Saturday, April 23, 2005


In ecclesia Romae nolite quaerere, nolite dicere1

The policy of the American military toward its legions of gay people, known as "Don't ask, don't tell," has become a model of sorts for other institutions. The Republican Party has adopted it, and now it appears that the Roman Catholic Church has followed suit.

Well, why not? It is hypocrisy codified.

Last August I wrote of the Republicans,

... they actually don't give a damn whether someone is gay. It is the agenda that matters to them, and sexual politics is only one of their many "wedge" issues, which they exploit at their convenience.

It now appears that the same may be said of the Roman Church, or at least of its new Pope, who pretty much sets the agenda.

Benedict XVI had no sooner donned his triple tiara than a Vatican cardinal was denouncing a law passed in Spain's lower house of Parliament that would legalize gay marriage and adoption.

According to the BBC,

The head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council on the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, denounced the legislation as profoundly iniquitous.

Interviewed in the Italian newspaper, Corriere de la Sera, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo said the Church was making an urgent call for freedom of conscience for Roman Catholics and appealing to them to resist the law.

He said every profession linked with implementing homosexual marriages should oppose it, even if it meant losing their jobs.

So however much the Church, and more particularly Cardinal Ratzinger, may have failed to denounce Hitler, they will now make it up by denouncing homosexuals—a Hitlerian act in itself—and even counsel civil disobedience.

But at the very moment the Vatican was trying to incite Spanish Catholics to action, Britain's Independent (possibly on a tip from the head of a rival English church) was publicizing a shocking claim about the newly minted Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI has been accused of ignoring for seven years charges that Fr Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, had sexually abused nine teenagers in his organisation - because Fr Maciel was a close friend of Pope John Paul II.

In 1997 the then Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body which has the power to excommunicate priests guilty of sexual abuse, when Bishop John R McCann of New York forwarded him detailed charges of sexual abuse made by Fr Juan Vaca, a priest in Bishop McCann's diocese. The charges were in the form of a 12-page letter to Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, who founded the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Catholic evangelical order, in Mexico in 1941.

"Everything you did contradicts the beliefs of the Church and the order," Fr Vaca wrote in his open letter. "How many innumerable times did you wake me in the middle of the night and had me with you, abusing my innocence. Nights of fear, so many nights of absolute fear: so many nights of lost sleep, that on more than one occasion placed my own psychological health in jeopardy."

Fr Vaca was one of nine former members of Legionaries of Christ who charged Fr Maciel with having sexually abused them when they were teenage seminarians in the order in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The accusers included three professors, a teacher, a lawyer and an engineer as well as the priest.

Another priest and former member of the Legionaries, Juan Manuel Fernandez Armenabar, made a deathbed declaration denouncing Fr Maciel's sexual abuse. But despite the gravity of the charges, Cardinal Ratzinger took no action. The Vatican confirmed that it had received Fr Vaca's letter, but nothing more was said.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was asked about the accusations he brushed the questions aside. On one occasion he literally slapped the wrist of an American television reporter, Brian Ross, who had the temerity to raise the issue. On another occasion Cardinal Ratzinger said: "One can't put on trial such a close friend of the Pope's as Marcial Maciel."

Such an indulgent attitude to the alleged homosexual crimes of a senior priest - who had been appointed grand chancellor of Regina Apostolorum, a new, richly endowed pontifical college on the outskirts of Rome - contrasts with Pope Benedict's attitude to the Church's admitted homosexuals. Cardinal Ratzinger was relentless in his condemnation of liberal clerics who offered outreach to Catholic homosexuals or tried to moderate the harshness of the Church's view of a sexual proclivity that Cardinal Ratzinger defined as "an intrinsic moral evil". He banned practising homosexuals from receiving Mass and halted stealthy efforts by gays within the Church to change church teaching.

In December last year, seven years after the charges were filed against Fr Maciel, the Vatican announced that it would investigate them. A month later, Fr Maciel stepped down as leader of the Legionaries of Christ.

This week the spokesman for the eight men still alive said he thought the Church's change of heart was a way for Cardinal Ratzinger to improve his chances of becoming Pope. Jose Barba, a professor of Latin America studies, told Reuters in Mexico: "It would have been very embarrassing for the cardinal to turn up at the conclave with the reputation of someone who had covered up a scandal."

Professor Barba added: "Was Cardinal Ratzinger totally and solely responsible [for the failure to investigate]? I think that to a great extent he was because it was his department."

All this goes a long way toward explaining why Cardinal Bernard Law could play such a prominent role in the previous Pope's funerary festivities. As we know from the Holocaust, looking the other way is no crime in the Roman Catholic Church, much less a sin.

Related post
The Republican party's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy (updated) (8/31/04)


1 In the church of Rome, don't ask, don't tell. [back]


"Spengler" on Europe, the Pope, the Koran and other matters

From time to time I enjoy reading the Asia Times columnist who has adopted the name "Spengler," presumably after the early 20th-century historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler, best known for his Decline of the West. Both write of history with a grand sweep. I'm a student of neither Spengler and my reading of "Spengler"'s columns is rather cursory. Sometimes he is devastatingly wrong,1 but that said, he has some interesting observations.

While typically giving Americans a pass, "Spengler" comes down hard on the Europeans who, according to him, have lost their cultural soul along with their (Catholic) religion and now scarcely know how to breed.

In his latest column "The crescent and the conclave," he considers such matters as how the Islamic hordes may yet repopulate Europe, if only they can be converted, and suggests that Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger) may just be the man to do it. The proselytizing breakthrough would come by applying the techniques of historical criticism to the Koran, Islam's holy book, which "yet may turn out to be the worm in the foundation of radical Islam."

Precisely how the Church might go about proselytizing Muslims is a different matter, and a dangerous one, considering that Islam decrees the death penalty for apostates (see Muslim anguish and Western hypocrisy, November 23, 2004).

It is clear that Cardinal Ratzinger has been thinking about this for some time. "Islam has no magisterium," that is, official teaching authority, Ratzinger observed in a 2001 newspaper interview.... If the Church were to devote its shrunken but still formidable intellectual apparatus to such matters as Koranic criticism, all heaven would break loose, if I mix my metaphors right.

Well, it's certainly a novel idea, and I won't dismiss it out of hand. Though for the life of me I can't understand how Koranic criticism in the face of Islamic fundamentalists at the behest of the Vatican could be a safer activity than direct proselytization. Is he trying to get St. Peter's bombed?

But this is what caught my eye—

Unlike the Christian and Jewish scriptures, revealed to men who heard the revelation in their own voices, the Archangel Gabriel dictated every word of the Holy Koran to the Prophet Mohammed.

