Friday, March 19, 2004

Republican family values

The next time some blowhard Republican tries to tell you that conservatives are all about moral values and that today's decadent teenagers are the product of liberalism, direct them to this story, out of Georgia:
Another attack on Hispanic reported

Seems a claque of well-to-do white kids from Cherokee County decided earlier this year to prey on Guatemalan immigrant laborers because they typically carried cash and were unlikely to report the robberies. They'd pick them up at the usual day-laborer hangouts, take them out to the sticks, beat the crap out of them and threaten them with death.

Five youths, all of whom attended Cherokee High School in Canton, were charged in the Feb. 2-3 attacks on two day laborers, in which they robbed the men of paltry sums. These kids weren't white trash who needed the money in any event.

No, as an earlier story makes clear, these kids were from well-known and well-off local families -- so much so that two judges and the local prosecutor had to recuse themselves in the case:
In 2003, Scott Cagle, an uncle of Ben Cagle's, made a $400 campaign contribution to Mills, according to campaign disclosure reports.

When District Attorney Garry Moss removed his office as prosecutor three weeks ago, he said it was because of his acquaintance with members of Ben Cagle's extended family. Ben Cagle's grandparents are founding members of Cherokee's Republican Party and remain active in civic and cultural affairs.

These kids did it not for money but seemingly for "kicks". In the South, though, such claims of mere frolicry have a history of covering for acts of racial terrorism -- otherwise known as hate crimes.

Indeed, that concern was raised locally:
Hispanic community advocates want prosecutors to add hate-crime charges because of the way the boys characterized their actions. A hate-crime conviction can add up to five years to any sentence. The next grand jury announcement of indictments will be in April.

Wheeler told police he and the other boys targeted the Guatemalans because they knew Hispanics usually carried cash, the chief of detectives testified.

"It was easy money," Trifilo said, summarizing Wheeling's explanation.

It's worth noting that there are real problems with the prosecutor's rationale in not pursuing such charges.

Blaming these attacks on an economic motive is not very credible, considering the tiny sums obtained (the entire spree netted about $570) as well as the economic backgrounds of the perpetrators. In fact, there is a distinct lack of a serious economic motive in this case -- which is, in fact, one of the earmarks of a bias-motivated crime.

Another indicator -- in some states, it constitutes the very definition of a bias crime -- is the intentional selection of the victims by their race. That this occurred was unquestionable, and in fact at one point the kids apparently bragged about "robbing Mexicans."

Moreover, an economic motive doesn't in itself rule out a bias motivation as well. The question is whether investigators knew what to look for and how to get it, or whether it even crossed their radar.

In an event, regardless of any hate-crime element, it's always nice to see good Republican moral values being instilled in today's youths.

[Thanks to Rick in my comments.]

Republican racial values

The next time some Republican blowhard wonders aloud why blacks vote so overwhelmingly Democratic, you can just point them to this story:
NAACP flap resurfaces with Yow T-shirt

To hear Commissioner Billy Yow tell it, it's just a shirt.

In fact, he said, it's a shirt he's been hawking quietly for eight months now that just happens to feature a character urinating on the letters "NAACP," a reference to the national civil rights group.

But the shirt has created a buzz, thanks largely to prominent mention in a new local weekly tabloid affiliated with another county commissioner, and it could resurrect old feuds involving race, politics and the county's elected governing board.

"If someone labels me a racist, that's just their narrow-mindedness," Yow, who is white, told a group of reporters gathered in front of his house Wednesday afternoon.

The shirt uses the stars-and-bars design of the Confederate battle emblem, which has been labeled by some, including chapters of the NAACP, as a racist emblem. It is touted by others as a symbol of Southern pride and heritage.

Yow called the design "a symbol of freedom."

The shirt, Yow said, was an exercise of free speech originally prompted by his 2003 battle with local NAACP chapters that led to calls for his removal.

"I'm still not over it," Yow said of the fight. "God forgives; Billy Yow don't."

And what was the dispute about? It was about Yow openly discriminating against any NAACP member in a hiring matter. "NAACP member" being a euphemism for ... well, you know.
The shirt's history is rooted in last year's search for a new county manager and Yow's assertion that Alston, who was then chairman of the board, wanted to find an NAACP member for the post. Yow was quoted in February 2003 as saying that he wouldn't vote to hire an NAACP member "unless he was very overly qualified."

That and other comments sparked protests from local chapters of the NAACP and a vote by the county commissioners that Yow interpreted as a censure. The board eventually rescinded that move after Yow filed a lawsuit.

