Politcs and the Schiavo story

Anyone tracking the Schiavo story for the past few weeks is doubtless aware of the now infamous “GOP Schiavo Talking Points memo” which was circulated by GOP leaders on the senate floor around March 18th, and subsequently leaked to and reported by the press in the next few days. Something of a footnote in the whole affair, the memo included rather crass language about the Schiavo case being “a great political issue, […] a tough issue for the democrats.” The memo also stated that “the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.” >

The story took on a new life, however, when many right-wing pundits declared that the memo was a fake, that this was Rathergate part II, a dirty trick by the Democrats. The blogs, especially, were pounding this story with daily updates. The Powerline blog was a leader in this tirade, which is understandable since the blog’s writers were very uncomfortable with what Bush & Co. were doing with the Schiavo case, and would rather focus everyone’s attention elsewhere.

What was odd about this protest was that for at least some Republicans, the Schiavo case clearly was being used for political purposes. Tom DeLay was recorded making comments to the effect that he was grateful for the Schiavo case, which he felt served to illuminate attacks against him and the conservative movement as a whole.

Yesterday, it was announced that the memo was authored by the senior counsel to senator Mel Martinez (R-FL). Martinez has also admitted distributing the memo, although he still denies having read it, which is somewhat odd. So the initial reports of the memo having been authored and circulated by GOP leaders were correct. Here is the memo itself, complete with the typos that many thought were proof of the memo’s inauthenticity:

S. 529, The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act

Teri (sic) Schiavo is subject to an order that her feeding tubes will be disconnected on March 18, 2005 at 1p.m.

The Senate needs to act this week, before the Budget Act is pending business, or Terri’s family will not have a remedy in federal court.

This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.

This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.

The bill is very limited and defines custody as “those parties authorized or directed by a court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment.”

There is an exemption for a proceeding “which no party disputes, and the court finds, that the incapacitated person while having capacity, had executed a written advance directive valid under applicably law that clearly authorized the withholding or or (sic) withdrawl (sic) of food and fluids or medical treatment in the applicable circumstances.”

Incapacitated persons are defined as those “presently incapable of making relevant decisions concerning the provision, withholding or withdrawl (sic) of food fluids or medical treatment under applicable state law.”

This legislation ensures that individuals like Terri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy. S. 529, The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act

The Martinez aide who wrote the above has offered his resignation, which Martinez has accepted. It’s odd that the aide took so long to come forward, when so many were branding this memo as a Democrat dirty trick. Martinez himself ran a very controversial campaign, and he won with only a 1% lead. Two days after the election, the St. Petersburg Times ran an incredibly prophetic editorial, which included the following:

But Martinez will need more than a gesture to separate his office from the ugliness and excesses of his campaign.

Long after leaving Republicans embittered by his appeals to bigotry and his vulgar attacks on former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, Martinez used his general election campaign to tar Castor, a distinguished former legislator and education leader, as a terrorist sympathizer.

When challenged, Martinez was too eager to assign blame to his staff or to groups he said he couldn’t control. As a senator, he will need an office and a staff that speaks with the measured and centrist tone he says will be his own. He can’t pretend to be above it all if the people he employs are not.

Cyril Rugby is Cyberkrunk’s senior political correspondent.

In their own words

The events of the last few weeks have brought a whole slew of political topics to the fore: the separation of powers, state’s rights, the role of religion in America, the meaning of conservatism. Here, with no commentary, editing or emphasis, are some interesting statements on these topics. I have backed up a few months in order to pick up the roots of the “culture of life” meme. Here they are in their own words…

George W. Bush, third presidential debate, October 13 2004:

“I think it’s important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters. I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life. I understand there’s great differences on this issue of abortion, but I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions.”

George W. Bush speaking before anti-abortion rally, January 24 2005:

“I appreciate so very much your work toward building a culture of life, a culture that will protect the most innocent among us and the voiceless. We are working to promote a culture of life, to promote compassion for women and their unborn babies.”

Armstrong Williams, column entitled “Judicial Tyranny”, March 7 2005:

“I do not take the death penalty lightly. The decision to end a criminal’s life is perhaps the most solemn decision that the state can make. This decision is never easy. I mention this merely to point out that it’s for the people and their elected officials to decide when it is appropriate to extend full criminal punishment. This is not a decision that the constitution leaves to five old people in black dresses. The police power resides solely in the state government. It is a fundamental violation of the separation of powers when five unelected, unaccountable judges use their own sense of morality to invalidate the laws of 19 states. Justice Kennedy’s assessment that executing juveniles violates “evolving standards of decency” has no basis in reality.”