I suppose I should have known that, but I didn't. "Spengler" continues—

As Toby Lester reported in the January 1999 edition of The Atlantic Monthly:
"To historicize the Koran would in effect delegitimize the whole historical experience of the Muslim community," says R Stephen Humphreys, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The Koran is the charter for the community, the document that called it into existence. And ideally - though obviously not always in reality - Islamic history has been the effort to pursue and work out the commandments of the Koran in human life. If the Koran is a historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of 14 centuries is effectively meaningless."

Well, I'm sorry they feel that way, but this is not a strictly Islamic problem. There are some Christians of my acquaintance who are of the same mind, which is why the Bible must be taken as "infallible," "inerrant," and "inspired by God." (And should they ever become ascendant, any questioning of this—any "historical criticism"—will likely meet with punishments equal to those of the Spanish Iniquisition or of the Islamic fundamentalists, as you prefer.)

But what struck me is that we have a holy book in the West of similar authorship to the Koran—the Book of Mormon. According to Joseph Romney at,

The angel Moroni is the heavenly messenger who first visited the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1823. As a mortal named Moroni 2, he had completed the compilation and writing of the Book of Mormon. He ministered to Joseph Smith as a resurrected being, in keeping with his responsibility for the Book of Mormon, inasmuch as "the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim" had been committed to him by the Lord (D&C 27:5). Pursuant to this responsibility he first appeared to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21-22, 1823 (JS—H 1:29-49; D&C 128:20), and thereafter counseled with him in several reappearances until the book was published in 1830. During that time, he instructed Joseph Smith, testified to the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and otherwise assisted in the work of restoring the gospel.

Because of the angel Moroni's role in restoring the everlasting gospel to be preached to all the world (cf. Rev. 14:6-7; D&C 133:31-39), the Church placed a statue depicting him as a herald of the Restoration atop the Salt Lake Temple, and later on the hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York, where anciently he had buried the Book of Mormon plates.

While you may contend that what we have here is a case of angelic editing rather than angelic dictation, the similarity is nonetheless striking. And indeed, one Mormon quickly found solace in Islam.

I wonder if some insight might be gained by studying the two groups, Muslims and Mormons, side by side. Perhaps scholars of religion have already done so, but the news has not made it to me here in the hinterlands.

Related post
New Pope explains priestly sex scandal (4/20/05)


1 "Spengler" echoes the explanation of the American church's sex-scandal that was given by Cardinal Ratzinger, who laid it at the feet of the liberalization that followed the Second Ecumenical Council (Vatican II). In another column "Spengler" writes,

In the US, the Catholic Church tends toward the model of a social-welfare agency, replete with the social mores of the political left, culminating in the sex-abuse scandal of the past several years.

Of course, he is correct that it was to some extent the social mores of the political left that led to the American sex-abuse scandal—not by causing this priestly behavior, which is hardly an invention of the 20th century and is as rampant in Europe and Latin America as it is in the U.S.—but by caring enough about the victims to expose and protest it. Once exposed, right-wing sexual prudery did the rest. [back]

Friday, April 22, 2005


Will the Republicans "go nuclear"? (updated)

The Senate Republicans find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, their insistence that they will use the "nuclear option" of ending the Senate's filibuster rule if an up-or-down vote is not allowed for some of their more rabid judicial nominees means that they now must carry through with the threat. If they don't, the Christian Right will accuse them of betrayal. And those people who toted signs outside Terri Schiavo's nursing home may end up carrying them outside Bill Frist's office.

On the other hand, if they hold the vote, they will almost certainly lose. In other circumstances, on other issues, this really wouldn't matter, but this time it does.1 A component of their power rests in the projection of invincibility, which creates a positive feedback cycle with their projection of godliness. And since they chose to link their assault on the federal judiciary with the Terri Schiavo case, the attack on the judiciary has become a holy war. Our Republican holy warriors so far have been invincible because, as with the emperor Constantine, God is on their side, and the proof that God is on their side is that they've been winning. A loss would not only demonstrate that they are not invincible, but then raises the question of whether they had the support of the Lord in the first place.

But there are other negatives to holding a vote on the filibuster that should be equally alarming for them. Polls are showing the majority of Americans in opposition to ending the filibuster rule.2 The Schiavo case has finally frightened the public sufficiently of the Christian Right that they want the brakes on power to stay in place. It has also raised the level of suspicion as to just what the Republicans are up to. So if they bring the filibuster to a vote, they will be confirming what their enemies have been saying all along—that they are power mad, oblivious to the traditions of the Senate, in the grasp of the Christian Right, and so forth.3 All this just to lose?

And perhaps the greatest negative is that they risk splitting off a portion of their base. This is a genuine wedge issue, and if the Democrats don't make the most of it, they should stick their tails between their legs and go home. But the signs are that Senator Harry Reid, for one, does understand this.

This is the essence of the Republican dilemma: Either action—to hold the vote or let the matter die—appears guaranteed to alienate a significant portion of their base. If they don't at least try to end the filibuster rule, the Christian Right will be furious. And if they do try, the libertarians and economic conservatives are going to be outraged—and even more so in the unlikely event that they should prevail on the vote.

In the midst of all this, they have another problem—timing. Two events—one already accomplished and the other imminent—are pushing the issue further to the fore, which means the Republicans are not going to be able to two-step. They're going to have to boogie.4

Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nominations of Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown to the appellate court. These are two of the nominees previously filibustered. Then for thematic counterpoint we have "Justice Sunday" coming up this weekend sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC). The speakers will include James Dobson, Al Mohler, Chuck Colson and ... Senator Bill Frist. It's to be nationally televised via Christian cable and is sure to draw a great deal of coverage and commentary in the mainstream media.5

The expectations are clear enough—

"Our goal is to reach as many people as possible and to engage values voters in the all-important issue of reining in our out-of-control courts and putting a halt to the use of filibusters against people of faith," says [FRC President] Tony Perkins.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is committed to returning constitutional order to the Senate by requiring an up-or-down vote on these nominees as the Senate has always had in the past. To do this, he urgently needs the help of every values voter. Without doubt, this will be the most important vote cast in the United States Senate in this term. If this effort fails, the best we can hope for are likely to be mediocre judges who meet the approval of Ted Kennedy, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

It will be interesting to hear what Frist has to say. This may be the public's best opportunity to learn just which way the wind is blowing. Will Frist begin to backpedal on holding the vote? Will he explain what a loss may mean in terms that suggest it might be wiser not to hold the vote at all? Or will he give—as the FRC clearly expects—an all-hands-on-deck, man-the-battle-stations sort of talk?


My tea leaves have gone limp from all the steam that's rising from this issue, but you don't need tea leaves to see that the Democrats are, for once, in a win-win situation and more importantly, that it's a lose-lose situation for the Republicans.

