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Oil and the Bush 'Fear Factor'

Last week, the price of oil futures reached $49.40 a barrel--the highest in 21 years of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil prices are already up 50 percent this year, and some experts--notably energy consultant Daniel Yergin--believe there's a good chance that oil could reach a steady level of $50 a barrel in the next two months.

The surge in prices has several causes, including political instability in Venezuela and Russia, turmoil in Nigeria, global market speculation and increased Chinese demand. But, in the short term, it is the "fear factor"--the insecurity and instability created by the Bush Administration's Middle East policies, notably the invasion of Iraq--that has raised costs between $8 and $15 a barrel.

It is increasingly clear that the high cost of the war can be seen not just in the number of deaths, and the ballooning federal budget deficits but also in the record oil and gas prices. In a speech in Smithville, Missouri earlier this month, John Kerry squarely blamed the Bush team's wars and failed policies for oil prices hitting new highs.

If prices stay at these levels for three to six months, some economists believe the risk of recession grows dramatically. (And at $50 a barrel, oil would be about 70 percent above the average price of $29 a barrel that has prevailed since 2000.) In that case, the oil shock of 2004 may well affect the outcome of both the US election and the global economic recovery.

While it's hard to find a silver lining--what with a slowing economy, lost jobs and hard hit consumers--the situation may act as a brake on a possible US (or Israeli) preemptive strike against Iran. Such an "October Surprise" would be designed to display Bush's toughness in dealing with prospective nuclear threats, while diverting attention from the debacle in Iraq. But most nonproliferation and energy experts argue that a strike would be counterproductive, further destabilizing the region. And though chaos may be what Ariel Sharon wants, as well as the diehard neocons (what with Iraq such a disaster), cooler heads in the Administration worry about a strike increasing oil prices to $60 a barrel--perhaps the one thing that could ensure Bush's defeat in November.

High oil prices also act as a wake-up call--reminding us that oil is a finite resource and that we are fast approaching the point of peak production, after which global output will fall. It is a moment to launch what Kerry and leading progressive and environmental groups are calling for an "http://www.apolloalliance.org/ Apollo Project" to invest in energy independence. http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040830&s=hertsgaard">This call is good politics and good policy. In a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans placed a priority on reducing dependence on Middle East oil, with 63 percent believing that investment in a combination of renewable power, efficient technology and conservation is the answer to improving security.

But change will not come while there's another "fear factor" on our increasingly polluted horizon--a president who sits idly by while oil shock threatens our future. "If oil prices were Olympic events, George Bush would win medals," Senator Chuck Schumer said last week. He's fiddling while Rome is burning." Bush has compiled the worst environmental record in modern times, while allowing our laws, regulations and policies to be crafted and corrupted by oil and gas lobbyists, polluters and indicted CEOs.

Let's rid ourselves of the Bush "fear factor"--and then fight hard to craft a sane energy policy. It's one of the most urgent challenges facing this country and the world.

Not So Swift

Two news stories, of vastly differing consequence, have over the past week raised the question of how issues of war and peace will play in this year's presidential contest:

1.) The summer-long controversy over claims and commercials produced by the so-called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" group continued, as a now widely-discredited circle of embittered Vietnam veterans used money from associates of President Bush and White House political czar Karl Rove to try and develop doubts about aspects of John Kerry's military service 35 years ago.

2.) US Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Nebraska, the vice chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the senior Republican members of the House International Relations Committee, announced after a thorough review of the information available to him that he had come to the conclusion that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was unjustified. "I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action," explained Bereuter, who added that, "knowing what I know about the reliance on tenuous or insufficiently corroborted intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD (Wepaons of mass destruction) arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified."

Guess which story the news media focused on with such intensity that both Kerry and Bush were forced to address it publicly.

Here's a hint: It's not the story about the war that is currently going on.

It's no secret that most of the American media no longer covers contemporary politics in a serious manner. But it is still remarkable that major media in this country is so addicted to spin that its practitioners are incapable of recognizing real news when it develops.