Yow eventually dropped the suit, and the county hired Willie Best, who is black, as county manager.

Yow's racial bias couldn't be any clearer -- and his wink-and-nudge act isn't fooling anyone.

He is, of course, a GOP stalwart.

[ Thanks to a complete bunch of pants, via Frograbbitmonkey.]

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Lucky us

I mentioned yesterday that there has been a recent uptick in right-wing domestic terrorism, ranging from the Texas cyanide bomb case to the Florida man who planned a bombing spree against abortion clinics and gay bars.

What's noteworthy is that, so far, we have been very fortunate in all these cases, which have been cracked by happenstance (especially in the Krar case) and watchful citizens -- not because of crack work by law enforcement, whose emphasis, as we have seen, has shifted away from domestic terrorism.

An older case of domestic terrorism -- dating from an incident and arrest that occurred in early 2002, but which went utterly unnoticed in the press -- is now coming to light, and the story underscores, again, just how lucky we've been.

According to this report in the Tennessean, a sharp-eyed citizen likely prevented a Buford Furrow wannabe from shooting up a Jewish children's school in Nashville back in January 2002:
On this leafy street in Nashville's Richland neighborhood, Smith could study the Jewish school while traffic was forced to squeeze past him awkwardly on the right. One of those passing motorists saw the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on Smith's lap, the barrel pointed toward the school.

The motorist in a white car watched as Smith gestured to him. Smith drove forward, made a U-turn and eventually pulled onto West End Avenue. By then, the driver had noted the Contour's license plate and flagged down a Metro police officer.

By midafternoon, Michael Smith was in custody, starting a legal case that ended yesterday with his sentencing in federal court.

Immediately after his capture on Jan. 4, 2002, local police and federal agents started peeling away the layers of the former paramedic's life. They found live hand grenades, pipe bombs, boxes and boxes of ammunition, right-wing hate literature and military manuals detailing sniper techniques.

Ah well. Just another "isolated incident", right?

Meanwhile, in Boston, a neo-Nazi's threat against black bus drivers threw a scare into the transit system:
MBTA cops alerted area police last night to be on the lookout for a car carrying a white man who threatened to blow up every bus he saw with a black driver.

"This is a very serious incident to us, not only because of the threat to blow up a bus, but because of the racial overtone of the threat,'' MBTA police Lt. Robert Lenehan said.

... The man claimed to be a member of the Aryan Nation and used a racial slur as he threatened to blow up any bus with a black driver. Then he got back into the car, and it sped off.

Yeah, but, see, it can't be terrorism. These were Americans. Right?

"Who cares what you think?"

Self-admitted regular schmoo Bill Hangley finally comes forward to talk about his brief encounter with George W. Bush, which produced probably the Bushism to end all Bushisms:
A church picnic in Philadelphia, designed to help George W. Bush promote his faith-based policies. I was working at the time for a local nonprofit that had helped set it up, but I had some serious misgivings about the president's performance up to that point, and being a part of the whole operation had left me feeling a bit like a pseudo-person. So when I had the chance to shake Bush's hand, I said, "Mr. President, I'm very disappointed in your work so far. I hope you only serve four years."

His smiling response was swift: "Who cares what you think?"

I agree with Hangley that the quote ought to be appearing on T-shirts, preferably at Bush appearances. (Of course, anyone wearing one would be automatically sent to the "First Amendment zone.")
And now, as November approaches, I have to thank the president for pointing me toward exactly the right question. The voters won't go to the polls thinking only of war or taxes or moral clarity. They'll be asking themselves, "Does Bush care what I think?"

The only appropriate answer to which, of course, would be a smirk.

What I've been doing instead of blogging

I've been a bad boy, I know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A note

By the way, has anyone else observed the profoundly anti-democratic sentiment that underpins the neoconservative spin about the outcome of the Spanish election?

At the base of the contention that the defeat of Aznar constituted "appeasement" is the belief that the voters didn't know what they were doing. That "democracy" (as these thugs define it) is too important to be left in the hands of voters.

That, of course, along with the intimations that the Spanish elections should have been postponed. (For what? A good dose of spin?) Somehow I wonder if we'll be hearing that rationale again.

Getting Serious About Terror

One of the realities highlighted by last week's terrorism attacks in Spain -- and largely overlooked by the press -- is the fact that domestic terrorism is largely indistinguishable from international terrorism in terms of the damage that it can inflict -- and that focusing on one at the expense of the other leaves a nation truly vulnerable to lethal violence.

