “became the target of a massive liberal assault at the [New York] Times” after one Hannity broadcast: “On direct orders from the Emperor Obama, the New York Times then unleashed its smear machine on me.” He says his “investigative team” defeated the Times’s attempt to “destroy me,” writing: “I am still standing and the Times’ credibility is going into the toilet.… High Noon.… Barack Obama vs. Andy Martin. The drama builds as we move closer and closer to disclosing the dramatic truth about Barack Obama.… Barack Obama is an enemy of the Constitution. He is using tens of millions of dollars in clandestine campaign cash from unknown sources to stage an electoral coup d’etat in our nation. That is why I keep fighting for the truth. Barack Obama has been lying to the American people. And his Big Lie is about to be exposed.” (Andy Martin 10/21/2008) Shortly after the lawsuit’s dismissal, Martin will abruptly abandon his accusations that Obama is a Muslim, and will begin asserting that Obama is a secret Communist taught by his “father,” a black activist named Frank Marshall Davis (see Before October 27, 2008). In a wide-ranging article about the “birther” controversy, Salon columnist Alex Koppelman will later note that Martin was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)

Rose Tennent and Jim Quinn.Rose Tennent and Jim Quinn. [Source: OrbitCast]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Rose Tennent, on her nationally syndicated talk show Quinn & Rose, says that former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “because he doesn’t want to be known as an Uncle Tom anymore. He wants to be black again.” Co-host Jim Quinn says of Powell: “He’s tired of being called an Oreo.… [R]emember, when he was in the Bush administration, he was a white guy.” Tennent responds: “Blacks hated him. They—‘Oh, he doesn’t count. It doesn’t count that you have someone black in the administration. He’s not really black, he’s an Uncle Tom.’” Tennent says that Powell’s endorsement of Obama “is racism.” (Media Matters 10/20/2008)

Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that conservative radio host Jim Quinn, of the syndicated show Quinn & Rose, says that the US should go back to a time where only landowners could vote. Quinn says: “Originally, if you didn’t own land, you didn’t vote, and there was a good reason for it: because those without property will always vote away the property of other people unto themselves, and that’s the beginning of the end.… Now—I mean, I can hear the appeal to the masses: ‘It’s not fair, it’s not the American way that you don’t get to vote,’ but let me ask you a question: If I don’t own anything, what kind of a problem do I have with voting for a measure—a tax, a law—that takes somebody else’s property and gives it to me? I have no stake in personal property ownership ‘cause I don’t have any. Now, back in the day, when this was the law of the land, anybody who wanted to vote needed to step up to the plate, achieve, get a stake in America, and then vote.” Quinn equates non-landowners’ right to vote with what he calls “organized theft from the wealthy by the democratic masses.” (Media Matters 10/21/2008) A day later, radio host Michael Savage says that public assistance recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008).

As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that Americans who receive public assistance should not be able to vote. “Do you think a person on welfare has the right to vote?” he asks. “I don’t. Why should a person who is on public assistance maintain the right to vote? Tell me why. Where is it written that they should have the right to vote?… I support them, and they should have the same vote I do? That would be like saying an infant has the right to vote or an insane person has the right to vote. Why should a welfare recipient have the right to vote? They’re only gonna vote themselves a raise.” Savage then brings up Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: “So if you get a demagogue like Obama coming along, and he says to the welfare recipient, elect me, and I’ll make sure that we have trickle-up poverty, and the rich—so-called, that is anyone who works for a living—will give you more money, more welfare, of course you’re gonna vote for the demagogue Obama. See, if I was in charge, I’d pass a law which says, OK, you can’t support yourself for whatever reason, you’re on welfare, you lose the right to vote.… You get back on the self-sufficiency, you get the right to vote. Then we’ll have a fair election in America. Otherwise, it’s all over. We have a communist nation either now or in the very near future.” (Media Matters 10/23/2008) A day before, radio host Jim Quinn said that only landowners should be allowed to vote (see October 21, 2008).