It doesn't matter if the filibuster-destroying vote is held or postponed, and it doesn't matter—should the vote be held—whether the Republicans win or lose it. They are going to lose with a portion of their base and they are going to lose with the general public.

My suspicion is that the Republicans will at least attempt to delay the vote. They will do a great deal of talking about trying to reach a "compromise" with the Democrats to bolster the argument that the vote on the filibuster rule is a "last resort." But in the end, the Christian Right is not going to let them off the hook, and my guess is that the vote will be taken at some point.

A point that no one is making about the filibuster rule is that just as it only requires a simple majority to end it, it only requires a simple majority to reinstate it. Of course, should the Democrats find themselves in control of the Senate in less than two years after the Republicans have ended the filibuster rule, the Democrats may discover that they didn't need the filibuster for judicial appointments after all. I can hear the cries of the Republican "victims" even now, and I fear that my sentiments are akin to the lip-smacking pleasure of those who contemplate the torture of souls in hell.

8:50 pm

Sure 'nuff, the Republicans are blustering with all their might, but if David Kirkpatrick of the NY Times has his facts straight, you will think I was cheating when I wrote my conclusions—

Senate aides say that Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader, has decided to defer a fight over the rule change until at least after the May recess, postponing a confrontation that many had anticipated might occur as early as next week. Many in the party are pushing Dr. Frist to try to settle the rule change before the end of the Supreme Court term in June - a time when retiring justices typically announce their departures - but he has resisted establishing a timetable in order to leave himself a free hand.

Today, his spokesman, Bob Stevenson, said Dr. Frist intends to offer the Democrats a compromise, while guaranteeing "up or down votes."

The other news of the day is that Vice President Cheney has involved the administration in the matter. (Shades of Bush flying back from Texas to sign the Schiavo bill!)—

"If the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up-or-down vote," Mr. Cheney said. "On the merits, this should not be a difficult call to make."

Harry Reid was quick to answer and didn't mince words—

Senator Harry Reid ... responded by accusing Mr. McConnell of bluffing and President Bush of lying.

His press release titled "Bush Goes Back on Word and Encourages Irresponsible Abuse of Power" says it best—

“In the span of three minutes, the vice president managed to reinvent 200 years of Senate history and ignore the fact that Congress has already approved 205 of this administration’s nominees. Apparently, a 95 percent confirmation rate is not enough for this president. He wants it all, even if it means shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical judges on the bench.

“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

“It is disturbing that Republicans have so little respect for the separation of powers established by our founding fathers. Based on his comments last week, I had hoped that the president was prepared to join Democrats in taking up the work of the American people, but it is clear this is no longer the case. If the White House and Congress insists on proceeding down this road, Democrats will do all we can to ensure that Congress pursues an agenda the American people can be proud of.”

Note that this press release was issued by the Senate Democratic Communications Center, a new media powerhouse for the Democrats that Reid has assembled. I'm impressed with the speed of the response. The Republicans are whining that they have nothing like it.

Related posts
Phil E. Buster recuperates after Terri Schiavo's death (4/13/05)


1 As I quote later on, the Family Research Council has identified this as "the most important vote cast in the United States Senate in this term." [back]

2 Dick Morris, Bill Clinton's former political advisor now turned enemy, yesterday quoted from a Newsweek poll taken in mid-March that concludes—

Only 32 percent approved of the change in rules, while 57 percent, including 60 percent of independents, opposed it. Even among Republicans, 33 percent disapproved of the change in the rules.

And Alexander Boston, writing today in The Hill, says the numbers from the Republicans' internal party polls are bringing no pleasure—

Details of the polling numbers remain under wraps, but Santorum and other Senate sources concede that, while a majority of Americans oppose the filibuster, the figures show that most also accept the Democratic message that Republicans are trying to destroy the tradition of debate in the Senate.

The Republicans are keeping the “nuclear” poll numbers secret, whereas they have often in the past been keen to release internal survey results that favor the party.


3 Dick Morris writes,

His attempt to bar a filibuster will be seen as an effort to steamroll America into accepting the radical-right agenda on moral issues and will cost Bush the ballast he needs to appeal to the center of American politics.

4 Alexander Bolton claims that Senator Santorum, the other great nuclear bomber in the Senate, wants to delay the vote.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a leading advocate of the “nuclear option” to end the Democrats’ filibuster of judicial nominees, is privately arguing for a delay in the face of adverse internal party polls.

Santorum said he has left the timing to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

“I’ve been suggesting one way or the other we need to make a decision. I haven’t said [a] longer or shorter” timeframe should be followed, he said.

But GOP aides said Santorum has made known to the leadership reasons for why Republicans should not move forward on the nuclear or constitutional option.

“He was concerned that too many things are competing in the same area and you couldn’t get a clean shot at it,” a GOP aide said. The aide cited the “fallout” from congressional Republicans’ intervening in a Florida court’s decision to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and the subsequent controversy caused by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) statement that “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”


5 The meeting has already attracted quite a bit of commentary in the MSM, which has been helpfully collected by Frederick Clarkson at Daily Kos. [back]

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Update on Sibel Edmonds hearing


Massive fraud anticipated in Britain's May 5 election;
Court will not act

Britain has achieved what you probably didn't think possible—a voting system more open to fraud than what is readily available in the U.S.

The primary vehicle is the "postal vote," which Americans would call absentee balloting. Postal vote requirements are laxer than their U.S. equivalent. For instance, a head of household may receive forms for the entire household, and the forms may be sent to an intermediary address. You may also request that an absentee ballot be sent for all future elections, so that you do not need to request a ballot for each election.1

In light of six cases of election fraud by members of the Labor Party that have recently been exposed in court, John Hemming, running for Parliament as a Liberal Democrat, asked the court to conduct a prior review of the upcoming election to ensure its integrity.

According to the (London) Times,

Mr Hemming had asked for permission to seek a declaration that voting regulations were "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that elections must ensure "the free expression of the will of the people".

He argued that the election was "virtually certain" to result in "very serious fraud" because of insufficient safeguards for postal voting.

But Mr Justice Collins said that the proceedings were "entirely premature". He said it was not enough to make general allegations about fear of fraud.

If Mr Hemming fails to be elected as an MP and had reason to believe fraud had been involved, there were "remedies", the judge said.

However, the judge said that it was accepted there were insufficient safeguards for postal voting and hoped that talks taking place today could provide them.

Judge Collins got that part right. Richard Mawrey, the judge who heard six of the recently proven cases of fraud, said the fraud "would disgrace a banana republic."

But Collins issued a decision that American right-wingers can only pray for—

Mr Justice Collins said there would be "tremendous pressure" on whichever party won the election to take action to tighten the regulations,2 but that it was a matter for politicians and not the courts.

