Saturday, March 19, 2005
White House planning a pardon-fest
The administration has just released the documents sought by Judicial Watch that relate to President Clinton's end-of-term pardons. According to iWon-news,
The only items not deleted from the material are the names of the person who wrote the document and the person it was sent to.
The Bush White House has argued that releasing pardon-related documents would have a chilling effect on internal discussions leading up to presidential action on such requests [emphasis added].
Judicial Watch (a Conservative group, by the way) has it all wrong—
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton called it an instance of the Bush administration covering up a Clinton administration scandal.
I know that the Bushes and the Clintons have been developing rapport, possibly to the point of criminal conspiracy, but covering up Clinton administration "scandals" is not an activity that Karl Rove would sanction.
President Bush does not want his pardon options chilled by the possibility of behind-the-scenes revelations, because by the end of his term (if his term ends, let me hasten to add) there should be some serious indictments to show for all the Republicans have done for their country.
And speaking of pardon scandals, Clinton's paltry efforts to free the guilty pale by comparison with those of George H.W. Bush. There was wealthy Texan Edwin Cox, Jr., convicted of bank fraud. Not to mention six felons from the Iran-Contra scandal, which—if you exclude the Kennedy assassination—was not only the biggest government conspiracy of modern times but also the best hushed up.
One of the pardoned conspirators, Elliot Abrams, has just been appointed to head up Middle East policy on the National Security Council under the formal title of "Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the NSC for Southwest Asia, Near East and North African Affairs."
I love "firsts," don't you? Will Abrams be the first American to receive a Presidential pardon from two different Presidents? And will Jonathan Pollard, convicted Israeli spy serving a life term, finally be freed?
Humvees and trucks crashing at twice the normal rate
According to Gregg Zoroya of USA Today,
In the past four full months, the numbers of serious vehicle accidents and fatalities in Iraq have more than doubled from the previous four months, records provided by the Army show. In the first 10 weeks of this year, 14 soldiers were killed in accidents involving Humvees or trucks. All but one died in rollovers. If that rate continues, the number of soldiers killed in such accidents this year would be almost double the 39 soldiers killed in 2004. Detailed records involving Marines were not available.
And the Army can't figure out why—
The Army is trying to determine whether the dramatic increase in the number of Humvees in use in Iraq - or an increase in the amount of miles they are being driven - might explain the higher number of accidents. It also is questioning whether the handling and center of gravity in Humvees may have been altered by armor plating bolted on in Iraq or shields added around gun turrets.
Adding to the mystery is that many of the rollover accidents involve the newest generation of factory-produced armored Humvees, vehicles thoroughly tested by the Army and with an even lower center of gravity than those without armor plating.
While they get this latest wrinkle ironed out, the Army is planning to install better seatbelts and offer a supplemental driving course.
I hate to suggest anything like a cover-up in these numbers but deaths from vehicle accidents have plagued the Army since early in the war as have suggestions that some of the accidents aren't accidents. As one reader pointed out in response to a July 2003 article by Gregg Mitchell in E&P—
One important point [Mitchell] failed to mention is that it has been widely reported by troops in the field that the reason there have been so many vehicle accidents is that, in an effort to avoid being ambushed, the soldiers drive too fast. In fact, I heard a report that in at least two incidents, soldiers killed in car accidents were actually fleeing hostile fire. These are clearly combat deaths, not accidents.
Quote of the Day
—Diane Arbus, photographer
Friday, March 18, 2005
A smelly sort of case
The story is quite simple. According to Chris W. Colby of the Naples News [registration required], a Florida attorney, David Szempruch, has ripped off clients and associates in some real estate shenanigans to the tune of $338,000 and pled "No contest." The state judge convicted him of two counts of grand theft and one count of forgery. The defendant worked out a plea agreement with prosecutors to serve a 3-1/2 year prison sentence. Then this past Monday the judge overturned the agreement and has changed the sentence to house arrest plus 12 years of probation. His justification is that "the victim wants her $60,000 back, and that outweighs the need to send the man who stole it to prison."