Within hours of Pittsburgh resident Ashley Todd’s claim that she was attacked by a black Barack Obama supporter whom, she says, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face during the attack (see October 22, 2008), conservative blogs and political Web sites begin an outpouring of enraged and supportive posts and articles supporting Todd and lambasting the Obama campaign and the “liberal media” which, they say, will do its best to cover up the alleged attack. Todd uses her Twitter account, and her connections as a member of the College Republicans and a McCain campaign volunteer, to spread the word about her alleged attack. The photograph of her and her wounds, taken by her friend Dan Garcia and given to police and the College Republicans, is quickly posted on the popular conservative news and gossip site Drudge Report, which calls the attack a “mutilation.” The Drudge article takes the controversy to a national level. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008)
Bloggers Respond - Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, writing for the popular blog Instapundit, uses the Drudge article for the basis of his own post (repeating the claim that Todd was “mutilated”), and writes, “This is so serious that I predict it will get almost one-tenth as much national coverage as something some guy may have yelled at a Palin rally once.” He repeats a comment from another blog that says, “But, were it a black woman with an ‘M’ carved in her cheek [presumably for ‘McCain’], we’d be getting 24/7 coverage.” (Glenn Reynolds 10/23/2008) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing for another popular blog, Hot Air, calls the attack a “maiming,” though he does not blame the Obama campaign for it, instead writing that “this particular criminal sounds like he’s a couple of bricks short of a load even for that crowd.” Morrissey initially resists the idea that Todd may be perpetuating a hoax, writing, “Not too many young women would scar their faces just to create a political hoax,” but later admits that Todd lied and calls her a “very, very disturbed young woman.” (Ed Morrissey 10/23/2008) A blogger for College Politico calls the attack “horrifying” and derides bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos for being “unsympathetic,” citing comments that expressed doubts about Todd’s veracity, calling them “deprived” (apparently intending to call them “depraved”) and saying that the Kos bloggers “have absolutely no reason to doubt her.” He goes on to criticize conservative bloggers who also express their doubts about Todd’s story, calls some of the skepticism “idiotic,” and says the fact that the “B” is carved backwards “MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” (caps in the original). The blogger later posts updates acknowledging that the story is a hoax, and calls Todd “the lowest level of scum.” (College Politico 10/24/2008; College Politico 10/24/2008) A blogger calling himself “Patrick” for the conservative Political Byline posts the picture of Todd and writes, “So, this is what they do to people who support McCain.” In his title, he says Todd’s attacker is “One of Barry’s fans, I’m sure,” referring to Senator Obama, and calls Obama the “Marxist Magic Negro.” Like the others, he eventually acknowledges that the story is a hoax. (Political Byline 10/24/2008)
Malkin Expresses Doubts - One conservative blogger who does not immediately leap on the Todd story is Michelle Malkin. When the story breaks, she writes of her suspicions about the “B” being carved so neatly into Todd’s face, and carved backwards, and how she finds Todd’s initial refusal to accept medical treatment questionable. Before Todd admits to the fraud, Malkin writes: “We have enough low-lifes and thugs in the world running loose and causing campaign chaos and fomenting hatred without having to make them up. I’ve been blowing the whistle on the real, left-wing rage not on the front page and in-your-face tactics throughout the election season. Hate crimes hoaxes—by anyone, of any political persuasion, and of any color—diminish us all.” (Michelle Malkin 10/23/2008)
Presidential Campaigns Respond - The McCain campaign issues a statement denouncing the attack as “sick and disgusting”; the Obama campaign issues a statement deploring the attack and demanding that Todd’s assailant be quickly brought to justice. Both McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), telephone Todd with expressions of concern and support. The Pennsylvania communications director for the McCain campaign, Peter Feldman, quickly spreads the story, along with the photo of Todd, to reporters around the state, along with what reporter Greg Sargent will call “an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established.” Apparently Feldman is the person who first tells reporters that the “B” stands for “Barack.” (Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008)
Obama Campaign Demands Explanation, Corrections - Todd soon admits that she lied about the attack, and though she claims her memory does not well serve her, says she probably scratched the “B” into her cheek herself (see October 24, 2008). When the national press learns that Todd lied about her attack, the Obama campaign becomes incensed, demanding that the McCain campaign explain why it was pushing a version of the story that was, in Sargent’s words, “far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.” The Obama campaign also pressures some news outlets, including KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV, to rewrite their reports to remove the inflammatory and “racially charged” information concocted by Feldman, including claims that the alleged attacker told Todd he would “teach [her] a lesson” about supporting McCain, and that the “B” stood for “Barack.” There is no evidence of the national McCain campaign becoming involved in promulgating the falsified Todd story. (Sargent 10/24/2008)
'Okay Obama Frame-Job. ... I'd Give You a 'B' - After the story is exposed as a fraud, many post irate or sarcastic rejoinders on Twitter, using the hash tag ”#litf08” to ensure their viewing on the College Republican Twitter account, “Life in the Field,” where Todd made many of her Twitter posts. A former blogger for the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd (D-PA), Matt Browner-Hamlin, asks: “Anyone know which Rove protege is responsible for #litf08? Because they lack the execution skills of the man himself.” Browner-Hamlin is referring to former Bush administration campaign manager Karl Rove. Another commenter writes: “Hmm, it was an okay Obama frame-job, just a few inconsistencies snagged you. Overall I’d give you a ‘B.’” And another commenter asks, “Do 50 College Republicans [the description of the ‘Life in the Field’ volunteers] try this kind of stunt often?” College Republicans executive director Ethan Eilon claims his organization “had no idea” Todd “was making this story up.” (Wired News 10/24/2008)
Pittsburgh Councilman Demands Apology from McCain Campaign - The Reverend Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, will demand an apology from the McCain campaign for deliberately spreading a story it had not confirmed, and for embellishing it to make it even more racially inflammatory. “That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation’s constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty, or property without due process,” Burgess writes. He demands an apology for “inflaming the divisions of this country,” and later says: “I don’t know why they chose to push this story. But it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story, which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African-American person in this city.” A McCain campaign spokesman initially derides Burgess and his source, the progressive news blog TPM Election Central, writing: “The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs. It’s disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008; Burgess 10/27/2008 pdf file; Burgess 10/27/2008 pdf file)

