Thanks to the compromise agreement made possible by seven Democrats who collaborated with Republicans to end the Senate impasse over judicial nominations, Priscilla Owen will now join the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Four years of successful efforts by civil rights, women's rights, religious and consumer groups to prevent confirmation of the right-wing extremist were undone Wednesday, as the Senate voted 56-43 to confirm a nominee whose judicial activism on the Texas Supreme Court was so wreckless that another member of that court, Alberto Gonzalez, who now serves as the nation's attorney general, referred to her actions as "unconscionable."
The final vote broke along partisan lines. Fifty-three Republicans and two Democrat, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and West Virginia's Robert Byrd, voted to confirm Owen. Forty-one Democrats, one Republican, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, and one Independent, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, voted against confirmation.
Those numbers are significant because they show that Democrats had the 40 votes that were needed to sustain a filibuster against Owen.
That means that, had Democrats held firm and forced moderate Republicans to reject the unpopular "nuclear option" that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, was attempting to impose on the Senate, Owen might very well have been kept off the court. National polls showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans opposed the "nuclear option," which Frist hoped to use to bar filibusters of even the most objectionable of the Bush administration's nominees. A number of moderate Republicans had indicated that they were uncomfortable with the majority leader's scheme to rewrite Senate rules, and there was at least a reasonable chance that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans could have preserved the ability of the minority party to block extremist nominees. Unfortunately, in return for the agreement to put the "nuclear option" on hold, seven moderate Democrats agreed to allow confirmation votes on at least three blocked appeals court nominees.
Owen's confirmation on Wednesday represents the first of what are likely to be many confirmations of extreme, unqualified and ethically-dubious nominees for seats on appeals court benches that have traditionally been the last hope of low-income Americans, people of color and women for justice. Equal justice concerns are of particular significance in the case of the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and is home to the highest percentage of minority residents of any circuit in the country. Yet, with the compromise agreement on the "nuclear option," most Senate Democrats abandoned the filibuster and cleared the way for Owen -- whose nomination was opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches -- to take her place on that bench.
As disappointing as the collapse of conscience on the part of most Democrats has been, however, it is important to remember that 18 members of the opposition caucus held firm against the compromise of principles. Those senators -- Democrats Joe Biden of Delaware, Barbara Boxer of California, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Carl Levin of Michigan, Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas, Patty Murray of Washington, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Jeffords -- refused to vote for the cloture motion that shut down the filibuster option and cleared the way for Owen's confirmation.
Feingold was blunt in his dismissal of claims that the deal that has put Owen on the appeals court represented a legitimate compromise. "There was no effort to reach a real compromise that would take into account the concerns of all parties. A compromise at the point of a gun is not a compromise. That, I'm afraid, is what we had," explained the Judiciary Committee member.
"I strongly opposed the threat of the nuclear option," he said. "I believe this was an illegitimate tactic, a partisan abuse of power that was a threat to the Senate as an institution and to the country. Attempting to blackmail the minority into giving up the rights that have been part of the Senate's traditions and practices for centuries was a new low for a majority that has repeatedly been willing to put party over principle. Unfortunately, the blackmail was partially successful. The end result is that (Owen and other) nominees who don't deserve lifetime appointments to the judiciary will now be confirmed."
When the Republicans thought they were going to win the filibuster fight, they tried to change the term of art from "nuclear option" to "constitutional option." The GOP's lexicographer-in-chief, Frank Luntz, argued that "the implication of 'nuclear option' is way too hot and extreme." Even Trent Lott, showing a surprising lack of authorial pride, took up the new phrase, despite the fact that he personally had coined the old one.
But the far rights' reaction to the compromise between fourteen moderate Senators demonstrates how much they view the struggle over the judiciary in violent terms. Out went the soothing references to founding principles; in came the militaristic metaphors. Pat Buchanan referred to the agreement as "the Munich of the Republican Party," conflating the importance of a handful of conservative judges with that of Czechoslovakia.
Senator George Allen went even farther on Imus. The "constitutional option" was needed, in his words, "to set the rules of engagement." He said that it was "kind of like everyone was lined up for a duel, and they determined three of these hostages can go loose, and we'll discharge our pistols on two of these judicial nominees." According to him, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid wanted some "scalps" and gave the Republicans the choice of which one of their"troops" they were going to "take down."
Let's see: duels, hostages, scalps, troops, Munich, rules of engagement--no, it's obvious that "nuclear option" captures the far right's intentions. They clearly have learned to love the bomb.
