Keith Olbermann, broadcasting from Ground Zero the evening of 9/11/06, began his commentary on MSNBC remembering what it was like to breathe air that "contained the remains" of thousands of strangers and four of his friends. He ended it with words and images from The Twilight Zone. Somewhere in between -- somewhere before he started quoting Rod Serling -- Olbermann delivered the sort of probing, reality-based post-9/11 assessment we got from neither ABC nor the president of the United States:
"The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the president in particular, was given every possible measure of support.
"Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that. Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that. Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.
"History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.
"Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.
"The President -- and those around him -- did that.
"They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, 'bi-partisanship' meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the vice president's words yesterday, 'validate the strategy of the terrorists.'
"They promised protection, and then showed that to them 'protection' meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who, we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al Qaeda as much as we did.
"The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is 'lying by implication.'
"The impolite phrase is 'impeachable offense.'" -- Tim Grieve, Salon.com.
IMPEACHMENT GROUNDSWELL: There is more support to impeach Bush today than there ever was to impeach Bill Clinton. During the Monica Lewinsky controversy, just 19% of Americans thought Clinton should go in February 1998. At the height of the scandal, 29% of Americans thought Clinton should get the boot, the National Journal's Hotline reported 9/8. But a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll in September found 30% said Bush should be impeached. Just 41% approve of his handling of the job, while 55% disapprove.
CONGRESSIONAL RACES TIGHTEN: With Labor Day behind us, the election campaign gets serious. With Dems needing a gain of six seats to take over the Senate (and be able to stop Bush judicial and other nominations), Chris Bowers noted 9/8 at MyDD.com that four Senate races are all looking very good for pickups: Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Then there are three campaigns where the Democratic candidates are slightly behind in polls (and cash): Jim Webb in Virginia, Harold Ford in Tennessee and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. In Missouri, five recent polls showed Sen. Talent (R) leading by an average of 47.6 to 45.4. In Tennessee, for the seat Sen. Frist is giving up, four polls showed Corker (R) leading 45.6 to 43.5. In Virginia, three polls showed Sen. Allen (R) leading 47.7 to 45. "This new tier of races, forming a belt right across the border states, is where control of the Senate will be decided," Bowers wrote. "Democrats have basically no chance of winning the Senate unless we win at least two of these three races. Obviously, pulling that off is a very a difficult task, which is why I remain so pessimistic about our chances to take over the Senate." But he added, "If you had told me 18 months ago that in early September of 2006 we would be in a realistic position to take the Senate, I probably would have snorted and then shook my head in cynical disagreement. ... If we can come up with just four or five more points in these three states, we could actually pull it off."
In House races, where Dems need a net gain of 15 seats, Bowers sees a probable gain of 15-23 seats. Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call (9/7) projects a Dem gain of 15-20 seats. Charlie Cook of National Journal (9/5) notes that in the August Cook/RT poll, Congress's approval rating is 31%, while disapproval is 58%. Gallup has found that when Congress has a job-approval rating of 40% or above, the party in power loses an average of just five House seats in a midterm election, but when congressional approval is below 40%, that party loses an average of 29 seats. On the generic congressional ballot question -- asking voters which party they'd like to see in control of Congress after the election -- the latest Cook/RT survey found Dems leading by 11 points, 51% to 40%. In past elections, Cook noted, this gauge has tended to skew about 5 points more Democratic than the actual popular vote for the House. Lopping off 5 points brings the Democrats' edge down to 6 points, a bit wider than the lead that Republicans had going into the 1994 election. Congressional Quarterly as of 9/12 sees the GOP narrowly keeping control of the House, with Dems gaining at least one seat and 12 others up for grabs.
BUSH STILL PUSHES SS PHASEOUT: Bush told Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot that next year he plans on partially phasing out Social Security and replacing it with private accounts. In an interview published 9/9, Bush said he hopes to revisit Social Security reform next year, when he "will be able to drain the politics out of the issue." Asked about polls predicting that Dems could take over the House and make Nancy Pelosi speaker, he snapped, "That's not going to happen. ... I just don't believe it."
COINCIDENCES: Steve Benen of thecarpetbaggerreport.com noted that more commentators are beginning to connect the dots on the strange timing of Osama bin Laden's statements. Al-Jazeera TV on 9/7 aired a video of previously unseen footage of bin Laden meeting with the top planners of the 9/11 attacks, just as Bush was ginning up the national security spiel again to pick up his sagging popularity.
The New Republic's Michael Crowley wrote, "Given the White House's current strategy to divert attention away from Iraq and back to Osama bin Laden and 9/11, this new al Qaeda video is bizarrely in sync with Karl Rove's election-season game plan. It's especially weird when you recall that bin Laden's 11th-hour video in October 2004 may have cost John Kerry the election ..."
Josh Marshall of TalkingPoints-Memo.com added, "So al Qaeda -- or what's left of it -- releases a five-plus-year-old tape of bin Laden with two of the 9/11 hijackers as well as Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the baddies just transferred to Gitmo. Right in time for the president's big kangaroo court role out. If you didn't know that bin Laden and Bush were the two polar opposites in the global battle between good and evil, you'd think the two were coordinating their media blitzes."