Make no mistake: Bereuter's statement is real news. In fact, it is the sort of news that ought to dominate today's national discourse in the same way that similar pronouncements by prominent members of former President Lyndon Johnson's Democratic party came to dominate the 1960s discourse about what was then a burgeoning conflict in Southeast Asia.

When a ranking member of the president's own party, who has direct and detailed knowledge of the issues involved, says the commander-in-chief led the country into an unjustified war, that's a big deal.

And that is exactly what Doug Bereuter did.

In a letter to constituents who had contacted him regarding the war, the 13-term congressman condemned the Bush Administration for launching the war "without a broad and engaged international coalition." Bereuter explained that the Administration made "fundamental and predictable" missteps. Because of those missteps, he wrote, "we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess."

"The cost in casualties is already large and growing," the Congressman observed, "and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible."

Bereuter, whose reputation as an expert on foreign affairs is such that he will upon his retirement from Congress at the end of this month become the president of the Asia Foundation, suggested that the costs of this war extend far beyond Iraq. Because of the Administration's actions, the Congressman said, "our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened."

If his blunt statements about the current crisis were not enough, Bereuter raised the prospect that the Bush-Cheney Administration might have misused intelligence in order to draw the country into the war. "Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," noted the veteran representative from Nebraska.

As indictments of an administration's military adventurism by senior members of Congress go, that's a very serious statement. As indictments of an Administration by senior members of Congress who happen to be members of the president's own party -- and who are speaking not in a historical context but in a time of war -- go, Bereuter's four-page letter contained all the political and policy drama that the public discourse could possibly demand.

Yet Bereuter's statement, released quietly and with no Washington spin machine ginning it up, was barely heard in the echo chamber of Campaign 2004.

Even after Nebraska newspapers spread the word of Bereuter's comments regarding the current war and the current president, talk radio programs continued to devote hour after hour to discussions of what happened on what river in 1969, cable television programs continued to feature endless debates about whether Kerry's swift boat turned left or right on the way to Cambodia, the anchors and hosts of network news programs breathlessly reported Bob Dole's grumbling about how Kerry needed to apologize for not taking more hits in Southeast Asia, and reporters for the major newspapers that are supposed to maintain some sense of perspective pressed Bush and Kerry to address every new twist on a swift-boat journey that is starting to seem almost as endless as the Vietnam War itself.

What of the questions that Bereuter's statement raised about the current war and the current Administration? Are they being explored on talk-radio shows? On cable television? On network news programs? On the front pages of daily newspapers in New York and Washington and Chicago and Los Angeles?

Outside of continuing coverage by a few local newspapers in Nebraska -- especially the Lincoln Journal Star -- the story of Doug Bereuter's heresy flamed out after the first day.

Perhaps, 35 years from now, during some future presidential campaign, the major media of the United States will catch up to the story of the Iraq War. The way things are going, it may be an ongoing conflict.

Johnny Cash was NOT a Republican

The songs of Johnny Cash--"the Man in Black"--were beacons of light for those who were unjustly locked up, kicked down, and knocked around. He sang from his heart for the poor, the imprisoned, and the oppressed.

And, as John Nichols wrote in his Nation weblog after Cash's death last year, "Though he was not known as an expressly political artist, Cash waded into the controversies of his times with a passion. Like the US troops in Vietnam who idolized him, he questioned the wisdom of that war. And in the mid-1960s, at the height of his success, he released an album that challenged his country's treatment of Native Americans."

But it was his songs which really marked him as a man of the people. He took sides in his songs, and he preferred the side of those imprisoned by the law--and by poverty and hard luck.

Yet, this Tuesday the GOP and the American Gas Association, a network of 154 utility multinationals, are shamelessly trying to appropriate the singer-songwriter's legacy by hosting an exclusive "celebration" of Cash for the Republican delegation from Tennessee inside the elite corridors of Sotheby's auction house.

In response, an ad-hoc group of activists have created a website to honor Cash's memory (www.defendjohnnycash.org) and to express what is safe to say would be Cash's outrage over the Bush Administration's malign neglect of the poor in this country. Do you think Cash would be supporting the President's economic policies? How about the Iraq war? If you think the answer is "no," then come join other Johnny Cash defenders at 4:00pm (dressed in black if you'd like) on Tuesday, August 31st, at Sotheby's at 1334 York Avenue in Manhattan.

