Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Andersen, Sweeney, and Global Crossings...

I saw two stories today that recalled my attention to what may be a much larger story. The first is the Supreme Court's ruling overturning the conviction of accounting corporation Arthur Andersen for destroying Enron-related documents (hat tip: Huffington Post). The other story is the New York Times' report of calls for AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney to resign amidst his bid for re-election as head of that labor union.

Take Arthur Andersen and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, stir in a healthy portion of telecommunications giant Global Crossings, pan-fry for a couple of years and the result is a flaming dish known as the ULLICO Stock Scandal.

In this little number, Sweeney and his fellow labor leaders from other unions form a pension investment corporation called the Union Labor Life Insurance Investment Company (ULLICO). A fews years before Sweeney was protesting against gutting Social Security by turning it over to risky investment companies, he was a member of the board at ULLICO turning a $7.6 million investment into $335 million. Unfortunately, the rank and file due-paying members of the unions were not as fortunate as the executives at ULLICO. Mr. Sweeney and his peers miraculously bailed out of the Global Crossings investments before their retirements and savings shrank to nothing in that company's precipitous descent to worthlessness.

Deep Throat - Do I Care?

I view this entire episode of the "outing" of the deep throat character as a nostalgic indulgence for my elders and aging journalists wistfully remembering bygone days of investigative reporting. In case you haven't heard, Vanity Fair has published the confession of the person who claims to be the fabled "deep throat" of Watergate fame (hat tip: Huffington Post).

"I'm The Guy They Called Deep Throat" - In a V.F. exclusive, W. Mark Felt, 91 years old and formerly second-in-command at the F.B.I., says that he is the confidential Watergate source who assisted Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—and helped bring down President Richard Nixon.

Honestly, I don't know that much about the whole Watergate ordeal, so I can't muster much excitement over this latest revelation. I do, however, have some questions about an FBI official secretively cooperating with for-profit media corporations to help bring down a sitting President of the United States.

I think it is abusive and shameful that our Senators are using the CIA and FBI to dig for gossip and watercooler hearsay about presidential nominees. I admit that I don't know exactly what Mr. Felt's role was in the investigation of even if there is anything to this angle of questioning, but I would be disappointed to find that our FBI was in bed with our woeful media corporations at the expense of our elected officials.

France Rejects the EU Constitution...

As you may know, French voters soundly defeated ratification of the EU Constitution this past Sunday. I'll round up the best information for you and post it here for your enjoyment.

I have a saying, "Corporatism is the gateway to Facism". What I am saying is that by dividing the population into interest groups and devaluing the rights of the individual, the government can then encroach the rights of the individual in favor of the group. The political battling over Social Security and between corporate media and bloggers are some examples of this struggle. The European Union strikes me as particularly corporate and statist. I believe Mark Steyn once compared it to the United States in this way, and I'm paraphrasing, The United States is a government of the people and by the people where the European Union is a government of an elite political class looking to impose itself on a people. One of the first things a corporate group, whether a business corporation or a non-profit charitable organization, must do to become a legal entity is names its officers, including the President, Vice-President, and so on. This is done even before the corporation has employees or perhaps even products. So it is with the European Union, a full government administration with executive and parliamentary branches now attempting to secure a people over which to rule.

Speaking of Mark Steyn, his column in the Washington Times on Monday has some revealing comments by Jean-Claude Juncker, current President of the Europeon Union.

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again," President Juncker told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

Don't bother remembering his name, the EU President holds office for only six months and has little power. However, do make note of the actual choice being given to the people here. Vote "YES" and accept the EU bureaucracy and its rules or vote "NO" and be asked again until you vote "YES". Isn't that a tactic used in police and military interrogations? Steyn goes on to illustrate my point about corporatism encroaching upon the rights of the individual quoting from a book by Europhile Will Hutton.

But, having brandished his credentials, Mr. Hutton says it's his "affection for the best of America that makes me so angry that it has fallen so far from the standards it expects of itself." The great Euro-thinker is not arguing that America is betraying the Founding Fathers but that the Founding Fathers themselves got it hopelessly wrong. He compares the American and French Revolutions, and decides the latter was better because instead of the radical individualism of the 13 Colonies the French promoted "a new social contract."

Precisely. And it's the willingness to subordinate individual liberty to what Mr. Hutton calls "the primacy of society" that blighted the Continent for more than a century: Statism -- or "the primacy of society" -- is what fascism, Nazism, communism and now European Union all have in common.

That's why Will Hutton feels almost physically insecure when he's in one of the spots on the planet where the virtues of the state religion are questioned. "In a world that is wholly private," he says of America, "we lose our bearings; deprived of any public anchor, all we have are our individual subjective values to guide us." He deplores the First Amendment and misses government-regulated media, which in the EU ensures that all public expression is within approved parameters (left to center-left). "Europe," he explains, "acts to ensure that television and radio conform to public interest criteria."

Of course, the mention of the French Revolution and the various Euroisms that have been inflicted upon man-kind, one cannot forget the worst product of France, terrorism. The President of the... What's that? You find the notion of terrorism being invented by France outrageous?

One difference between the American and French revolutions that Mr. Hutton fails to point out is that the United States began its experiment in democracy by protecting loyalists in a document known, ironically, as the Treaty of Paris. The French began their experiment in democracy a few years later with a decidedly European twist known as the Reign of Terror. The Online Dictionary of Etymology offers the following notes on the origins of terrorism.

1795, in specific sense of "government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in France" (1793-July 1794), from Fr. terrorisme (1798), from L. terror (see terror).

"If the basis of a popular government in peacetime is virtue, its basis in a time of revolution is virtue and terror -- virtue, without which terror would be barbaric; and terror, without which virtue would be impotent." [Robespierre, speech in Fr. National Convention, 1794]

General sense of "systematic use of terror as a policy" is first recorded in Eng. 1798. Terrorize "coerce or deter by terror" first recorded 1823.

Now, getting back to the coercion of the European Union, the Dutch referendum on the EU constitution coming up on Wednesday is non-binding on the Dutch government, and the Netherlands' governing party is already moving the goal posts for the conditions under which they would accept a "NO" vote (hat tip: Instapundit).

Unlike France's referendum, which was binding on the government, the Dutch vote is advisory. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's governing party said Monday it will accept a "no" verdict only if turnout reaches at least 30 percent and if 55 percent of those who vote reject the charter.

Finally, I leave you with the ever insightful analysis of Gregory Djerejian at the Belgravia Dispatch.

Let's take a quick step back--as the dust begins to settle ever so slightly--and take an initial look at the historic events of yesterday. We might begin by looking backwards a bit. Recall that French political elites have been intimately involved in cobbling together this project of European unification for over half a century now. I mean, it's not as if little Portugal or Denmark said no thanks. France did! As Vinocur says, perhaps the "quintessential" European nation. What a crushing (if not fatal, at least yet) blow to the European project.

Indeed! Read it all.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

How can we ever begin to achieve the greatness of the greatest generation? I can actually see the next greatest generation emerging because the last greatest and the next greatest generations understand something about people that the generations between them failed to grasp.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
- Shakespeare's King Henry V, Act IV, Scene III

The importance of our works, our political activism, and other civilian engagements are indeed cheapened by the duty, honor, discipline, and sacrifice of our soldiers who are serving their nation, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in Djibouti, the Phillipines and all over the world.

Some gentlemen respond to the effect of this contrast by besmirching the men who choose to serve, the nature of their service, the significance of their conflict, and the country they serve. I am not one of these. I recognize that we do not live in a safe world and, as has been the case since our founding, no one is going to defend the United States of America, if not our few, our band of brothers.

How much do I value the men and women serving our nation today? I could think of no greater honor, as a father, than if my eight-year old daughter were to choose to serve in the military when she is older.

Thanks to all those who have sacrificed before, and who are sacrificing now.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Posada Carriles Saga Continues

I last reported that we would know Mr. Carriles within 48 hours, but those words were written out of ignorance about the immigration process. Posada Carriles' fate will be determined at a hearing on June 13 where he is expected to apply for asylum.

Cuba and Venezuela have scored a propaganda victory by submitting a provisional arrest request which was denied by the State Department. This is not a formal request for extradition and no nation has officially requested that Mr. Carriles be extradited. However, the Washington Post reports there were problems with even the provisional arrest request.