The prosecution is hopping mad.
Prosecutor Jerry Brock said he would appeal the new sentence, arguing the departure below the minimum under state sentencing guidelines was illegal. Schneider [the judge] had argued state law allows a judge to decide against prison time if the need for restitution outweighs the need for incarceration.
One of the dispossessed, who was not paid a $60,000 real estate commission, went to the sentencing hearing Monday and testified that "she wants her money back, more than she wants Szempruch to go to prison. If he were incarcerated, he couldn't work, and his original sentence didn't include probation, so the court would have had no way to return him to prison if he never paid the restitution, Schneider said."
As the prosecutor noted,
I pointed out (Dooley) wasn't the victim. She's the one who ended up not getting paid, but it's not her money he took, it was the (person) who was going to buy the condominium," Brock said.
There were two other victims, each losing more actual cash than the victim who testified at sentencing (and the reporter, I think, missed an angle by not reporting their views).
But up to this point it looks like a dispute over judicial authority, which will be properly considered by an appellate court.
... Szempruch ... can work as a title examiner or even at minimum-wage jobs to pay back Dooley, Schneider [the judge] said. And he can remain on house arrest at First Assembly of God,1 which frequently works with the courts to house and rehabilitate defendants.
"He seems like a decent guy who just had a problem," Schneider said. [emphasis added]
The judge's action in this case offers an interesting prospect for future defenses of larcenous clients—To avoid jail time the defense should bring in one or more victims to declare that the victim would prefer the money over jail time for the defendant. On that basis alone, we should expect a rush of pleas for restitution.
But with the Religious Right hovering about the fringes, the smell begins to intensify. The Assembly of God is former Attorney General Ashcroft's barque of salvation and displays a number of cultlike features that I will perhaps go into in another post. Some of my questions: Is the judge a member? Is the victim who testified a member? Is the defendant a member? Was he a member at the time of the crime or is he a recent convert? And is the church now implicitly involved in determining sentences in the judge's courtroom?
It will be interesting to see how the appellate court rules, but it is not likely to answer any questions as to the extent of the involvement of the Religious Right in the court system. Oh, and let me add that it can be mighty useful to any organization to have a disbarred attorney sitting around on minimum wage.
Assemblies of God, a large group of churches comprising the second largest Pentecostal organization in the United States, founded at Hot Springs, Ark., in Apr., 1914. In doctrine the Assemblies of God affirm the basic teachings of Pentecostalism (i.e., baptism with the Holy Spirit as evidenced through glossolalia and divine healing, and the daily presence of the charismatic gifts basic to the early church) and of fundamentalism, emphasizing the premillenarian belief in a return of Jesus and his saints to reign over a period of peace and righteousness. The U.S. membership, numbering nearly 2.5 million, is organized into over 10,750 local autonomous churches with a general council and a general presbytery formulating and administering policies, respectively. The churches actively engage in missionary work.[back]
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Another Bush attacks the courts
Every governor has stubbed his toe on the Florida Supreme Court from time to time, but only Jeb Bush has sought revenge. That unseemly side of him is on display in his support for a constitutional amendment to strip the court of its power to control the rules of civil and criminal procedure. It is more than a turf fight. Everyone's civil rights are at stake.I just hope the St. Pete Times isn't becoming "shrill."
The offensive measure, HJR 1007, is payback to the court for overturning a law that was intended to speed up executions, for waiving the Legislature's arbitrary deadline on DNA testing to support claims of innocence, and for asserting that dependent children should have access to lawyers before commitment to residential treatment programs. It is accompanied by another bill, HB 1005, that would speed up executions. The House Criminal Justice Committee approved both with too little debate this week. Rep. Everett Rice, R-Indian Shores, cast a decisive vote in favor of HJR 1007.
As the amendment moves through the legislative process, Rice and others who are disposed to support it ought to reread what Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist on the importance of judicial independence:In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.