As the call to action reads: "Bring your black clothing, pompadour, guitars (real or cardboard), hair grease, singing voice, megaphones, jail-stripes, skeleton costumes, signs, art, posters, CD players, boom-boxes, musical instruments, Johnny posters and records, and, of course, your favorite political Cash lyrics as big as you can print 'em!"

Click here for more info, click here for a bio of Cash's life and click here to read some of the song lyrics that made Cash a legend.

And check out a Tennessee group that is doing work in Cash's tradition: Music Row Democrats, formed in December 2003 by a group of Nashville music industry leaders who were "fed up with feeling as if they had to apologize for being Democrats, particularly when they knew that Republican policies were negatively affecting the lives of the working class people who make up much of the audience for their music."

We'll continue to highlight some of the hundreds of anti-RNC protests, panels, presentations and parties as the RNC draws closer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.

W. Overstated His Military Record

A group of veterans motivated by 30-years of resentment accuse John Kerry of exaggerating his Vietnam wartime service, and their attack makes the front pages and cable gabfests. But when a news report showed that George W. Bush had overstated his military experience, Bush escaped without a scratch.

I am not referring to the Bush's missing time in the Air National Guard. That episode did receive much attention--though only in the past year, not when the issue was first raised during the 2000 presidential campaign. Back then Bush was disingenuous about his Guard service. In his campaign autobiography, he wrote that he had completed his pilot training in 1970 while assigned to an air base in Houston and "continued flying with my unit for the next several years." But as the Boston Globe revealed, he stopped flying during his final 18 months of service in 1972 and 1973. Bush had been grounded after failing to take a flight exam, and had won permission to train with a unit in Alabama where he did no flying. There are no records proving he showed up for duty in Alabama, but Bush has insisted he did.

Putting aside the controversy over Bush's Air National Guard service (or dereliction of duty), there was another instance when Bush clearly did not speak truthfully about his military record. In 1978, Bush, while running for Congress in West Texas, produced campaign literature that claimed he had served in the US Air Force. According to a 1999 Associated Press report, Bush's congressional campaign ran a pullout ad in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that declared he had served "in the US Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard where he piloted the F-102 aircraft."

Bush lost that congressional race, but twenty-one years later, the AP questioned him about the ad. The news outlet had a good reason to do so. Bush had never served in the Air Force. He had only been in the Air National Guard. But when AP asked Bush if he had been justified in claiming service in the Air Force, Bush, then the governor of Texas and a presidential candidate, said, "I think so, yes. I was in the Air Force for over 600 days." Karen Hughes, his spokeswoman, maintained that when Bush attended flight school for the Air National Guard from 1968 to 1969 he was considered to be on active duty for the Air Force and that several times afterward he had been placed on alert, which also qualified as active duty for the Air Force. All told, she said, Bush had logged 607 days of training and alerts. "As an officer [in the Air National Guard]," she told the AP, "he was serving on active duty in the Air Force."

But this explanation was wrong. Says who? The Air Force. As the Associated Press reported,

The Air Force says that Air National Guard members are considered 'guardsmen on active duty' while receiving pilot training. They are not, however, counted as members of the overall active-duty Air Force.

Anyone in the Air National Guard is always considered a guardsmen and not a member of the active-duty Air Force, according to an Air Force spokeswoman in the Pentagon. A National Guard member may be called to active duty for pilot training or another temporary assignment and receive active-duty pay at the time, but they remain Guard members.

The AP report said, "It may be a question of semantics." But today I checked with two spokespersons for the US Air Force, and each confirmed that an active-duty member of the Air National Guard is not considered a member of the US Air Force. "If a member of the Air National Guard is in pilot training," says Captain Cristin Lesperance of the US Air Force media relations office, "they would remain on the Guard books. They would be counted as Guard, not as an active-duty Air Force member."