Venezuela has made such requests before, a State Department official said. But the Posada arrest request was so inadequate, the official said, that some U.S. diplomats believe Venezuela purposely drafted it so the United States would reject it.

The Washington Post goes on to report that a diplomatic note delivered to the embassy Friday that it would not rule out granting a formal extradition request.

It is still my contention that Posada Carriles will be extradited to Venezuela assuming a formal request is made. Although he was twice acquitted by Venezuelan courts of plotting the 1976 airline bombing, he did escape from a Venezuelan prison in 1985. It does make one wonder about the Venezuelan judicial system if someone twice acquitted of a crime could be in prison waiting for an appeal?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Stem Cell Research

Mike Hubbell has posted a good entry at Deep Freeze on his feelings about this topic as a Christian and a Conservative.

Personally, I don't like the idea of government funding stem-cell research. Proponents argue that we're not only missing out on the miracle cures that could result from this research but also the actual research itself. Our scientests are migrating to countries and states with government funded stem-cell research programs, they say. I voted NO on California's $3 billion dollar stem-cell initiative because I viewed it as a tax-payer funded boondoggle for our politician's pay-for-play campaign funding and reward system.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, created by the voters' approval of Proposition 71 in November 2004 is already bogging down. First we have the lawsuits preventing the state from borrowing the money that was to fund the institute. Phil Angelides, who heads the special finance committee established by the legislation, claims the lawsuits are being brought by "a narrow set of anti-choice activists who have an idealized zeal to stop stem cell research". Sure enough, the lawsuit is being brought by Life Legal Defense Foundation, but spokeswoman Dana Cody claims right-to-life concerns have nothing to do with the issue. She said the lawsuit is intended to ensure that California taxpayer money is properly handled.

This week, a California senate panel seemed to confirm Ms. Cody's claims by unanimously adopting legislation that would give the legislature more control over the research program. Whether this legislation will vindicate Ms. Cody's claims of improper oversight or my claims of creeping cronyism is yet to be seen. Either way, the California experience so far doesn't bode well for a federally funded research program.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Wine of the Week - May 27

This week we'll be revisiting a wine from previous weeks. The Indigent Girlfriend was dispatched with instructions to purchase a bottle of wine for under $6 and came home with the Californian Cabernet Sauvignon from Golden Gate Vintners (aka Golden State Vineyards), which can still be picked up from Albertson's for $2.50 a bottle. The biggest difference is the meal served with the wine. This week I had rib-eye steak and mild Italian Sausage grilled to perfection by yours truly. The meat and a small salad were an excellent compliment to this wine at a cost of approximately seven dollars. Perhaps this is a better lot for Golden Gate or perhaps the Indigent Pallete was less discriminating this evening, but I'm going to upgrade this wine's rating from "Fair" to "Good" based on this week's surprisingly smooth flavor.

In contrast to the vast improvement in the substance of the meal consumed with the wine of the week, the Whine of the Week is a significant decline in substance from the previous performance. Senator Voinovich wins this week hand down with his moaning and sobbing (mp3) over the John Bolton nomination on the senate floor (hat tip: Radioblogger). What can I say? You have to listen to the audio of Senator Voinovich's speech to appreciate the sobbing plea for his collegues to vote against the Bolton nomination for this sake of his children and grand children.

Yes, I said "sobbing" and I would classify it as being on the verge of crying. Let's check Page 1 Rule 4 of the Indigent Guide to Manhood; it says "No Crying at Work". There are, of course, the appropriate clauses for actors and male prostitutes. However, we need not use that as the sole reference. We can also use the Universal Guide to Being a Woman. A quick review of Article IX of Chapter 26, Section 13, sub-section 205.9, sub-part J clearly states, "Crying in the course of executing job duties is inappropriate". Of course, the relevant clauses for avoiding traffic tickets in rental cars apply.

Needless to say, Senator Voinovich's concern for his children and grand-children notwithstanding, a substantive argument against the Bolton nomination would go a long way compared to these Senate floor theatrics.

Who'da Thunk It!

Jay Rosen recently asked if the press was a political animal. I lack any education in journalism and won't pretend to intelligently address the questions in his post. However, I will submit this editorial from the L.A. Times encouraging Senator Bill Frist to quit the Senate when he runs for President in 2008 (hat tip: Huffington Post).

The best thing a Senate majority leader with presidential aspirations can do is quit. That was Bob Dole's strategy in 1996, when he resigned to run against President Clinton. And it may be part of Bill Frist's decision not to seek reelection in 2006. If so, Frist could hardly make a smarter move.

Setting aside the fact that it has long been known that Bill Frist would not seek reelection in 2006, is this editorial consistent with the position of the LA Times or is it simply opportunistic piling on?

Did the LA Times recommend John Kerry quit the Senate? How about John Edwards? Or Joseph Lieberman? Or Dennis Kucinich? Or Bob Graham? Perhaps it is a new position the LA Times has adopted (one with which I agree) for the 2008 elections, but I still can't find the editorial calling for Hillary Clinton to quit her senate seat. Of course, it is entirely possible that the LA Times' opinion only applies to Senate Majority Leaders. Finally, as an exclamation point on this post, I leave you with a parting shot from the Times' editorial.

Frist may be bringing trouble on himself by trying to satisfy the exorbitant demands of his party's far-right wing, which, like the old Soviet Union, views one concession simply as an occasion to ask for another.

Need I say more?

Bolton Sticks in Senate Craw

It is now time to accept or reject President Bush' nomination of John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations, and once again we find our U.S. Senate abusing its power in an unprecedented request for classified documents and draft notes from the State Department. This Senate has shown no hesitancy in using privileged FBI background checks in its politics of personal destruction and smear tactics, and it appears their dirt-digging will now include highly classified NSA documents and draft copies of speeches, according to Senators Biden and Doden.

Greg Djerejian of the Belgravia Dispatch offers a good explanation of the meritless and unprecedented request.

Got that, folks? Bolton foe Rockefeller himself says that there is no evidence Bolton did anything "improper" with regard to his request for the NSA intercepts. Ah, but Rockefeller is "troubled" by how Bolton handled the information after he got it. Why? It seems bully John had the temerity to actually call an official and congratulate him for the way he handled discussions with a couple "foreigners"--as per the information contained in the NSA intercept. Compris? Bolton wasn't using the information from some rogue intercept to go ruin yet another career in dark Nixonian vein. He simply used it to praise someone. Outrageous!

Yes, it seems using classified information in an attempt to ruin careers in dark Nixonian style is no longer limited to the party of Nixon.

As I went to refill my coffee, I just noticed the house trash-bin was over-turned in front of the driveway. So, I rushed out to see if I could catch Senator Barabara Boxer peeling away with my garbage but no such luck.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

EU Constitution Facing Defeat...

The European Union was born from post World War II trade agreements between certain European nations allowing them to operate as a powerful trading bloc. Our European friends have even come up with their own currency known as the Euro, and now their trying to push through a Constitution to complete their half-assed version of the United States.

The Netherlands will put it before their voters next Wednesday (June 1) while French voters take their shot at approving the EU Constitution this Sunday, on May 29. The Times Online reports that things are not looking favorable for Chirac and his dream of a counterbalance to American power.

“The thing is lost,” Nicolas Sarkozy told French ministers during an ill-tempered meeting. “It will be a little ‘no’ or a big ‘no’,” he was quoted as telling Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, whom he accused of leading a feeble campaign.

Although Europe would be thrown into disarray, the Government would be greatly relieved if M Sarkozy were right.

The reason many French government officials would be relieved is the same reason the people are going to reject the treaty on Sunday; they fear a liberalization of their economy. They fear a weakening of everything from trade protections to labor protections as goods and migrant workers are given more favorable standing than they currently enjoy in France. If you're interested in French politics, keep an eye on M Sarkozy as he will be challenging Chirac in the next elections. In fact, it was no accident he publicized this news on the morning of Chirac's last attempt to persuade the French electorate to vote "Yes" on Sunday.