On May 18th, the Illinois State Assembly passed a bill to prevent the State Treasurer from investing in companies doing business in Sudan. This requires the selling off of about $1 billion worth of investments in companies doing business with Sudan, part of a nationwide campaign to protest genocide in the African nation This historic piece of legislation now awaits the approval of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich before it can be signed into law. Passage of the bill would make Illinois the first state to divest from companies dealing with Sudan. (See Sam Graham-Felsen's piece about how Harvard was pressured to become the first college to divest from Sudan earlier this year.)
As the iabolish website, a leader in the divestment efforts, says "Divestment is a measure of last-resort and shouldn't be used frivolously. But the US Congress and the State Department have unequivocally stated that the Sudanese government is committing genocide. This is an incredibly serious accusation and an unparalleled moral crime. Thousands are dying every week in bombing attacks, militia raids, and through forced starvation. Thousands every week. American companies are already barred from doing business in Sudan. The divestment campaign simply asks institutions to pass a resolution saying they will not investment in foreign companies who are ready to put profit over principle, even when it comes to genocide."
So Sudanese solidarity groups are asking all Americans, especially Illinois residents, to click here to call, fax, write, or email the Illinois governor to show their support for Senate Bill 23. You can also find out how your own state funds are invested. (And click here to read the full text of the bill.)
As the showdown on the so-called "nuclear option" approached, polls showed that the American people opposed scheming on the part of Senate GOP leaders to eliminate judicial filibusters by an overwhelming 2-to-1 margin.
Even among grassroots Republicans, there was broad discomfort with the idea of creating a tyranny-of-the-majority scenario in which the minority party in the Senate would no longer be consulted regarding lifetime appointments to the federal courts.
So there were plenty Republican senators who were looking for a way out of the corner into which Senate majority leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., had maneuvered them. Democrats simply needed to hold the line, while attracting Republicans who were uncomfortable with Frist's machinations, and they could have secured the will of the people.
Unfortunately, the Democrats buckled. So Republicans will get the votes they want on at least three federal appeals court nominees who should not be allowed on the bench.
Under a compromise worked out by moderate Republicans and Democrats, the "nuclear option" has been averted for the time being -- and perhaps permanently.
But in return for that concession by the Republicans, the Democrats have agreed to allow confirmation votes on three judicial nominations that had been blocked: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor Jr. and Priscilla Owen. The trio were among the ten appeals court nominees whose records of judicial activism, ideological rigidity and ethical misdeeds were so troubling that a substantial number of senators felt they ought not be given lifetime tenures on key appellate court benches.
It now appears that confirmation is all but certain for the nominees: That's bad news for Americans in general and, in particular, for low-income citizens, people of color and women who look to the nation's highest courts for a measure of protection against discrimination and other forms of government-sanctioned abuse.
Brown, who has been nominated to serve on the powerful US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has condemned the New Deal, which gave the United States Social Security, the minimum wage and fair labor laws. She has expressed doubts about whether age discrimination laws are a good idea. And she has made it clear that she is no fan of affirmative action or other programs designed to help minorities and women overcome centuries of oppression.
Pryor, while serving as attorney general of Alabama, fought to undermine the authority of Congress to prohibit discrimination and to protect the environment, to maintain separation of church and state, to protect reproductive freedom and to guarantee equal protection under the law for gay men and lesbians. He has been nominated to serve on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Owen, who has been nominated to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, established a record on the Texas Supreme Court of unswerving loyalty to corporate interests. She has, in addition, adopted such extreme antiabortion rights stances that even her fellow conservatives, including Alberto Gonzalez, who was then a Supreme Court justice but now servers as US Attorney General, have distanced themselves from her.
All three nominees have drawn broad opposition from civil rights, women's rights, public interest, religious, environmental and labor groups. None of them should ever be allowed anywhere near an appeals court bench. Yet it is likely that, as a result of the deal worked out by the moderate senators, all three will soon be donning the robes of the federal judiciary.
This "compromise" may have averted the "nuclear option" for a time. But it will saddle the federal bench with more bad judges.
That's a bad deal, especially when there is such overwhelming public sentiment for maintaining the right of senators to block inappropriate judicial nominees. Democrats were right to oppose Brown, Pryor and Owen. They will come to regret cutting the deal to let these unacceptable nominees -- and the others who are now sure to be nominated by the Bush Administration -- to be approved.
The Senate will not be nuked. As the doomsday clock ticked down, seven so-called moderates from each party concocted a deal that was more of a win for the Republicans than the Democrats.