So where was all the hollering about Bush's exaggeration of his military service? True, Bush was hyping his military record way back in 1978. But he repeated and defended the misrepresentation in 1999 while campaigning for the White House. And, no doubt, Kerry's critics would consider any remark Kerry made twenty-six years ago fair game. Admiral Roy Hoffman, a founder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, recently said that his group is not politically motivated: "It would make no difference if John Kerry were a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, Swift Boat veterans would still be speaking the truth concerning John Kerry's military service record." But are any of Kerry's accusers willing to criticize Bush for falsely representing his service?

Kerry, who volunteered to go to Vietnam and won five medals, has made his Vietnam service a central element of his campaign for the presidency. So there is nothing improper about examining his account of his Vietnam days, as long as such scrutiny is done in an honest and accurate fashion. But Bush overstated his own military record (which involved no combat, no derring-do, no wounds, and no enemy fire) for political purposes, and when he was caught doing so he stuck to a phony story. Yet no firestorm ensued. Will Republican funders now underwrite a group called Air Force Veterans for Truth that will demand that Bush withdraw his claim of membership in the Air Force? Don't expect such a shot soon.

Reporting assistance for this story was provided by Shane Goldmacher.

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When you're done reading this article, check out David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read about the love letter Pat Buchanan sent to Corn and see the entry on how Bush has let others do his smearing for him.

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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 NOW 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 the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

The Bush Air War

As is appropriate and necessary, there's currently much attention being focused on the patently false GOP-supported swift boat ad. But, there's more to the nasty air wars raging across a handful of battleground states this political season. Spending on political commercials has gone through the roof, distortion reigns supreme and Bush has made negativity the norm.

Last month, the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin reported that the campaigns are ignoring 60 percent of Americans who don't live in the swing states. Out of 210 media markets nationwide, only 93 of them are airing any political commercials. But in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida the airwaves are thick with ads, and voters are under heavy bombardment in 14 or 15 additional states.

According to Ken Goldstein, director of the Advertising Project, the campaigns are fixed laser-like on "maybe two, two and a half percent of the voters" who "are actually persuadable in this race." But in the uncontested blue or red states (California, Texas, New York) where the outcome isn't in doubt, a kind of political famine has deprived voters of a firsthand look at this year's (nasty) give-and-take.

Bush is waging perhaps the most negative--and expensive--television assault on a challenger in modern times. Through mid-July, Bush had already spent $84 million on television advertising--most of it negative. His campaign, according to the Washington Post, is defined by "unprecedented negativity." Seventy-five percent of his ads, or almost 50,000 commercials through May 31st were devoted to attacking John Kerry. (Kerry, by contrast, went negative in only 27 percent of his ads during the same period.) In 30-second bombshells saturating the airwaves in swing states, Bush routinely misleads voters by charging that Kerry supported repealing wiretaps on terrorists; proposed a $900 billion tax hike on the middle-class; advocated a fifty-cent gas tax increase; opposed weapons systems that would have helped America fight terrorists, and failed to attend crucial Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.

The drumbeat of distortions is so nasty that even the watchdogs get tired of cleaning up so many White House smears. In April, FactCheck.org, which is sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said wearily of Bush's ad attacking Kerry's voting record on military hardware: "We've de-bunked these half-truths before but the Bush campaign persists."

Bush's surrogates--or as Maureen Dowd calls them, "Third-Party political assassins"--have also been busy boys. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, well-funded by big GOP donors, is running an ad charging that one of Kerry's Bronze Stars for bravery and two of his three purple hearts were the result of Kerry fabricating events. Sen. John McCain urged Bush to denounce the smear. But Bush and his cronies have refused to condemn the patently false ad. (On Friday, the Swift Boat attackers announced that they were unrolling another anti-Kerry TV ad--this one sliming his antiwar activity.)

Meanwhile, Kerry's campaign is finally responding. Last week, it filed a complaint against the group with the federal elections commission. But by the time the complaint was filed, more than half the country has already heard about or seen the Swift Boat ad, according to the Annenberg Center (Click here to read David Corn'sNation weblog for more on this deceitful ad.)

What's clear is that this incumbent, wartime president and his strategists will use dirty tricks and character assassination to win. "This is the bitterest, most unsavory campaign in the nation's history," McCain said this week. "And it's only going to get worse."