UPDATE 8:46 AM: The EU ministers in Brussels are threatening to put all no voters in concentration camps... Oh wait, I may be misreading that. Gwyn Prins has a much more complete picture (hat tip: Instapundit).

For the first time, fear really stalks the Rue de la Loi in Brussels, headquarters of the European Commission. It is visceral. We know this because of the increasingly hysterical register of the messages in which the commissioners are sending French and Dutch voters preparing (in their referenda on 29 May and 1 June respectively) to vote down the treaty establishing a federal constitution. If you do so, the European Union nomenklatura is saying, you will bring to Europe economic disaster, a return to internecine war or (most tastelessly and least forgivably) another Holocaust.

Yes, this will have an impact on the United States. Whether the impact is positive or negative will depend on the reaction of European leaders to the rejection of their proposed Constitution.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Senate Proceeds with Priscilla Owen

The Associated Press has reported that a vote for cloture has just passed 81-18 to proceed with an up-or-down vote on Priscilla Owen. The AP injects some confusion into the matter by misreporting how the filibuster and cloture actually works.

The vote was 81-18 with opponents of the Texas Supreme Court justice falling well short of the 60 needed to continue their filibuster. A vote to confirm Owen could come as early as Tuesday.

Of course, a filibuster is simply unlimited debate. Cloture is imposition of a time limit upon debate, eventually leading to a vote on the matter at hand. The simple threat of a filibuster (to debate endlessly) informs Senate leaders that 60 votes will be necessary for cloture (to limit debate) before an issue can be brought to a vote. So, opponents of Priscilla Owen didn't need 60 votes to continue their filibuster. They needed 41 votes against cloture to prevent the majority from limiting debate.

However, this story raises more interesting quesions. If Priscilla Owen was such a radical judicial activist that a filibuster was the only recourse to save our judicial system, then why now do we have 81 Senators voting to permit a vote which expecting to lead to her confirmation?

Let's break down the numbers. Prior to yesterday's Agreement, Priscilla Owen's supporters lacked 60 votes to overcome the minority filibuster. Even if we subtract the seven centrist Democrat signatories to the Agreement from the 41 Senators necessary to sustain a filibuster and add them to the Senators voting for cloture; we arrive at a maximum vote of 65-34 in favor of cloture. That doesn't explain the 81-18 vote that just occured in the Senate a few moments ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, sometime in the last 24 hours, 16 U.S. Senators have gone from believing that Priscilla Owen was a too extreme for a vote on the Senate floor to now believing that she is qualified and deserving of a vote before the full Senate. This begs for an explanation from those Senators on their remarkable change of mind.

Tragic Comity

Folks, the Indigent Blogger is here to cut through the smoke and mirrors of this so-called Agreement (pdf) signed yesterday afternoon by fourteen Senators (hat tip: RealClearPolitics). This Agreement highlights a few very important things to keep in mind while discussing all of this.

  1. Senator Frist never had the 50 votes required for the rule change. The seven Republican senators that signed this agreement have commited to opposing any change in the rules regarding judicial filibusters.

  2. Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen aren't the judicial activists far outside the mainstream as some Democrats claimed.

  3. Any of these centrist Senators would make a terrible President.

My analysis says this is a loss for Bill Frist, a bigger loss for Harry Reid, and a small victory for President Bush. Of course, as I pointed out, Senator Bill Frist's cover is blown and he can no longer bluff about having the votes to change Senate rules.

Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than a unanimous consent or Rule XXII. - Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations

Personally, I believe the Constitution grants the power of appointments to the Executive Branch and the Senate usurped that authority for itself by making its own rules which permitted the Senate to thwart a Presidential nomination by any means other than a full vote. Senator Harry Reid loses because he now has seven members of his own party that will side with the Republicans for cloture on three specific nominees, giving the GOP enough votes to override any intention of a filibuster. This also belies the reasons stated for opposing these judges by Democrat leadership.

"As long as the administration continues to do this [nominate "conservative ideologues"], we will continue to block judges who are outside the mainstream." - Senator Charles Shumer (D-NY)

"If there was ever a judge who would substitute her own views for the law, it is Judge Owen. Her record is a paper trail of case after case where she thinks she knows better than 100 years of legal tradition and clear legislative intent. There is no question that when you look up 'judicial activist' in the dictionary, you see a picture of Priscilla Owen." - Senator Charles Shumer (D-NY)

"Unfortunately, the White House's recent nominees to the D.C. Circuit appear to continue a disturbing pattern of nominating judges who are extreme." - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)

"one of the most unapologetically ideological nominees of either party in many years," - The Washington Post

Of course, I never believed any of these statements, especially after doing a little research on the nominees, but it is clear that seven centrist Democrat Senators have just thrown a pie in the faces of the minority leadership. In contrast to all of this, President Bush will get votes on three of his nominees (Brown, Owen, Pryor) that are likely to be confirmed, but he is not guaranteed up-or-down votes on the other two nominees (Myers, Saad), one of whom (if not both) was likely to be rejected by a full senate vote in any case.

Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).

Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).

So, this Agreement allows President Bush to get three of his most popular nominees confirmed. It forces Bill Frist to back away from changing the Senate Rules for now, but does not prohibit him from proposing a change to the rules in the future. Finally, it embarrasses the Democrat Senators who were tasked with justifying the use of a filibuster for these nominees while maintaining the filibuster as an option under extraordinary circumstances. I'm sure extraordinary circumstances will be any nominee for the Supreme Court, but I have no idea what else could be included or excluded by such vague language.

UPDATE 7:41 AM: McQ has a good round-up of the filibuster agreement at QandO Blog if you're interested in reading more on the subject. There really isn't that much to the Agreement as it is just a temporary patch to a problem I'm sure we will be revisiting soon.

Baby Boomers and Generation X

Mike Hubbell of Deep Freeze has a couple of interesting observations about Baby Boomers and Generation X. I must admit that I would not let the Boomers off so lightly as I see them wrecking significantly more havoc on our government and society before drifting off into the sunset. Don't let me spoil it for you, read both posts for yourself.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Schroeder Calls Early Elections in Germany

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder first popped up on my radar in 2002 when his Minister of Justice, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, compared Bush's foreign policy tactics to those of Adolf Hitler during a re-election campaign based largely on anti-American rhetoric.

"Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used." - Herta Daeubler-Gmelin (BBC)

The rich irony in those words was their use by a German administration attempting to avoid discussions of an unemployment rate nearing ten percent and a budget deficit approaching five percent of GDP. I guess the tactics of Adolf Hitler die hard in Germany.

Chancellor Schroeder has called for a vote of confidence in the German Parliament, which could trigger a new election later this year if his government is defeated.

If parliament brings down Mr Schroeder's government, German President Horst Koehler will have 21 days to dissolve parliament.

After that, new elections must be held within 60 days - and therefore by mid-September. - BBC

If you read the BBC article, there does seem to be a focus on domestic issues that is threatening Gerhard Schroeder and his Social Democrat Party. It appears his anti-American platform is no longer enough to sustain him, and John Fund points this out in today's Opinion Journal.

Three years ago, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cynically used opposition to liberating Iraq to play an anti-American card just before elections in which he trailed his Christian Democratic opponents. He barely won a second term. Yesterday, facing a likely loss in elections in Germany's largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, his Social Democratic Party's union backers played another anti-American card, this time depicting U.S. investors as blood-sucking parasites. Social Democratic chairman Franz Muntefering compared hedge funds to "swarms of locusts." This time, the tactic failed. Mr. Schoeder's party went down to a stunning defeat, losing the largely working-class state, home to one out of five Germans, for the first time in nearly 40 years. Last night Mr. Schroeder announced he would hold national elections this fall, a year ahead of schedule.

READ MORE: Schroeder’s Social Democrats crushed in state elections at QandO Blog

Friday, May 20, 2005

NYT- All the News That's Already Been Printed

Right on cue, the New York Times features a 6,000 word demonstration of snake-oil journalism. Tim Golden is reporting on the deaths of two Afghan detainees held by our forces in Afghanistan.

I must take this opportunity to apologize to my readers; I haven't read all 6,000 words and have no intention of doing so. The peddlers of snake-oil journalism have worn me down this week and I just can't stomach any more of their bitter sugar-water.