Screenshot of Pamela Geller during an appearance on Fox News.Screenshot of Pamela Geller during an appearance on Fox News. [Source: Conservative News Watch (.org)]Pamela Geller, who owns the far-right blog Atlas Shrugs, posts a long, intricate screed from Rudy Schulz that claims President Obama could not have been born in Hawaii, because his mother Stanley Ann Dunham was attending classes at the University of Washington at the time. Schulz also states his belief, supported by a large amount of supposition and exposition but no real facts, that Obama forged his Hawaiian birth certificate to hide his true father: slain civil rights leader Malcolm X. The claim that Dunham was attending classes in Washington State at the time of his birth was first promoted on conservative news blog WorldNetDaily by author Jerome Corsi (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, and October 9, 2008), who stated, “How Dunham was able to travel the 2,680 air miles from Honolulu to Seattle only a few days after the birth of her baby is not disclosed in the currently available public record concerning President Obama’s birth.” (Pamela Geller 10/24/2008; Corsi 8/4/2009) Evidence that Dunham registered for classes at the University of Washington in mid-August 1961, but actually arrived in Washington to begin her coursework in September 1961, with infant Barack in tow, is ignored by Corsi, Schulz, and Geller. (Brodeur 2/5/2008) After Geller receives a barrage of criticism and mockery over the “Malcolm X” claim, she updates the original blog post to read: “The ‘Atlas says that Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s love child’ charge has gone viral among leftards and lizards. The only problem with it is that it is false. I am not the author of this post, and I posted it because the writer did a spectacular job documenting Obama’s many connections with the far left. The Malcolm X claim is one minor part of this story, and was of interest to me principally as part of the writer’s documentation that Stanley Ann Dunham could not have been where the Obama camp says she was at various times. I do not believe that Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s love child, and never did—but there remain many, many unanswered questions about his early life and upbringing.” (Pamela Geller 10/24/2008)

Chicago resident Andy Martin, who has been accusing Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) of being a secret Muslim since 2004, abruptly shifts his story. Now, Martin claims, Obama is not the child of a Muslim father, Barack Obama Sr., as documents have clearly and repeatedly shown (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, and August 21, 2008), but the child of Frank Marshall Davis, an African-American activist who was suspected in the 1950s of having ties to Communist organizations. Martin’s accusations, though never supported by fact, have garnered a great deal of coverage in some corners of the Internet. Martin now tells a CNN reporter that Obama’s “father was Frank Marshall Davis.” He gives no proof, and implies he has nothing more than a gut feeling. Davis was a black poet and political activist who moved to Hawaii in 1948. He wrote for a newspaper which the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) accused of being a Communist front. Right-wing Web sites have been claiming since 2007 that Davis was not only a Communist Party member but also the mentor to Obama in his teen years who he refers to in his autobiography as “Frank.” Martin’s most recent burst of prominence was an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News broadcast, where he said that “Obama’s role as a community organizer [in Chicago] was a political staging ground perpetuated by the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers.” Martin also told Hannity that Obama “probably had met William Ayers in New York, and was coming here to lay the foundations for what he thought would be some sort of political movement.” An Obama presidency, Martin predicted, would lead to “a socialist revolution, which attempts to essentially freeze out anybody who’s not part of this radical ideology.” Martin readily admits that his current assertion about Obama’s parentage refutes his four-year-old claims that Obama is a Muslim. He calls himself “an honest writer and an honest researcher.… I’m known as a person who strives for the truth.” The fault is Obama’s, he says, because he “hasn’t told the truth to the American people.” (Edwards and Kane 10/27/2008) In a wide-ranging article about the “birther” controversy, Salon columnist Alex Koppelman will later note that Martin was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)

As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, many different conservative radio hosts repeat a falsehood about presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) that originates on the Drudge Report. According to the original report, Obama told a radio audience in 2001 that he regretted the US Supreme Court did not pursue “wealth redistribution,” a concept some associate with socialism. Obama did not make such a statement; instead he said during that interview that it was a tragedy the civil rights movement “became so court-focused” in trying to bring about political and social equality. Minneapolis radio host Chris Baker misquotes Obama by claiming that he said “we gotta have economic justice and the Supreme Court ought to weigh in on redistributing wealth.” Baker adds: “Yeah, it’s too bad you kind of stuck with the Constitution as it was. It’s a tragedy that redistribution of wealth was not pursued by the Supreme Court. Can you believe that?” Baker also claims that Obama “wants to use the Supreme Court to reinterpret the Constitution in order to force the redistribution of wealth.” Baker is not the only radio host to repeat the falsehood. Sean Hannity tells his radio audience, referring to the 2001 interview, “Obama actually believes the Constitution is defective because it doesn’t allow judges to redistribute wealth.” He adds: “if he becomes president, [Obama] wants the Supreme Court and other federal courts to literally have the power to spread the wealth around and redistribute the wealth. Those are his words, his voice.” He goes on to say flatly, “Obama is a socialist.” Mark Levin tells his listeners, “what the [Supreme] Court should have done from Obama’s point of view was impose socialism from the bench.” Levin levels another false accusation against Obama: that he wants to reinterpret the 14th Amendment “to compel as a matter of constitutional law, the socialist agenda. In other words, constitutionalize redistribution of wealth.” Radio hosts Michael Savage, Jim Quinn, Brian Sussman, and others reiterate the claims, with Quinn telling listeners: “He just got done telling you that the Constitution’s only half-done. He needs to write the other half—you know, the other half where we decide how much we take from you and give to that guy down the street.” Like many of his colleagues, Sussman plays an edited clip of Obama’s 2001 statement to bolster his claims. (Media Matters 10/28/2008; Media Matters 11/6/2008)

Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD.Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD. [Source: Amazon (.com)]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 10/29/2008)
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” (Palm Beach Post 10/31/2008)
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). (Media Matters 10/30/2008)

Hawaii’s Director of Health Dr. Chiyome Fukino says she and the registrar of vital statistics, Alvin Onaka, have personally verified that the Hawaii Department of Health holds Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s original birth certificate (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, and August 21, 2008). Fukino says that she has “personally seen and verified that the Department of Health has Senator Obama’s original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures.” Fukino and Onaka thereby verify that Obama is, indeed, an American citizen. Fukino releases the statement in an attempt to stem the tide of conspiracy theories that assert Obama is not a US citizen—“birtherism”—and therefore cannot be eligible to be president. Fukino adds that no state official, including Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI), ever issued instructions that Obama’s certificate be handled differently. Hawaii state law prohibits the release of the so-called “long form” birth certificate to anyone who does not have a tangible interest; state law says that the “short form” the state releases to its citizens, and that Obama has long ago made public (see June 13, 2008), is legal and valid in and of itself. State courts in Ohio, Pennsylvania (see August 21-24, 2008), and Washington State have recently dismissed court challenges to Obama’s citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 8/21/2008; Associated Press 10/31/2008) Fukino tells a Honolulu reporter: “This has gotten ridiculous (see July 20, 2008). There are plenty of other, important things to focus on, like the economy, taxes, energy.” Asked if this “[w]ill be enough to quiet the doubters,” Fukino responds: “I hope so. We need to get some work done.” (FactCheck (.org) 8/21/2008)

Leo C. Donofrio.Leo C. Donofrio. [Source: Obama Conspiracy (.org)]Retired New Jersey attorney, professional gambler, and conservative blogger Leo C. Donofrio files a lawsuit asking the State Supreme Court to prohibit three candidates from appearing on New Jersey’s presidential ballot: Barack Obama (D-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), and Socialist Worker’s Party candidate Roger Calero. Donofrio claims that none of the three have proven to his satisfaction that they are “natural born citizens,” as the Constitution requires to serve as president (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). The lawsuit asks Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells to intervene in the elections process. In his filing, Donofrio writes that Obama is not eligible for the presidency “even if it were proved he was born in Hawaii, since… Senator Obama’s father was born in Kenya and therefore, having been born with split and competing loyalties, candidate Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen.’” Obama has long ago posted his authentic birth certificate stating he was born in Hawaii and therefore is a US citizen (see June 13, 2008). McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone (see March 14 - July 24, 2008) and Calero’s birth in Nicaragua, Donofrio continues, invalidate their ability to be president as well, even though the Constitution states otherwise. With three ineligible presidential candidates on ballots, Donofrio warns, New Jersey voters will “witness firsthand the fraud their electoral process has become.” After being rejected by the New Jersey Court, US Supreme Court Justice David Souter rejects the lawsuit’s appearance on the Court docket. Justice Clarence Thomas allows the case to be submitted for consideration, but the Court rejects it. (Leo C. Donofrio v. Nina Mitchell Wells, Secretary of State of the State of New Jersey 10/31/2008; Schilling 11/13/2008; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 12/21/2008; St. Petersburg Times 6/28/2010) After his case is thrown out, Donofrio will write on his blog that “you have no Constitution and you have no ‘Supreme’ court. You have a filthy corrupted snake pit which tried to protect itself from responsibility for this issue by using clerks like brutal praetorian guards.” (Obama Conspiracy (.org) 12/21/2008) An Internet rumor that Justice Antonin Scalia will “quietly” place the case on the Court docket is later proven entirely false (see June 28, 2010).

President-elect Obama and his family, acknowledging his election victory. From left: Barack Obama, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and his wife, First Lady-elect Michelle Obama.President-elect Obama and his family, acknowledging his election victory. From left: Barack Obama, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and his wife, First Lady-elect Michelle Obama. [Source: Hollywood Reporter]Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) wins the 2008 election for US president. He replaces President George W. Bush, a Republican. Obama becomes the first African-American president in the history of the US. He defeats Senator John McCain (R-AZ) by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin in the national popular vote, and by a 365-173 margin in the electoral vote. The Democratic Party also increases its lead in the Senate, with a 56-41 margin, and a 255-175 margin in the House of Representatives. Finally, Democrats gain a +1 margin in the nation’s 11 gubernatorial elections. (National Public Radio 11/2008; Sieff 11/5/2008) Obama will begin his four year term as president on January 20, 2009, after a transition period (see January 20-21, 2009).

Libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX—see 1978-1996, July 9-10, 2006, July 22, 2007, and August 4, 2008) gives an interview to radio host Alex Jones in which he accuses President-elect Barack Obama of working to undermine the US government in favor of a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990), a UN-led “one-world government.” Paul says that he believes the incoming Obama administration is orchestrating some sort of “international crisis” that will give Obama the chance to begin implementing his sinister plan: “I think it’s going to be an announcement of a new monetary order, and they’ll probably make it sound very limited, they’re not going to say this is world government, even though it is if you control the world’s money and you control the military, which they do indirectly.… A world central bank, worldwide regulation and world control of the whole system, of all the commodities and all the natural resources, what else can you call it other than world government?… Obama wouldn’t be there if he didn’t toe the line.… [T]his could be the beginning of the end of what’s left of our national sovereignty.” Paul says that many non-US media outlets are already hailing Obama as “the world’s leader.” (Neiwert 11/17/2008)

After the election of Barack Obama as president (see November 4, 2008), the Libertarian Party of Illinois begins formulating a concept it calls the “Boston Tea Party Chicago,” and begins advertising this through its Yahoo and “meetup” groups, through the Ron Paul Meetup and Campaign for Liberty groups, and through various anti-tax groups. Dave Brady of the Libertarian Party of Illinois later claims that “we gave [CNBC commentator] Rick Santelli the idea for the Tax Day Tea Parties” (see February 19, 2009). One of the Libertarian Party of Illinois list members, Eric Odom, with a history of campaigning against proposed regulations on offshore oil drilling, takes a position as the new media director of the Sam Adams Alliance. Odom and his fellow Illinois Libertarians begin expanding the original “Boston Tea Party Chicago” concept, creating an Internet-based network of conservative activists that will become a centerpiece of tea party organizing. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)

As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that President-elect Barack Obama’s grandmother “suspiciously died virtually the night before the election,” in an apparent attempt to question Obama’s pre-election trip to Hawaii. Obama visited his grandmother in late October, shortly before her death on November 3. Savage ties in his questions about Obama’s grandmother and her “suspicious death” to discredited claims that Obama has been unable to verify his US citizenship. Savage tells his listeners: “Well, we don’t even know where Obama was born. His grandmother died the night before the election. There’s a lot of questions around this character that the media won’t answer. Let’s start with what country he’s from. Why was the birth certificate never produced? Why in the world did he take time off from the campaign to visit the grandmother who then suddenly and suspiciously died virtually the night before the election? Tell me about that.” Savage and other conservative commentators have suggested that Obama went to Hawaii, not to visit his gravely ill grandmother, but to address charges that his birth certificate is not valid. (Media Matters 11/14/2008) Savage is one of a number of conservative radio hosts to spread false rumors about Obama’s birth certificate (see October 8-10, 2008). Obama produced a copy of his birth certificate months before (see June 13, 2008). A number of organizations have verified that Obama’s birth certificate is valid and authentic (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008), as have Hawaii Health Department officials (see October 30, 2008). (Hollyfield 6/27/2008; Zahn 8/23/2008; FactCheck (.org) 11/1/2008) According to Talkers Magazine, Savage is third in talk-radio listenership across the US, behind fellow conservatives Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (Media Matters 11/14/2008)

Paul Broun.Paul Broun. [Source: Associated Press / Washington Blade]Responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s proposal for a “civilian national security force,” an idea supported by President Bush and designed in part to revive the moribund Americorps (see March 31, 2009), Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) accuses Obama of wanting to establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship. “It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force,” Broun says. “I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may—may not, I hope not—but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism.… That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the US military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor says the candidate was referring to a “civilian reserve corps” that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts in lieu of the military. The idea has been endorsed by the Bush administration. Broun also says that if elected, Obama will ban gun ownership among American citizens. Obama has repeatedly says he respects the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, and favors “common sense” gun laws. Some gun advocates fear that Obama will curb ownership of assault weapons and concealed weapons. “We can’t be lulled into complacency,” Broun says. “You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I’m saying is there is the potential of going down that road.” (Associated Press 11/11/2008; Terkel 11/11/2008)