The latest poll numbers have only fueled Bush's desperation. In key battleground states, most polls suggest the President is hurting. (USA Today's latest numbers show Kerry with a 10 percentage point advantage in the key swing state of Ohio. ) The White House has decided that the way to stop the bleeding is to attack Kerry as a flip-flopper and a liberal. (And to use surrogates to do some of their dirty work.) That means jettisoning the campaign's pledge to use August to roll out a second-term agenda. (Remember Karl Rove telling the New York Times, "We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. This gives us a chance to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years.") Instead, Rove & Co have gone negative, big-time--revealing Bush as the real flip-flopper in this campaign.

The current campaign system is broken in many ways. When it comes to the air war, these negative ads do little but bestow big benefits on large media companies, advertising agencies and political consultants. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group which tracks political advertising, candidates in 2002 at the federal, state and local levels spent a combined one billion dollars on political commercials (a four-fold increase from 1982). And the result? The public discourse was debased (remember Saxby Chambliss, who ran the ads that featured consecutive photos of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Democrat Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam?), and media operatives and companies made out like bandits.

To try to address this spiraling madness, Senators McCain, Feingold and Durbin are introducing the " Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act." The bill is a modest reform. It recognizes that the airwaves are a public trust; it will cut the cost of political communication, will open up new room for fresh ideas, and even perhaps elevate the level of discourse. Let's take a sensible step to fix a system that, as our president has shown in dramatic and mean-spirited ways, is completely dysfunctional.

'Courageous Resisters'

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! is presenting an evening of performance to honor "Courageous Resisters" this Thursday, August 26, at 7:30 PM, at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University in lower Manhattan.

Co-sponsored by The Nation and a host of other New York City-based progressive groups and organizations, the event will celebrate the courage of those resisting the conservative agenda sweeping the US today. Honorees include Aaron Lebowitz, a high school student in Darby, Montana who resisted a resolution to make creationism part of his school's curriculum; Toni Smith, the New York City college basketball player who refused to line up with her teammates during the national anthem as a symbol of her opposition to war in Iraq; Camilo Mejia, the first US soldier to go AWOL because of his antiwar stance (now in the brig); Juanita Young, a leader of the movement against police brutality in New York City whose son was killed by the police and Jason West, the mayor of New Paltz, New York, who was charged with 19 criminal counts after he married gay and lesbian couples. (Click here for a complete list of the honorees.)

Numerous artists--graphic, visual and musical--will present original work in honor of the Resisters, including Odetta, Steve Earle, Andre Gregory, Dan Bern, Blair Brown, Vijay Iyer, Martha Lavey, Mari Mariposa, Ellen McLaughlin, Omar Metwally, Tracie Morris, Mikel Paris and Beau Sia. Click here for tickets and info or call 212-992-8484.

The Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas is another of the many creative responses to the RNC and the threat posed by a second Bush term. A gala of more than 125 events mixing artistic and educational activities through a series of concerts, performances, screenings, forums, town meetings and artwork, the Festival takes place all over New York City from August 28 to September 2. Click here for the full schedule and click here to see The People's Guide for a daily calendar of RNC-related events generally.

First Day of the RNC

When the curtain goes up on the Republicans' Big Show this Monday, there will be gospel and country music performers, elaborate videos and celebrities doing what they can to help market (and soften) Bush's agenda.

There will be also a special program called "Preachers and Patriots," replete with celebrity benedictions, choreographed by the convention's director of entertainment--Frank Bredeen, former head of the Gospel Music Association. The goal, Bredeen says, is to to use entertainment to market the party's political ideas: "Just like Cadillac uses Led Zeppelin to market its ideas," he added.

But strip away the compassion-themed entertainment and fake moderation of this "Reinvention" Convention and you'd end up with a schedule something like the one that arrived in my in-box the other day. Thanks to the merry and sharp satirists who sent it along.

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CONVENTION SCHEDULESeptember 30, 2004, New York, New York

6:00 PM - Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell

6:30 PM - Pledge of Allegiance

6:46 PM - Seminar #1: Katherine Harris on "Are Elections Really Necessary?"