The other reason I'm not going to waste my time reading all 6,000 words is that this is not news. First, it is a dissemination of a report resulting from a military investigation, which means the military discovered the problem and took at least some corrective action. Second, it was widely reported late last year and earlier this year. Finally, I read the first full page of the New York Times story and saw no indication that 6,000 more words would add any value whatsoever to the information I already have about the years-old prisoner abuse in Afghanistan.

Ice Sheets Growing Due to Warming?

Yes, that is the latest report from Nature, an online science journal.
Increased snowfall over a large area of Antarctica is thickening the ice sheet and slowing the rise in sea level caused by melting ice.

A satellite survey shows that between 1992 and 2003, the East Antarctic ice sheet gained about 45 billion tonnes of ice - enough to reduce the oceans' rise by 0.12 millimetres per year. The ice sheets that cover Antarctica's bedrock are several kilometres thick in places, and contain about 90% of the world's ice. But scientists fear that if they melt in substantial quantities, this will swell the oceans and cause devastation on islands and coastal lands.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that sea level is currently rising at about 1.8 millimetres per year, largely through melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as a result of global warming. But the panel also expected that climate change would trigger an increase in snowfall over the Antarctic continent, as increased evaporation from the oceans puts more moisture into the air.

My friends, I hope the IPCC didn't spend too much money on their climate model. Even the eight year old Indigent Daughter could tell them that warming increases evaporation into the air where the moisture eventually condenses and falls as rain.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Light Blogging for Next Few Days...

I'll be doing only light blogging over the next few days as I have family coming to town. I should get the Wine of the Week out on Friday as expected, and I plan to convert the Like Making Sausage post into a regular weekend series. I'm definitely looking to change the name, so any suggestions are welcome. I'll be trying a new segment called The Cutting Room Floor where I will post highlights from all my leftover "Draft" entries that were never published for one reason or another. Finally, I'm going to hang a Help Wanted shingle sometime this weekend in an attempt to get some other collaborators and contributors at Vagabondia.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Corporate Snake-Oil Journalism...

Regular readers of this blog have probably picked up on my opinion of our news media corporations. I heard Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit on the Hugh Hewitt radio show warning that if the credibility of our corporate journalists continues to decline, more and more people will begin viewing news media as a vehicle for out-of-touch corporations to peddle defective products without fear of consequences. He paraphrases his comments at Instapundit.

Today's expansive press freedom, which I support wholeheartedly, is of recent origin (essentially, it's a post-World War II phenomenon) and not to be taken for granted. Remember all the talk about the Enron scandal, and how free enterprise was at risk if greedy corporations didn't clean up their acts? Well, I'm afraid that press freedom is at risk if it's seen as a vehicle for out-of-touch corporations to peddle defective products without fear of consequences.

Of course, the fear is that once the value of our national news media drops below a certain level, people will no longer care enough to protect it from government manipulation and control. Aren't we are already there. This is not a result of the Newsweek debacle. This latest flusher-flap is only a symptom of what our national press has really become, a relatively small collection of for-profit corporations filling the space between ads with what I call snake-oil journalism. Let's see how Merriam-Webster Online defines snake-oil.

snake-oil: any of various substances or mixtures sold (as by a traveling medicine show) as medicine usually without regard to their medical worth or properties

Listen to how that sounds adapted for journalism; any substance or presentation sold (as by a television news show) as journalism usually without regard to their journalistic worth or properties.

I don't pretend to know much about being a journalist, but I can recognize when I'm not getting straight information. I liken it to people's ability to smell and taste bad food that otherwise looks good. Apparently, most of the viewing audience in America can recognize bad food once they've tasted it, according to the a study done last year by the Pew Research Center. Would it be fair to interpret this chart to mean a significant majority of Americans believe less than half of the information reported on Cable News? I think so.

Many people are suggesting that the news media is losing credibility because of various faulty reports. I believe these faulty reports are only a result of the way these out-of-touch corporations peddle their products. That's the key point in all of this. These for-profit corporations, like News Corporation and the Washington Post Company, package a product on a consistent schedule for the express purpose of securing sustained ad revenues. Only after that goal is achieved do they look towards journalism, and I believe they will discard any number of journalists to defend that goal.

Here is where bloggers actually get too much blame or credit, depending on your point of view. As I have pointed out before, it wasn't bloggers that chased Eason Jordan out of CNN and Dan Rather off the air. Remember the comments of Bill Maher doubting the courage of our naval personnel who execute cruise missile launches?

"We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." -- Bill Maher, Politically Incorrect

I bring this up to point out that it wasn't bloggers who took Politically Incorrect off the air; it was executives at ABC. ABC Chairman Lloyd Braun said Maher's controversial comments had nothing to do with the decision to replace him with Jimmy Kimmel, and that statement is probably true. The decision was most likely made to stop the bleeding after Sears and FedEx pulled their ads from the show. The same can be said for Rush Limbaugh at ESPN, Dan Rather at CBS, and Eason Jordan at CNN. These are all examples of corporations defending their primary purpose for being in business.

Wretchard at Belmont Club stole a little of my thunder as we are saying many of the same things.

In the case of the Newsweek decision to print a poorly sourced story on the descreation of a Koran at Guantanamo Naval Base it is pertinent to ask how the costs and benefits of the magazine's action would be distributed; whether the interests of the agent substantially coincide with the principal -- the public -- in whose name the press often claims to act. But any boost in circulation would accrue benefits to the employees and stockholders of Newsweek and not to general members of the public unless they had shares. It is equally clear that any externalities arising from the Koran story would not normally be borne by Newsweek. Though people might die, places destroyed or riots occur they would not likely happen to people or places associated with Newsweek.

The fallacy in the argument, of course, is the premise that Newsweek acts as an agent for the general public. It isn't, and is free from any responsibility as a public agent in the uproar it has caused by its retracted story. Newsweek is not an agent, but the purveyor of a product for which there happens to be a market protected by the First Amendment. This should be clear, and there is nothing wrong with it. But the question arises: to what extent is a commercial organization free to dump the external costs of their business on others.

However, I'm going to take exception to Wretchard's assumption that Newsweek's product is protected by the First Amendment. I am an individual tip-tapping away on my modern-day printing press, which is explicitly protected by the First Amendment. Newseek is a corporate entity that operates at the pleasure of the government laws and regulations under which it was created, and by extension, at the will of the people. I believe that may be the source of Glenn Reynolds' apprehension.

You Gotta Dance With Them That Brung Ya

What would be the argument for the government of the people regulating corporate media on a subject directly linked to a war effort and the safety of our soldiers serving abroad? I am surprised at how prescient were President Bush's "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" comments following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. If you don't like the absolute nature of that statement, former President and CEO of Netscape, Jim Barksdale, describes the same principle in a different way.

"At a ham and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed."

Our media corporations seem to be having a difficult time grappling with the emerging global market for their products. In addition to employing terrorists and signing contracts supporting organizations sympathetic to terrorist causes, our corporate media have also forgotten who it is that affords them their global reach. They have, as a result, moderated their national allegiance to avoid the appearance of being jingoistic to satisfy the farcical notion of non-subjective reporting.

FOX News is not appealing because it is fills a void of right-wing news. FOX fills the gap of journalists who are Americans first and objective reporters second. The embedded journalists who were covering the invasion of Iraq and the battle of Fallujah for FOX News were great. Contrast those to NBC's Kevin Sites who did nothing but question our mission and second guess our troops as far as I could tell. It is along those lines that make the Newsweek mistep so egregious. By ignoring the problems with their story, Newsweek availed our enemies' propaganda machine of the world wide publishing media built by the pocket-books of the American consumer. I'm not piling on Newsweek here. Many of our media corporations are positioning themselves to appeal to a broad anti-american market. It would be my advice to the executives and shareholders of our American media corporations that they keep in mind who brought 'em to the dance.

Dan Rather Deserves Another Award...

The Associated Press is reporting that CBS' Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes will be canceled (hat-tip: Huffington Post). CBS insists that this is not a result of Dan Rather's ill-conceived use of forged documents in a story about President Bush's service in the National Guard.

CBS said Wednesday it is cancelling the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes," insisting the decision was made because of poor ratings and not last fall's ill-fated story about President Bush's military service.