This was driven home by the way the Spanish government immediately tried to blame the attacks on the separatist ETA -- a domestic group -- instead of al Qaeda, who now appear to be the real culprits:
Beginning immediately after the blasts, Aznar and other officials telephoned journalists, stressing ETA's responsibility and dismissing speculation that Islamic extremists might be involved. Spanish diplomats pushed a hastily drafted resolution blaming ETA through the U.N. Security Council. At an afternoon news conference, when a reporter suggested the possibility of an al Qaeda connection, the interior minister, Angel Acebes, angrily denounced it as "a miserable attempt to disrupt information and confuse people."

"There is no doubt that ETA is responsible," Acebes said.

Within days, that assertion was in tatters, and with it the reputation and fortunes of the ruling party. Suspicion that the government manipulated information -- blaming ETA in order to divert any possible link between the bombings and Aznar's unpopular support for the war in Iraq -- helped fuel the upset victory of the Socialist Workers' Party in Sunday's elections. By then, Islamic extremists linked to al Qaeda had become the focus of the investigation.

With a seemingly bottomless capacity for callousness, right-wing pundits and warbloggers have been quick to blame the Spanish voters for supposedly capitulating to the terrorists by giving them their desired election result. The iterations of this noxious claim have been too numerous to list here, but are embodied by David Brooks' recent NYT column:
The Spanish government was conducting policies in Afghanistan and Iraq that Al Qaeda found objectionable. A group linked to Al Qaeda murdered 200 Spaniards, claiming that the bombing was punishment for those policies. Some significant percentage of the Spanish electorate was mobilized after the massacre to shift the course of the campaign, throw out the old government and replace it with one whose policies are more to Al Qaeda's liking.

What is the Spanish word for appeasement?

As Retrogrouch points out, this kind of argument is not just outrageously thoughtless, it is simply wrong on the facts. The Times' own reportage gives a much clearer and more honest picture of what was on Spanish voters' minds:
At the bus and train terminal at Plaza de la Castilla in northern Madrid, Alberto Martín, a 31-year-old nuclear physicist who voted Socialist, said, "If the government had said, `We don't know who did it,' nothing would have happened and Zapatero would not be there. Aznar was making decisions without any consideration for people's concerns. Look at the war in Iraq. Aznar thought he was God! There was no dialogue."

The election, Mr. Martín added, "is a victory for the people, not for terrorism. You see, I'm now going to take the train."

Of course, the right-wing smear of Spanish voters serves precisely one purpose only: To set the stage in America for the Bush re-election campaign's talking points attacking John Kerry for his supposed weakness on national security. It's meant to work in tandem with the equally noxious "terrorists want to see Kerry win" meme.

And as it happens, their inability to understand -- or to honestly characterize -- the real reasons for the Spanish election outcome points precisely to Republicans' substantial vulnerability on exactly the issue of national security.

Because, just like the Spanish government, Bush and the GOP have sold the electorate a bill of goods on a "war on terror" that has come up substantially short in making the "homeland" more secure -- and has, in fact, more substantially increased the likelihood of being vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The Bush approach has been to treat terrorism as though it were a phenomenon mostly related to unrest in the Middle East, the product of brown-skinned fanatics for whom the only adequate response is the full force of American military might. This approach largely treats terrorism as though it exists only in conjunction with a handful of states -- the "Axis of Evil" -- that support it, and containing it means bombing and killing its supporters out of existence.

This was, in essence, the rationale for invading both Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of Afghanistan, certainly a military response is fully justified, since the state connection to terrorism is clear and unmistakable. In the case of Iraq, however, that connection remains far from clear; though at one time I thought evidence existed to suggest such a connection, it has become painfully clear since that any Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism, particularly al Qaeda, was thin at best.

More to the point, however, is the fact that by making the "War on Terror" primarily a military operation and only secondarily (at best) a matter for law enforcement and intelligence, the Bush administration is focusing on only a rather narrow part of the terrorism spectrum. (Even on those terms, as Matt Yglesias has ably demonstrated, Bush's execution of the "war on terror" has in fact largely consisted of smoke, mirrors, shock and awe.)

The reality: Terrorism is a global phenomenon. It takes the shape not of a singular or even related ideology, but the idiosyncratic form of whatever extremism gives it birth. It is amorphous, and highly corpuscular, sometimes effectively emanating from extremely small groups or even individuals. And it is every bit as alive and well in America as it is in the Middle East.