The judge ordered Mr Hemming to pay £4,000 towards the Government’s costs in defending the case.

Just how bad can it be?

Jerry Hayes, Mr Hemming’s lawyer, said requests for postal voting were up by 500 per cent up in marginal seats and that election fraud would continue if action was not taken.

Related post
Absentee-ballot fraud: A lesson unlearned (4/9/05)
When is an election a coup? (4/11/05)


1 The Socialist Worker reports,

There are numerous examples of Labour asking people who want a postal vote to send their applications back to Labour vote centres, campaign headquarters, or private addresses.

But now it’s getting worse. Labour is asking which party you are supporting at the same time as asking if you want a postal vote. A Labour leaflet in Hackney, east London, has a form where you are asked to tick a box to say you would like a postal vote.

The next box is to register as a Labour supporter, and the next two boxes ask which party you most closely identify with and which you are going to vote for on 5 May.

The form is then supposed to be returned to 88 Buckingham Road, London N1. According to Hackney council’s website this is a property owned by James Cannon. He is a Labour councillor and the agent for Labour’s Meg Hillier, who is standing for the seat of Hackney South.

Ian Rathbone, a Labour spokesperson for the Meg Hillier campaign, told Socialist Worker, “There is nothing out of the ordinary here. We would of course hand on to the returning officer any application where people said they were voting for another party.

Does that ring a bell?

The Respect candidate in Bethnal Green & Bow, George Galloway, has announced the party will be taking action under the Human Rights Act to ensure “free and fair elections”.

This follows the distribution of postcards by the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison organisation asking voters to fill in a postal vote application form. This form contains a box where applicants can fill in an address other than the one they are registered at.

This postcard is to be returned to the official sounding Postal Votes Centre, Freepost NAT 14962, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE3 3BP. This is a Labour Party office.

After the Birmingham case — where Labour councillors were caught sitting round a table in a warehouse with piles of postal votes waiting to be filled in — Galloway has accused Labour of flouting Electoral Commission guidelines. He said, “Ballot papers have a habit of sticking to New Labour’s fingers.”

At the very least Respect is demanding postal votes be counted separately to investigate their impact on the results.


2 Just like the "tremendous pressure" that has resulted from the recent American exercise in fraudulent elections. We're going to fix the problem any day now. [back]


DC Appellate Court plays "I've Got a Secret" (updated)

According to Charles Lane of the Washington Post,
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced that today's 30-minute argument in the case of Sibel Edmonds, a Middle Eastern language specialist fired in 2002, will be conducted behind closed doors. The court gave no reason for its decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed an emergency motion to open the hearing. Their press release asserts

"There is no plausible reason why members of the public and the press cannot be present at this hearing, especially since the written arguments of the parties are entirely on the public record," said Art Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. "The rule of law does not evaporate because an appeal involves national security information."

In its motion, the ACLU noted that appellate arguments are historically open to the public as a matter of law, and that federal circuits have rejected efforts to close them, even in cases involving national security. When the United States asked the Supreme Court to close part of the oral argument in the Pentagon Papers case -- a case that involved classified information of the greatest sensitivity-that motion was denied. Likewise, in an appeal in the ongoing prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, an alleged conspirator in the September 11th terrorist plot, the court rejected the government's move to close the entire hearing.

The ACLU said that the court's decision does not appear to be based on state secrets because individuals allowed in the courtroom, including Edmonds' lead attorney, do not have security clearance in this case to be present during discussions involving classified information. The ACLU also said that, in this case, the government has not even moved for a closed oral argument.

The Washington Post, The New York Times, Daily News, CNN, Reuters America, Bloomberg News, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and several other media organizations also filed an emergency motion appealing the court's decision.

4:25 pm

The Court of Appeals rejected the motion to open the hearing to the public, and proceeded with the case this morning.

James Ridgeway writes in the Village Voice

No one thought the three-judge appeals court panel would be especially sympathetic to the Edmonds case. It consists of Douglas Ginsburg, who was once nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Reagan. He withdrew after it was revealed he had smoked pot as a college student; he later joined the appeals court. Another member, David Sentelle, was chair of the three-judge panel that appointed Ken Starr to be the special prosecutor investigating Clinton. Karen LeCraft Henderson was appointed a federal judge during the Reagan period, then put on the appeals court by the elder President Bush.

A fine triumvirate indeed.

If you're not familiar with the Sibel Edmonds case, Ridgeway provides a good summary.


Blogger troubles

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog has a post up saying that FireFox is having problems with Blogspot and that Firefox has been notified.

Since Firefox hasn't changed but the Blogger staff are constantly tweaking and messing up their code, it seems more likely that it's Blogspot that should be notified.

I have just been able to access my account (yes, I use FireFox). Also, yesterday I received an email from a FireFox user who was having problems accessing this site, so I assume there is something going on between Firefox and Blogger. Since I'm able to write, the problem may have been fixed. But if you've been having problems, this is the most likely explanation.

I hope to get a post up soon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Quote of the Day

The one coming into power with the aid of the great finds it more difficult to maintain himself, for he is a ruler surrounded by many who think themselves his peers so that he cannot manipulate or command them as he would like to. He who comes to power by the favor of the people, however, finds himself alone in his eminence and has about him, at worst, only very few unprepared to obey him. Besides, one cannot fairly satisfy the great without injury to others, but that is not true of the people, whose objectives are more honest. For the former wish to exercise oppression, and the latter merely to avoid it.
—Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince

New Pope explains priestly sex scandal

One of the few items of interest in today's NPR coverage of the Pope was their pick-up of an interview with him on Italian TV just before his elevation. As Sylvia Poggioli translated, Cardinal Ratzinger said,
We must seriously analyze what has happened. The church is also subject to worldly temptations. Perhaps misunderstanding the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, many priests adopted worldly behavior and lost their anchorage to Christ. [my transcription]

Ah, yes. The Second Vatican Council, a so-called liberalization of the Roman Catholic Church that has been the bane of "traditionalist" churchmen everywhere. When it was announced in 1959 by Pope John XXIII, he is reported to have said "I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."

John Paul II set about re-closing the windows, and Benedict XVI, who is if anything more extreme, can be counted on to draw down the curtains.

When asked about reforming the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, Cardinal Ratzinger replied,

I don't know how because it's very complicated machinery. It's very difficult to repair complicated machinery. It requires great competence, which I do not have. [my transcription]

NPR pulls out all stops for the Pope

NPR's Morning Edition today devoted to the new Pope no less than six stories for just under 21 minutes, if you include the 29-second "human interest" story of the Irish bookmaker who lost heavily when a favorite won the Papal horserace. With such intense coverage, there was little time to discuss other matters of vital interest, though they did manage to squeeze in two stories on the NFL draft.