Alan Keyes.Alan Keyes. [Source: WorldNetDaily (.com)]Alan Keyes (R-IL), the unsuccessful presidential candidate who ran under the American Independent Party banner, files a petition, Keyes v. Bowen, with the Superior Court of California in Sacramento. The action is filed by Gary Kreep of the United States Justice Foundation on behalf of Keyes, along with well-known “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz. Two California electors, Wiley S. Drake and Markham Robinson, are also named with Keyes in the action. Keyes’s “Petition for Writ of Mandate” claims that President-elect Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s US citizenship is unproven (see (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008) and therefore he must be stopped from taking office until it is proven one way or the other. “Should Senator Obama be discovered, after he takes office, to be ineligible for the Office of President of the United States of America and, thereby, his election declared void,” the petition states, “Petitioners, as well as other Americans, will suffer irreparable harm in that (a) usurper will be sitting as the President of the United States, and none of the treaties, laws, or executive orders signed by him will be valid or legal.” The petition requests that Secretary of State Debra Bowen be prevented “from both certifying to the governor the names of the California Electors, and from transmitting to each presidential Elector a Certificate of Election, until such documentary proof is produced and verified showing that Senator Obama is a ‘natural born’ citizen of the United States and does not hold citizenship of Indonesia, Kenya, or Great Britain.” It continues with a request for a writ barring California’s electors from signing the Certificate of Vote until documentary proof is produced. The defendants include Bowen, Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D-DE), and the 55 California electors. The petition uses a fraudulently edited audiotape (see October 16, 2008 and After) as primary evidence that Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible to be president. Referring to the tape’s transcript, and a previously dismissed lawsuit by Philip Berg (see August 21-24, 2008) currently using the same audiotape to justify an appellate reversal, Keyes writes, “Mr. Berg provided documents [to the Supreme Court] to the effect that Senator Obama was born in what is now Kenya… and that his paternal grandmother was present at his birth.” The petition states as a “fact” that Obama’s paternal grandmother stated that “she was present during [his] birth… [she] affirmed that she ‘was in the delivery room in Kenya when he was born Aug. 4, 1961.’” The suit asks that the court issue an immediate injunction prohibiting California’s 55 electors from voting for Obama in the upcoming Electoral College vote on December 15, 2008, which would prevent Obama from being officially declared president. Keyes’s writ asks that documentary proof be received and verified by the California secretary of state that the allegations are false and that Obama is affirmatively proven to be a “natural born citizen” by a series of tests not required of any previous president-elect. Investigative blogger Greg Doudna will speculate that Keyes’s extraordinary actions have been sparked in part because he has now been twice defeated by Obama in elections; Obama defeated him in an Illinois election for US Senate in 2004. (Keyes et al v. Bowie et al 11/13/2008 pdf file; Unruh 11/14/2008; Sacramento Union 11/15/2008; Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 pdf file) After filing the lawsuit, Keyes tells a reporter: “I and others are concerned that this issue be properly investigated and decided before Senator Obama takes office. Otherwise there will be a serious doubt as to the legitimacy of his tenure. This doubt would also affect the respect people have for the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. I hope the issue can be quickly clarified so that the new president can take office under no shadow of doubt. This will be good for him and for the nation.” (Sacramento Union 11/15/2008)
'Pure Garbage' - An Obama spokesperson tells WorldNetDaily: “All I can tell you is that it [the petition] is just pure garbage. There have been several lawsuits, but they have been dismissed.” (Schilling 11/13/2008)
Affidavit from Phony 'Computer Graphics Expert' - Self-described “computer graphics expert” “Dr. Ron Polarik,” a conservative blogger, records a video (that blurs his face and disguises his voice) explaining how the actual Obama birth certificate was forged using Photoshop. Polarik submits an affidavit in support of the filing, but because he signs it “XXXXXXXXXXX,” the affidavit is inadmissible. Kreep later tells a reporter, “If it ever comes down to it, we’ll use his real name.” (Weigel 7/24/2009) The Berg lawsuit also used material supplied by Polarik. Computer forensics expert Dr. Neal Krawetz later determines that Polarik’s analysis is a clumsy fraud perpetuated by an amateur with no real expertise. (Neal Krawetz 11/25/2008; Weigel 7/24/2009; Hacker Factor 2011) Libertarian lawyer Loren Collins later traces a timeline of what he will call Polarik’s “ever-changing resume,” and questions Polarik’s claims to his several doctorates and areas of expertise. (Loren Collins 7/7/2009) Collins later discovers that “Polarik” is actually a man named Ronald Jay Polland, who holds a doctorate in instructional systems, has experience conducting surveys and statistical reports, operates a one-man consulting firm in Florida, and describes himself on his MySpace page as an “[e]xpert advisor on relationships, romance, and… dating.” Polland’s resume, unlike “Polarik’s,” claims no expertise in document forensics, computing systems, or graphics. (Loren Collins 7/29/2009) Krawetz will learn that Polland claimed to use a pseudonym on the Internet because “he fears threats from Obama supporters.” (Neal Krawetz 11/25/2008)

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)

Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” (Gorman 11/11/2008; CBS News 11/16/2008) Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie (D-MN), has displayed partisan behavior on behalf of challenger Al Franken (D-MN) by announcing that his office would consider counting some absentee ballots that were not counted during the initial vote tallies. Approximately 1,000 absentee ballots were not counted in the initial tallies, and Franken’s legal team contends that most of them were wrongly rejected by election judges. The initial election results triggered a recount (see November 6, 2008); Coleman has already implied that efforts are underway to manipulate the vote in favor of Franken (see November 10, 2008), implications previously made by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (see November 11, 2008 and November 12, 2008). Coleman’s lead campaign lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the Franken campaign is engaging in “Florida-like tactics” in the absentee ballot issue (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). For its part, the Franken campaign is accusing the Coleman campaign of resorting to “baseless charges and innuendo.” Franken’s campaign is attempting to ascertain the names of the voters whose absentee ballots were rejected, with an eye to having them reconsidered. Studies have shown that rejected ballots tend to favor Democrats, leading elections expert Larry Jacobs to observe, “With the voter who tends to pull the lever for Democrats, there’s a little less dexterity.” One voter whose absentee ballot was rejected, Mark Jeranek, says his vote was set aside because he did not sign the envelope into which he placed his ballot. Jeranek voted for Franken, and has received an affidavit from the Franken campaign, which he is considering signing. “I don’t want to be a cause for revolution, but at the same time I want my vote to count,” he says. “It’s kind of neat—at least for a senatorial race—that it really does come down to every individual vote.” (Horwath 11/17/2008; Weiner 2010, pp. xviii)

