Saturday, June 18, 2005
Fallujah pacified? Not quite (updated)
FALLUJAH, Iraq, June 18 (Xinhuanet) -- A suicide car bomb attack targeted an Iraqi army patrol near the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, killing 14 soldiers and wounding eight others, witnesses and medical sources said on Saturday.
"We have received 14 bodies of Iraqi soldiers and eight others wounded, including four in critical condition, who were evacuated to Baghdad's hospitals," a medical source in Fallujah Hospital told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
A suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden vehicle at about 4:45p.m. (1245 GMT) on Friday into a crowd of Iraqi soldiers near the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Fallujah, which was witnessing a meeting attended by the Iraqi and US officers, local witnesses said.
They said there were no casualties among civilians as the militants cordoned off the area in the center of the city, some 50km west of Baghdad, preventing people from approaching the attack scene.
Fallujah? American forces have destroyed Fallujah! It is largely rubble. It was a city of 300,000 reduced now to only the tens of thousands who have been screened and readmitted. It is being operated as a mini police-state, for God's sake.
We need to get out of Iraq—and fast!
(Thanks to Information Clearing House for the link)
6/20/05 – 6:30 pm
I've been keeping an eye out for any confirmation of the Xinhua report, which is possibly to be found in a release from UPI. The reports differ as to the number killed and wounded (which they almost always do) and even the manner of the attack, but the locale is the same. The UPI report is drawn from an official statement—
Nine troops from the U.S.-led multinational forces were killed Saturday in a mortar attack in the troubled city of Fallujah west of the capital.
Coalition officials said in a statement that six soldiers also were injured in the attack in Fallujah, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Baghdad, but did not identify the nationalities of the casualties.
Notice that in the official statement the soldiers are only identified as being troops from the coalition. The U.S. likes to identify Iraqi soldiers as part of the "coalition." In the news back home it makes it appear that other (Christian) countries are also sacrificing soldiers.
Also, a marine was killed a day or two before by a roadside bomb in Fallujah.
Fallujah appears to be another "Mission Accomplished."
Quote of the Day II
—Eugene Rivers, a black Boston pastor who backed Bush in the 2004 election
Rehnquist's time may not have come
James McClure of Legal Times reports that domain names based on the names of possible nominees to the Court are just about sold out. And for once, liberals seem to be a little ahead of the curve.
Last week, conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt offered his thoughts on potential Supreme Court nominees in his online blog. "This is the summer for the knockdown, and that means Judges [J. Michael] Luttig or [Michael] McConnell," Hewitt wrote, in anticipation of a possible high court vacancy.
If it's McConnell, a Utah federal appeals judge, Hewitt is prepared. On May 12, he registered confirmmcconnell.com. Hewitt says the domain "would make a great blog site to drive traffic to hughhewitt.com."
But Hewitt couldn't nab every name on his wish list. "I tried to get confirmroberts.com [referring to Judge John Roberts Jr.] and confirmluttig.com," he says, "but they were already taken."
Those addresses, it turns out, had been scooped up six months earlier by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the liberal advocacy group that played a starring role in derailing Robert Bork's 1987 bid for a Supreme Court seat.
Within two weeks of President George W. Bush's electoral victory last fall, Brian Komar, then director of strategic affairs with the Leadership Conference, registered more than 20 Web addresses that included the surnames of potential high court nominees. Among those on Komar's list: Judges Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Roberts of the D.C. Circuit; Judge Edith Jones of the 5th Circuit; Miguel Estrada, a D.C. partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
And the Leadership Conference covered its bets. Not only did it register hostile domains like stoproberts.com and opposeluttig.com, but also it beat conservative groups to the punch by registering affirmative addresses like supportluttig.com and confirmhinojosa.com.
Komar, who's since left the Leadership Conference to join former Bill Clinton aide John Podesta's Center for American Progress, says buying addresses supportive of conservative judges is "a strategic decision about messaging and political communication."
The strategy: "Getting your own message out," Komar says. "[And] preventing your opponent from getting his message out."
Of course they weren't able to lock up all the possible domain names. Republicans have acquired some too. But they're afflicted by a tendency to whore, so they may be induced to give them up by the lure of profit.
Not to be outdone, Republicans have also gone online to brace for battle and, in at least one instance, possibly to search for profits.
Last month, Brian Burch, a former communications director of the conservative Thomas More Law Center, registered at least five Internet domain names such as confirmmcconnell.org, confirmmcconnell.net, and the misspelled confirmolsen.com.
The 29-year-old Michigan resident, who now runs his own organization, called the Fidelis Center for Law and Justice, is counting on Rehnquist or another justice to soon step down from the Supreme Court, and that the White House will then nominate either Olson or Judge McConnell.
The domain names, Burch hopes, will prove valuable in the coming months. Despite his history with Thomas More, a group that touts itself online as "the Christian answer to the A.C.L.U.," Burch won't rule out selling the names to those opposed to Olson or McConnell.
The group StartChange.org, an organization that grew out of the StopSinclair campaign, is promoting Fifth Circuit Appellate Court Judge Ed Prado for the nomination. They are hoping to find a "consensus" candidate for the Court.
A reader alerted me to this movement, and since then the emails have begun. As I said to the reader who sent the link, the idea of running a campaign for a Supreme Court nominee before a position has even opened seems like a novel idea and just may put some pressure on the administration if the campaign gets any notice.
On the other hand, the Prado campaign—along with the purchases of the domain name squatters—may be premature.
Personally I've been a bit skeptical of Rehnquist's intention to resign. But the voices in the media have been so assertive that Rehnquist will leave when the Court term ends that I thought maybe somebody knew something I didn't. Finally, there is a countervailing opinion.
Gina Holland of the AP raises the question, which in this instance was occasioned by Rehnquist's 19th anniversary as a Justice.
William H. Rehnquist was tapped to be chief justice 19 years ago today, and while conventional wisdom says his combination of age and cancer won't allow him to stay around for a 20th, some court watchers are not so sure.