This has many ramifications, not the least of which is that emphasizing the military component to any effective assault on terrorism -- and there are instances, such as Afghanistan, when a military solution indeed is required -- has an extraordinarily negative effect, particularly if military operations are undertaken through fraudulent circumstances, as in the invasion of Iraq. As Robert Wright observes in Part 3 of his insightful series in Slate, "A Real War on Terrorism":
We have to understand that terrorism is fundamentally a "meme" -- a kind of "virus of the mind," a set of beliefs and attitudes that spreads from person to person. One way to squelch terrorism is to kill or arrest the people whose brains are infected with the meme, and the Bush administration has done some of that effectively. But some forms of killing and arresting -- especially the kinds that get us bad publicity -- do so much to spread the meme that our enterprise suffers a net loss. ... The ultimate target is memes; killing or arresting people is useful only to the extent that it leads to a net reduction in terrorism memes.

Rephrased in these terms, the point I've been trying to drive home is that, for technological reasons, memes are getting faster and slipperier. The information age is doing for these "viruses of the mind" what dense urban living and interurban transport did for biological pathogens during the late Middle Ages. (The result of humankind's failure to reckon with this was the Black Death.) And few things drive terrorism memes farther and faster over their new electronic conduits than doing an ill-thought-out job of neutralizing people already "infected."

Any kind of serious War on Terror needs to have the flexibility to respond proportionately and nimbly to various terrorist threats as they manifest themselves, and in this respect a military emphasis is simply too musclebound to be effective. A comprehensive approach will emphasize intelligence and law enforcement -- especially global law enforcement, the very concept of which is anathema to the Bush administration -- while reserving its military options, fraught as they are with multiple collateral hazards, solely for the rare circumstances that warrant them.

This, as it happens, appears to be the smart approach to terrorism that is being advocated by none other than John Kerry, though of course it is being demagogued by the Bush campaign and its apologists as being solely about law enforcement.

Nearly all the smart folk on the left side of the blogosphere have been urging Kerry to take the debate on national security to Bush, to turn the assault on Kerry as weak on it head, and attack the administration for its very real miscalculations and missteps in this arena: Atrios, Josh Marshall, and Daily Kos are only among the foremost in the blogosphere making this point.

If Kerry is going to do this, one of the most effective ways he can make this point is to talk about domestic terrorism -- because the Bush administration's extraordinarily weak record on that front exposes in a concrete way that everyone can understand just how phony its "war on terror" (and accompanying rationale for the invasion of Iraq) really is.

It would not take much to drive this point home. The Kerry campaign could easily point to Bush's serious lapses in handling domestic terrorism as symptomatic of the real shortcomings of his approach to "homeland security":
-- The fall 2001 anthrax attacks, for which no one has yet been apprehended.

-- The Texas cyanide bomb case.

-- The ricin attack on the Senate.

-- Various cases of right-wing domestic terrorism since Sept. 11, ranging from plots to attack abortion clinics and gay bars to the bombing of local racial-relations offices.

As I've discussed previously, the Bush record is such that it is becoming clear that Americans are more vulnerable than ever to domestic terrorism, particularly since it is likewise evident the extremist right intends to "piggyback" off attacks committed by international terrorists -- and yet federal law enforcement's emphasis remains almost entirely on international terrorism. Even when a disturbingly dangerous case like the Texas cyanide bombers emerges, it is relegated to insignificance -- and so poorly handled that FBI investigators fail to even contact their own offices where leads might appear.

Even conservative news organizations like UPI have noticed. A recent op-ed piece on the wire service titled "Outside View: Who is William Krar?" points up many of the same problems observed here as well:
Even more astounding is the stony silence from the Ashcroft Justice Department, which found at least 2,295 occasions to toot its own horn that are apparently more newsworthy than the Krar arrest.

"We don't spend a lot of time thinking about how we announce our activities," a Justice Department spokesman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Really? This is from a Justice Department that averages two news releases every day and has never been shy to march out every triumph over the arrest or conviction of anyone remotely connected to overseas terror.

No, this Justice Department is obsessed with thinking about how they announce their activities. And that is what is so intriguing about this arrest and the conspicuous lack of comment from Ashcroft.

It is, to quote another famous crime fighter, reminiscent of "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time," said Inspector Gregory. "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

What throws the Bush administration's miserable handling of domestic terrorism into stark relief is those few cases in which the government has tooted the "domestic terrorism" horn in making arrests -- all of which have involved so-called "eco-terrorists," such as the recent arrest of "Tre Arrow" up in Victoria. Especially noteworthy in that recent AP story was this point:
The FBI lists the ELF as its No. 1 domestic terrorism priority.