The triviality of the coverage is exemplified in "Residents of Pope Benedict's Hometown Recall Softer Side," though just about any of the stories would serve.

Coverage such as this is important to note, as NPR is in the midst of its fund-raising campaign. If you're a contributor, you might let them know what other news might interest you.


A change on the death penalty at the Justice Department?

A plea bargain was recently announced in the case of Eric Rudolph, who had carried out three bombings in the Atlanta area—the Olympic Park bombing in which one person was killed and bombings of a Lesbian bar and an abortion clinic, which resulted in no deaths. The federal prosecution abandoned efforts to prosecute Rudolph for a capital crime and agreed to a plea bargain in which Rudolph will serve four life sentences without parole, and make “full restitution” to his victims, which effectively means that victims will receive any money he earns from book or movie deals. The deal was reached in exchange for information from Rudolph as to where he had hidden some stolen dynamite.

If you're interested in the ways of the law, Jonathan Ringel offers a fairly detailed account, from the perspective of a member of the defense team, of the negotiations that led to the plea bargain.

What Ringel and others who have reported on the case do not question is whether this plea bargain represents a change of policy at the Department of Justice.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who never met a defendant he didn't want to kill, resurrected capital punishment at the federal level. His blood thirst peaked in September 2003 when he issued a memo making pursuit of the death penalty DoJ policy. As Shannon McCaffrey of Knight-Ridder reported,

Attorney General John Ashcroft ... ordered federal prosecutors to come down harder on criminal defendants, instructing them to seek maximum penalties and to limit the use of plea bargains.

The tough new stance, outlined in a memo distributed to all 93 U.S. attorneys, dramatically reduces prosecutors' discretion in federal criminal cases ranging from drug trafficking to money laundering to terrorism.

Bill Mercer, the U.S. attorney in Montana who sat on the 15-member Attorney General's Advisory Committee, which drew up the changes, said they had the support of federal prosecutors.

"You want uniformity," Mercer said. "You don't want someone's viewpoint or philosophy determining the outcome. What we are after is eliminating disparity from place to place and defendant to defendant when the crime is the same."

In other words, Kill 'em all!, which greatly eliminates disparity.

Plea bargains may be used only in rare circumstances, such as when a defendant agrees to provide "substantial assistance" to law enforcement officers.

This "substantial assistance" clause appears normally to be invoked when a defendant may help in the pursuit or conviction of other evil-doers, not for finding hidden stashes of dynamite.

As it happened, it was the prosecution that proposed this bargaining chip—

Kish cannot recall Yates' exact words, but in effect she asked: "Can Rudolph tell us where there are any hidden explosives?"

The tone of the question was offhand, but Kish knew the veteran prosecutor well enough to know she was sending a signal. "Sally's a very thoughtful person," he says.

Indeed, former U.S. Attorney Alexander, now the general counsel of Emory University, wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Report that investigators had long suspected Rudolph of some dynamite thefts. "I'm sure they wanted to know where it was," Alexander added.

But what intrigued me was the new Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez' direct involvement in the case—

Kish was told that Gonzales, the new attorney general, looked over the deal on a March 29 flight to Mexico, where he was to meet with President Vicente Fox and other leaders to discuss cross-border cooperation.

"He was lining out stuff," says Kish, who adds he heard early that evening that Gonzales had approved the deal.

A DOJ spokesman could not say when Gonzales reviewed and approved the deal. The teams worked feverishly to complete the paperwork, finishing the following Monday, April 4, says Kish.

This doesn't strike me as the sort of deal that the former Attorney General would have accepted.

Are there any enterprising reporters out there who might like to inquire of the Justice Department whether the Ashcroft memo on the death penalty has been rescinded by the new AG? And if so, what is the current DoJ policy?

It just might be relevant to the Moussaoui case, you know.


Another spotting of the Virgin

With the election of a new Pope and the demise of one whom many consider to be a saint before his time, you knew the Virgin could not lay low for long. So you will be thrilled to learn that She has appeared on a Chicago underpass.

The AP reports,

A steady stream of the faithful and the curious, many carrying flowers and candles, have flocked to an expressway underpass for a view of a yellow and white stain on a concrete wall that some believe is an image of the Virgin Mary.

Police have patrolled the emergency turnoff area under the Kennedy Expressway since Monday as hundreds of people have walked down to see the image and the growing memorial of flowers and candles that surround it. Beside the image is an artist's rendering of the Virgin Mary embracing Pope John Paul II in a pose some see echoed in the stain.

"We believe it's a miracle," said Elbia Tello, 42. "We have faith, and we can see her face."

Tuesday morning, women knelt with rosary beads behind a police barricade while men in work shirts stood solemnly before the image, praying. A police officer kept the crowd of about three dozen from getting too close to the traffic but didn't stop them gathering around the stain.

The State of Illinois, which should remain silent in all matters of religion, has intruded its secular voice into the news accounts, but is taking a respectful stance—

The stain is likely the result of salt run-off, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The agency does not plan to scrub it off the wall.

"We're treating this just like we treat any type of roadside memorial," said IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. "We have no plans to clean this site."

The Archdiocese of Chicago has not confirmed the authenticity of the image.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Quote of the Day

I like conservatives. They're opposed to all questionable adventures abroad and for fiscal prudence and responsibility. It's right-wing nuts I can't stand.
—Molly Ivins in today's column

Housing starts plunge

From Reuters—
U.S. housing starts posted their steepest drop in more than 14 years in March, suggesting some cooling in the long-hot housing market, while producer prices rose steeply on surging energy costs.

Housing starts plunged 17.6 percent in March, their biggest drop since January 1991, to a 1.837 million unit rate from an upwardly revised 2.229 million unit pace in February, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.

Separately, the Labor Department said its Producer Price Index, a gauge of prices received by farms, factories and refineries, shot up 0.7 percent.

"There was a large drop (in housing starts) and we saw it right across the board, all parts of the country," said Rick Egelton, chief economist at BMO Financial Group in Toronto. He said rising interest rates may finally be having some impact, but cautioned the data is often volatile.

The housing starts report showed widespread weakness, with groundbreaking activity for both single-family and multifamily homes tumbling.

Single-family housing starts slid 14.4 percent to a 1.539 million unit pace, the largest drop since January 1991. Starts on structures with five or more units fell 31.6 percent, the biggest decline since March 2000.

Starts fell 29.3 percent in the Midwest, 18 percent in the South, 12.7 percent in the West and 3.6 percent in the Northeast.

Permits for future groundbreaking, an indicator of builder confidence, also fell more than expected.