They point out that he looks better than he had been, is keeping a regular schedule and, maybe most important of all, still loves his work. All that adds up to the possibility -- still slim -- that he'll confound everyone and stay put, perhaps for another full term.
The Supreme Court has about two weeks left before it adjourns for the summer....
On Capitol Hill, there are whispers in the hallways that Rehnquist might not be ready to step down. White House officials have heard the talk, but are said to be proceeding under the assumption there will be a vacancy.
The big question mark is the seriousness of Rehnquist's illness. Based on the treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation, it was thought Rehnquist had anaplastic thyroid cancer, a fast-growing form that can kill within months.
Dr. Kenneth Burman, a thyroid specialist at Washington Hospital Center, now questions whether Rehnquist has that type of cancer.
I wish Justice Rehnquist a long and happy life. His conservatism is not to my tastes, but the rabid candidates waiting in the wings may be even less so. But the good news for Progressives is that no matter which way this goes, the balance of power on the Court will not be significantly altered.
What I do dread, though, is the inevitable shift of the media's focus. At a moment when a few of the many debacles of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress are at last getting some attention, we do not need the interruption of what will be an unheard-of, full-fledged campaign for a Supreme Court nominee.
Quote of the Day
—Robert Parry in "Mocking the Downing Street Memo"
Friday, June 17, 2005
PBS NewsHour claims credit for Downinggate;
may deserve some after last night
The Downing Street Memos were picked up by several bloggers, but received little attention in the mainstream media until last week during Prime Minister Blair's brief visit to Washington. On the NewsHour, Gwen Ifill asked the prime minister if he'd known about the memo.1
They then showed an edited clip of Blair's reply—2
TONY BLAIR: They take bits out here of this memo or that memo, or something someone's supposed to have said at the time, and what people ignore is we went through a very open, obvious process through the United Nations and the issue was how did you -- because the view I took, as the president did, was we had to enforce United Nations resolutions against countries that were developing and proliferating WMD, that after Sept. 11 the world had changed, we had to take a definitive stand.
The place to start was Iraq because it was a breach of U.N. resolutions and instead of going straight to conflict, which we would have done, had this been the done deal everyone accuses us of, we went through the United Nations to give it a last chance. But it didn't work, unfortunately.
This edit had removed Blair's denial, which was—
Basically, the case that people are making, that somehow we'd taken the decision to invade, you know, irrespective of what Iraq did, it's simply not correct.
At the time of the interview Ifill unfortunately did not follow up with two obvious questions—
- You seem to be saying that no firm decision had been made to invade Iraq at the time of memo, is that correct? [Get him on record.]
- Under what circumstances would you not have invaded Iraq? [Since the decision was not taken "irrespective of what Iraq did," what might Iraq have done?]
In fact, she didn't follow up at all. Well, "water under the bridge" as they say.
After the Blair clip, Terence Smith introduced a clip of Bush, who of course lacked the subtlety of Blair, making the lies all the more evident—
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Somebody said we had made up our mind to use military force to deal with Saddam. There is nothing farther from the truth. My conversation with the prime minister was, "How can we do this peacefully?"
How can you lie with a straight face when you don't have a straight face?
Terence Smith then summed up the day's events—
TERENCE SMITH: Today in Washington, the issue gathered more steam as congressional Democrats held a forum to discuss it. In the Senate, Democratic Leader Harry Reid cited the British memo as one more reason to delay a vote on the nomination of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador. But at the White House today, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the administration would not respond to the Democrats because it was not interested in rehashing what he called "old debates."
Let me say at the outset that what made last night's segment such a blockbuster was not the reporting—the NewsHour does very little reporting—but that they brought on former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to comment.
Margaret Warner introduced her two commentators—McGovern and Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA agent in the Middle East until the mid-'90s who is now a resident fellow at the thinktank whose job is to provide right-wing spinmeisters for the media—the American Enterprise Institute.
Warner got off to a bad start, but McGovern quickly straightened her out—
[MARGARET WARNER:] .... Mr. McGovern, beginning with you, okay, make your case, take the original Downing Street Memo from July 2003. How does that prove, as you critics charge, that President Bush that early, July 2002, had decided to go to war?
RAY McGOVERN: Well, let me first say that I'm not out to make a case. I'm a professional intelligence officer, retired, who has the ethos of just trying to find out where the facts lead me.
The facts here are this: On July 23, 2002, Richard Dearlove, the head of Britain's CIA, came back from a long visit to Washington where he consulted with the top U.S. officials including George Tenet, his opposite number. His big news was threefold: There had been a major change and now war was seen as inevitable. The president was determined to remove Saddam Hussein by force, and force regime change that way; that this was to be, in quotes, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.
Now let me translate that from British English -- justified by the thought that Iraq has all this weapons of mass destruction, and is likely to give it to terrorists. And finally, when Jack Straw, the foreign minister said, well, the evidence on weapons of mass destruction is rather thin was his word, Dearlove, the head of the British intelligence says, no problem; the intelligence and the facts are being fixed around the policy.
This is documentary. This is a secret minutes of this meeting prepared the same day; it's of a different species of all the other circumstantial evidence we have that the president had long since decided to do war. And so the circumstances, you can forget circumstantial, we have a flaming -- we have a smoking gun here, and we have something equivalent to the Nixon tapes on Watergate.
It was then poor Reuel Gerecht's turn, who was never a CIA analyst anyway. First he tried to muddy the water by suggesting that maybe the head of British intelligence simply made up his report! Then he fell back on the findings of the Silberman-Robb Commission—
REUEL GERECHT: Well, that's not actually, I think, clear. I mean it's not impossible that the head of British intelligence for example was opposed to the war and might take interpretation as way from Washington that would reinforce that position.