This is a crystalline example of the gross skewing of priorities for both law enforcement and intelligence in dealing with terrorism that has been a hallmark of the Bush regime.

While eco-terrorists are a serious problem, and deserve certainly serious prosecution under the law, the level of threat they represent is proportionally so much less than that from the far-right "Patriot" movement and white supremacists as to raise serious questions about the priorities of both the FBI and the Justice Department. Certainly it is worth observing, as does It's a Crock, that "eco-terrorist" Jeff Luers -- who torched three SUVs and took care to do so when it was unlikely anyone would be harmed -- is serving a 22-year prison sentence, while William Krar -- who built a cyanide bomb designed to kill perhaps a hundred people or more -- is facing a mere 15 years. When left-wing terrorists begin actually killing and maiming people and blowing up federal buildings with day cares inside them, or even plotting to do so, perhaps then they will deserve the kind of focus being accorded them under the Bush and Ashcroft style of governance.

Moreover, lest anyone think that the American far right is incapable of serious damage and not really in al Qaeda's class, it's probably useful to recall that before Sept. 11, the most lethal terrorist attack on American soil was committed by American right-wing extremists, with a toll similar to Spain's recent losses.

And contrary to those who argue that an emphasis on law enforcement is inadequate, the reality is that a one-two punch of intelligence and law enforcement is extraordinarily effective in stopping terrorism, at least domestically. One of the points that emerged from my in-depth work for MSNBC on domestic terrorism was that of the 40-plus cases of serious domestic terrorism we identified as arising in the 1995-2000 period, the vast majority had in fact been nipped in the bud by law enforcement before the would-be terrorists could act, largely through effective intelligence-gathering and aggressive arrests and prosecution. There is no reason this same approach would not be effective on a global scale -- unless, of course, one was allergic to cooperating with the very concept of international law enforcement.

In many ways, the American situation is a kind of reverse mirror image of Spain's: Were domestic terrorists to actually strike on U.S. soil, the government would be eager to blame the attack on international terrorists -- as was, in fact, the case with the anthrax terrorist. Just as with Spain's Aznar, Bush's handling of terrorism has instead revolved around invading Iraq -- a diversion, by nearly any standard, from a serious and comprehensive assault on terrorism.

But unlike in Spain, hardly anyone has bothered to point out the flaws in that approach to the voters. John Kerry would be smart to do so.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Tamper, tamper

Down in my comments, Marty Heldt chimes in with a thoroughly detailed response on the question just raised: Have George W. Bush's military records been tampered with or altered?
Yes. I believe they have.

The recent White House dumping of several hundred pages of George W Bush's National Guard documents had the desired effect of both quieting and muddying the sea of questions surrounding his long ago service. Most journalists simply looked at the mess and they moved on.

But that puddle of papers also raised the eyebrows of those who have observed the periodic airing of Bush's files through an evolving series of releases. Among them was Mimi Swartz who, in a recent New York Times column [key extracts here] noted of this "disconcerting" progression, "that each election cycle comes with a new set of 'complete' documents."

Simply put, this shifting history has fueled widespread speculation that George W Bush somehow concealed, changed or altered his records.

Indeed, we have no need to speculate. There is clear evidence that George W Bush's records have seen changes.

In early 1999 the Bush campaign enlisted the services of an old friend, Albert Lloyd, to help sort through the gaps and holes in the candidate's records. But Lloyd's long years as top personnel officer of the Texas Air National Guard weren't enough fit all the pieces together. After his search was completed there were still uneasy gaps and discrepancies to account for.

But Lloyd did make a few discoveries in his search of Texas records. These were the three documents, one "torn" undated document and two general orders from April and May of 1973, first described by Walter Robinson in a May 2000 article for the Boston Globe. And now, thanks to James Moore's new book Bush's War For Re-election, we have a further confirmation from Albert Lloyd about his discovery of these documents in an old box at Camp Mabry near Austin Texas. "I found it in a general orders file. It wasn't a part of his personal file," Lloyd stated to Moore. Adding further emphasis to his discovery, Lloyd continued, "these were general Guard records, not Bush's records."

These "found" documents are important because they served as the Bush campaign's sole evidence of any Guard service performed by Bush between April 30th of 1972 and May 1st of 1973. The Bush campaign then shopped these documents around to several sources during the 2000 presidential campaign. Those who were given access included Jo Thomas, then with the New York Times, and Peter Keating, then with George magazine. Both writers used the documents found by Lloyd to establish some duty for Bush in this questioned period.