George W. Bush (President’s statement on Terri Schiavo) Thursday March 17, 2005:

“It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected – and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.”

House Majority Leader Tom Delay speaking to the Family Research Council, Friday March 18, 2005:

“It is more than just Terri Schiavo. This is a critical issue for people in this position, and it is also a critical issue to fight that fight for life, whether it be euthanasia or abortion. I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, one thing God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what’s going on in America. That Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks. I mean, in America that’s going to happen if we don’t win this fight. And so it’s bigger than any one of us, and we have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position, and let me just finish with this: This is exactly the kind of issue that’s going on in America, that attacks against the conservative moment, against me and against many others. The point is, the other side has figured out how to win and to defeat the conservative movement, and that is to go after people personally, charge them with frivolous charges, link up with all these do-gooder organizations funded by George Soros, and then get the national media on their side. That whole syndicate that they have going on right now is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to destroy the conservative movement.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on Meet the Press, Sunday March 17 2005:

“Look, I want to say generally, very briefly, that the mix of God and government, of religion and politics, is quintessentially American, and it was there at the beginning. The fact is that in the first American document, the Declaration of Independence, the founders of our country said that they were forming the new government to secure the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they saw as the endowment of our creator. So this government, this country was not neutral about God right at the outset. One, accepting that there is a creator, so our existence here is not accidental. And secondly, that as a result of the creation, we have an inherent unity. We are all equal. We have equal opportunity for those rights. We are a country based on a vision, a belief in creationism. And part of that is not only the humans, who were created on the sixth day, but the but the natural Earth. You know, look, I believe based on what I just said, that America itself is a faith-based initiative.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on Meet the Press, Sunday March 17 2005:

“We have to always remember that the Constitution, in my opinion, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

Christopher Shays (R-CT), quoted in NY Times, March 22, 2005:

“My party is demonstrating that they are for states’ rights unless they don’t like what states are doing. This couldn’t be a more classic case of a state responsibility. This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them.”

Rick Santorum (R-PA) on WABC, quoted at newsmax.com, March 22 2005:

“You have judicial tyranny here. Congress passed a law that said that you had to look at this case. He simply thumbed his nose at Congress. What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo. That means he has to hold a new trial. That’s what the statute said. What he’s saying is, ‘I don’t have to hold a new trial because I’ve already determined that her rights have been protected. That’s nice for him to say that. But that’s not what Congress told him to do. Judges should obey the law. And this judge – in my mind – simply ignored the law.”

Grover Norquist, quoted in Washington Post, Sunday March 26 2005:

“Advocates of using federal power to keep this woman alive need to seriously study the polling data that’s come out on this. I think that a lot of conservative leaders assumed there was broader support for saying that they wanted to have the federal government save this woman’s life.”

House Majority Leader Tom Delay, March 31 2005:

“The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another.”

George W. Bush Thursday March 31 2005:

“I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others.”

Army Captain Rogelio Maynulet, found guilty of assault with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter for killing a man in Iraq but not sentenced to serve time, quoted in Stars and Stripes:

“He was in a state I didn’t think was dignified. I had to put him out of his misery.”

Cyril Rugby is cyberkrunk’s senior political correspondent.

Sunday bobble-head blogging

1) Rummy the lizard-man on Stefanopoulis. (Note, we only call him the lizard man because he has the heart, soul, and mind of a reptile. And he eats flies.)

What does Rummy think of the ABC poll that shows 53% of Americans now think the war in Iraq wasn’t worth fighting, and that 41% think the war has made America weaker?

Rummy: I haven’t seen that poll… I have seen other polls.

Stef then asks Rummy about the new WaPo story about our ally Pakistan selling nuclear material to our enemy Libya. The Bush admin had been spreading the story that it was North Korea doing this.

Rummy: I haven’t seen that article. (He didn’t let us know if he had seen other articles or not.)

2) Stef then brings on McCain. His first two questions: Schiavo and steroids. Another victory for serious journalism!

3) Stef’s roundtable:

On Schiavo, George Will calls it right! A completely unconstitutional play to the Republican base. Way to go, Georgie!