What we do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the Robb-Silverman3 commission, which is certainly the most exhaustive treatment of the WMD and war in Iraq issue, came away with a very clear judgment that the president of the United States, the administration had not tried to distort the intelligence, had not tried to manhandle CIA analysts. In fact, the opposite conclusion was drawn. And that is that they should have challenged CIA analysts much more rigorously on the information they had about WMD.4
Warner helps him out a little—
MARGARET WARNER: So are you saying that these are [British head of intelligence] Dearlove's conclusions, but that doesn't prove that this was in fact the state of play in Washington??
Gerecht continued with the muddy-the-water approach by asserting the obvious—that not everybody, everywhere in the government agreed that invading Iraq was a good idea. He used that to attempt to discredit Dearlove. But of course whether there were sane people in the government is not the issue. We already know that. The issue is whether Bush and Blair had already made the decision.
REUEL GERECHT: No, I don't think so at all. In fact, for those who are in Washington who may know individuals inside the government, particularly inside the Pentagon, which everybody assumes, it was the most pro-war section of the administration. I mean, a lot of people had a great deal of hesitation, reservations that in fact the United States was going to go to war even as late as the fall of 2002. The suggestion here that everything was more or less a foregone conclusion I think is really pretty tendentious and not historically credible.
So Warner asks McGovern to respond—
MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. McGovern, let's talk about the Dearlove conclusions here, because isn't this fairly fourth-hand[?] In other words, these notes are being written by a foreign policy aide about a meeting, they're minutes. He's reporting what Dearlove report[ed] based on his conversations with George Tenet in Washington, about what Tenet thinks the state of play is, say, at the White House, and in the administration.
That is quite a chain, isn't it? Isn't it possible that in fact these may be the head of British intelligence's assessment, but he was wrong?
RAY McGOVERN: No, I don't believe that that's possible at all. Who would know better than the head of the CIA as to whether the intelligence and facts were being fixed to fit the policy.
What we have here is a very interesting situation where the Britons, the British were really in high dudgeon; they were being forced to go along with this war, they were forced to make or allow the US to use two of their bases in Cypress and in Diego Garcia and therefore become ipso facto accomplices in this war, and their attorney general kept saying in these documents a regime change has no legal basis for war.
And so they find themselves dancing around, trying to find some other reason for war and they hit on the UN, but the UN is only raised in the sense of ["]let's propose the kind of strict regime for inspections that we know Saddam Hussein will reject, and then we'll have a process, really, then we can make war.["]
And Saddam Hussein of course outfoxed them, he accepted the most strict regime of inspections in modern world history, and the UN went in there and they were doing their job. When they found something that was above and beyond the range allowed on one of these missiles, what happened? Saddam Hussein allowed the UN inspectors to destroy about 90 of those el-Samoud missiles.
So the inspection regime was working. The US policy had been set. And it was set earlier than July of 2002. And there's lots of circumstantial evidence for that. But as I say now we have a document, an internal British document, firsthand. The fellow who wrote the minutes was there, it was prepared the same day. He sent to it all the people who there were -- there were 13. And there was no objection, and Tony Blair has vouched for its authenticity. He has not denied that this is an authentic document.
The UN cover for the war
Gerecht did some more thrashing about, reinvoking the "Robb-Silberman report," and then Warner posed a question about going to the UN.
MARGARET WARNER: .... Quote, we should work up a plan with an ultimatum to Saddam to let back in the U.N. weapons inspectors, this would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
And one conclusion of the meeting is that Straw will "discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam." What does that say to you about the exercise of going to the UN and all those fronts, was that on the level?
Gerecht's astonishing response was that the British Foreign Office was being overly "legalistic," that in the U.S. it is the President and Congress who decide whether a war is "right and just." Then he threw in a reference to 9/11 just for good measure.
REUEL GERECHT: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think what's going on there is, I mean, the British are trying to develop, they have a much more, what you might say legalistic ambition on the war. I mean they turn and want to have some law officers give them an opinion of whether a war is right and just.
In the United States -- that is the duty and responsibility of the president of the United States and the Congress. We invest in them that responsibility and authority. I mean what's striking about the memos, I have to say, is the extent to which the bureaucracy in Great Britain, particularly the foreign ministry, is actually very hesitant about going to war, and you come away very much appreciating the boldness of Tony Blair, that in fact he agrees with President Bush, we live in a post-9/11 world.
By this time Ray McGovern could be heard chuckling in the background.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. McGovern, you're dying to get back in, I can tell.
RAY McGOVERN: No, I was just thinking that Reuel is of the school of Richard Perle, who right after the war started was asked about the legality of the war and he said, you know, sometimes you just have to violate international law to do the right thing.
The Manning memo
Warner then posed some questions raised by the Manning memo
MARGARET WARNER: [quoting from the memo] ... "in March, Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed, but there were some signs since we last spoke of greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks." And later on he reports also, I don't have the exact quote here, but that his belief is that President Bush really does want to hear from Prime Minister Blair when they meet in Crawford in April, which is the next month, before making a final decision. Doesn't that suggest that at least in March, in fact, the White House still was wrestling with whether to go?
RAY McGOVERN: Well, I'm not at all surprised that Condoleezza Rice would tell David Manning that. After all, Tony Blair was coming to Crawford, and she wasn't about to say, look, the decision has already been made, we'll listen to you but we won't take your views into account. No, that doesn't surprise me at all.
I would go back to an earlier conversation, and this happened on the 20th of September, 2001, so nine days after 9/11. This involved Tony Blair, who was in Washington having dinner with the president. How do we know about this? We know this because Christopher Meyer, the UK ambassador, was there at the dinner, and he's written his memoirs.
And what does he say? The conversation went like this. President Bush: "Tony we're going to Afghanistan in a week or two, but that won't take long and we get out of there and go right into Iraq, are you with me Tony? Are you with me?"
And Christopher Meyer says my goodness, it was really, that Tony was sort of nonplused but he said "Yes sir, I'm with you, Mr. President."
Warner was being rushed and managed to misunderstand McGovern's answer, so McGovern had to clear that up—
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. McGovern, speed up just a little because we're almost out of time. Get to the next part.
RAY McGOVERN: Sure, okay, that's it.