I obtained both the "torn" document and the May general orders document in the packet I received in August of 2000 as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

To ascertain that these documents had not been included in earlier FOIA releases I contacted a widely respected journalist who had obtained and examined many of Bush's documents. He confirmed that neither the May general order nor the "torn" document had been included in the pre-1999 document releases.

Furthermore, neither document had been referred to in print prior to Robinson's piece in May of 2000. Nor have the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times mentioned the documents in any articles on Bush's service. This is important since both of these papers received their documents prior to July 1999 stories on Bush's records printed by the respective papers.

At this time it is important to note that I am not questioning the authenticity of the documents found by Lloyd. Rather, my interest focuses on how the documents came to be included in the official record file of George W Bush.

At first look Lloyd seems an obvious suspect. His prior position as the chief personnel officer for the Texas Air National Guard meant Lloyd had a working knowledge of the record processes and connections to those in charge of their keeping. And Lloyd has had a personal involvement in Bush's records stretching back over a span of thirty years from when he first served as signator on several of Bush?s records till recently when the Bush campaign turned to him to help research the candidates service. Still, I want it understood that I believe Lloyd when he denies having inserted any documents into the official record. I consider it even more likely that someone with political motivations and connections caused the documents to be placed into Bush's official files.

Picking up the trail

From 1974-1999, a span of 25 years, there are no dated additions in the copies of Bush's file I received through the FOIA. Then, 17 pages from the Interceptor, a monthly newsletter-type magazine put out by Bush's former National Guard unit are marked "fax received" March 31, 1999. These include a quote which the Bush campaign manager must have found irresistible: "George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot, hashish or speed. Oh he gets high, all right, but not from narcotics."

The spring of 1999 saw the Bush campaign cranking up to speed for the primary season. The Interceptor addition to the records at this time seems to be just a little harmless tweaking of the files for PR effect. And, in fact, the "gets his kicks" quote appeared in a July 4th article by the Los Angeles Times after they had received a packet of Bush's documents through a FOIA request.

The next fax date is a year later, July 6, 2000. This was five weeks after the Bush campaign had been rocked by Walter Robinson's story about Bush's records, and during a period when others were raising similar questions. This is a May 1973 general order, and it is one of the three documents I had mentioned above as being found during the Bush campaign search of Camp Mabry.

With these recent fax dates in mind I wrote the National Archives and Records Administration about the proper procedures for making changes to a serviceman's files.

I soon had an interview with Charles Pellegrini of the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis. From him I learned that changes to such old files are mostly limited to fixing mistakes. This position is confirmed by a search of the Air Force Board For Records Correction website where they note that the "purpose of a record correction is to restore the member to the position he would have held if the error or injustice had not occurred." I also learned from Mr. Pellegrini that records are kept of all changes to a veteran's files.

Seeking records of changes to the files was something that had not occurred to me before. I quickly filed a FOIA request seeking "access to and copies of records or logs of any changes or additions made to the military records file of George W Bush, AFSN FG324xxxx."

The response to my FOIA request again established that there "is a formal process to accomplish changes" and that "individual veterans, or their representatives, are required to use specific forms to request changes to their records." And a careful reading of their response does not rule out that these records were changed, only that the record center search "did not locate any requests for change" to these files.

Indeed, and despite the presence of the documents Lloyd discovered, the last recorded addition to these files is listed as "Mr. Bush's discharge from the Air Force Reserve on November 21, 1974."

NARA's reply did not shed any light on who may have changed Bush's official records. But included at the end of their response was this caveat: "It should be noted that tampering with or changing Federal records is a criminal offense under Title 18, Chapter 101, Section 2071, and is punishable by fine and or imprisonment."

Undoubtedly, there will be more on this to come. When, though, is anybody's guess.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

AWOL: Is HRP the key?

While the Washington press corps evidently has bought into the White House's "nothing to see here, move along" storyline regarding George W. Bush's spotty military record, there are, thank goodness, still a few working journalists out there who can see through the fog and spot the gaping holes in the story.

One of these, as it happens, is my good friend Bill Morlin, the veteran reporter at the Spokane Spokesman-Review whose work played such a big role for me in writing In God's Country (we covered a number of far-right events together, including the Freemen standoff in Montana; Bill has been covering Aryan Congresses since 1983). Bill teamed up with Karen Dorn Steele, another veteran investigative reporter, to examine Bush's military record thoroughly (Spokane is home to a large contingent of both Air Force and Air Guard forces).