Cyril Rugby is cyberkrunk’s senior political correspondent.

Covert Propaganda

There’s a substantial piece in today’s NY Times about the current Bush administration’s unprecedented efforts to sway public opinion by distributing fake news reports to the major televsion networks, and by putting pundits on the payroll. Fake TV news in particular seems to be a favorite ploy of this administration–remember the RNC last summer when pretend reporters “interviewed” people on the convention floor?

To date, the Bush administration has spent over $250M on a PR firm which helps them to produce the “Video New Releases”. The VNRs are then distributed to TV news stations, who often run the pieces unedited and without attribution. Even worse, stations will sometimes redo the narrations using local talent, which really makes them seem like legitimate new pieces. The Times reports that the administration was called on this practice last year by the GAO:

Yet in three separate opinions in the past year, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress that studies the federal government and its expenditures, has held that government-made news segments may constitute improper “covert propaganda” even if their origin is made clear to the television stations.

The next part of the story is a little strange, because there’s no shortage of diehard Bush apologists among the conservative babbling class. And yet, the Bush administration still felt the need to buy a little help. In January, we found out about three pundits on the Bush payroll. First there was Armstrong Williams, a conservative columnist who was given $240,000 by the administration to promote No Child Left Behind.

Then came Maggie Gallagher, another conservative columnist and talking head. Gallagher had previously garnered a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote Bush’s $300M pro-marriage initiative. She then received $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report titled “Can Government Strengthen Marriage?” Often appeared on television backing the “take marriage rights away from gay people” amendment.

And then a few weeks later came the story that was by far the funniest of the lot. James Guckert, a.k.a Jeff Gannon: a pretend journalist from a fake news agnecy who was somehow given a Whitehouse press pass under a false name. Known for lobbing incredibly softball questions to Bush during the all-too-rare presidential press conferences. The blogs have latched on to this story in particular because of Guckert’s alleged other line of work, which was to run gay military-themed prostitution services and pornography web sites (and he wasn’t just the president, he got in on the action himself). And perhaps it’s partly because all the images here are X-rated that this story didn’t hit big outside of the internets.

Here’s a typical example of a Guckert pitch to Bush:

“Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy: Harry Reid, who’s talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. You’ve said you’re going to reach out to these people. How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?”

Tough question, Jeff. Tough, but fair.

Cyril Rugby is cyberkrunk’s (pretend) senior political correspondent.

The Rice Filibuster

Seeing Condi on MTP this morning reminds me of the method preferred by the current administration for dealing with the press, namely to avoid any direct answer to questions, but instead to filibuster them with long responses peppered with talking points. Condi is one of the true masters of this technique, owing to her ability to instantly begin a long speech on any subject. Ideally, the response is long enough that your eyes begin to glaze over, and you forget what the question was. Journalists, whose prime directive now seems to be to protect their coveted access, play along with this game, and rarely press them on the tactic.

At the end of Tim Russert’s interview with Rice today, he raised the point that six secretaries of state have gone on to become president. How interesting would it be to have a Rice vs. Clinton face off in 2008?

Bush himself invariably, and quite clumsily, resorts to the filibuster style. You can find examples pretty much every time he deals with the press. The April 2004 prime time press conference was particularly good example, since he was given many very direct questions. Here’s an example, taken more or less randomly:

Q Do you feel a sense of personal responsibility for September 11th?

THE PRESIDENT: I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family members, and I do quite frequently. I grieve for the incredible loss of life that they feel, the emptiness they feel.

There are some things I wish we’d have done when I look back. I mean, hindsight is easy. It’s easy for a President to stand up and say, now that I know what happened, it would have been nice if there were certain things in place; for example, a homeland security department. And why I — I say that because it’s — that provides the ability for our agencies to coordinate better and to work together better than it was before.

I think the hearings will show that the Patriot Act is an important change in the law that will allow the FBI and the CIA to better share information together. We were kind of stove-piped, I guess is a way to describe it. There was kind of — departments that at times didn’t communicate, because of law, in the FBI’s case.

And the other thing I look back on and realize is that we weren’t on a war footing. The country was not on a war footing, and yet the enemy was at war with us. And it’s — it didn’t take me long to put us on a war footing. And we’ve been on war ever since. The lessons of 9/11 that I — one lesson was, we must deal with gathering threats. And that’s part of the reason I dealt with Iraq the way I did.