7:30 PM - Announcement: Lincoln Memorial Renamed for Ronald Reagan

7:40 PM - EPA Address #1: "Mercury: It's What's for Dinner"

8:00 PM - Vote on which country to invade next

8:15 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "The Homos Are After Your Children"

8:30 PM - Round-table discussion on reproductive rights (Men Only)

8:50 PM - Seminar #2: "Corporations: The Government of the Future"

9:00 PM - Condi Rice sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"

9:30 PM - Break for secret meetings

10:40 PM - John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt

10:45 PM - GOP's Tribute to Tokenism, featuring Colin Powell and Condi Rice

10:46 PM - Ann Coulter's Tribute to "Joe McCarthy, American Patriot"

10:50 PM - Seminar #3: "Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy"

11:10 PM - Hilary Clinton Piñata Party

11:20 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult"

11:35 PM - Blame Clinton

11:40 PM - Newt Gingrich speaks on "The Sanctity of Marriage"

11:41 PM - Announcement: Ronald Reagan to be added to Mt. Rushmore

11:50 PM - Closing Prayer led by Jesus Himself

12:00 Midnight - Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Overlord

Evidence Undermines Attack

On March 13, 1969, in the Bay Hap River, did Lieut. John Kerry, captain of Swift boat PCF-94, defy enemy fire and heroically save the life of First Lieut. Jim Rassmann, who had been blown off Kerry's boat into the water by a mine explosion? Or did Kerry, during this mission involving five Swift boats, merely help a comrade return to his boat at a time of relative calm? A band of anti-Kerry veterans funded by Republican donors--who call themselves Swift Boat Veterans for Truth--have claimed that there was no enemy fire when Kerry pulled Rassmann into his boat and that Kerry did not deserve the Bronze Star he won for this incident. Although the citation for Kerry's Bronze Star notes he rescued Rassmann in the face of sniper fire and Kerry, Rassmann and PCF-94 crew members all say Rassmann was under fire when Kerry pulled him aboard, the anti-Kerry vets insist that was not how it happened, that there was no enemy fire. Their campaign against Kerry took a hit yesterday when The Washington Post disclosed that the military records of Larry Thurlow--a leader of the anti-Kerry outfit who also won a Bronze Star for actions taken during this engagement--contradict Thurlow's claim that there was no enemy fire at the time. (See here.) Military records obtained by The Nation provide more evidence that there was enemy fire during this episode.

Three Navy men won Bronze Stars for their actions that day: Kerry, Thurlow, and radarman first class Robert Eugene Lambert, a petty officer in the boat captained by Thurlow. The citation for Lambert's Bronze Star--previously undisclosed but obtained today under the Freedom of Information Act from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis--repeats the description of the incident included in the citation for Thurlow's Bronze Star: "all units came under small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks." Lambert's citation also notes that Lambert--who assumed command of PCF-51 after Thurlow went to assist another Swift boat damaged by a mine--"directed accurate suppressing fire at the enemy." The citation praises Lambert's "coolness, professionalism and courage under fire."

In an affidavit Thurlow signed last month, he said "no return fire occurred....I never heard a shot." He said to the Post, "I am here to state that we weren't under fire." But the individual citations for Thurlow, Kerry and Lambert each refer to enemy fire. And the Lambert citation also suggests there was a need for his boat to engage in "suppressing fire."

Asked about the discrepancy between his own account and his citation, Thurlow, who was the senior skipper in the flotilla involved in this engagement, said that Kerry was often able to present his own (presumably self-serving) descriptions of events to superiors. But neither Thurlow nor the Swift Boat group has substantiated this claim. And did Kerry rig not only his own award recommendation but those of Thurlow and Lambert? In the award recommendation for Thurlow's Bronze Star, Lambert--not Kerry--is listed as the eyewitness. (And Del Sandusky, a crew mate of Kerry, was the eyewitness listed in the award recommendation for Kerry. According to the National Personnel Records Center, Lambert's file no longer contains the award recommendation for his Bronze Star.)