MARGARET WARNER: So it's not about Iraq, it's about Afghanistan.
RAY McGOVERN: Well, no, no, this has to do with Iraq. What the president said to Tony Blair on the 20th of September, according to the UK ambassador who was there is, we're going into Afghanistan in a couple of weeks, it won't take us long there and we're going right into Iraq right after that. Are you with me? And Tony Blair said yes.
Finally Gerecht was given the last word. This time he implied that the decision to go to war must have been made later—since the prewar planning was so inadequate!
REUEL GERECHT: I would like to believe it's true [that the decision was made so early]. I think the appropriate criticism of the Bush administration is that it should have made the decision to go to war sooner so we could have had a better discussion about what we were going to do.Throughout the interview Gerecht reveals the talking points and ploys that right-wingers will be using in the days ahead—
- Muddy the waters. Say the memos don't mean what they say, or that the authors of the memos didn't mean what they said, or that the authors of the memos simply lacked the information.
- Claim that the Silberman-Robb Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction has already investigated this timeframe and has exonerated the President.
- Offer the red herring that there were persons in the Pentagon and in other areas of government who were opposing the Iraq invasion during this period.
- Argue that the hastiness of the decision to go to war is proved by the inadequacy of the planning. (It will be interesting to see how often they use this one!)
GWEN IFILL: I have to ask you about something which is finally, belatedly, getting some attention here, and got a great deal of attention in Britain and that's the so-called "Downing Street Memo," which surfaced as a memo that was very critical of the Iraq War.[back]
In fact, I'll read part of it, where it says that Bush had made up his mind to take military action even if the timing was not yet decided but the case was thin, that is, the case for war in Iraq, which of course you were one of the president's staunchest supporters on this. What do you make of that memo? Did you know about it?
2Blair's complete response was—
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Basically, the case that people are making, that somehow we'd taken the decision to invade, you know, irrespective of what Iraq did, it's simply not correct. The whole reason we went to the United Nations back in, originally in September 2002, then with the resolution in November 2002, was precisely in order to see if there was a way of giving Iraq a last chance to come into compliance with the United Nations resolutions and avoid conflict. But they didn't.[back]
And so when people -- you know, they take bits out here of this memo or that memo, or something someone's supposed to have said at the time, and what people ignore is we went through a very open, obvious process through the United Nations and the issue was how did you -- because the view I took, as the president did, was we had to enforce United Nations resolutions against countries that were developing and proliferating WMD, that after September the 11 the world had changed, we had to take a definitive stance.
The place to start was Iraq 'cause it was a breach of U.N. resolutions and instead of going straight to conflict, which we would have done, had this been the "done deal" everyone accuses us of, we went through the United Nations to give it a last chance. But it didn't work, unfortunately.
3This is a cute little ploy. Gerecht attempts to make it seem like a Democratic investigation by putting the Democrat's name first. This is a reversal of the normal reference to the commission. Damn, these guys work on their message. [back]
4For an analysis of what the committee actually did and didn't say, John Prados' "Intelligent Manipulation" is a good place to start. As Prados wrote, "the politicization of intelligence was the 'smoking gun' for this administration, and Judge Silberman just issued a get-out-of-jail-free card." [back]
David Manning's memo to Blair
Jonathan Powell is Tony Blair's chief of staff. Christopher Meyer, who was present at the dinner, was the British Ambassador at the time of the memo. David Manning later replaced him.
Note that the "records" to which Manning referred in the first paragraph were not included in the PDF.
SECRET - STRICTLY PERSONAL
FROM: DAVID MANNING
DATE: 14 MARCH 2002
CC: JONATHAN POWELL
YOUR TRIP TO THE US
I had dinner with Condi on Tuesday; and talks and lunch with her and an NSC team on Wednesday (to which Christopher Meyer also came). These were good exchanges, and particularly frank when we were one-on-one at dinner. I attach the records in case you want to glance.
We spent a long time at dinner on IRAQ. It is clear that Bush is grateful for your support and has registered that you are getting flak. I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States. And you would not budge either in your insistence that, if we pursued regime change, it must be very carefully done and produce the right result. Failure was not an option.
Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed. But there were some signs, since we last spoke, of greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks. (See the attached piece by Seymour Hersh which Christopher Meyer says gives a pretty accurate picture of the uncertain state of the debate in Washington.)
From what she said, Bush has yet to find the answers to the big questions:
— how to persuade international opinion that military action against Iraq is necessary and justified;
— what value to put on the exiled Iraqi opposition;
— how to coordinate a US/allied military campaign with internal opposition (assuming there is any);
— what happens on the morning after?
Bush will want to pick your brains. He will also want to hear whether he can expect coalition support. I told Condi that we realised that the Administration could go it alone if it chose. But if it wanted company, it would have to take account of the concerns of its potential coalition partners. In particular:
— the Un dimension. The issue of the weapons inspectors must be handled in a way that would persuade European and wider opinion that the US was conscious of the international framework, and the insistence of many countries on the need for a legal base. Renwed [renewed?] refused [refusal?] by Saddam to accept unfettered inspections would be a powerful argument;
— the paramount importance of tackling Israel/Palestine. Unless we did, we could find ourselves bombing the Iraq and losing the Gulf.
YOUR VISIT TO THE RANCH
No doubt we need to keep a sense of perspective. But my talks with Condi convinced me that Bush wants to hear you [sic] views on Iraq before taking decisions. He also wants your support. He is still smarting from the comments by other European leaders on his Iraq policy.
This gives you real influence: on the public relations strategy; on the UN and weapons inspections; and on US planning for any military campaign. This could be critically important. I think there is a real risk that the Administration underestimates the difficulties. They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean that they will
Will the Sunni majority really respond to an uprising led by Kurds and Shias? Will Americans really put in enough ground troops to do the job if the Kurdish/Shi'ite stratagem fails? Even if they do will they be willing to take the sort of casualties that the Republican Guard may inflict on them if it turns out to be an urban war, and Iraqi troops don't conveniently collapse in a heap as Richard Perle and others confidently predict? They need to answer these and other tough questions, in a more convincing way than they have so far before concluding that they can do the business.