Roma Luciw of The Globe and Mail has this to add—
David Rosenberg, first vice-president and chief North American economist for Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. said that favourable weather in February likely raised the level of new home building during that month, so looking at the average from the last two months seems like a better gauge of starts activity.

When combined, starts from February and March fell by 8 per cent from the previous two months, which is not nearly as dramatic a drop as the 17.6 per cent seen last month, he noted.

“Still, it is the fourth major economic data point for March to show a loss of momentum in the economy — employment, retail sales, manufacturing production and now housing — implying the economy is losing steam,” Mr. Rosenberg said

Related post
Currency exchange controls going into place?

Monday, April 18, 2005


Quote of the Day

Does Machiavelli's rule for the prince apply to those who would bring people to power by way of "democracy"?

Whoever is the cause of another's coming to power falls himself, for that power is built up either by art or force, both of which are suspect to the one who has become powerful.
—Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince


What is an ataboy? (updated)

I'm not going to tell you because I don't know. I'm hoping you will.

Here's the context. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) issued a press release—which is pretty interesting, by the way—that contains this—

[Ralph] Reed sent an e-mail to [Jack] Abramoff stating "I think we should budget for an ataboy for [Senator] cornyn" (sic).

Is this some sort of business or political jargon?

I've considered that it could be a misspelling of "attaboy"—a letter of encouragement or congratulations—but you don't need to "budget" for a letter.

As the proper noun "Ataboy" there is a computer storage system bearing the name, but that seems unlikely.

Could it be an assistant, an amanuensis, a boy-friday, a Guckert/Gannon?

Could it be a device for pumping oneself up? (Sure to be a favorite among politicians)

You tell me. (And if I find out by other means, I'll let you in on it.)


So much for the power of the internet! No one has come forward to explain the term, but I think I've sussed it out.

I suggested above that "it could be a misspelling of 'attaboy'—a letter of encouragement or congratulations—but you don't need to 'budget' for a letter."

Well, of course, you might need to budget if the letter were to include a big fat check, and that appears to be the meaning here.

A few commercial concerns have posted attaboys (spelled "ataboy") that they've received from satisfied customers. One of them contained the following sentence (which is a personal favorite, by the way): "Please accept this small token of appreciation for your exceptional work." For me it was an "ah-hah moment."

Simply put, Ralph Reed was suggesting to Jack Abramoff that a substantial payoff be made to Senator Cornyn in appreciation for his fine work in screwing a certain Native American group.


A novelist of the Armenian holocaust

The German magazine Spiegel has published an interview with author Edgar Hilsenrath, a survivor of the Jewish holocaust. Though he has sold over 5 million books, he is relatively unknown. As he says in the interview, "Fame and me just don't go together."

Perhaps one of the reasons for his lack of fame—or notoriety—is that his novels take a darkly comic tone.

The occasion for the interview was the republication of his 1989 novel based on the Armenian holocaust—The Story of the Last Thought. Hilsenrath refuses to reserve the term "holocaust" for the Jews.

Here is that portion of the interview dealing with the Armenians, whom he calls "the Jews of the Ottoman Empire"—

SPIEGEL: In the coming days, your novel "The Story of the Last Thought" is reappearing as part of your annotated complete works. In it, you deal with the genocide against the Armenians, a topic that is now, 90 years after it occurred, suddenly attracting attention again. Would you write the book today just as you did in 1989?

Hilsenrath: Yes I would. I even think it's my best novel. The "Story" is pure poetry. The entire book is poetry filled with black humor.

SPIEGEL: Did the distance help -- in that this time you weren't writing about your own history?

Hilsenrath: The Armenian genocide was also a Holocaust, but it wasn't my Holocaust. To be honest, when I began the book, I didn't want to write yet another Holocaust book. But then I stumbled across the Armenians. I found original sources and even traveled to San Francisco for research purposes. I've even been made a member -- honorary of course -- of the Armenian Writers Association.

SPIEGEL: The Armenian genocide is not nearly as present in the popular conscience as the Holocaust...

Hilsenrath: One could say not at all.

SPIEGEL: Can one risk a comparison between the two slaughters?

Hilsenrath: The Armenians were the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, although there were also Jews living there -- but the Armenians were considered a cursed race and were seen as businesspeople and as greedy. Which wasn't true; most of the Armenians were farmers.

SPIEGEL: For a genocide to take place, both victims and perpetrators are required.

Hilsenrath: But the Turks have completely repressed this chapter of their history. It is forbidden; they aren't even allowed to mention it -- probably out of fear that the Armenians would then demand reparations.

SPIEGEL: Under these conditions, can you imagine Turkey becoming part of the European Union?

Hilsenrath: I have to admit that I'm kind of afraid of Islam. On the other hand though, maybe it would also be a chance for Turkey to exert a positive influence on the rest of the Islamic world.

Related post
The magic word: Genocide (9/13/04)
Insurer pays Armenians—90 years later (1/27/05)
German state cooperates with Turkey to deny Armenian genocide (1/1/05)



Chris Floyd, a columnist for the Moscow Times, has been outdoing himself lately. His most recent column opens,
One thing we can all admire about U.S. President George W. Bush is his consistency. From the day he hornswoggled his way into office, Bush has relentlessly -- if not robotically -- followed a preset hard-right agenda of crankery and cruelty, empowering ignorance, greed, aggression, deceit, corruption and malice with every appointment and policy decision. In fact, his dogged adherence to this wicked creed is so predictable that you can practically write tomorrow's news stories today. So why wait? Let's bend an ear to some echoes from the future:

Floyd then offers three future news stories. Two involve the heretofore unknown organizations of CHIMP, the "Center for Human Intelligence and Moral Purpose" and MESS, the United States' "Middle East Security Service." A third involves the passage of TYRANT, the "Tools for Yoking Resources to Address National Threats" Act.

Don't miss it! It's all too true, and you need a laugh.


An open secret: The Iraqi refugee crisis is growing

In September I wrote that an unmentioned consequence of the Iraq war will be refugees, specifically Iraqi refugees created because of their support for the Americans—
Sooner or later we are going to withdraw from Iraq, and what we are going to leave behind—as in Vietnam—is not going to be an America-friendly environment. When that day comes, there will be the refugee crisis that everyone expected at the start of the war. Instead, it will come at the end.

As in Vietnam, the U.S. will be considered, by many of its citizens and by most other countries, to have a responsibility to these refugees. These people supported the U.S., and our sense of fairness—indeed, the world's sense of fairness—will demand that the U.S. do all that it may to help.

But the Iraqi refugee problem is going to be far more burdensome to the United States—and to the non-Muslim world—than the Vietnamese crisis could ever have been.

Here's why: Compare the situation with that of Vietnam. When the U.S. and other countries allowed entry to the Vietnamese refugees, I'm sure they made an effort to exclude supporters of the North Vietnamese regime. But if they made a mistake, so what? There are probably some former Viet Cong drawing Social Security even as I write.

