That Banner, That Ship. Remember?

By Al Kamen
Friday, May 2, 2008

Antiwar folks and media critics were preparing all week for the annual Bush-bashing yesterday on the fifth anniversary of the president's appearance on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln with that "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him.

White House press secretary Dana Perino was fully prepared as well, as she noted at Wednesday's briefing, for the rabid media "to play this up again, as they do every single year." (And, sure enough, they did yesterday, although Perino didn't show up.)

Equally prepared was Helen Thomas, still in the White House press corps after 47 years, though she was a bit stunned when Perino actually called on her to ask a question.

"Me?" Thomas asked before launching her fair and balanced inquiry. "How does the president intend to commemorate 'Mission Accomplished' after five years of death and destruction?"

"That's the anniversary of when that banner flew on that ship," Perino began. Then she gave the line the White House apparently has settled on after some false starts, including a lame effort to deny any involvement with the sign, which had been strategically placed for a perfect camera angle behind President Bush as he spoke.

"President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific," Perino continued, "and said mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission."

The problem, sources tell us, is that White House planners couldn't figure out how to get all that on the sign in letters large enough for people to read on television. The sign would have been so big that either the wind would have shredded it or the ship would have drifted erratically while Bush's pilot tried to land on the deck.

Another option would have been to simply put an asterisk after "mission," and then down below, in illegible print, say "just for these sailors on this particular ship on this one mission." Some thought that too tacky and warned it might prompt sailors returning on other ships to demand that Bush fly out to greet them.

So that's why the banner came out the way it did.

Perino didn't mention it, but we thought it only appropriate to note for the record that, in his speech to announce "the end of major combat operations in Iraq," Bush himself never used the phrase "mission accomplished."

That, Loop Fans may remember, was because, as reported in our colleague Bob Woodward's book "State of Denial," then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took "mission accomplished" out of a draft of the speech. "And I fixed it and sent it back," Rumsfeld told Woodward. "They fixed the speech, but not the sign."

Maybe Bush should have said "end of major combat operations" for "these particular sailors who are on this ship on their mission"?

Sunrise, Sunset

Speaking of anniversaries, most media folks apparently missed the 29th anniversary this week of President Jimmy Carter's installation of a solar water-heating system on the White House roof.

A couple of months later, Carter used the solar panels as a prop to warn about the damage of "crippling dependence on foreign oil" and to assert that "there is simply no longer any question that solar energy is feasible and cost-effective."

Carter said his goal was for the country to generate 20 percent of its power from the sun and other renewable sources by 2000, with solar energy accounting for about a third of that. In January 1980, in today's dollars, home heating oil cost around $2.50 a gallon.

Most of Carter's ambitious tax-incentive plan went nowhere as energy prices plummeted and the Reagan administration, saying it was no longer handpicking new energy technologies for federal support, pulled the plug on alternative-energy programs and subsidies. The Reagan folks removed the White House solar panels in 1986. That winter, home heating oil was down to around $1.50 a gallon in today's dollars.

The energy-conscious Bush administration, however, had solar panels installed again in 2002 to provide electricity for the grounds, another set for hot water and another for the presidential pool.

"We thought if we were able to reduce our energy consumption, that was a positive step forward," National Park Service Architect James Doherty told the New York Times in early 2003.

Solar power now accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation's energy needs. Home heating oil in March was at $3.56 a gallon.

Hope for the Orange-Jumpsuit Set

Possible good news for the nation's convicted felons. The Justice Department, much criticized as running a creaky pardon program, has appointed Ronald L. Rodgers, head of its drug intelligence unit, as pardon attorney.

Rodgers replaces Roger Adams, who resigned last month after a lengthy investigation of his office by Justice's inspector general.

Rodgers, who was a top-ranking military judge, may not have the warm-and-fuzzy background our felons might like. But he could bring order to a program that our former colleague George Lardner Jr ., now with the Center for the Study of the Presidency, recently reported to be "in complete disarray," with a huge backlog of 2,501 pardon requests at the beginning of this year.

Doubtless the vast majority will be denied -- they always are -- and, Lardner reports, Bush has been exceptionally loath to grant them. But this is the last year of the administration, Christmas is coming, and everyone's waiting to see if Bush, who commuted the prison sentence of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, will give him a full pardon.

On the Collaring of Criminals

Speaking of Libby's sentence reduction, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who originally sentenced Libby to 2 1/2 years, raised some eyebrows when he questioned whether Bush's move had undercut the idea that justice should be equal.

Bush called Walton's sentence excessive, noting Libby's "exceptional public service" and clean record.

Walton, in an interview Tuesday with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrich, said Bush "has the authority and exercised it, and that is to be respected." But "the downside is there are a lot of people in America who think that justice is determined to a large degree by who you are and that what you have plays a large role in what kind of justice you receive . . . It is crucial that the American public respect the rule of law, or people won't follow it."

Walton said the penalty he gave Libby was at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines. "I don't give white-collar criminals a pass," he told the Journal Sentinel.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

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