Florida leads the nation in the number of people - 24! - who have been set free from death row on account of proof of innocence or grievous flaws in their convictions. DNA exonerated another after he died of cancer. One came within 16 hours of execution. This is no time, and Florida is certainly no place, to be short-circuiting due process.
The Constitution empowers the Legislature to overturn any of the court's rules by a two-thirds vote. Among other things, HJR 1007 would let the Legislature repeal or amend the rules by majority vote. It would create an unnecessary, time-consuming judicial conference to initiate certain rules.
It would also prohibit the court from providing for postconviction appeals except on the Legislature's terms. That borders on tyranny, for it infringes on the ancient right of habeas corpus.
I may have to move this blog
Then there was a status update this past Friday.
In the past several days, we've had a bout of stability problems with Blogger. Yesterday morning, users were encountering errors when trying to login and access their blogs.
Most of these problems were caused by an increased amount of load on the blogger.com application servers. We have addressed this problem by increasing the number of machines that serve the site. However, there is more work to do. In addition to bringing on more machines and completing additional capacity planning, we are also working to identify and correct problematic database queries. These queries are poorly optimized and lead to the increased load that jeopardized the service in the past few days.
As a Blogger user, I completely understand how unacceptable the performance has been in the past few days and it is the focus of the engineering team to fix these issues.
Simply Appalling is apparently located on one of their most stressed-out servers. I have a couple of test sites that usually respond in a reasonable amount of time. I am currently wasting a minimum of an hour a day simply trying to edit drafts and post. So if I seem a bit unproductive lately, I just want to assure that I'm not more unproductive than usual.
Since beginning this entry at 2 pm, it is now 3:53 and I'm not sure if this will post. I've since discovered that John Aravosis at AmericaBlog, a much more visited blog than Simply Appalling, is making the same complaint—
Blogger has been freezing for hours every day now. They say they're trying to get to the bottom of it. It's been a year of hell now. I hate moving to another server because blogger is paying for bandwidth, i.e., it's free now. But this is ridiculous. Anybody have an idea of how much bandwidth we'd need to host a blog of this size, with 30,000 people daily traffic?
Attempts to post: at least 15
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
The better to read your emails, my dear ...
According to Noah Schachtman of the NY Times,
Attensity, based in Palo Alto, Calif., and financed in part by In-Q-Tel, the C.I.A.'s investment arm, has developed a method to parse electronic documents almost instantly, and diagram all of the sentences inside. ("Moby-Dick," for instance, took all of nine and a half seconds.) By labeling subjects and verbs and other parts of speech, Attensity's software gives the documents a definable structure, a way to fit into a database. And that helps turn day-to-day chatter into information that is relevant and usable.
The company is "using the technique to comb through e-mail messages and chat room talks, which can be a rich lode of corporate and government information, and a tough one to mine."
The CIA is also investing in two other firms—Inxight Software and Intelliseek.
Inxight Software, of Sunnyvale, Calif. ... produces software that turns grammatical relationships into mathematical formulas, allowing it to parse documents in 31 languages. Intelliseek, of Cincinnati, plucks entities -- proper names and places -- from blog entries as a way to categorize them. The company's software will also characterize a document as positive or negative based on the words it contains.
Reading blogs for negativity should be a piece of cake. Thank goodness, we have only positive things to say here at Simply Appalling.
Wolfie to World Bank; Rummy to oblivion? (updated)
According to CNN,
In addition to Wolfowitz's strong support for the Iraq war, Steve Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a former undersecretary at the Treasury, said last week the Europeans were nervous that Wolfowitz would prove similar to former World Bank head and Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Radelet said McNamara was accused of channeling aid to nations based not on need but on their support of U.S. policy.
I suppose this will mean more troops from El Salvador as the Italians begin their withdrawal from Iraq.
But in the case of this particular dark cloud there may be a silver lining—or at least one of a contrasting color. It seems to this student of the Politburo that the departure of Paul Wolfowitz can mean one and only one thing—that Donald Rumsfeld is on his way out.