But the Iraqi refugees, whether by fact or supposition, will be perceived as potential terrorists and suicide bombers. Who among the non-Muslim countries is going to take them?

My purpose was to write of the aftermath of some future withdrawal. But Iraqi collaborators are trying to get out now—and they certainly have a well-founded fear of persecution.

Let's see how things are going.

According to Gaiutra Bahadur of Knight Ridder Newspapers,

More than 700,000 Iraqi refugees live in Jordan and Syria; 15,000 of them arrived in Amman after the American invasion two years ago, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They include religious minorities, doctors and other professionals who fear being kidnapped for ransom, and a growing number of Iraqis who were threatened because of their work with the U.S. government and its contractors.

Nongovernmental organizations first became aware of the problem as U.S. soldiers approached them for help in getting their translators out of the country, only to be told it was impossible.

So many former employees have sought protection in other countries that UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] recently rewrote its guidelines for Iraq to include those ties as reasonable grounds for fear of persecution, said Marie Helene Verney, a spokeswoman for the agency in Geneva.

"Such people should be of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.," Bill Frelick, the director of refugee programs for the human-rights group Amnesty International, wrote in a letter to U.S. officials in February.

The letter, signed by more than a dozen human-rights, church and refugee aid groups, called on the State Department to resettle Iraqis, including those targeted by insurgents who view them as U.S. collaborators.

So what is the U.S. response?

The American government has evacuated a small number of Iraqis through humanitarian parole, a mechanism usually used to let people into the United States temporarily for medical care. A few who reached American shores on tourist or other visas have been able to win political asylum. A former Knight Ridder Newspapers translator whose family was gunned down on the streets of Baghdad received asylum in the United States. But the United States hasn't resettled any Iraqis as refugees, a category that would allow for a permanent stay, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"In principle, there is no blunt refusal," said Verney, the UNHCR spokeswoman. "The few cases in the pipeline are taking a long time."

All of this has been highlighted by the case of Alyaa and her cousin—

Alyaa, who asked that her last name be withheld out of fear for her safety, fled to Jordan with her cousin Shaimaa after insurgents killed an uncle and kidnapped Shaimaa and another cousin. Alyaa hoped to find a haven in the United States but discovered the State Department isn't resettling refugees from Iraq. She's lost her faith in the country she once loved.

"We gave them our friendship," Alyaa said during a recent interview at an Amman restaurant, wearing jeans and smoking cigarettes. "We gave them our hard work. And they don't even help us to have a new life." Is it so hard, she asked, "for America to give a visa to Iraqis to have a new life that they took from them?"

Refugee aid workers and U.S. and U.N. officials said the United States had turned away Iraqi refugees because it was trying instead to create a democratic society from which no one had to flee, and was sacrificing plenty of American lives in the process. To succeed, it needs the talents of the very people who want to leave.

"The whole purpose of being here is to create an environment of stability and security so that's not an issue," said Joanne Cummings, refugee coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Cummings said the embassy valued people who'd put themselves at risk and it kept a close watch on them.

Does anybody know the Arabic word for "laughable"?

Alyaa and Shaimaa are being supported by an American soldier—

... the soldier was Army Capt. Patrick J. Murphy of the 82nd Airborne Division, their supervisor and an Iraq war veteran who's now working as a lawyer in Philadelphia.

"They fought just as bravely as we did over there, and I think we owe it to them as a grateful nation to do everything we can to help them become Americans," he said.

Capt. Murphy is the likely reason that their case has gotten coverage, the details of which are pretty horrific—
The threats against Alyaa and her family arrived last June in sealed envelopes at their homes in Dora, a Baghdad neighborhood that's rife with insurgents. There were six letters, one for each member of the family who was working for the United States.

"'You help the people you're supposed to fight,'" Alyaa said they read. "'You deserve death.'"

The letters, signed by a group calling itself the Jihad Units, instructed the family to post signs at the local mosque within three days saying they'd quit their jobs - or face beheading. But before the deadline passed, her uncle, a construction contractor for the United States, was ambushed on his way to work and shot in the heart with a pistol.

The slaying scattered the family. Alyaa went into hiding, hop-scotching from house to house and finally fleeing north. While she was away, a gang of men kidnapped two female cousins, the ones whose father had just been killed.

They held one of them - Shaimaa, 26, who also worked at Camp Scania - for six weeks in a one-room mud house near Ramadi that served as a weapons storehouse.

Shaimaa said the men taunted her with specific details about the young women's friendships with soldiers at the base. They disparaged Alyaa, asking Shaimaa if Alyaa made love to a captain when she worked behind closed doors with him. And they killed Shaimaa's fiance while they held her captive.

The family sold their properties to pay $60,000 for Shaimaa's release. She emerged "almost crazy," Alyaa said. For a long time after her release, Shaimaa wouldn't sit in the same room with her brother and wouldn't watch television because her abductors believed it was un-Islamic to do so.

She still has dark bruises on her right forearm and incisions in the nails of both middle fingers, where the insurgents had attached cables to administer electric shocks. And she still wakes crying from nightmares.

The cousins flew to Amman in December. They joined a community of Iraqi expatriates that's swollen to such a degree that one commercial road in the Jordanian capital has been nicknamed Tigris and Euphrates Street. The influx has inflated real estate prices and tightened the job market, leading the Jordanian government to crack down. Iraqis can't work or study there. And they can't live there continuously for more three months unless they have hefty deposits in Jordanian banks, because every day beyond that carries a fine.

Alyaa and Shaimaa registered as refugees with the UNHCR office in Amman but returned to Baghdad in frustration in early April, as their three months came to a close.

"I cannot stay in Baghdad," Alyaa said. "I cannot go to another country. I cannot stay in Jordan."

But we don't want her to leave because, despite all this, she and her cousin should work as interpreters.

Even advocates who are urging the United States to offer sanctuary to former workers recognize the challenges that a formal refugee program would pose.

"It's a really tough thing," said Amnesty International's Frelick. "If you let all the interpreters leave the country, then what are you going to do?1 ... If we start evacuating Iraqis because it's too unsafe for them there, is that going to create a backlash in the U.S at a time when we're sending U.S. soldiers to Iraq and they're dying?"

Pascale Isho Warda, the Iraqi minister for migration and displacement, doesn't think a refugee program is a solution: "Patience is the best solution for everybody. ... It's not new for us to be in a life of fear."

I suspect that he may change his opinion once the Americans withdraw.

Previous post
Refugees will be an inevitable consequence of this war (9/24/04)


1 Send in cadres of gay interpreters perhaps? [back]

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Can you imagine?—The Law of Opposites and the Law of Silence (updated)

John Pilger's article in the Green Left Weekly is a "must-read." (Thanks to What Really Happened for the link.)