Under this brokered arrangement, three of Bush's right-wing nominees for appellate courts--Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor Jr.--will not be filibustered. In return--so to speak--the filibuster will remain a weapon the Democrats can use in the future against other judicial nominees but only "under extraordinary circumstances." What qualifies as "extraordinary circumstances"? That was not defined.
What does all this mean? At issue were five judicial nominees. The Republicans ended up with concrete gains: three conservatives (including one--Rogers Brown--who has declared that government is the enemy of civilization) will presumably be confirmed. What happens to the others--Henry Saad and William Myers--is uncertain. Saad's nomination is already in trouble (perhaps because of allegations within his FBI file). Myers could be a candidate for a filibuster. But the Democrats did not walk out of the room with a hard-and-fast right to resort to a filibuster. With this compromise, they are only able to wield a judicial filibuster if seven Republican senators agree the situation is "extraordinary." In essence, a small band of moderate GOPers will now have veto power over the Democrats' use of the judicial filibuster.
Democrats and their allies in the judicial wars can point to the fact that one or two of the Bush nominees may be stopped and that the filibuster might be available in the future. But what they got out of this deal is more iffy than what the Republicans pocketed. True, they prevented Senate majority leader Bill Frist from pushing the button. But Ralph Neas, the head of People for the American Way, is overstating the case when he says, "This is a major defeat for the radical right." What has the radical right lost in concrete terms? One or two conservative judges.
The future of the judicial filibuster remains unclear. Some opponents of Bush's nominees are suggesting the filibuster has been saved for the coming titanic battles over Supreme Court vacancies. "Our members fought hard to preserve the filibuster, which will now live to see another day," says Eli Pariser of MoveOn PAC. "The only way the 'nuclear option' comes back is if the Republicans break their agreement." Yes and no. If George W. Bush were to nominate, say, Priscilla Owen to the Supreme Court, would the GOP half of the Gang of 14 buck the leader of their party and attest that such an action was "extraordinary" and open to a filibuster? After all, how "extraordinary" would it be for a president to nominate to the highest court a jurist who served on both a state Supreme Court and a federal appellate court and who was previously confirmed by a majority of the Senate?
Frist and the Republican right had aimed to eliminate the judicial filibuster, and they did fail in that mission. But they succeeded in dramatically weakening the filibuster--possibly to the point of rendering it inoperable. Social conservative leader James Dobson decried the compromise as a loss for the Republicans. But undermining the filibuster is certainly more of a gain than a defeat for the GOP.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on how Corn was spoofed on Saturday Night Live and how Laura Bush backed him up on a key criticism of the White House.
Did the Democrats get screwed--or screw themselves? This might have been the best deal they could have achieved. The Republicans were in the position of strength, and the betting in Washington was that Frist had enough votes to launch the nuclear option. There was no telling which party would have won the post-nuclear contest to blame the other side. What might have happened if Frist had dropped bomb and the Democrats subsequently hung together as a party and made good on their threat by slowing down the Senate, forcing the Republicans to vote on such Democratic initiatives as the minimum wage increase and health care tax cuts, and depicting the Republicans as a power-hungry majority (while the Republicans accused them of being obstructionists)? No one knows. And now no one will.
Looking back, it seems as if the debate over these judicial nominees became too much a fight about Senate rules. The Democrats benefited when Senator Trent Lott stupidly coined the phrase "nuclear option." But the back-and-forth about the filibuster and parliamentary matters (as important as they are) practically subsumed the central point: that Bush has been engaged in judicial activism--that is packing the federal courts with rightwing judges who usually side with big corporations over individuals. In spite of Lott's boneheaded mistake, the Republicans were able to define this war as one mostly over the use (or, as they put it, the misuse) of Senate rules. The Democrats fired back by claiming the Republicans were abusing their majority standing and unfairly rigging the game. This is what political consultants call a "process issue," and the conventional rule in politics is that "process issues" rarely resonate with large blocs of voters beyond those base-voters already engaged by such things. And with this arrangement, the Democratic moderates--let's name them: Ben Nelson, Robert Byrd, Joseph Lieberman, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Ken Salazar, and Daniel Inouye--did elevate the rules issue (and the goal of preserving the stately ways of the Senate) above the desire to do everything possible to block Bush's takeover of the courts. This deal was more about the Senate than the judiciary.