Kerry has posted his award citation on his web site (click here), and Thurlow's Bronze Star citation was posted by the Post (click here). Lambert's citation describes what seems to have been a harrowing situation. It reads in full:

"For meritorious achievement while serving with Coastal Division ELEVEN engaged in armed conflict against Viet Cong communist aggressors in An Xuyen Province, Republic of Vietnam on 13 March 1969. Inshore Patrol Craft [PCF] 51, with Petty Officer Lambert serving as Leading Petty Officer, was conducting a SEA LORDS operation in the Bay Hap river with four other boats. The boats were exiting the river when a mine detonated under another Inshore Patrol Craft, inflicting heavy damage to the boat and wounding the entire crew. At the same time, all units came under small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks. Inshore Patrol Craft 51 immediately proceeded to aid the damaged Inshore Patrol Craft, where the Officer-in-Charge [Larry Thurlow] leaped aboard to render assistance. Petty Officer LAMBERT assumed command of Inshore Patrol Craft 51 and directed accurate suppressing fire at the enemy. While administering first aid to the crew of the damaged Inshore Patrol Craft, Inshore Patrol Craft 51's Officer-in-Charge was knocked overboard. Petty Officer LAMBERT, without hesitation, directed Inshore Patrol Craft 51 alongside his Officer-in-Charge, where, from an exposed position and with complete disregard for his personal safety, he pulled him aboard. Petty Officer LAMBERT then returned his Officer-in-Charge to the aid of the damaged Inshore Patrol Craft and remained in command of Inshore Patrol Craft 51 until all units cleared the river. Petty Officer LAMBERT's coolness, professionalism and courage under fire significantly contributed to the rescue of his Officer-in-Charge and the damaged Inshore Patrol Craft and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

Lambert, a career Navy man who served on active duty from 1957 to 1978, could not be located. But his records offer more support for Kerry's account (which, by the way, is the official account). And the credibility of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been challenged on several fronts. Jerome Corsi, the co-author of the book the group is promoting, Unfit for Command, recently acknowledged that he has posted anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments on a conservative website. Others involved with the anti-Kerry outfit have flip-flopped and altered their stories. For instance, George Elliott, a leading member of the group who was the commander who signed the recommendation for Kerry's Bronze Star, campaigned with Kerry in 1996, defending him after questions were raised about Kerry's Silver Star. (Kerry received this medal for chasing down and killing an enemy soldier on February 28, 1969.) And in 1969, Elliot wrote Kerry's fitness report and noted, "In a combat environment often requiring independent decisive action, Lt. j.g. Kerry was unsurpassed." Now he says Kerry lied about his service in Vietnam. And today the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth unveiled a new ad that assailed Kerry for having criticized the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. The ad claims Kerry, during his famous testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused his fellow soldiers of having committed atrocities. But Kerry, then a leader of the movement against the Vietnam War, was reporting what other soldiers had said they had done. (Today the Kerry campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the group of illegally coordinating with the Bush campaign.)

The latest volley from the Swift Vets shows what motivates these anti-Kerry veterans. They remain mad at him for opposing the war and addressing its worst aspects. As for what happened on March 13, 1969, the issue is whether to accept the accounts of veterans who are angry with Kerry or the documentary evidence that is seconded by Rassmann, a Republican, and Kerry's crew mates. Lambert's citation offers more reason to wonder about the Swift Boat group's version of events and to question its dedication to the truth.

Reporting assistance for this story was provided by Shane Goldmacher

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When you're done reading this article, check out David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. And read about the Case of the Missing Swift Boat Vet. How did a Bush campaign adviser end up in an ad put out by the supposedly independent Swift Boat Veterans for Truth?

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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 NOW 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 the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

Attack on Kerry Springs a Leak

Let's recap the ongoing fight between the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the John Kerry campaign.

One of the main charges of the anti-Kerry veterans group is that John Kerry lied about a March 13, 1969, episode in Vietnam which resulted in his Bronze Star. Kerry, a captain of a Swift boat, says that on that day his boat came under fire while in enemy-controlled territory and that during this battle--as bullets whizzed by--he rescued Jim Rassmann, a Special Forces officer, who had been blown overboard. The Swift Boat gang (which has been financed by Republican donors) claims that Kerry did nothing so heroic because there had been no enemy fire at the time and, moreover, that Kerry actually fled the scene.