The other lesson is, is that this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense. In order to secure the country, we must do everything in our power to find these killers and bring them to justice, before they hurt us again. I’m afraid they want to hurt us again. They’re still there.

They can be right one time; we’ve got to be right a hundred percent of the time in order to protect the country. It’s a mighty task. But our government has changed since the 9/11 attacks. We’re better equipped to respond; we’re better at sharing intelligence. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

But back to Condi. I watched as much of the 9/11 commission hearings as I could. Thanks to C-SPAN, that was pretty much all of it. Lee Hamilton, the second commissioner to speak that day, did his best to set the tone by asking Condi questions along the lines of “Dr. Rice, please speak at length on a topic of your chosing.” It was a great tactic, but Richard Ben-Veniste wasn’t playing along and repeatedly pressed Condi to actually answer his questions:

BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president, at any time prior to August 6th, of the existence of al-Qaida cells in the United States?

RICE: First, let me just make certain …

BEN-VENISTE: If you could just answer that question, because I only have a very limited …

RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but it’s important …

BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president …

RICE: … that I also address …

(APPLAUSE)

It’s also important that, Commissioner, that I address the other issues that you have raised. So I will do it quickly, but if you’ll just give me a moment.

BEN-VENISTE: Well, my only question to you is whether you …

RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but I will …

BEN-VENISTE: … told the president.

RICE: If you’ll just give me a moment, I will address fully the questions that you’ve asked.

First of all, yes, the August 6th PDB was in response to questions of the president and that since he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al-Qaida’s operations.

Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum “I remember it as being only a line or two” that there were al-Qaida cells in the United States.

Now, the question is, what did we need to do about that?

And I also understood that that was what the FBI was doing, that the FBI was pursuing these al-Qaida cells. I believe in the August 6th memorandum it says that there were 70 full field investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this; the FBI was pursuing it.

I really don’t remember, Commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

RICE: I remember very well that the president was aware that there were issues inside the United States. He talked to people about this. But I don’t remember the al-Qaida cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about.

It was later that session that Bob Kerrey actually brought up the “F” word. What’s interesting is that if you read the transcripts, there was a good amount of back and forth between Rice and Jerry leading up to this exchange. I got the sense that Kerrey was as much reacting against the way Rice was responding to other panel members. (Kerrey, btw, clearly had Richard Clarke on the brain and repeatedly referred to Condi as “Dr. Clarke.” Condi eventually made a nice little quip about it.)

KERREY: Let me move to another area.

RICE: May I finish answering your question, though, because this is an important…

KERREY: I know it’s important. Everything that’s going on here is important. But I get 10 minutes.

RICE: But since we have a point of disagreement, I’d like to have a chance to address it.

KERREY: Well, no, no, actually, we have many points of disagreement, Dr. Clarke, but we’ll have a chance to do in closed session. Please don’t filibuster me. It’s not fair. It is not fair. I have been polite. I have been courteous. It is not fair to me.

(APPLAUSE)

I understand that we have a disagreement.

RICE: Commissioner, I am here to answer questions. And you’ve asked me a question, and I’d like to have an opportunity to answer it.

The fact is that what we were presented on January the 25th was a set of ideas and a paper, most of which was about what the Clinton administration had done and something called the Delenda plan which had been considered in 1998 and never adopted. We decided to take a different track.

RICE: We decided to put together a strategic approach to this that would get the regional powers the problem wasn’t that you didn’t have a good counterterrorism person.

The problem was you didn’t have an approach against Al Qaida because you didn’t have an approach against Afghanistan. And you didn’t have an approach against Afghanistan because you didn’t have an approach against Pakistan. And until we could get that right, we didn’t have a policy.

KERREY: Thank you for answering my question.

RICE: You’re welcome.

Back to the journalists. By not pressing members of the administration to give clear responses to their questions, the way Ben-Veniste and Kerry tried to, they do us all a great disservice. In fact, they create the dangerous illusion that we the public have full access to our highest government officials, when in fact we don’t–they put up a smoke screen. The journalists are supposed to serve the public, but instead serve up free air time to the government for political speech-making; this is why people like Condi are so willing to go on the Sunday shows every week. We need to call the Condis on it, but we need especially to call the Tweeties on it.

Cyril Rugby is cyberkrunk’s senior political correspondent.