The talks at the ranch will also give you the chance to push Bush on the Middle East. The Iraq factor means that there may never be a better opportunity to get this Administration to give sustained attention to reviving the MEPP [Middle East Peace Process].
The bamboozling of Tony Blair (11/26/05)
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Quote of the Day
—John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal bishop of Newark in his book The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Sheriff shoots at shushing the press
Sheriff Beary has—
Tried to cut off one local TV station from access to some of his department.
Asked Comptroller Martha Haynie to discipline one of her top employees for having the audacity to say that taxpayers deserve to have Orange County office equipment either used or sold -- rather than abandoned,1 as Beary's office had been accused of doing.
Created a new section of his (publicly funded) Web site titled "Is it the Truth?" designed to counter negative news reports. This comes on the heels of his "Just the Facts" section, which regularly chastised the Sentinel. And it's in addition to his monthly "Off the Cuff" e-mail, which sends positive blurbs about his office to local movers and shakers.
TV station WFTV has apparently been inspired by the Baltimore Sun's lawsuit against Maryland governor Ehrlich's effort to cut Sun reporters' access to state-government employees.
WFTV recently threatened to sue, claiming the Sheriff's Office was retaliating against the station's hard-hitting reporting by trying to thwart news-gathering efforts.
The Sheriff's Department is pretty hard-hitting itself—
... his office quickly exonerated deputies involved in a pursuit that ended when the suspect crashed and killed two innocent people -- only to have to go back and re-investigate after information and a witness surfaced that contradicted the Sheriff's Office's version of what happened.
And the sheriff has put together his own media counteroffensive—
... there's the Web site, which suggests, for example, that a recent Sentinel story on his massive public-relations staff was "clearly off target and lacking the facts."
Interestingly, it's not just the media and county watchdogs bothering the sheriff nowadays.
On Friday, County Mayor Rich Crotty, a longtime ally, released a memo that suggested Beary's staff had told no less than seven incomplete truths when talking about their ballooning budget. While they stopped short of calling them "lies," county spokesman Steve Triggs referred to them Monday as "misstatements."
Beary, who says his side of the story rarely gets told, declined to comment.
The sheriff has a point. Since his department was responsible for "lies" rather than "misstatements," Sheriff Beary has been unjustly exonerated. And that's just not fair.
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)
Another official bans communication with the press (2/25/05)
Quote of the Day II
—Fla. Rep. Jim Davis' message for Tom DeLay concerning oil-drilling off the Florida coast
Hire your own judge; you'll help the system and save in the long run
But you think "The press is going to be all over this," and you wonder if it wouldn't just be better to take a little villa on the Côte d'Azur with Missy and let him go his merry way. Then you remember your appointment calendar and know that you will, eventually, be missed.
That's when you begin to consider all that divorce will imply—the media coverage, the paparazzi, the whispers and glances from neighboring tables when you go out to dine.
And you think of what will inevitably come out. None of it your fault, of course. How were you to know that that scion of a pioneer family of California golddiggers had a cucumber fetish? You might have been able to bear a carrot—but a cucumber? Not to mention that he keeps goats in the house.
At this point you stamp your pretty little foot and wonder what all this wealth is good for if you must get in line at a divorce court, filled as it is with the messy middle class lives of people who have not made wise choices. You are not among them and should not be considered as such.
Besides, you just can't wait the months and months it will take to get away from the son-of-a-bitch, while the rabble reveal their twisted little secrets that only they could possibly care about.
Finally you realize it's time to bite the cucumber. He'll be back from his business trip next week, and you want to have a surprise waiting for him this time. So you think who to call? Who was that Marvin What's-his-name that Buffy used last year? She came out of it very well and will never see another cucumber in her life—unless, of course, she wants to. And now that you think about it, it all went so quietly.
You give Buffy a call to get her lawyer's name, and she drops in your lap the most exquisite surprise—in California you can hire a private judge and bypass the divorce courts. At from $300 to $800 per hour it's a steal. You've paid more than that at the spa. "I really do live a blessèd life," you think fleetingly as you hang up on Buffy to dial Marvin.
Julie O'Shea reveals the in-crowd's secrets for obtaining the California divorce in The Recorder—
Lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area say they can hire a private judge for $300 to $800 an hour, and sometimes resolve a case within a couple of days. For the South Bay's many millionaires -- and even middle-class couples -- it's money well spent.
"The court system is awfully slow," says Paul Jacobs, a partner with Hammer & Jacobs in San Jose, Calif. "There is so much more flexibility with a private judge. It's more civil. They want to keep the lid on people getting out of control."
"The thing about people with wealth is they like privacy," adds Donelle Morgan, a partner with San Jose's McManis Faulkner & Morgan.
Morgan -- who once helped former San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana through a divorce -- said her clients seem to find a private judge's law office less intimidating than a courtroom.
And more intime, really.
.... Private judges hearing cases by stipulation are essentially granted all the powers of a sitting superior court judge, and hearings held in their offices remain public. Of course, the odds of a reporter or anyone else stumbling into one of these hearings is low. And when couples agree to arbitration or mediation before a private judge, only the final decree is public.
"It just seems like such a civilized manner for people who are going through divorces," Morgan said.
Yes, it really does. And who, if not the wealthy, should maintain standards?
Hiring private or retired judges to referee complex divorce proceedings is nothing new, but in recent years, it has become the norm rather than the exception.
Lawyers say this avenue is smoother, more efficient and personal and, in the long run, cheaper than family court.
"There was a big turn to private judges because of a concern with predictability." said Mia Mosher, an attorney with Marsten & Mosher, a family law firm in San Jose.
"It is really access to the court that is the biggest issue," says Mosher, adding that she sometimes has to wait eight months before she gets a trial date in Santa Clara County, Calif., family court, where six judges handle about 8,000 cases a year.