The resulting report is an important advance in the AWOL story, since it not only brings into focus the possible reasons for Bush's previously unexplained (and frankly inexplicable) behavior regarding his missed flight physical, it also raises the key question that speaks to the story's immediate relevance: Have Bush's records been tampered with or altered?
Bush's partial history: Stringent military screening program may explain gaps on president's record

What Morlin and Steele appear to have ascertained is that Bush was subject to the Human Reliability Program, a set of stringent regulations designed to prevent nuclear weapons from being handled by people who were unreliable:
The White House documents do show that Bush's military job description, called an Air Force Specialty Code, or AFSC, was listed as "1125D, pilot, fighter interceptor."

Bush's pilot code was among those covered by Air Force Regulation 35-99, a previously undisclosed document recently obtained by The Spokesman-Review. Regulation 35-99 contains an extensive explanation of the Human Reliability Program.

Human reliability regulations were used to screen military personnel for their mental, physical and emotional fitness before granting them access to nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Under the rules, pilots could be removed immediately from the cockpit for HRP issues, which happened in the 1974 Washington Air National Guard case. The two Washington airmen were suspended on suspicion of drug use, but eventually received honorable discharges.

A second previously unreleased document obtained by the newspaper, a declassified Air Force Inspector General's report on the Washington case, states that human reliability rules applied to all Air National Guard units in the 1970s. From 1968 to 1973, Bush was assigned to the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston.

While Bush's defenders expend a great deal of energy downplaying the HRP rules and their role in the Air Guard, the reality is that they were in fact a point of emphasis during the time period in question:
Thousands of pilots and other military personnel have lost their job assignments under the human reliability regulations, which were established in the 1960s, according to academic researchers.

The regulations were made stricter in the 1970s when the military started screening for drug abuse, said Dr. Herbert Abrams in a 1991 research paper.
... "The military takes this very, very seriously," said Lloyd Dumas, professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is the author of Lethal Arrogance, a 1999 study of human foibles and dangerous technology.

"People of a lesser rank can even remove their superiors (under HRP). It's one of the few areas where rank doesn't matter," Dumas said.

Bush's suspension, his spotty final year of military service and his failure to take his flight physical are puzzling, Dumas said.

"If Bush was under the Human Reliability Program, there should be a paper trail. And if there's not, that's very, very unusual," the University of Texas professor said.

There already are indications -- just from the gaps in the record and what we know should be there -- that Bush's records have been manipulated (which is a federal offense). Recall, if you will, Walter Robinson's major piece on these gaps for the Boston Globe, in which he reported:
The order required Bush to acknowledge the suspension in writing and also said: "The local commander who has authority to convene a Flying Evaluation Board will direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination." After that, the commander had two options -- to convene the Evaluation Board to review Bush's suspension or forward a detailed report on his case up the chain of command.

Either way, officials said yesterday, there should have been a record of the investigation.

As noted earlier, there were no such records in the supposedly "complete" release given by the White House.

So now the question is: Will anyone in the Washington press corps pick up on this development? Will any of them ask Scott McClellan or Dan Bartlett whether Bush in fact was under the HRP rules? And if so, where are the accompanying documents?

UPDATE: Eric Boehlert at Salon tosses in his two bits' worth, noting that the Morlin/Steele piece "goes a long way in explaining what's always been the biggest mystery surrounding Bush's questionable Guard service: Why did he stop flying?"

The trail grows cold

It's always tempting to bury our heads in the sand about domestic terrorism because it's such a potentially divisive and disruptive phenomenon.

International terrorism inspires our outrage, and has kind of a unifying effect upon a victim community; but domestic terrorism -- especially when committed by right-wing extremists seeking to spark a "race war" -- reveals our fault lines, particularly the racial ones. As with hate crimes, law enforcement has a decided incentive to play down the potential appearance of domestive terrorism within their communities, since such incidents often can give whole regions or even states, as well as cities and towns, a serious black eye (see, e.g., Idaho or Laramie, Wyoming).

The problem with being in denial about the motivations for such acts -- as the FBI discovered to its everlasting chagrin in dealing with the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing -- is that it usually means the perpetrators not only remain at large, but becomes emboldened to ratchet up the violence. Most of these terrorists see themselves as infinitely smarter than the "dumb cops," and infinitely capable of going uncaught. (Many believe that they are protected by God.) So when they do get away with it at the early stages, it's taken as a clear sign to rise to the next level.