In the end, the bare-knuckle brawlers of each party who justifiably wanted a fight over Bush judges were sent back to their corners by the mushy-middlers. But this is a fight the Democrats need to pursue. The rules of the Senate matter, but what matters as much, if not more, are the far-reaching decisions handed down by judges who would restrict the rights of individuals and bolster those of corporate interests. This deal has yielded an uneasy peace--one arguably more beneficial at this moment to the Republicans than to the Democrats--but it does not the resolve the fundamental conflict. The judicial wars will (and should) continue by other means.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
Flouting the fact that Pat Robertson thinks the "activist" (Republican-sponsored and approved) judiciary is the worst threat America faces, the moralistic majority in the Texas legislature has decided that sexy cheerleading is our nation's undoing.
Forget the fact that it was the state of Texas that made sexy cheerleading part of our national cultural life. (This state, which wanted to be an independent nation, has also given us the execution of women and the mentally handicapped, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush.)
Of course, youthful female sexuality will always be a threat to the good ole boys. But my favorite part of this legislation is that it requires every school district to hire a sexy cheerleading commissar to enforce the proposed prohibition of "overtly sexually suggestive" cheerleading routines. (They won't be condemning James Joyce's Ulysses, but the principle of we-know-it-when-we-see-it has expanded.) Big government conservatism at your service.
As we fight fundamentalism abroad, it is crucial to know that we are fighting it here at home. What is next for the cheerleaders of Texas? Burkas?
Kudos to veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer for lambasting the New York Times for its "paean" to Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton, and taking aim at Wal-Mart's "systematic obliteration of thousands of family businesses and of course the creation of hundreds of thousands of sweatshop jobs."
Safer's letter (posted below) succintly captures the grand irony of Walton's recent $35 million purchase of a famous landscape painting. ("All that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates.")
Here's hoping that Safer's hardhitting letter is the basis of a forthcoming 60 Minutes segment.
New York, May 14, 2005
To the Editor:
Your paean to Alice L. Walton, the Wal-Mart heir who recently purchased Asher B. Durand's landscape painting "Kindred Spirits" for $35 million ("A Determined Heiress Plots an Art Collection," Arts pages, May 14), ignored a grand inherent irony.
All that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates. Not to mention the equally systematic obliteration of thousands of family businesses and of course the creation of hundreds of thousands of sweatshop jobs.
The robber barons of yore, through contrition or vanity, also established enduring cultural institutions, but surely in this age of alleged transparency, it behooves the newspaper of record to make at least passing reference to the human and environmental price we all pay to satisfy Ms. Walton's ambition.
A vote to end debate on the nomination of extreme conservative Priscilla Owen to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24--the first strike in the so-called "nuclear option" to eliminate the use of the filibuster in judicial nominations. Now is the time to tell your senators that you oppose eliminating the filibuster. Click here to do so today.
Filibuster opponents have pulled out all the rhetorical stops in their quest to consolidate more power for the executive branch, advancing numerous falsehoods and distortions in the process, as the excellent website Media Matters for America has documented. So click here if you're not convinced that the elimination of the filibuster would be catastrophic or if you just need some good talking points.
Bill Moyers says that journalists have a responsibility to question those in power.
Rush Limbaugh, speaking for the economic and political elites that currently occupy positions of authority, responds by charging that Moyers is "insane."
A debate has opened regarding the role of reporting in George W. Bush's America. But this debate is about a great deal more than one president or one moment in history. At the most fundamental level, it is about whether the American experiment as imagined by the most visionary of its founders can long endure.
Moyers set the stage at the National Conference for Media Reform last week, where he delivered a call for the redemption of American journalism. Though he was appearing less than a week after it had been revealed that the Bush administration ally who chairs the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had waged a secret campaign to drive him off the air, the former host of PBS's "NOW" program was calm and collected. The winner of thirty Emmy Awards reflected upon his own work and that of his colleagues on "NOW." But his real purpose was to defend the craft of journalism against the battering it has taken from those who believe reporters should be little more than stenographers to power. At a time when too many prominent journalists have accepted the diminished standards that their critics would impose upon them, Moyers raged against the dying of the light -- not so much for himself as for the Republic that will not stand without a free, skeptical and courageous press.
"We're seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable," Moyers explained to the 2,300 journalists, academics and activists who had gathered in St. Louis.