"Private judges are much better suited for settling [these] matters because they have time to take them on and research them," Mosher said.
Even at a low-ball $300 per hour most judges find that they have as much time as it takes.
"Most cases I do by telephone," says Donald King, ... now with the American Arbitration Association in San Francisco.
Private judging is becoming more common in part because the "court system has deteriorated," King says. "The most complex cases are going to the judge who knows the least about this law."
As things fall apart, it's comforting to know that wealth still has its options.
Neville Spadafore ... has been doing private judging in the South Bay for 15 years. He suspects the growing interest in private divorce proceedings comes from word of mouth.
Richard Berra, a private judge based in San Mateo, said the soaring divorce rate also has increased business.
Berra points out that lots of people in family court represent themselves, and criminal and civil dockets are overflowing. "The courts are so overwhelmed," he says.
He likes his job. "I find myself very fortunate that I am able to do it," he said. "I feel like we are assisting the court system."
Well, yes. When put in that light you realize that this is not a case of the wealthy being pampered by the rules of state government. After all, everyone is entitled to the same service if the litigant elects to pay for it.
If you really think about it you'll see that what the wealthy divorcé(e) is doing is nothing less than contributing to the public good—not, of course, through the larcenous mechanism of taxation whereby the court system might be improved, but by avoiding the system altogether, thereby saving it from additional burden.
And if the poor and middle classes would straighten our their lives, make wise choices, go to church and honor their vows, any remaining problem of an overburdened court system would practically solve itself.
Quote of the Day
—Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline"
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Excitement builds over Downing Street Memo hearing
Second, check the list below to see if your Representative has signed. If not, call and email your Representative to find out why not.1 (The list at DowningStreetMemo.com is in PDF format, so I've copied it here.) Ditto for your Senators.
Neil Abercrombie 1
Brian Baird 2
Tammy Baldwin 3
Xavier Becerra 4
Shelley Berkley 5
Sanford Bishop 6
Earl Blumenauer 7
Corrine Brown 8
Sherrod Brown 9
Donna M.Christensen 11
William Lacy Clay 12
Emanuel Cleaver 13
James Clyburn 14
John Conyers 15
Jim Cooper 16
Elijah Cummings 17
Danny Davis 18
Peter DeFazio 19
Diana De Gette 20
Bill Delahunt 21
Rosa DeLauro 22
Lloyd Doggett 23
Sam Farr 24
Bob Filner 25
Barney Frank 27
Al Green 28
Raul Grijalva 29
Louis Gutierrez 30
Alcee Hastings 31
Maurice Hinchey 32
Rush Holt 33
Jay Inslee 34
Sheila Jackson Lee 35
Jessie Jackson Jr.36
Eddie Bernice Johnson 37
Stephanie Tubbs Jones 38
Marcy Kaptur 39
Patrick Kennedy 40
Dale Kildee 41
Carolyn Kilpatrick 42
Dennis Kucinich 43
Barbara Lee 44
John Lewis 45
Zoe Lofgren 46
Carolyn Maloney 47
Ed Markey 48
Carolyn McCarthy 49
Jim McDermott 50
James McGovern 51
Cynthia McKinney 52
Martin Meehan 53
Kendrick Meek 54
Gregory Meeks 55
Michael Michaud 56
George Miller 57
Gwen S.Moore 58
James Moran 59
Jerrold Nadler 60
Grace Napolitano 61
James Oberstar 62
John Olver 63
Major Owens 64
Frank Pallone 65
Donald Payne 66
Charles Rangel 67
Bobby Rush 68
Bernie Sanders 69
Linda Sanchez 70
Jan Schakowsky 71
Jose Serrano 72
Ike Skelton 73
Louise Slaughter 74
Hilda Solis 75
Pete Stark 76
Ellen Tauscher 77
Bennie Thompson 78
Edolphus Towns 79
Chris Van Hollen 80
Nydia Velazquez 81
Debbie Wasserman Schultz 82
Maxine Waters 83
Diane Watson 84
Melvin Watt 85
Robert Wexler 86
Lynn Woolsey 87
David Wu 88
Albert R.Wynn 89
By the way, the name of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic leader in the House, is conspicuously absent. As is the name of Rep. Barbara Boxer.
Juan Cole of Informed Comment and professor of Middle Eastern studies lost his professorial reserve yesterday to write—
The bloggers have forced the issue into the corporate media, and are helping create a real buzz around the Conyers hearings scheduled for Thursday.
Conyers and his staff are well aware that ordinarily hearings held by members of the minority party in Congress (which therefore are unlikely to have teeth) are routinely ignored by the corporate media. They are placing their hopes in the blogging world to cover the hearings and get the word out. They are planning to release further documents corroborating the Downing Street Memo.
This entire affair could be a harbinger of what is coming in 2007. If the Democrats can take back the Senate in 2006, all of a sudden they could schedule real investigatory hearings at the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee, into Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, into Cheney's pressure on the CIA analysts, into the fabrication of intelligence and the political lies that dragged this country into the Iraq quagmire. Imagine what the Republicans did to Bill Clinton for merely fibbing about a desultory relationship (13 meetings) with a young woman that did not even involve intercourse. What would be the appropriate punishment for lying about Iraq's non-existent nuclear weapons program? Or launching a war of aggression in contravention of the United Nations Charter? Bush knows very well he will be a lame duck by January 2007. The real question is whether he will end up being roasted duck.
Don't hold back, Juan. Go on. Tell it like it is!
PBS NewsHour claims credit for Downinggate;
may deserve some after last night (6/17/05)
David Manning's memo to Blair (6/17/05)
Quote of the Day
—Winston Churchill at the Lord Mayor's banquet, 1954
Monday, June 13, 2005
Statistic of the Day
—Iraqi Interior Ministry as quoted by Adrian Blomfield in the Telegraph
No translation needed
The searches were of no help in protecting our nation or enforcing the law. There was next to no basis in fact to conduct them, and they turned up nothing of any use to the FBI. At the home of a lawyer at a major New York law firm -- whose brother was a Weatherman -- the agents copied what they thought was coded writing they found on some cards and sent the copies to the FBI lab for cryptanalysis. It turned out that the lawyer had been taking Hebrew lessons. The lawyer produced the original cards at the trial and demonstrated that the FBI could have "decoded" the Hebrew without cryptanalysis by flipping the cards over and reading the English translation on the reverse side.