Pilger begins with a couple of rhetorical questions that demonstrate why the device still works—

Can you imagine the BBC and other major broadcasters apologising to a rogue regime which practises racism and ethnic cleansing; which has “effectively legalised the use of torture” (according to Amnesty International); which holds international law in contempt, having defied hundreds of UN resolutions and built an apartheid wall in defiance of the International Court of Justice; which has demolished thousands of people's homes and given its soldiers the right to assassinate; and whose leader was judged “personally responsible” for the massacre of more than 2000 people?

Can you imagine the BBC saying sorry to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or other official demons, for broadcasting an uncensored interview with a courageous dissident of that country, a man who spent 19 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement? Of course not.

And of course, that is exactly what happened. The BBC apologized for not abiding by Israeli censorship rules. They produced a documentary "Israel's Secret Weapon" which included an interview with Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu exposed the Israeli nuclear weapons program and has just recently been released from prison for that act but is not "at liberty."

According to Peter Hermann of the Baltimore Sun, Israeli officials

... reacted strongly, in effect barring official government contact with the news organization that reaches viewers in 256 million homes around the globe.

The prime minister's office is prohibiting government aides, spokesmen and Cabinet ministers from being interviewed on the BBC. The top liaison to foreign news organizations said punishment will extend beyond a boycott: The network's reporters will find it difficult to renew visas, cross Israeli borders and navigate the country's sometimes-confounding bureaucracy when it comes time to deal with permits and other matters.

"Our feeling1 is that they have a policy that is biased against Israel," said Dan Seaman, head of Israel's Government Press Office, who complained that skewed BBC reports feed anti-Semitism in Europe. "Our appearing on their show allows them to give the appearance that they are professional and objective. They have no intention of doing an honest piece of work."

Oh, and ...

Last year, Israel's primary cable company yanked the BBC from its package and replaced it with the more Israel-friendly Fox News, pointing to financial reasons. The BBC is still available here on the more expensive digital cable and via satellite.

Well, we can see that a bit of pressure was applied. But I believe the apology was a mistake. The BBC had a simple and fair way to respond. If their reporters are not allowed to interview Israeli officials for their response to a story, they may simply report the fact to the viewers—and keep reporting it, mentioning of course that this is an official policy toward the BBC for their refusal to accept rules of prior censorship. (1) This educates the public on Israeli censorship policy, (2) puts the BBC on the high ground and (3) makes the officials look as if they're "pleading the Fifth." Nor can it be in the interest of the officials over time not to assert their point of view.

The BBC, however, is more or less an organ of the Blair government now. As Pilger writes,

The British Labour government's collusion with the Sharon gang is reflected in the BBC's “balanced” coverage of a repression described by Nelson Mandela as “the greatest moral issue of the age”. Simon Wilson, the correspondent made to apologise for a proper, important and long overdue interview with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, will know better in future.

That is hardly new. What is new is the extent to which insidious state propaganda has penetrated sections of the media whose independence has been, until recently, accepted by much of the public.

Pilger then gives a lesson on reading the news, aware of two media "laws"—the Law of Opposites and the Law of Silence.

Better that he explain ...


As it happens, recent events have highlighted the contrast between the BBC and Aljazeera in their response to efforts toward censorship by a foreign government. It's a great matchup because the BBC describes itself as "the world's largest news gathering organization, and according to The Scotsman, Aljazeera "is believed to have the Arab world’s biggest market share, estimated at 35 million people."

In the case of Aljazeera here's what happened: According to the account given in the Jerusalem Post, Arabs living in the oil-rich Iranian city of Ahvaz near the Iraqi border and elsewhere in the province erupted into demonstrations. The violence

erupted after a copy of a letter allegedly signed by former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi was circulated in Ahvaz and other cities in the predominantly Arab area outlining a plan to decrease the percentage of Arabs in the region by moving in non-Arabs.

Abtahi has denied writing any such letter.

Aljazeera broadcast the demonstrations. According to The Scotsman

Al-Jazeera ... is believed to have been the first to broadcast news of the unrest. The station’s commentators discussed the clashes on talk shows as well.

The Iranian government was pissed. The Arab populace of Iran watches Aljazeera.

Tehran today ordered the station to cease operations until the network explained the motives behind its coverage.

“If it is proved that Al-Jazeera committed a crime, it will be prosecuted,” Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaght, an official at Iran’s Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, said.

“We suspended its activity in Iran to investigate the network’s role in unrest in Ahvaz,” Khoshvaght said. “We expect the network to respect Iran’s national integrity and security.”

The Persian Journal reported,

The Tehran bureau of pathetic Qatar-based Al Jazeera television, mouth-piece of pan-arabism and muslims' terrorists closed in Iran, said a senior Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry official in charge of supervising the foreign press.

"We have arrested many of those behind the scenes and it became evident that they have ties to anti-government (television) channels," he said.

Here's the Aljazeera account of their suspension—

Iran suspended nationwide operations of Aljazeera on Monday, accusing it of inflaming violent protests by Iran's Arab minority in southwestern Iran, state-run TV reported.

Reacting to the move, Aljazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the broadcaster's Tehran bureau "was advised verbally that its professional activities are temporarily suspended."

"While Aljazeera Channel regrets this unexpected and unwarranted decision, it reiterates its intention to continue to be guided in its editorial policy by its ever present professional ethos 'the opinion and the other opinion' enshrined in its Code of Professional Ethics," Ballout said in a statement.

"Aljazeera further assures its audience that it will continue to cover Iranian affairs objectively, comprehensively and in a balanced way, and calls on the relevant Iranian authorities to reconsider the decision to suspend its bureau’s activities."

Aljazeera has followed the approach I suggested for the BBC almost to the letter.

The BBC apologized to Israel in secret. It was only through an accidental post on its website that the apology became known. By contrast, Aljazeera has stood firm to its broadcasting principles in Iraq (where it was suspended in August 2004) and Iran.

Related posts
Why isn't the press defending freedom of the press? (6/16/04)
The most abject of apologies—and this time I mean it (9/5/04)
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)
Another official bans communication with the press (2/25/05)


1 This feeling—that the media are biased when they reveal disagreeable facts—is increasingly common, perhaps even contagious. The Bush administration has developed the feeling, the Ehrlich administration of Maryland has the feeling, and even the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, has the feeling. The approved remedy is to cut official contact with the offending organ of the press. [back]


Quote of the Day

[CBS President] Moonves demonstrated what has been joked about for years: that everything he knows about journalism has been sexually transmitted.
—Mary Mapes, former "60 Minutes" producer, in her book proposal

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