Moyers proceeded to describe the behind-the-scenes pressure that CPB board chair Ken Tomlinson and other White House allies exerted in a campaign to get the NOW team to trim its sails. The "crime" committed by Moyers and his crew was not one of liberal bias, as became evident when the former host of the program described the ideological diversity of the guests on NOW, read a letter praising the show from conservative Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, and recalled the support it had received from the widow of a New York City firefighter who died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Rather, Moyers explained, "One reason I'm in hot water is because my colleagues and I at NOW didn't play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news."
The former White House aide, newspaper publisher, author and documentary filmmaker committed the cardinal sin of the contemporary moment: he practiced the craft of journalism as the authors of the "freedom of the press" protection in the Bill of Rights intended -- without fear or favor, unbought and unbossed, and in the service of the public interest rather than the private demands of the economically and politically powerful. Such trangressions are punished as severely in George W. Bush's America as they were in the America that was ruled by another, equally regal George 230 years ago. And just as King George III had henchmen who attacked the rebels against his rule, so the contemporary King George has his Tories. Chief among them is Limbaugh, the bombastic radio personality whose microphone is always at the ready for a denunciation of those who dare suggest that the emperor has no clothes.
No one polices the discourse more aggressively than Limbaugh.
So when word got out that Moyers was telling the American people that they should expect more from their media than a slurry of celebrity gossip and propaganda, there was hell to pay.
Typically, Limbaugh did not attack the substance of Moyers's remarks. Rather, the viscount of viciousness devoted a substantial portion of his nationally-syndicated radio program Thursday to claiming that Moyers had come "unhinged" and that, "The things coming out of his mouth today are literally insane." The most self-absorbed personality in America media -- who regularly declares that he's got "talent on loan from God" and says, "I'm doing what I was born to do. That's host. You're doing what you were born to do. That's listen." -- even went so far as to suggest that Moyers had a messiah complex.
So agitated was Limbaugh that he attacked another speaker at the media-reform conference, Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley -- in Limbaugh parlance, "this Linda Foley babe" -- for expressing concern about the killing of journalists in Iraq. And, for good measure, he closed off his rant by claiming that the millions of Americans who are demanding a more civic and democratic media are "off their rockers" and dismissing the notion of reforming the media as "an oxymoron."
It would be easy to counter Limbaugh by climbing down into the gutter of character assassination and recycled Washington spin with the nation's No. 1 peddler of those commodities. Whole books been written regarding Limbaugh's personal and professional foibles.
But this is not about Limbaugh. After all, it's not as if he speaks for himself. When the economic and political elites of the nation says "Jump!" Limbaugh response has always been an enthusiastic, "How high?" And never does he jump higher or quicker than when he is going for the throat of someone who has committed the sin of telling the American people that there is more to a broadcast than talking points and cheerleading for those who refuse to play fair. Of course, Limbaugh thought Moyers was nuts. Limbaugh has been bending the facts for so long that he, undoubtedly, believes that trying to get them straight is madness.
This places him very much at odds with Moyers, who wants the American people to know that there is a reason why they get so little useful information from their radio programs and the nightly reports on network television.
Thus, the best counter to Limbaugh is not an attack on the radio babbler, but rather a return to the high ground with Moyers.
Let Limbaugh bellow, like the Wizard of Oz when he was trying to keep his machinery hidden. Moyers is pulling the curtain away and telling the American people what is wrong with the "rules of the game" by which so much of today's so-called "journalism" is practiced.
"These 'rules of the game' permit Washington officials to set the agenda for journalism, leaving the press all too often simply to recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers, sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of the spin, invariably failing to provide context, background or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading," Moyers explained last week.
"I decided long ago that this wasn't healthy for democracy. I came to see that 'news is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity.' In my documentaries -- whether on the Watergate scandals 30 years ago or the Iran-Contra conspiracy 20 years ago or Bill Clinton's fundraising scandals 10 years ago or, five years ago, the chemical industry's long and despicable cover-up of its cynical and unspeakable withholding of critical data about its toxic products from its workers -- I realized that investigative journalism could not be a collaboration between the journalist and the subject. Objectivity is not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference. I came to believe that objective journalism means describing the object being reported on, including the little fibs and fantasies as well as the Big Lie of the people in power. In no way does this permit journalists to make accusations and allegations. It means, instead, making sure that your reporting and your conclusions can be nailed to the post with confirming evidence. This is always hard to do, but it has never been harder than today. Without a trace of irony, the powers-that-be have appropriated the newspeak vernacular of George Orwell's 1984. They give us a program vowing 'No Child Left Behind,' while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged kids. They give us legislation cheerily calling for 'Clear Skies' and 'Healthy Forests' that give us neither. And that's just for starters."