Are the Ten Commandments coming to a wall near you?
After the ACLU sued, the county tried to mask the religious purpose of the display by posting other documents along with the Commandments. The district judge and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the county.
Meanwhile, according to Tony Mauro in Legal Times, since the time of the argument before the Supremes, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has settled a case in Indiana with similar features in favor of the county. There was, however, one crucial difference—
A display almost identical to those in Kentucky was put up in the administration building of the Indiana county -- but with none of the pro-religious verbiage or history that tainted the Kentucky displays.
Justice Kennedy posed a hypothetical question during oral arguments that the 7th Circuit decision would seem to make more critical. He asked, according to Mauro, "whether it would make sense to strike down the Kentucky displays because of their history of religious motivation, while upholding the exact same display in another county that had 'sincere' secular intentions."
The attorney for McCreary County, Mathew Staver, thinks the court may use this case as an opportunity to do away with the "Lemon test," which currently establishes the rules concerning government-religious entanglement.
Both briefs, Staver contends, give more ammunition to a Court majority already poised to overturn Lemon, which critics say imposes too high a barrier against government accommodation of religion. In the Kentucky case, Staver asserts, the Lemon test requires courts to engage in a pointless inquiry into the intentions of government officials to see if they had a "secular purpose." The other parts of the test ask whether a government action has the effect of advancing religion or creates excessive government entanglement with religion.
My result: ACLU by a mile. That doesn't mean, of course, that the court will not take this opportunity to enunciate a new church-state doctrine with respect to the Establishment Clause.
Supreme Court prognostication (updated) (5/13/05)
Is there a genetic component to the intelligence of Ashkenazic Jews?
The biological distinctiveness of ethnic groups is fraught scientific territory, but a new study plunges into the debate by theorizing that the high intelligence of Ashkenazic Jews is in the genes.1
The study, which will be published in the upcoming issue of Journal of Biosocial Science, argues that natural selection favored more intelligent Jews during 800 years in Northern Europe, when Jews were genetically isolated and intellect was the most important quality for Jewish survival and biological fitness. As genetic evidence for the natural selection, the authors point to what they say is a complimentary group of genetic diseases prevalent among Ashkenazic Jews, including Gaucher disease and breast cancer.
The new study received laudatory coverage in the magazine The Economist and an evenhanded reading in The New York Times. But geneticists who study the Ashkenazic Jewish population are raising hefty questions about the methodology and findings. They say each step of the team's multilayered argument is contentious — down to the notion that what is considered intelligence today would have made medieval Jews better at generating money and finding spouses.
Cochran, the lead study author, is an independent researcher who was trained as a physicist and moved into population genetics late in life. He has not been afraid to dive into controversial material, and he has argued with mathematical modeling that homosexuality can be attributed to a viral infection.
Cochran and his co-authors based their work on two established pillars of previous research. The first is the repeated studies that have shown Ashkenazic Jews to have a higher average IQ score than that of the American population at large. The Utah authors also point out that 27% of American Nobel Prize winners are Jewish.
The second pillar of the Utah study is the previous research that shows sphingolipid diseases to be prevalent among Ashkenazic Jews.
Researchers have long argued over why these diseases are prevalent among Ashkenazic Jews when they would have seemed to make carriers of the disease less likely to reproduce. The authors of the new study take their bold step by arguing that the diseases were passed on because they were the side effect of a genetic mutation that also caused greater intelligence....
The Utah authors argue that the chemical process causing sphingolipid diseases also effects greater neurological development.
The work of Cochran's team has been criticized on a number of levels, but at the most basic, Cochran's critics say his study provides only statistical speculation, not physical proof of a link between the sphingolipid diseases and higher intelligence — and the study team makes no attempt to find the genetic location of the genes responsible for heightened intelligence.
"There's no original data in this," said Harry Ostrer, director of the human genetics program at New York University. "From that point of view, I would argue this is bad science. Bad science is what got eugenics into trouble in the past."
The swift response to the new work was to be expected. In recent years, suggestions that the intelligence levels of large groups can be explained by biological differences have come under steady fire. Earlier this year, Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, almost lost his job after suggesting that innate differences between women and men might account for the small number of female science professors. A decade ago, a long and angry discussion was provoked by Charles Murray and Richard Hernnstein's "The Bell Curve," which argued that genetic differences are the root of lower IQ levels among African-Americans.
The debate over "The Bell Curve "brought up a number of issues that are playing out in the current give-and-take about Jewish intelligence. Many critics of "The Bell Curve" argued that IQ scores are a signal of socially learned test-taking ability and income rather than innate intelligence.
.... [T]he geneticists studying diseases prevalent among Jews — like the sphingolipid diseases — have actually been treading on the ground of innate Jewish difference for years. These genetic researchers say they have often sensed reluctance in the community they are discussing.
"Any implication that Jews are different than other people causes a backlash," said Ostrer, NYU's human genetics program director. "It creates a typology for Jews which many have objected to."
Here we go again. Since I have nothing to lose but my readers, I might as well dive into this.
I certainly don't want to get into a discussion of intelligence. At the behest of the French minister of education, Alfred Binet, the "father" of intelligence testing, was looking for a predictor of academic problems so that interventions might be introduced to help slow learners in school. This basic notion was expanded by American psychologists to differentiate among all students. (The intervention part was promptly forgotten.) Whatever it is that an IQ test measures, it retains correlations with academic achievement.