Have you noticed that Rummy has dropped from the news lately? The last news organization to give him focus is the Army Times—and that only in a story of his return to testify before the House Armed Services Committee that has been dogging him with unanswered questions. He is reported not to have been so "testy" this time.
With the military now acknowledging that 26 deaths of prisoners may have been homicides, the waters swirling about Rumsfeld may be experiencing the effects of global warming—or "climate change," as the Republicans like to say. The time to get out of the Defense Department is now.
Israel, I should think, would much prefer the loss of Rumsfeld to the loss of Wolfowitz, who is one of their very own.
I consider Wolfowitz' departure to be the strongest clue to Rumsfeld's imminent demise. But there are others—such as, Who put up Newsweek to issue a March 7 press release promoting a story that Richard Armitage is coveting Rumsfeld's post? The story that came out on the 14th begins—
Just two years ago, Donald Rumsfeld was the big man on George W. Bush's campus—the "matinee idol," as the president once called him—and Condoleezza Rice was just another obstacle for the Defense chief to run through....
Suffice it to say, Condi Rice doesn't need to remind Donald Rumsfeld where she is in the pecking order any longer.
This morning Bradley Graham of the Washington Post, one of your "Pentagon insider" sort of reporters, gives a darkly comic account of Wolfowitz' decision to move to the World Bank (emphasis added)—
Wolfowitz had contributed to the impression that he intended to stay by appearing to squelch rumors of his impending resignation that had popped up several times in recent weeks.
But as close associates revealed yesterday, he started thinking seriously about leaving two months ago, spurred by a January tour of the devastation in Southeast Asia caused by the tsunami. The scenes of death and destruction that he viewed in Indonesia and Sri Lanka played on Wolfowitz's long interest in Third World issues of poverty and peace, according to this account, and got him looking at what new career move he could make to help in this area.
Yes, considering the job he's done for the Iraqis, it must have looked like familiar territory.
"The catalyst was being asked to do the job -- it wasn't my decision," he said yesterday in an interview. But he called the tsunami trip "a big deal" that "may have crystallized" his views, and he referred to the visit in a written statement explaining his interest in the World Bank position.
"Nothing is more gratifying than being able to help people in need -- as I experienced once again when I witnessed the tsunami relief operations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka," the statement said. "It is also a critical part of making the world a better place for all of us." [emphasis added]
Wolfie himself says that he was asked to move on. But his sudden interest in humanitarian good works is chilling when you consider what he thinks is (a) humanitarian, (b) good, and (c) works.
More than any other defense official, he is identified with the invasion of Iraq and the campaign to implant democracy there. He also is credited with major roles in shaping policy on anti-terrorism efforts, India, Asia and a range of other issues of particular interest to him.
Just the man for the World Bank. But who to replace this "unparalleled intellectual force" in the Pentagon?
There was little sign yesterday of whom, if anyone, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld may have in mind to replace Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld's office appeared to be just starting to draw up a list of possible candidates, canvassing various people for suggestions.
All right. We know from Wolfowitz' account that he was asked to leave before his trip to Indonesia in January. Wouldn't it be strange—if Rumsfeld is to be involved in the appointment of a successor—that he should be "just starting" to search? I see two possible explanations: (1) It's a lie. The Rumsfeld list is already prepared. Such statements serve to denote official "surprise" at the decision. (2) It is a face-saver and temporizing move for Rumsfeld to suggest that he is even involved in the selection of Wolfie's successor. A third possibility—that Rumsfeld was really so out of the loop as not to know of Wolfie's impending departure—is just not credible.
And among some fluff we have—
Several lawmakers mused privately that Wolfowitz's departure will add to pressures on Rumsfeld to step down as well. In this view, whoever takes Wolfowitz's place would be a likely successor to Rumsfeld.
Take it to the bank.
U.S. ambassador to Turkey resigns, contemplates more mischief (3/22/05)
My tea leaves were wrong (9/22/05)
Off to a late start
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
To say God did not play a role is arrogant. It's far beyond the data.