The difference between Limbaugh and Moyers is as profound as the difference between FOX and PBS. One man plays by the "rules of the game," the other sticks to principle. One man defends a corrupt status quo, the other seeks to expose it. One is a master propagandist, the other wants to break the stranglehold of "The Big Lie." One fears the damage done by the practice of journalism, the other knows that great journalism is the essential element in the making of great nations. One is a Tory who serves his King George, the other is a rebel against the throne.
It is not a fair fight. On one side are Limbaugh and his Tories, with all of their economic and political might. On the other are Moyers and his media reformers, with only the truth -- and the echo of Tom Paine crying across the centuries: "O Ye that love mankind! Ye that dares oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!"
Here's a posting I put up on the HuffingtonPost site. It may not be as juicy as Robert Evans' celebration of a menage a trois. But I do hope that this issue--the chief Pentagon spokesperson misleading the public about allegations concerning the desecration and mistreatement of the Koran at Gitmo--will get some attention:
The Bush administration really knows how to exploit a tragedy and deflect attention in order to duck responsibility. After Newsweek retracted its ten-sentence Koran-in-a-john item, Lawrence Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, claimed that the Pentagon had never received any "credible allegations" about "the willful desecration of the Koran as a component of interrogations" at Guantanamo. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Di Rita said that after the Pentagon had checked logs and found "several instances...that suggested that detainees have, for whatever reason, torn pages from the Koran." But these log reports, he added, were not corroborated. He claimed that
standard operating procedures at Guantanamo are very focused on the proper respect for the Koran, and in fact those standard operating procedures have been reviewed over time to make sure that they are as careful as they should be. We, I think, provided that to most of you all in the last day or two. But I think what you'll see there is a command philosophy that is clearly one of treating religious items, including the Koran, with a great deal of respect.
That being said, there have been instances, and we'll have more to say about it as we learn more, but where a Koran may have fallen to the floor in the course of searching a cell. And so they've reviewed the standard operating procedures to see if perhaps we could have been more careful in those cases/ But as I said, the philosophy as reflected in the standard operating procedures is one of great respect for the Koran and other religious articles, and for the detainees' practice of their faith, and that's what we're doing.
And he repeated his main point: "We have received no credible and specific allegations" of Koran desecration or Koran mistreatment conducted by US personnel at Gitmo.
How then does Di Rita explain the International Committee of the Red Cross' claim--which became news yesterday and today--that in 2002 and 2003 it told the Pentagon multiple times that prisoners in Guantanamo had said that US officials there showed disrespect for the Koran. Here's the lead of the Chicago Tribune's piece on this:
The International Committee of the Red Cross documented what it called credible information about U.S. personnel disrespecting or mishandling Korans at the Guantanamo detention facility and pointed it out to the Pentagon in confidential reports during 2002 and early 2003, an ICRC spokesman said Wednesday.
And Reuters noted:
The International Red Cross told the Pentagon as early as 2002 detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison had reported U.S. officials mishandled the Koran, Red Cross and Pentagon officials said on Thursday.
The acknowledgment of the documentation of alleged abuse of the Koran came as Washington sought to defuse anger in the Muslim world after a U.S. news magazine reported the Muslim holy book was flushed down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison. The magazine later retracted the article.
The International Committee for the Red Cross told the Pentagon "multiple" times in 2002 and early 2003 that prisoners at Guantanamo said U.S. officials showed "disrespect" for the Muslim holy book, said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman.
"The U.S. government took corrective measures and those allegations have not resurfaced," Schorno said.
The ICRC spokesman declined to specify if the allegations included the flushing of the Koran down the toilet or if U.S. officials used the disrespect as part of interrogations.
This sure indicates that, despite what Di Rita said on Tuesday, the Pentagon did receive credible allegations about the mistreatment of the Koran--credible enough to do something about the matter. Reuters further reported:
In January 2003, the U.S. military issued guidelines to personnel at the base outlining how to handle and inspect detainees' Korans.
The memorandum included the order: "Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet or dirty/wet areas."
"The guidelines didn't come out of nowhere. You don't get such orders unless there's some problem, concern or controversy," a U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said.
This report does undermine Di Rita's assertions that there were no hints of any problems with the Koran in Gitmo except for a few log entries that raised the possibility the prisoners themselves had defaced their holy book. Will there be pressure on Di Rita to retract his remarks? To apologize? Has he undermined US credibility abroad? Has he been caught in a fib?