Okay. I haven't read Cochran's study and haven't the slightest idea whether it's defensible. But let me put it plainly: I will be absolutely astonished if it turns out that there are no genetically based group differences with respect to intelligence as well as with respect to a great number of other features of humankind.2
The problem does not lie in the existence of these differences but in our societal understanding of what those differences mean. When you live in a society where only around 10 percent of the population believes that natural evolution has occurred, asserting that a genetic component accounts for a certain portion of the variance in the intelligence of groups will be misunderstood—and probably misused—to put it mildly.3
Progressive groups simply don't know what to do here, so instead of confronting and attempting to bring some understanding to the matter (it's called "education"), they have gone into denial within and suppression without. The result has been politically devastating.
A part of the effectiveness of the Republicans' "Southern strategy," which is another name for racism, rests in part on Progressives' unwillingness to confront the possibility of some genetic component in group differences. The charge of being "PC"—politically correct, which is usually code for "denying group genetic differences"—has become a weapon in the hands of the Right. And it plays well because it is almost certainly true, though not as they mean it. Nevertheless, Joe Six-Pack is left with the impression that the Right is telling the truth (because it accords with what he believed to begin with) and that the Left is "covering up."
This is not an easy job to undertake. Research recently published indicates that prejudice itself has a biological (genetic) component. And the authors point to the potential usefulness of recognizing this—
"One important practical implication of this research is that we may need to create different interventions to reduce inappropriate prejudices against different groups," says Neuberg.
For example, if one is trying to decrease prejudices among new college students during freshman orientation, different strategies might be used for bringing different groups together.
"For instance, given that whites stereotypically perceive blacks as threats to physical safety, it would be inadvisable to suggest a game of outdoor night-time basketball, given that darkness heightens people's fear. Sharing a plate of nachos might be a better choice," Cottrell says. "But if the aim is to reduce prejudice against gay men -- viewed to pose a health treat because of association with AIDS, and thereby eliciting physical disgust --sharing finger food might not be a good idea."
Neuberg and Cottrell are both adamant to point out that just because prejudices are a fundamental and natural part of what makes us human, that doesn't mean that learning can't take place and that responses can't be dampened.
I'll leave it to the psychologists to work on methods of overcoming hard-wired prejudice, but prejudice towards individuals is itself irrational insofar as it has to do with treating individuals according to one's categorization of that individual into a group and then acting upon one's beliefs about the group, whether those beliefs are true or not. And this is where studies that show genetically based group differences come into play.
Imagine this conversation—
Speaker 1: Where did you get such beautiful skin?
Speaker 2: I guess it's part of my Ashkenazy heritage.
Speaker 1: Oh, you're Ashkenazy? I've just read that Ashkenazies are brighter than the rest of us. Gracious sakes, you're not only beautiful but smart!
Our poor Ashkenazy may have just flunked Remedial Math for the second time and be wondering if he/she has what it takes to make it in sales. No matter. Speaker 1 attributes an abstraction—a statistical mean or average—to all members of the group.
A group average simply tells us nothing about any individual in the group. So when Progressives are confronted with science, pseudoscience or plain old-fashioned prejudice, we need to have a better response than denial and fear of group differences. One such might begin along these lines—"I haven't paid as much attention to the differences between groups as you have, and you may be right. But what do you think that says about Bob over there?"
1Not the least of our problems is the way that science is communicated in the media. I am sure without even seeing the study under discussion that this sentence should read "a new study plunges into the debate by theorizing that a component of the high intelligence of Ashkenazic Jews is in the genes. [back]
3Since any such genetic component would have had to have evolved, you would think that assertions about group differences based on ethnicity would be anathema to the Christian fundamentalist, but my own encounters with them indicate quite the opposite. Oh, I forgot. God made the races that way. [back]
U.S. Congress to run Palestinian Authority
Ori Nir in The Forward [registration required] gives an account of the latest congressional Palestine-bashing that needs no comment from me.
Congress is taking the unprecedented step of establishing an in-house oversight apparatus to monitor daily how American aid money to the Palestinian Authority is being spent.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican spearheading the effort as chairman of the House subcommittee dealing with foreign aid appropriations, said that the new system will monitor online American funds as they are requested by the Palestinians, appropriated by the American government and spent in the West Bank and Gaza. Kolbe announced the new monitoring mechanism, which is still being designed, during a briefing Monday following his return from a recent trip to the Middle East.
The ranking Democrat on Kolbe's subcommittee, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, .... an influential New York lawmaker who has long led pro-Israel efforts in the House, played a key role in negotiating many of the restrictions placed on aid to the Palestinians approved by Congress last month.
He [Kolbe] acknowledged that stringent oversight of American spending in the territories already exists and that the new oversight apparatus is unprecedented. "We as a subcommittee have never done this in any country, but we think that it is important enough that we have this kind of oversight," Kolbe said.
Early last month, Congress passed a $140 million emergency aid package to the Palestinians. The aid was to be disbursed indirectly, under strict conditions, through USAID for development projects carried out by nongovernmental organizations. Then, on May 26, when Bush met with Abbas, he pledged another $50 million in direct aid. The administration is soon expected to ask Congress for another $150 in aid to the Palestinians, to be included in next year's foreign aid budget.
In addition to the $140 million approved last month by Congress, Washington lawmakers earmarked $5 million for setting up an independent auditing apparatus that would scrutinize the use of the American dollars. Kolbe said his committee's auditing mechanism would be separate from the independent process called for in last month's bill or in any existing procedures for monitoring how American aid dollars are spent in the West Bank and Gaza.
"We want to be able to see requests as they come in for contracts, we want to be able to look at those contracts, we want to be able to see the vouchers and we want to see the expenditures on a daily basis," Kolbe said. The main purpose, he explained, is "to be sure that the money we are providing the Palestinians will get spent for the purposes for which it is allocated and that it does not find its way into the hands of organizations like Hezbollah or Hamas, where it could be used for terrorist purposes."
Did you catch the "daily basis" part? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the U.S. Congress would exercise a tenth of this effort in overseeing the expenditures of the U.S. government, and most especially the military?
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Statistics of the Day
—Bryan Bender in "Insurgency seen forcing change in Iraq strategy"