—William Harris, professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City medical school
Words from above
That was my experience yesterday when I discovered the website of These Last Days Ministries. This is where you can go for the latest endtime prophecies of the Virgin Mary in her apparition as Our Lady of the Roses. There are also some direct quotes from her Son.
Back in the 70s and 80s the Virgin made numerous appearances in Bayside, Brooklyn, to Mrs. Veronica Lueken. And the Blessèd Mother put the Delphic Oracle to shame.
But even before the Virgin appeared, Mrs. Lueken had had a warm-up with St. Theresa of the Little Flower. St. Theresa, who is apparently the patron saint of doggerel, first came to her in 1968 upon the death of Bobby Kennedy. Her first dictation went like this—
A minor miracle: Bobby and Theresa
A delicate petal scented by Heaven
Fell from her bower of roses,
As her hand led the way
Up the path on that day
That Bobby kissed Mary and Moses.
All this and more can be found in "Occulations from Heaven."
These Last Days Ministries asks that we send this page to as many as people as possible. I'm happy to oblige.
Tears for my tears
My Nearest and Dearest fear that I may be becoming "addled," a socio-psychological condition to which Southerners are especially prone. But the truth is that one of my tear ducts has closed quite perversely, and now my tears have nowhere to go but down and out. It's something I can live with, even if the photo of me smelling the roses while dabbing my eye with a tissue seems ... well... a little precious.
But then my duct took a dive and became infected, and I knew it was time to act. In fact, I even knew what I needed to do; I just didn't know if I would be allowed to do it.
So I went to the local pharmacy to see if antibiotic eyedrops might be available over the counter. They're not. But then I got a real eye-opener as to just what is available for the optically challenged.
There are drops to take the redness out, which after a few uses cause a rebound and put the redness back in. These are available in the $5 range. For a similar price you may buy artificial tears.
Then I discovered three homeopathic formulations that promised "no known side effects." I was willing to believe this, since to the best of my knowledge they have no known effects whatsoever. For their superior effectlessness I would have to pay $10.
But on the shelf next to them I found the crème de la crème in over-the-counter eyedrops. Bausch & Lomb makes a 1/8 oz. bottle of 5% sodium chloride solution that my discount chain sells for $19.99. The package proudly lists only the one ingredient and promises that unlike cheaper drops it will not cause a rebound effect. I almost bought it until I discovered that I could buy a box of table salt and some distilled water for under a dollar.
By this time my duct was refusing to settle, so I knew there was nothing for it but the obligatory visit to the warden of the medicine chest, my friendly walk-in clinic physician. For $80 he regaled me with tales of his travels in Gaspé—he doesn't work as hard as he used to, he says—and looked at my swollen duct under a magnifying glass. "Yep, you have an infected tear duct. You sure do." Then he wrote out the precious prescriptions—antibiotic eyedrops and a broad-spectrum oral antibiotic. I kissed his hand.
Then it was on to the pharmacist. He asked if I knew if I had any allergies to these or any other drugs. Why I would be buying them if I knew any such thing is still unclear, but it never hurts to have your memory jogged in case the hives and bronchospasms you had last time have slipped your mind.
Finally the magic potions were served, and the pharmacist asked if I would like to pay by check, cash or credit card. Since I had been ready to offer my car title, I was relieved when the bill came in at under $50.
And what did those antibiotic eyedrops cost? Like the saline eyedrops for $19.99, these too were made by Bausch & Lomb. And for only $3 more they had an antibiotic included. I felt like I was pulling off a heist.
Quote of the Day
Monday, March 14, 2005
Oppose Israel? Get arrested. Be an Arab? You're guilty.
It seems that Al-Arian is quite indiscriminate in his support for terrorist organizations, since he was a Bush supporter in 2000 and is said to have delivered up the Muslim vote in Florida. His photo along with George and Laura appeared in a July 2001 issue of Newsweek. According to the Boston Globe, Newsweek wrote of al-Arian's son,
It was one of the coolest moments of his life. Abdullah al-Arian was finally old enough to vote for president, and George W. Bush singled him out in the crowd. Bush called the college student 'Big Dude' and posed for pictures with his Arab-American family - an ethnic group politicians have long ignored.