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 recount process to determine the winner of the US Senate race in Minnesota begins. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has a narrow lead over challenger Al Franken (D-MN), who requested the recount as permitted in Minnesota law when the results of a race are so close. The state Canvassing Board met on November 18 to certify the unofficial results, thus allowing the recounts to begin at almost 100 county and city election offices throughout the state. The procedure entails an appointed recount auditor examining each ballot by hand to determine the voter’s intent, monitored by representatives from each candidate’s campaign. Auditors will sort each ballot into the appropriate stacks. According to the 2008 Recount Guide issued by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.” Ballots that are in dispute will be sent to the five-member Canvassing Board, which includes Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices, and two Ramsey County district court judges, who will make final decisions as to the validity of disputed ballots. KARE-TV has reported that as many as 6,000 ballots may have been missed by the optical-scan machines because of improper markings. Ramsey County elections head Joe Mansky says that around 2 percent of ballots are mismarked in each election. If the intention of the voter is clear, he says, those votes will be counted. Law professor David Schultz says the process reminds the observer of the election debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and notes that Minnesota has a long tradition of not penalizing voters for failing to fill out ballots properly if their intent can be determined. (Duchschere, Brown, and Louwagie 11/6/2008) The Canvassing Board says it will not make a decision just yet on whether to count disputed absentee ballots. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of the five members of the board, says of the decision to table the absentee ballot issue: “I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it. Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?” Franken wants the absentee ballots in dispute to be counted; Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug tells the board: “These people are real people who did everything right. They wanted to participate in our democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can’t we all agree that they shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?” Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak calls Lillehaug’s arguments “bothersome,” and says the board should not consider and count rejected absentee ballots. (Scheck 11/18/2008)

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)

In a lengthy interview, terminally ill columnist Robert Novak says he would reveal the covert identity of former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson again (see July 14, 2003), both because he feels he caused Plame Wilson no damage and because of his own personal desire for retribution against his critics. Novak says that while he expressed some “ambivalence” about his outing of Plame Wilson in his 2007 autobiography The Prince of Darkness, “Now I’m much less ambivalent. I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn’t ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me—or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don’t think I hurt Valerie Plame [Wilson] whatsoever.” (Matusow 12/1/2008) Not only did Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity do serious damage to the US intelligence community’s ability to learn of potential threats (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006), Plame Wilson has written that she feared for the lives of herself and her family after Novak’s outing (see July 14, 2003).

Cover of ‘How to Break a Terrorist.’Cover of ‘How to Break a Terrorist.’ [Source: Military (.com)]Former Iraq interrogator “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym) publishes his book How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander has just published an editorial in the Washington Post detailing his success in using non-coercive interrogation techniques to locate terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and denouncing the use of torture by US interrogators in Iraq and Guantanamo (see November 30, 2008). Time’s Gilbert Cruz writes, “Structured around a series of interrogations, [Alexander’s book] details the battle of wills between ‘gators [Alexander’s term for interrogators] and suspects as well as the internal fight between Alexander’s team and the old-school military inquisitors used to more brutal methods of questioning.” In his book, Alexander writes that these “old-school” interrogation tactics not only failed to elicit useful information, they “led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal.” Cruz calls the book “a claustrophobic read,” bringing the reader into the interrogation rooms with him, his partner, and the detainee during marathon questioning sessions. However, “Alexander scarcely discusses the theories behind his interrogation strategy, its derivation, or whether the US military continues to use it.” He concludes, “[A] fuller epilogue could have broadened the story beyond this single set of circumstances.” (Cruz 12/2/2008)
'Times Where You Have to be Harsher' - In an interview about the book, Fox News host Sean Hannity attempts to assert that there will be times when torture is necessary to gain critical information. Alexander refuses to agree. Hannity says: “But I do think there’s going to be times where you have to be harsher. That’s an outsider’s view. Never? It never will work?” Alexander replies: “No.… I don’t say that torture doesn’t work; it does work on occasion. But what I say is that there’s better ways to do it.” (Fox News 12/3/2008)
'Extremely Ineffective and Counter-Productive' - In another interview the same evening, Alexander tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that torture is “extremely ineffective and counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish in both the short-term and the long-term.” He explains: “In the short-term, when you torture somebody, it hardens their resolve, the information that you get is unreliable. And if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al-Qaeda is then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members, and then we’re going to have to deal with a whole new wave of terrorists.” In the MSNBC interview, Alexander calls for an outright ban on torture and the retraining of US interrogators in non-coercive methods of questioning. (MSNBC 12/4/2008)

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)

In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” (Karl 12/15/2008; Karl 12/15/2008) In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).