It's telling that they don't seem to relate the show's poor ratings to Dan Rather's ill-fated story and CBS' lack of response to it.

Dan Rather fans need not fret over this news, he is far from done. He accepted journalism's most prestigious honor on Monday with a nod to his former co-workers who took the fall for him in the aftermath of the forged document story.

With thanks to two former colleagues who left CBS in the wake of a scandal, CBS News' Dan Rather accepted broadcast journalism's most prestigious honor on Monday for the "60 Minutes Wednesday" story that exposed the shocking conditions inside Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

In one of his first public appearances since leaving the network's anchor chair in March, Rather and Mary Mapes received the Peabody Award at a luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown Manhattan. - Reuters 16 MAY 2005

CBS also tells us that Dan Rather will continue to employ his award-winning journalistic practices in the Sunday edition of 60 Minutes.

Posada Carriles - We'll Know in 48 Hours!

Posada Carriles, who is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela for alleged acts of terrorism, including the bombing of an airliner in 1976, has just been arrested in Florida by federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to the report at CNN, he was detained in response to an official request from Venezuela for his arrest and extradition made to the State Department.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Venezuelan authorities had asked the federal government to arrest Posada and the request was referred to the Justice Department.

The initial demands for Carriles' extradition made by Castro were ignored becuase the United States doesn't have official diplomatic relations with Cuba. However, now that we have him in custody, we have 48 hours to consider the legal mine-field of his status here. I had believed we really had no choice but to extradite him to Venezuela, but a closer look at the circumstances makes me a little more cautious.

Carriles was convicted of the bombings in Panama, where he served the resulting jail sentence until he was pardoned in 2004 by then Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso. He is still wanted in Venezuela, but a statement issued by the ICE indicates the U.S. does not extradite people to nation's that we believe are operating on Cuba's behalf.

The Homeland Security Department issued a statement after Posada's arrest that said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has 48 hours to rule on his immigration status.

"As a matter of immigration law and policy, ICE does not generally remove people to Cuba, nor does ICE generally remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba's behalf," the statement said.

Of course, this leaves a lot wriggle room for the State Department as I don't believe Posada Carriles is a general case for the ICE. As I point out in my analysis of our immigration rules for extradition, Posada Carriles certainly classifies as an inadmissible alien, which makes his extradition to Venezuela imminent.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tyranny Tower at Turtle Bay...

John Hinderaker at PowerLine remains dubious of the $1.2 billion price tag on the renovations of the United Nations building in New York. He also posts an email from a real estate investment broker who is also skeptical of the $1.2 billion cost estimates. I'm not a real estate broker, but I thought I would search around to see what kind of building I could get for that kind of money. Well, here's an example of what you can build for $1.5 billion:

That's the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. I've never been there, but I assume it doesn't have the marble walls, healing waters, and Olympian mists that are sure to be part of United Nations' new Tower of Tyranny.

Let's see, I did find another building in New York that could be built at a cost of $1.5 billion; it's still in the planning stages and they're calling it Freedom Tower. Hinderaker's article in the Weekly Standard, Trouble at Turtle Bay, casts some doubt on the UN's estimate of its office space at 2,651,000 square feet. He estimates the space to be renovated is closer to 1,029,000 square feet. Even if we assume the first number of 2.6 million square feet is correct, that would match the proposed square footage of the Freedom Tower, which will be built from the ground up for only $300 million more dollars.

Granted, the Freedom Tower will only be occupied by filthy Americans. So, they won't need a hammered gold Alter of Multilateralism and a bejeweled Ark in which to carry the United Nations Charter before the laurel crowned armies of winged peacekeepers.

Newsweek Duped by Karl Rove

This week's howling moonbattery comes from futurist Steven G. Brant at the Huffington Post (hat-tip: Sam McKee of Debunkers). Mr. Brant expresses difficulty in believing that Newsweek would make such a reckless mistake, and he also notes that the allegation of the Koran flushing incident has never actually been refuted.

Newsweek getting "caught" like this has Karl Rove's stink all over it. Am I the only one who sees this pattern at work?...one that is destroying the credibility of the press? Not that the press hasn't made its own mistakes (thanks NY Times/Jason Blair)...but when it comes to "big news" stories where The White House gets to shout "How dare you!" because sources turn out to be shady (even though the facts of the story are never refuted)...

That's not all! Steven Brant goes on to explai... excuse me one moment please ...Mr. Brant goes on to explain the Reaganesque quality of this devious strategy.

Come on, folks...who's going to benefit most from living in a country where when CBS or Newsweek says the people in power have done something bad those people can do their best Ronald Reagan imitation and say "There they go again."

Yeah! He's right. It's not enough that our military service men and women be willing to sacrifice life and limb, they must also sacrifice pride, honor, and their own credibility to ensure that Newsweek is believable when undermining this administration's foreign policy and our victory in Afghanistan. Brant wraps up with a suggestion on how our corporate journalists can protect themselves, and by extension the nation, from Karl Rove's media fun house.

The solution? Full disclosure of all sources when it comes to stories like this? I'm not sure.

But what I AM sure about it that any mainstream press organization that publicizes ANYTHING bad about this administration had better make sure they've got their source on tape and fingerprinted...not just for their own protection, but for the protection of America!

We need a press that the people trust! Therefore, we need a press that avoids the traps being set for them by (in my humble opinion) Rove & Co.

I really do appreciate the Huffington Post more than ever. Without this latest effort from Arianna Huffington and Steven Brant's well-timed warnings for the corporate press, we could be laboring under the impression that media corporations like Newsweek might rush flimsy stories without proper sourcing followed by more thinly sourced justifications further propped up by a parent corporation with half-assed excuses.

Kenneth Starr's Redemption

Any evils or malice attributed to Kenneth Starr during his investigation of President Bill Clinton have all be forgiven and forgotten as far as I'm concerned. After tackling Presidential perjury, misuse of public property, and abuse of power; he apparently began applying his legal prowess to more important matters as Professor Bainbridge reported back in February 2004. Ken Starr has turned to fighting state bans on interstate wine shipments.

Who could possibly support these discriminatory laws? Those who have the most to lose from repeal: the liquor distributors, known in the trade as the "booze boys." These distributors exact massive, and in many areas oligopolistic, profits from wineries as a price for distributing their products to retail stores -- and in some cases, refuse to distribute wine from smaller wineries at all. Like pirates exacting a ransom, they add no value. But they have a powerful incentive to keep the current system in place.

The booze boys' lobbyists contend that restrictive state laws are necessary to further the worthy goal of reducing youth access to alcohol. But it defies common sense to suggest that a 16-year- ld wanting to drink would settle for the delayed gratification of ordering wine over the Internet, rather than just get a bottle from a local store or bar. And if direct shipping promotes underage drinking, why allow direct shipping from in-state wineries, and prohibit merely from out of state?

The Los Angeles Times reported on the U.S. Surpreme Court's 5-4 decision to strike down shipping bans in Michigan and New York, saying it's unconstitutional for a state to allow in-state wineries to ship direct to consumers while stopping out-of-state wineries from doing the same thing.

So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. - Proverbs 3:10

Well, the barns of the Indigent Blogger aren't yet filled with plenty, but I'm always pressing to bust out some new wine! I have faith that this ruling will only improve the Wine of the Week on Fridays.

North Korea Hungers for Dialog?

Chosun Ilbo reports that Kim Jong Il has invited Condoleeza Rice for bilateral talks and expressed his willingness to return to the the six party talks (hat-tip: Huffington Post).

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit his country for bilateral negotiations aimed at resolving the communist country's nuclear ambitions.
According to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, citing multiple unnamed diplomatic sources, North Korea is expressing its willingness to return to the stalled six-party talks, while at the same time wanting to hold bilateral talks with the United States.

I have used Chosun Ilbo as a source before, but I wonder if it is reliable enough. No other news source makes such a strong statement regarding Kim Jong Il's willingness for a return to six party talks. However, there does seem to be some negotiations happening between South and North Korea in an effort to bring the DPRK back to table.

The rival Koreas resumed their first face-to-face talks in 10 months at the North Korean border village of Kaesong. The two-day meeting began Monday, with both delegations returning to their respective capitals for consultations after six hours of talks.