It is often hard to sort out competing accounts of events that transpired three decades ago. But the Kerry side today received a big boost...from the military records of one of his chief accusers. The Washington Post reports on the front page that it has obtained the military records of Larry Thurlow, one of the leaders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Thurlow was the skipper of another Swift boat in the flotilla that day, and he, too, won a Bronze Star for actions taken during the same encounter. The citation for his award says he assisted a damaged Swift boat "despite enemy bullets flying about him." The citation noted that "all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks." Yet in an affidavit he signed last month, Thurlow claimed there had been no enemy fire: "I never heard a shot."

How then does Thurlow explain his own Bronze Star? He told the Post, "My personal feeling was always that I got the award for coming to the rescue of a boat that was mined. This casts doubt on anybody's award." He said he lost his Bronze Star citation twenty years ago--how convenient--and added that he now considered his award "fraudulent." He apparently forgot what the citation said but he asks us to believe his memory of that day.

Imagine the hatred Thurlow must feel for Kerry to throw out his own Bronze Star with the bath water in order to do harm to Kerry. Thurlow, a registered Republican, concedes he despises Kerry for having become a leader of the Vietnam veterans against the war. And he is sticking to his guns. In a statement released today, Thurlow said, "To this day, I can say without doubt in my mind...there was no hostile enemy fire directed at my boat or at any of the five boats operating on the river that day."

So here's the scorecard on the enemy-fire-or-no-enemy-fire question:

Kerry says there was enemy fire. So does Rassmann, a Republican, whose life Kerry saved. So do the crew members of Kerry's own Swift boat. So does Kerry's citation. So does Thurlow's citation. Both citations were signed by Lt. Commander George Elliott (a supporter of Swift Boat Veterans who has issued conflicting statements about Kerry's wartime actions).

Thurlow says there was no enemy fire. Two other Swift boat captains involved in the action that day say they do not recall enemy fire. (Another Swift boat skipper there was killed in action a month later.)

Oh, the fog of war. But the evidence--in terms of documents and eyewitness testimony--certainly is more on Kerry's side. I suppose it's possible his crewmates are all lying to help a buddy, that Rassmann is making the story more dramatic to enhance his own importance, and that somehow Kerry, as Thurlow suggests (without offering any evidence), managed to make an end run around Thurlow, the senior skipper in the flotilla, and have a phony account of the day's events accepted by higher-ups. But isn't it more likely that a few vets, still enraged at Kerry, are playing with facts in order to torpedo Kerry's presidential campaign? Perhaps they should change the name of their outfit to Swift Boat Veterans for Politically-Motivated Selective Memories.

But somehow I doubt that such a name change (official or unofficial) will stop the group from being booked on television and radio shows and from being cited by the windbags of the right (many of whom were quick to call George W. Bush's missing days as an Air National Guardsman an old and irrelevant story). The true goal of the Bush-backers brigade is not to win this battle and prove Kerry turned tail and then lied about saving a man. It is to create a battle, to raise questions (legitiamte or not) about Kerry's wartime service, to put him on the defensive.

And Kerry is fighting back. After taking hits from the Swift Boat group for weeks, he today called on Bush to denounce the Swift Boat Veterans campaign against him and said Bush "wants them to do his dirty work." Kerry declared that if Bush wants to "have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: 'Bring it on.'" Such a debate would rebound to Kerry's favor. (Will Bush brag about that tough dental exam he underwent while in Alabama?) Still, the anti-Kerry vets have succeeded in forcing a debate about an issue that Kerry and his aides viewed as a slam-dunk. The mission of Thurlow's gang was to make Kerry's war record episode seem, well, foggy. And thanks to Republican donors and Bushsymps in the media, they have done much to accomplish that mission.

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TO READ DAVID CORN'S NEW ARTICLE ON MUSICIAN STEVE EARLE, HIS NEW ALBUM, AND HIS ANTI-BUSH EFFORTS, CLICK here.

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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 NOW 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 the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.