This appears to be happening in the East Valley of the Phoenix area, where a mail bomber who tried to kill the head of Scottsdale's diversity office has so far eluded authorities. Investigators, it seems, are focusing on anyone who might have a personal or business-related grudge against Don Logan, the target of the attacks.

A recent Arizona Republic piece tried to tackle the question, Why was Logan a target? It noted the direction of the investigation so far, which is increasingly looking like yet another Richard Jewell-esque wild goose chase:
Investigators have not said whether they have a suspect in mind, but they are looking into Logan's personal and professional background for someone who might have a grudge. Logan handles training, community outreach, terminations and complaints from employees and citizens.

The possibility he was attacked because he represented a government office dedicated to racial equality -- and thereby a prime target for white supremacists -- seems not to loom very large on their radar. This despite the fact that the nearby town of Gilbert was recently plastered with National Alliance flyers.

Indeed, the fact that one of the people who commented in the Republic story -- Sandra Rembrandt of the non-profit organization Community Celebrating Diversity -- was subsequently the recipient of a phone threat does not seem to have registered with authorities as further indication of domestic terrorism.

Rembrandt evidently made the mistake of being quoted in the story saying what needed to be said: "Obviously someone is trying to make a point and is upset about something." The next day, she received a phone call indicating she might be next:
"A lot of people feel like (Oklahoma City bomber Timothy) McVeigh," a caller told Scottsdale resident Sandra Rembrandt. "You better be careful."

Rembrandt, who is African-American, Cherokee and Choctaw, runs a non-profit organization that promotes diversity.

"I just want to know what an anti-White (expletive) sounds like," the caller told Rembrandt shortly after noon.

It's clear that Scottsdale officials are not eager to address the implications of all this, adhering rigorously to the suggestion that this was the work of someone with a personal grudge. Just an "isolated incident."

Meanwhile, if a domestic terrorist in fact was at work here, then the perpetrator of the bombing becomes further emboldened to continue spiraling ever more violent because it's clear to him the cops are barking up the wrong tree. Which significantly increases the likelihood of his acting again, perhaps even more lethally.

And in the meantime, any minority communities, as well as civil-rights activists, in Scottsdale and the East Valley generally are likely to feel increasingly vulnerable, because it's clear their concerns that racism was at work in the bombing are being ignored -- and that they bomber is still free to strike again.

Not that this seems to be a major concern for Scottsdale police anyway. After all, they've been lately preoccupied with arresting black teenagers who wear their ballcaps sideways.

The Hatch act

If there were any doubt that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is one of the most duplicitous figures in American politics, it should have been erased with his most recent performance, blindsiding Democrats by kicking the push for an investigation into Republicans' theft of internal e-mails out of the Judiciary Committee.

Remember, it was only a few weeks ago that Hatch was playing the role of honest Republican, voicing his deep concern and regret over the thefts and promising to do what he could for an investigation. Indeed, his extremely pliant position had earned Hatch the wrath of fellow conservatives, who went so far as to call him a "traitor" for daring express a modicum of basic decency.

That was all just the setup for last `week's stunt -- which effectively killed any chance of the Senate supporting a Justice Department investigation into the matter. Democrats were gulled into believing Hatch was on their side, and then given the shaft when they weren't expecting it. Now any probe is left in the hands of the Republican sergeant-at-arms of the Senate.

Now Hatch can tell the people betrayed by him that he was pressured into killing the Judiciary vote -- and he gets to be a hero to those same conservatives who were willing to draw and quarter him a few weeks ago. Quite a slick routine, really.

Hatch's gentlemanly schtick has been used to good effect many times in the past, including effectively sidetracking a federal hate-crimes law by pretending to support it and then introducing various poison-pill amendments; and helping to insure the successful nomination of Ted Olson as Solicitor General by various backroom machinations.

In this case, the real agenda at work was readily discernible just within the response from defenders of the theft of the e-mails, as reported in the most recent story:
Lawyers representing one of the former aides who took the documents, Manuel Miranda, released two lengthy documents criticizing Pickle's report. They said Miranda was a whistle-blower, not a thief, taking advantage of a computer security glitch to fulfill his duty to further the president's agenda on the judiciary.

Of course, any Senate staffer's duty is not to the president but to the senators for whom he works. That Hatch's staffer saw his duty thus gives us a pretty clear idea just whose agenda Hatch is fronting for.

It's perhaps useful to recall that this is the same Orrin Hatch who, in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, revealed to the public classified information about federal investigators' information about the terrorist attacks -- which then became one of the White House's excuses for refusing to share intelligence with Congress thereafter.