Talks between the two Koreas broke off in July after mass defections to South Korea from the North that it labeled kidnappings.

Rhee made several suggestions for improving relations. North Korea wanted to talk about food aid and fertilizer for its spring planting season; Rhee said the size of such aid needs further consultations.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher offered support for South Korean efforts to bring North Korea back to negotiations. He added, however, that United States believes "humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea, including food or helping them grow food, shouldn't be conditioned or negotiated as part of the six-party talks." - San Diego Union Tribune (AP)

I mentioned Japan's decision to end food shipments to North Korea in my May 11 post on the situation. The BBC is now reporting that food situation in the DPRK is becoming dire, according the World Food Program (WFP).

The head of the World Food Programme's North Korea mission told the BBC that without new contributions famine-like conditions would be likely to reappear.

The warning comes as North and South Koreans hold a second day of talks at which the North is expected to call for more aid and agricultural fertiliser.

Seoul says it has offered new proposals to Pyongyang to resume six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programme.

If the South can secure a commitment to resume the six-party talks, that would be a significant accomplishment for South Korean President Roh and the Bush Administration's approach to the North Korean problem. I know, as Boucher points out, the U.S. will only allow the food shortages to continue for limited amounts of time. It will be interesting to see who blinks first and what the result will be. Stay tuned...

Monday, May 16, 2005

Russians Join Oil-For-Food Perps...

Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky has denied he received a single cent from Iraq, according to the BBC. Once again, I direct you to Ron at Friends of Saddam for details.

While reading the BBC, I did notice an interesting sentence at the end of an article regarding the Oil-For-Food Program.

Questions over the way the programme was conducted emerged in early 2004, after an Iraqi newspaper published a list of about 270 people including UN officials, politicians and companies it alleged may have profited from the illicit sale of Iraqi oil.

Ladies and gentlemen, questions may have emerged as late as 2004 amongst our hard-hitting investigative corporate journalists, but you can rest assured The Indigent Blogger has been on the case for years. I present to you a message posted by yours truly in September 2002 on a progressive-leaning political forum (POTP) based in the UK.

I also oppose the United Nations' continued indifference, impotence, and outright corruption in the oil-for-food and weapons inspections programme. According [to] the UN OIP, some [of] the funding is on 'hold' because of shortfalls in the escrow account. Instead of the smoke and mirrors of misdirected angst towards the US and UK, I would like to know how in hell the UN managed oil-for-food escrow accounts continue to have billion dollar shortfalls, especially since they have earned more than $1 billion in interest since 1996? - 09 SEP 2002

Now, in compliance with good journalistic practices, I must hereby post a correction to that statement. It turns out that I was WAY off! The interest that was earned by the UNOIP escrow account, but otherwise up and vanished, was closer to $3.1 billion with another $2.2 billion of income from currency exchanges, according to a briefing (PDF) from the Independent Inquiry Committee.

Washington Post Deploys HazMat Team

I think this will be the last post on this subject that I'll be making unless something significant happens, like the original story turns out to be, in any way, true.

The Washington Post Company, which owns Newsweek, has deployed corporate journalism's equivalent to a Hazardous Materials team in the form of Howard Kurtz and the frontpage of the Washington Post newspaper. He makes an interesting attempt to rehabilitate the Newsweek media organization but doesn't really do any favors for Michael Isikoff.

The item was principally reported by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek's veteran investigative reporter. "Obviously we all feel horrible about what flowed from this, but it's important to remember there was absolutely no lapse in journalistic standards here," he said. "We relied on sources we had every reason to trust and gave the Pentagon ample opportunity to comment. . . . We're going to continue to investigate what remains a very murky situation."

Mr. Isikoff must be referring to yesterday's explanation by Evan Thomas that a draft copy was shown to a senior Pentagon official but was never corrected, except for an unrelated item. Thomas' piece clearly explains the official was silent about the rest of the item and had not meant to mislead, but lacked detailed knowledge of the SouthCom report.

Ladies and gentlemen, the lack of a refutation does not make something fact or truth. A few years back, I was responsible for fact-checking product performance claims in certain marketing reports. Naturally, I only approved or recommended changes for areas in which I had sufficient knowledge. Just because I did not comment on the technical or financial aspects of the report did not necessarily make those areas factual. If the above quote of Michael Isikoff is true, he just lost a great deal of stock in my book. I believe it was unethical to rush to accuse our troops of such an incendiary transgression with only a single anonymous source, no matter how well placed. Kurtz hints at what might lead Michael Isikoff and the editors at Newsweek to slip such a flimsy allegation like this into their magazine.

Isikoff, a former Post reporter, gained national attention in 1998 when the magazine held his report on an independent counsel's investigation of Monica S. Lewinsky's relationship with President Bill Clinton. More recently, Isikoff and Barry won an Overseas Press Club award for their reporting on Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Yes, the journalism awards have been flowing quite readily for anyone willing to take aim at the war effort and morale of our military personnel. That's fair enough if the journalist is confident in the truth of the allegations, but this just seems like a shameless rush to dog-pile on the troops and military police guarding prisoners around the world. Howard Kurtz even extends us the favor of a reminder about Newsweek's discretion exercised in covering the Clinton/Lewinsky Fornigate scandal by withholding Isikoff's story on that affair. This only reinforces the liberal media bias meme.

Please note, I don't believe there is a liberal bias in the national corporate media, I just believe they are incredibly lazy and largely incompetent.

Kurtz must be a good company man because he continues by dutifully shilling what apparently are the official NEWSWEEK talking points; that other detainees have made the desecration allegation and other abuses have happened at Abu Ghraib, so it is therefore reasonable to assume the unsubstantiated allegations must be true.

The Newsweek item that triggered the violence also said the forthcoming report would describe "one woman who took off her top, rubbed her finger through a detainee's hair and sat on the detainee's lap."

That's wonderful! Unfortunately, it appears the report is not going to describe any desecration of the Koran, the allegation of which has provided great political capital to our enemies and the enemies of democracy in many nations. What we appear to have here is our own (American) media organizations willingly executing the propaganda regimen of those groups who have publicly stated a plan to exploit the Abu Ghraib abuses for their own ends. I'm not suggesting that actual abuses be withheld, but I don't believe real journalists should allow themselves to be used as a demoralizing propaganda tool by the various groups that have promised use them for just that purpose.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Flush Your NEWSEEK Down the Toilet

NEWSWEEK Online is now reporting the anonymous source used by Michael Isikoff and John Barry would not even stand behind his original claim, let alone substantiate it (hat-tip: Huffington Post).

On Friday night, Pentagon spokesman DiRita called NEWSWEEK to complain about the original PERISCOPE item. He said, "We pursue all credible allegations" of prisoner abuse, but insisted that the investigators had found none involving Qur'an desecration. DiRita sent NEWSWEEK a copy of rules issued to the guards (after the incidents mentioned by General Myers) to guarantee respect for Islamic worship. On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report. Told of what the NEWSWEEK source said, DiRita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?" - Page 2

Just as I suspected in my May 13 entry on this story, the only source of these allegations remaining standing are former detainees from Guantanamo Bay. NEWSWEEK Online highlights the house of cards on which their credibility rests on page two.

NEWSWEEK was not the first to report allegations of desecrating the Qur'an. As early as last spring and summer, similar reports from released detainees started surfacing in British and Russian news reports, and in the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera; claims by other released detainees have been covered in other media since then.

Newsweek now sites reports in the likes of British tabloids, Pravda, and Al-Jazeera as a good foundation for repeating unsubstantiated claims against our service men and women fighting abroad. This is not surprising considering MSNBC, NEWSEEK's online partner, has long been a defender of Al-Jazeera. However, I'll give Michael Isikoff some credit. While in cover-your-ass mode, he at least called a lawyer representing former detainees to get second-hand hearsay on which to base these accusations against our troops.