The Globe fleshed out the picture with the further weirdness that Abdullah had been previously expelled from the White House. As an intern for Dem. Rep. David Bonior, his association with known Democrats may as readily explain his expulsion as any presumed connection to Arab terrorism—
The month before the photo was published, Abdullah Arian was removed from the White House, despite having been invited to a meeting related to Bush's faith-based initiative. A Secret Service agent removed Abdullah Arian, then a Duke University student and intern for Representative David Bonior, Democrat of Michigan, based on a tip that he had terrorist ties.
The ejection was widely seen at the time by many Arab-American leaders as an example of ethnic profiling. The Secret Service quickly issued an apology, and Bush wrote Abdullah Arian a letter of apology.
"The president is very concerned that an action was taken that was wrong, inappropriate, and the president apologizes for it on behalf of the White House," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at the time.
Al-Arian also played a reverse role in the 2004 Florida Senate campaign. Here's how the debate between Democrat Betty Castor (formerly President of USF where al-Arian taught) and Republican Mel Martinez, moderated by Tim Russert, began—
Russert: Ms. Castor receives the first question.
One person who has played a dominant role in this campaign is not here tonight. His name is Sami Al-Arian.
I'd like to try to put this issue into some context by first playing an ad that Mr. Martinez is running about you and your campaign. Let's watch.(Advertisement)
What is Islamic Jihad?
A murderous band of terrorists who hate America.
Incredibly, under Betty Castor's weak leadership, Islamic Jihad used her university as cover. It wasn't one terrorist. It was a cell.
Betty Castor was warned but refused to fire a single one.
And defended them under academic freedom.
Freedom to plot terrorism.
That's the same Betty Castor who called America the bully of the world.
I'm Mel Martinez and I approve this message.
That is now Senator Mel Martinez to you, boys and girls.
Well, I just mention some of the fun stuff to offset the really appalling news in this case. Al-Arian's trial is currently scheduled to begin May 16. It was originally to begin April 4 but the defense convinced U.S. District Judge James Moody to postpone it. The motion for postponement notes that "The amount of documents, audio casettes, DVDs and other items introduced as evidence has grown so mountainous that the index alone now runs nearly 900 pages. [emphasis added]"
But the judge has insisted that jury selection begin on April 4. Five hundred questionnaires were sent to prospective jurors, and 322 were returned. After reviewing them, the defense filed a motion to move the trial from Tampa. According to the St. Pete Times,
Specifically, the motion said the questionnaires showed that nearly all the potential jurors who completed them "believed Dr. Al-Arian was guilty and they could not set aside their feelings in order to consider the evidence fairly."
The filing said many respondents displayed "an attitude of virulent racism, commenting on the color and hygiene of 'Arabs.'"
"One potential juror wanted to give sodium pentothal to Dr. Al-Arian to 'get the whole truth out,'" the filing said.
A follow-up article in the St. Pete Times adds further detail—
Some potential jurors said they think Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians are more violent than others and commit disproportionately more crimes. Some thought Palestinians were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, although most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Some feel Al-Arian is, at least, "sympathetic" to terrorists.
"I don't like the man," one wrote on the questionnaire.
Another potential juror said he couldn't serve because his father once worked with the lead FBI agent in the case. And others called former USF president Betty Castor an "idiot" for allowing Al-Arian to remain in his post while he was under investigation.
But one juror did a big No-No and is in hot water with the judge—
Some attacked the U.S. government, which one prospective panelist blamed for the terrorist attacks. Defense attorney Kevin Beck read from the questionnaire: "This case is a waste of taxpayer money stolen from me." In that instance, Judge Moody denied Beck's challenge and allowed the prospective juror to remain in the pool. "I'm going to let him come in and tell us in person," Moody said.Since there is no indication that the judge intends to grant a motion for change of venue, the trial will proceed with the Tampa jury pool. It should be truly medieval.