Ezra Klein of The American Prospect noted at Ezraklein.typepad.com, "bin Laden seems perfectly content to release a new tape moments before each election. It's understood truth that the tighter terrorism's grip on the national agenda, the brighter the fortunes of the Republican Party. ..."
All three writers stressed that they don't actually believe Bush and bin Laden are in cahoots. Just coincidences.
RUMMY FORBADE POST-WAR IRAQ PLANS: Not only did the Bush administration not plan for what would happen after Saddam Hussein's government fell, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps says that Donald Rumsfeld ordered generals not to plan for an occupation. "The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid told the Hampton Roads, Va., Daily Press. Scheid said that he and his colleagues tried to write "what was called Phase 4" -- a plan for post-invasion operations -- so that "at least [we'd have] a plan for it" if US soldiers didn't leave Iraq immediately after deposing Saddam. "I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today. He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."
PALAST CHARGED WITH JOURNALISM: Greg Palast, a well-known investigative reporter and TPP contributor, faces a federal criminal charge for videotaping an oil refinery near a trailer park encampment of Hurricane Katrina evacuees 100 miles from New Orleans. Palast and his producer, Matt Pascarella, got in trouble in his August report for Democracy Now! and LinkTV for showing an Exxon oil refinery, the nation's second largest, "a chemical-belching behemoth." Trouble is, the refinery is considered "critical infrastructure," so Exxon filed a criminal complaint, even though it's not exactly a state secret that Exxon operates refineries in the Baton Rouge area. A spokesman for Palast said the potential penalty is unclear. Palast reportedly was questioned but has not been arrested. See www.gregpalast.com.
FOLLOW THE MONEY: When Sen. George Allen was in the midst of his "macaca" moment in August, he sneered that S.R. Sidarth's boss, Democratic challenger Jim Webb, was off in California, raising money from "a bunch of Hollywood movie moguls." The Washington Post noted that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Allen ranks 16th among all 535 members of Congress when it comes to taking campaign contributions from the entertainment industry. Over the past two years, Allen has received more than four times as much money from the industry as Webb has -- despite the fact that Webb has worked on several Hollywood movies, including as executive producer of Rules of Engagement. Allen's contributors include Time Warner, News Corp., Comcast, Univision Communications Inc., America Online, Krikorian Premiere Theatres, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Walt Disney Co. Dick Wadhams, campaign manager for the California-born Virginia senator, told the Post that it's unfair to lump those contributors in with Webb donors like Rob Reiner. "I classify most of those as communications companies," Wadhams explained. (Salon.com)
INDIES ON THE BALLOT: The Ballot Access News reported in its 9/1 issue that Libertarians were on 33-1/2 ballots (half of Kentucky ballots, where there are no statewide races) while Greens were on 29, Constitution on 19, Working Families on 3 and Socialist Workers on 4. (Greens noted that they have since qualified for Illinois and New York, for a total of 31 states.)
FAIR TRADE CANDIDATES: The Citizens Trade Campaign has launched a new federal PAC to educate voters on US trade policies. Citizens Trade PAC represents the coalition of labor, environmental, farm and consumer groups to assist congressional candidates promoting fair trade principles.
Trade is a top voter concern: A June Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll found that three-quarters of registered voters favor candidates that support a new trade policy that enforces labor and environmental regulations. A June Gallup poll found that 53% said they know someone who has been laid off in the past six months. A November 2005 Pew poll found that protecting American jobs is nearly as important as defending the country against terrorism (86% terrorism, 84% jobs). Meanwhile, between a majority and two-thirds of Americans oppose every trade agreement, including NAFTA and the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), according to Lake Research Partners.
Citizens Trade PAC announced its first set of 2006 Fair Traders. They include Chris Carney (D) in PA-10 vs. Rep. Don Sherwood (R); Patrick Murphy (D) in PA-08 vs. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R); Heath Shuler (D) in NC-11 vs. Rep. Charles Taylor; Larry Kissell (D) in NC-08 vs. Rep. Robin Hayes (R); Joe Donnelly (R) in IN-2 vs. Rep. Chris Chocola (R); Chris Murphy (D) in CT-5 vs. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R); Zack Space (D) in OH-18 (open); Bruce Braley, (D) IA-1 (open); and Betty Sutton, (D) OH-13 (open) See www.citizenstrade.org.
BIN LADEN TRAIL 'STONE COLD': Clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years, the Washington Post reported 9/10. Nothing from the vast US intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to US and Pakistani officials. "The handful of assets we have have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence" that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in US history, has gone "stone cold." Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the northern reaches of the autonomous tribal region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He was last seen walking on a trail toward Pakistan at the end of the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when US forces failed to capture him. Two months later, Bush pulled out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq. "I was appalled when I learned about it," said Flynt Leverett, then an expert on the Middle East at the National Security Council, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration's counterterrorism policy. "I don't know of anyone who thought it was a good idea. It's very likely that bin Laden would be dead or in American custody if we hadn't done that."
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