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)

The CIA rehires a former officer who previously threatened al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). The officer, a former FBI translator known as “Albert,” is to train other CIA officers at a facility in northern Virginia to handle different scenarios they might face in the field. He continues with the training until 2008 at the latest. However, according to an anonymous US official, he will still be working as an intelligence contractor in 2010. Albert’s rehiring will be revealed by the Associated Press in September 2010. According to the Associated Press, human rights critics say Albert’s return as a contractor raises questions about how the intelligence community deals with those who used unauthorized interrogation methods. “The notion that an individual involved in one of the more notorious episodes of the CIA’s interrogation program is still employed directly or indirectly by the US government is scandalous,” Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, will comment. (Goldman 9/7/2010)

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)

Neal Katyal.Neal Katyal. [Source: PBS]Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal is to be named the Justice Department’s deputy solicitor general. Katyal successfully argued for the defense in the landmark Hamdan v. Rumsfeld trial before the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006). Legal Times reporter Joe Palazzolo writes, “Katyal’s appointment is another strong signal of President-elect Barack Obama’s intentions to depart sharply from the terrorist detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration.” The Hamdan case, “which marked Katyal’s first appearance before the high court, was a stinging rebuke to [President Bush’s] broad assertion of wartime power.” Katyal’s boss, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, was named earlier in the month. Katyal was incoming Attorney General Eric Holder’s national security adviser in the Justice Department from 1998 to 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general for the Clinton administration. Katyal also served as one of the co-counsels for Vice President Gore in the Supreme Court election dispute of December 2000. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. (Palazzolo 1/17/2009)

Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” (Vandeveld 1/18/2009)

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)

News columnist Ann Woolner writes that with President Obama’s executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and stop torture of terror suspects (see January 22, 2009), “I am beginning to recognize my country again.” Referring to the infamous picture of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with electric wires attached to his body (see April 29-30, 2004), “It’s time to lift the hood and let the man under it step off that box.” (Woolner 1/23/2009)

White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” (Meyer 1/25/2009)

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)

The New York Times, in an editorial, condemns the “nativist” anti-immigrant movement (see February 2009) as having what it calls “a streak of racialist extremism” and being far on the fringe of the American body politic. The editorial comes days after a presentation by the anti-immigration group American Cause at the National Press Club (see January 29, 2009). American Cause was founded by MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan and is headed by Marcus Epstein, a young activist with a raft of ties to racist and white supremacist groups (see October 8, 2007). Epstein also releases a report to go with the presentation that claims the federal government has been far too soft on would-be immigrants, and blames the November 2008 defeats of Republican candidates on the party’s unwillingness to stand up for an absolute ban on immigration. Epstein accuses former President Bush and his political advisor Karl Rove of “pander[ing] to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” and urges Republicans to work to completely seal the US borders and drive immigrants out. The Times observes: “This is nonsense, of course. For years Americans have rejected the cruelty of enforcement-only regimes and Latino-bashing, in opinion surveys and at the polls. In House and Senate races in 2008 and 2006, ‘anti-amnesty’ hard-liners consistently lost to candidates who proposed comprehensive reform solutions.… Americans want immigration solved, and they realize that mass deportations will not do that. When you add the unprecedented engagement of growing numbers of Latino voters in 2008, it becomes clear that the nativist path is the path to permanent political irrelevance. Unless you can find a way to get rid of all the Latinos.” Participants in Epstein’s presentation included Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan’s sister and the director of an anti-immigrant political action committee, Team America PAC; James Pinkerton, a Fox News contributor; and Peter Brimelow, an outspoken white supremacist who founded the racist VDare.com. The Times warns: “It is easy to mock white-supremacist views as pathetic and to assume that nativism in the age of Obama is on the way out. The country has, of course, made considerable progress since the days of Know-Nothings and the Klan. But racism has a nasty habit of never going away, no matter how much we may want it to, and thus the perpetual need for vigilance.” (New York Times 1/31/2009)

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)

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” (Harris, Allen, and Vanderhei 2/4/2009) Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 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)

The Justice Department is holding back on publicly releasing an internal department report on the conduct of former department officials involved in approving waterboarding and other torture techniques. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), led by H. Marshall Jarrett, completed the report in the final weeks of the Bush administration. The report probes whether the legal advice given in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to knowledgeable sources, the report harshly criticizes three former department lawyers: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, all former members of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, objected to the draft. Filip wanted the report to be “balanced” with responses from the three principals. The OPR is now waiting on the three to respond to the draft’s criticisms before presenting the report to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The matter is under review,” says Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. The OPR report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against any or all of the three. But Bush-era officials feel the probe is inherently unfair. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice Department attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” says a former Bush lawyer. Mukasey criticized the report, calling it “second-guessing” and says that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury operated under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, and offered “their best judgment of what the law required.” OPR investigators looked into charges by former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith and others that the legal opinions provided by the three were “sloppy,” legally dubious, and slanted to give Bush administration officials what they wanted. (Isikoff 2/14/2009; Isikoff 2/16/2009) Some of the report is later leaked to the press (see February 22, 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)

Attorney General Eric Holder confirms the Obama administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see November 16, 2008 and January 22, 2009), but calls it a well-run, professional institution. Closing Guantanamo “will not be an easy process,” Holder says after visiting the site. “It’s one we will do in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.” Holder leads the administration’s effort to close the facility within a year. Most of that time will be spent reviewing the case files and histories of the 245 inmates currently incarcerated there: “It’s going to take us a good portion of that time to look at all of the files that we have to examine, until we get our hands around what Guantanamo is, and also what Guantanamo was,” he says. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken advocate of keeping Guantanamo open (see February 5, 2009), says he is encouraged by Holder’s remarks. “I believe as more time goes by there is a chance the administration will grow to realize that we need Gitmo and must keep it open,” he says. “More time will allow facts to replace political rhetoric.” Inhofe is promoting legislation that will bar any Guantanamo detainees from coming to the US. (Barrett 2/25/2009)

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)

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