In the meantime, as part of his ongoing reporting on the detainee-abuse story, Isikoff had contacted a New York defense lawyer, Marc Falkoff, who is representing 13 Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. According to Falkoff's declassified notes, a mass-suicide attempt—when 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves in August 2003—was triggered by a guard's dropping a Qur'an and stomping on it. One of Falkoff's clients told him, "Another detainee tried to kill himself after the guard took his Qur'an and threw it in the toilet." A U.S. military spokesman, Army Col. Brad Blackner, dismissed the claims as unbelievable. "If you read the Al Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels," he said.

The credit afforded Mr. Isikoff is then completely wiped out as NEWSEEK does it again! Attempting to further justify their claims by the volume of these rumors, they cite the complaints of one Bader Zaman Bader.

More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come. Bader Zaman Bader, a 35-year-old former editor of a fundamentalist English-language magazine in Peshawar, was released from more than two years' lockup in Guantánamo seven months ago. Arrested by Pakistani security as a suspected Qaeda militant in November 2001, he was handed over to the U.S. military and held at a tent at the Kandahar airfield. One day, Bader claims, as the inmates' latrines were being emptied, a U.S. soldier threw in a Qur'an. After the inmates screamed and protested, a U.S. commander apologized. Bader says he still has nightmares about the incident.

Please Stop! Stop the bleeding and just come right out and admit it was a mistake. In truth, it would be fair to say that I had become so desensitized to the impugning of our military service members that I doubt I would've caught the off-hand allegation. So, a recognition of the oversight and a commitment to more dilligence in the future would've been satisfactory, but that's not the course NEWSWEEK has chosen. Mr. Bader Zaman Bader (assuming it's the same fellow) was released from Guantanamo Bay seven months ago. He was so distraught over the nightmare of watching the desecration of the Qur'an that, upon his release, he failed to mention the incident when questioned by journalists from the Associated Press and China's Xinhua.

Another former prisoner, Bader Zaman Bader, said he was interrogated "150 times" by his American jailers but never abused. - via Military.com 23 SEP 2004

One of the prisoners released from U.S. detention, Bader Zaman Bader, has demanded that the United States compensate him for three years of his life spent in custody, China's Xinhua news agency reported on 22 September. Bader said that he has a "right" to demand compensation since he "was innocent and the U.S. military failed to prove any charges" against him. According to the report, Bader is the first Afghan prisoner released from U.S. custody who has demanded compensation from the United States. - via Radio Free Afghanistan 23 SEP 2004

I like Michael Isikoff and believe he is one of the better journalists in America today. If this is any indication of how NEWSWEEK is going to defend its mistakes, I would recommend he return to the Washington Post (WP owns NEWSWEEK) and at least prevent NEWSWEEK from destroying his credibility as well.

UPDATE MAY 17, 2:30 PM- Welcome readers of PowerLine and the Weekly Standard. My chronological coverage of the Newsweek issue includes the initial flimsy story on May 13, this thinly sourced justification, the attempt at damage control by the parent corporation, and a lazy flaming of the notion that all of this was orchestrated by Karl Rove.

Brother, Can You Spare a Questionnaire?

The United Nations is making great progress in Iraq... No, the UN hasn't alleviated any of the problems faced by Iraqis, but the international organization has completed yet another survey gauging how Iraqis feel about their living conditions.

I'll need to go back and check any relevant data to my entry about the last UN study about starving children in Iraq, Let Them Eat Questionnaires. In the meantime, Shannon Love has posted an excellent (I mean highly recommended) introduction to the Iraq Living Conditions Survey of 2004 (ILCS) at Chicago Boyz. One interesting observation Shannon makes is the comparison between the estimated war deaths in this new study and the 100,000 total war-related deaths in the ignominious Lancet Study.

LIMS looked at changes in mortality from all causes. The 100,000 figure (what the authors call a "conservative" estimate) includes death from illness and accident, crime, insurgents/terrorists and Coalition actions. The percentage breakdown in deaths (excluding the Falluja cluster) was 66% from violent causes and 33% from non-violent causes. That means that crudely the Lancet study reports 66,000 deaths from violence. Most of those deaths (57%) resulted from the non-Coalition actors, who where either insurgents or economic criminals. If the ILCS did not include crime in their "war-related" category, and we include deaths that occurred after after the end of May 2004, then the ILCS deaths could bubble up to 30,000 or so. On the other hand, LIMS excluded military deaths from its estimate whereas the ILCS seems to include them, so perhaps it all cancels out.

The ILCS authors do imply that their 24,000 figure matches the LIMS 100,000 figure because they refer to it directly [Analytical Report logical page 54]:

Another source (Roberts et al. 2004) estimates the number to be 98,000, with a confidence interval of 8,000 to 194,000. The website Iraq Body Count estimates that between 14,619 and 16,804 deaths have occurred between the beginning of 2003 and 7 December 2004 (IBC 2004).

Since the LIMS executive summary makes it clear that it measures all sources of mortality I think it safe to assume that the ILCS considers "war-related" deaths to cover the same causes of deaths as LIMS. Moreover, the Iraqi ministries rejected the LIMS conclusions when they were originally published, stating that their own research showed nothing like the death rate reported by LIMS. Since the ILCS had already been conducted they may have been relying on its then-unpublished data to reject the LIMS.

The big question that immediately comes to mind is why I don't have Chicago Boyz on my Blog Roll?!?!?!

Venezuela now Seeking Posada Carriles

Last month I went through the legal obstacles that would prevent the United States from legally harboring Posada Carriles, even if it was thought that he would be tortured in Cuba.

Now, the BBC reports that Venezuela is seeking Posada Carriles' extradiction, but there is still no credible evidence the federal government has any idea of his where-abouts.

I'm keeping my eye on this story to guage whether or not I'm reading the tea-leaves correctly.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Been There, Done That or Not

Ann Althouse lists ten things she has never done (hat tip: Begging to Differ). Instead of coming up with ten things of my own from scratch, I'll start with her list. By crossing off the things I've done from her list and adding things I've not done to the remaining items, I'll have my ten things I've not done.

1. Gone camping.

2. Eaten egg salad, devilled eggs, or cold hard-boiled eggs.

3. Gone skiing.

4. Set foot on any continent other than North America and Europe.

5. Shoplifted.

6. Watched a pornographic movie -- other than in federal court, as part of a forfeiture proceeding.

7. Called anyone "sir" or "ma'am."

8. Used a computer that wasn't a Macintosh (unless you count things like dedicated LEXIS consoles and ATM machines as computers).

9. Seen the movie "Apocalypse, Now." (It was always "Apocalypse," later, for me, and now maybe it's "Apocalypse," never. )

10. Used cocaine or heroin.

Geez! She's never been camping or skiing or eaten hard-boiled eggs cold? Now I have to come up with nine more items! I could've just started from scratch! Ok, here is the list of things that I have never done:

1. Stepped foot on any continent other than North America

2. Owned a new car

3. Made a mortgage payment

4. Had sex in a car

5. Gone jogging (where I wasn't forced as part of a P.E. class)

6. Achieved a High School Diploma or GED

7. Been to a professional basketball game

8. Read the Chronicles of Narnia

9. Visited the Grand Canyon (I've seen it from an airplane)

10. Had a professional massage

Well, there's the list. Another interesting (or not so) point is that until November 2004, I had never voted for a presidential candidate that ended up winning.

Trust Fund an Oxymoron...

In addition to the Social Security Trust Fund, we also have a Federal Transportation Trust Fund managed by our beloved representatives in Washington DC. Mike Hubbell of The Deep Freeze points us to the Porker of the Month.

Citizens Against Government Waste have named Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) "Porker of the Month" for May 2005. Grassley as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has managed to add an $11 billion amendment to the $284 billion transportation bill passed by the House in March. Included in this amendment was over $8 million for pet projects in his home state of Iowa.

John Tierney comments on both trust funds in an Op-Ed in today's New York Times.

This addition to the nation's transportation infrastructure is the brainchild of Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat from the southwestern Virginia mountains that Daniel Boone traversed on the way to Kentucky. Mr. Boucher secured $750,000 of highway money for the "construction of horse trails and assorted facilities" in Jefferson National Forest.

When I expressed doubts to Mr. Boucher that these new horse trails would ease traffic on the roads, he replied, "That's fair to say." He didn't expect any commuters to use them. But he insisted this really wasn't an unusual use of money from the highway trust fund, and he had a point.

We also have transportation taxes here in California for the specific purpose of building and maintaining our highways. Here in San Diego, voters agreed to pay an additional half-cent sales tax to fund local transportation infrastructure. Considering the fact that San Diego is a planned city, and the city managers throughout the year have dictated the location and density for almost all residential, commercial, and industrial areas; I wonder why there would ever be traffic problems.

I guess that's one of the mysteries of life.

Like Making Sausage

Since my first post in March of this year... Ok, I actually started this blog last year and my first post was about drilling in ANWR (IIRC), but all that was cleared away and a new start was made in March 2005. Anyway, in trying to figure out how to enjoy my blogging experience AND my voracious appetite for research, I have made a few changes to the blog since beginning in March.

One problem I have with blogging is with my writing skills themselves. For as long as I have been writing, way back in high school (before dropping out), I have had a problem with maintaining a uniform tense and person. I have been fighting this problem in my blog entries, especially the really long ones that were written over the course of several days. In addition to this technical issue with my writing, I'm continuing to try and find what I call "my voice". I want to express a bit of my personality with my views and not simply offer a redundant presentation of reporting or analysis done by someone else. I have done a significant amount of technical reporting as part of my work and sometimes fall into a flat, dry recitation of data. I also want to tone-down the excessive sarcasm I have used for online message boards, but I'd prefer my snarky smart-ass side to my wonkish fact-checker side if I can't find the middle ground.

Finding the right pace and style of entries can be a bit of trial and error. The effort involved in the monumental posts, such as those on Social Security or North Korea, is fine once in a while but are unsustainable on a regular basis. These posts require a much greater effort as a result of the double and triple-checking required by the problems mentioned above. So, I think I am going to save that kind of work for days when I can sit down and write a complete presentation without significant interruption. I'll save them to my personal Road Runner web-space and link to them from an entry here. I'm having much more fun knocking out a couple of posts a day on the topics I find most interesting.

For those that have been around for awhile, you may have been noticing some gradual changes to the facade. I've added the "Kudos" section of the sidebar in a self-mocking copy of the Reviews sidebar-section from the Belgravia Dispatch. Instead of Andrew Sullivan, The New York Times, and Glenn Reynolds; I've got Mike, Terrie, and Alan (who I appreciate very much). Yes, the comment from the Indigent Girlfriend is real and unsolicited, and it was delivered via email with a job lead attached.

The blog-roll has been added, formatted, and edited several times. When I discover an interesting blog, I'll bookmark it in a "Watch" sub-folder and revisit the site periodically. Basically, any watched blog that isn't updated at least once a week gets cut. I may have found common interest with particular entries from some blogs that were on the blog roll, but deleted them as the subject matter of the blog as a whole really didn't mesh well with Vagabondia. I don't want my blog-roll to become a huge clearing house for various blogs. I want it to be a list of blogs that I actually visit and read on a regular basis.

I have just recently began permitting anonymous comments, which is how my friend CODArmageddon was able to post anonymously. Therefore, it has already produced benefits. I certainly can imagine a scenario where anonymous comments are again disabled, but we aren't there yet.

I have added Haloscan trackback functionality while retaining Blogger comments. I have had no trackback links at this point, but I use the trackback feature on other blogs whenever it is appropriate.

A traffic counter has been entered into the footer of every page and has been active since about 10:00 PM on May 12. As I am typing this, I see that I have 213 hits. I want people to read this blog, but I have not decided on whether or not I ever want this blog to generate income. My inclination at this time is to avoid blog-ads as some can tend to be distractions from the total presentation and message. I know reading blogs is not really an immersive experience, but I'd prefer to keep the facade as clean as possible.

I think that's about it, for now. I'm enjoying myself and can already see improvement in my own writing skills just from doing it everyday. I'm also learning a lot. I appreciate the comments and email feedback, and Yes... I will put a link to my email address in the sidebar.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Wine of the Week - May 13

This week I'll be sampling something current, the new stuff! No more last year's model for this Indigent Wino. On the plate (or in the bowl) is Stagg's Laredo green chili with beans in the new SmartPak at a cost of $1. Now, I realize that no real chili contains beans, but such is my selection this week. In the glass is a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon from Golden Gate Vintners (aka Golden State Vineyards), which I picked up at Albertson's for $2.50 a bottle. The aroma has a sour tint to it, and the wine has a bit of bite going down. Overall, with "Great" being the best, I'm willing to give this wine a rating of "Fair". Assuming the pan-handling goes well next week, I would select another wine I haven't tried from the same price range instead of buying this one again. Having said that, this wine beats two-buck chuck every time, hands down.

"It's Not Fair!"

The most remarkable whine of this week comes from my very own Senator Barbara Boxer. Although the Senate Foreign Relations Commission has voted to send John Bolton to the entire Senate for an up-or-down vote on his nomination, Senator Boxer has placed a "hold", otherwise known as a notice of objection on Mr. Bolton's nomination.

The nomination was voted out of the Foreign Relations Committee 10-8 on Thursday without an endorsement, and Democrats vowed to take their fight to the Senate floor.

Boxer told The Associated Press on Friday she would use procedural delays until Democrats receive the requested information.

"It is not fair to bring this nomination to the floor for debate and a vote until all the information has been delivered," she said.

Boxer said the Democrats want to know if Bolton sought the names of U.S. officials whose communications were intercepted by U.S. intelligence, details on the private business activities of a Bolton assistant, Matthew Friedman, and the circumstances of a tough Bolton speech on Syria. - Washington Post

Excuse me, but this is a monumental dig for dirt. Does Senator Boxer expect me to believe that Bolton has, allegedly committed these horrible acts a few years ago, but has been confirmed and permitted to serve in upper levels of the State Department for all these years.

This is pathetic. A California Senator stooping to digging through the office trash bins, looking for juicy gossip to sink an otherwise qualified professional nominated to one of the most meaningless jobs on the planet. Give the guy a break! Vote already!

Opposed to the Death Penalty...

The New York Times reports that Connecticut has executed its first state prisoner in 45 years (hat tip: Huffington Post). Let me start by saying that my opposition to the death penalty, like my pacifism, is purely personal. A state that has legalized capital punishment through its democratically elected legislature is fine by me, though I still view it as morally wrong.

I know the death penalty was an acceptable (and often required) form of punishment in the Old Testament of the Bible, but I think the episode from the gospel of John sheds a New Testament light on the subject.

(3)And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, (4)They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. (5)Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? (6)This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with [his] finger wrote on the ground, [as though he heard them not]. (7)So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. - John 8:3-7

Given the opportunity to agree with the Old Testament corporate law, Jesus declined and instead made the issue a matter of personal judgement. Of course, there are flaws with this section of verses as Jesus is the embodiment of God serving in His office as the Son of Man (e.g. one of us). His response to situations will be different than that of God just as Condoleeza Rice will react differently to situations as the Secretary of State than she would have as National Security Advisor. So, do we have an example of the Old Testament Almighty God, Judge of all the Earth, sparing the life of one who has committed a violation of the law normally punishable by death?

Cain. Most know the story of Cain (Genesis 4) and how he killed his brother Abel. Considering the significant failure of Adam's attempt at blame-shifting in the Garden of Eden when confronted by God; Cain tried a different tact that remains the number one strategy to this day, denial.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? - Genesis 4:9

Here, Cain establishes the first rule of the accused, which is to deny everything. Unfortunately for Cain, God knows the fourth commandment of cross-examination, Thou shalt "Never Ask a Question to Which You Do Not Already Know the Answer". Rather than punish Cain with death, God pronounces a sentance upon him and exiles him. In fact, God goes so far as to explicitly prohibit Cain from being killed.

Now, I realize this is certainly open to all kinds of debate from many angles, but I just can't wrap my mind around the death penalty and feel comfortable with it. I think no less of those that do as I have changed my mind on the subject several times over the course of my life. I think part of this stems from a general mistrust of our justice system. There is no doubt that it is one of the most "just" system in the world, but it is not infallible and the death penalty no longer serves as a deterrent. I suppose it could be our effort to make our justice system less fallible that has watered down the capital punishment's deterrent capability, if that deterrence ever actually existed.

No, there is no point other than to work out my thoughts and opinions on the matter.