Saturday, July 02, 2005

Irrelevancy at Reuters

I saw this the other day on WSJ's Best of the Web, and a TAE reader Don Black also noted it, so I figured I would pass it on. From Reuters, the same British news organization that refuses to use the word terrorist when describing, er, terrorists, we get this story about a 115 year-old Dutch woman, the oldest living person on record and a woman who has no apparent connection to the US. But Retuers has found one:

Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, a former needlework teacher, was born in 1890, the year Sioux Indians were massacred by the U.S. military at the Battle of Wounded Knee.

Do you suppose Reuters has a list of perceived historical injustices committed by America that it passes out to its writers with instructions to work them into stories whenever possible?

I wonder why Reuters chose not to point out that 1890 was also the year in which Britain concluded treaties with both France and Germany agreeing to carve up Africa among the colonial powers. Even if as much of a non-sequitur as Wounded Knee, it at least has the advantage of being a bit more topical.

Friday, July 01, 2005

What motivates the left?

A remarkable debate between David Horowitz, author of Unholy Alliance; Radical Islam and the American Left, and Daniel Lazare, writer for The Nation magazine. The premise of Horowitz' book is that anti-war movement is essentially an alliance between the old Communist left and the new Muslim radicals, each of whom wants the US to lose both in Iraq and the War on Terror. Lazare, rejects the claim at first, but ultimately concedes the point (while denying it all the same). Michael Medved is the host of the show.

An excerpt:
Michael Medved:Now, do you think that – do you feel some sympathy for the so-called insurgents in Fallujah?

Daniel Lazare: Oh, absolutely yes, total sympathy, total solidarity.

Michael Medved: You do?

David Horowitz: So who's the sophist here?

Daniel Lazare: Of course, absolutely. The insurgents in
Fallujah are repelling a foreign invasion. They have every right to do it. Now, I’m not going to support every last action by every last fighter there, obviously, but certainly they have a right to repel a foreign invasion of their country.

David Horowitz: The people Lazare is referring to are the terrorists, of course; they're not the Iraqi people. They're a tiny minority of Sunni Muslims who are really upset because a monster has been taken down – their monster. This is the same ruse leftists used to rationalize their support for a Communist victory in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh – an operative of Stalin’s Comintern who spent most of his life in Paris – was alleged to be the “George Washington of Vietnam.” Here we have a classic example of how the Left operates. Daniel Lazare is defending the Sunni terrorists in Iraq – the oppressors of the Iraq people – and pretending that he's doing it in the interest of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people – the Shiites, the Kurds, the vast majority of the Iraqi people – hate the “insurgents” that we're fighting in Fallujah, but the American Left is choosing that side, the terrorists’ side, of this war.

Michael Medved: Okay, Daniel Lazare?

Daniel Lazare: Are you aware, David, that the other Nazis routinely referred to members of the French Underground as terrorists during World War II?

Michael Medved: Wait, are you just comparing….? We have to take a break. When we come back, Daniel Lazare, I want you to think very carefully about whether you want to compare the people in Fallujah, who do regularly blow up Americans, civilians, schoolchildren, power plants, women, and children, if you want to compare those people to the French resistance to the Nazis, which you just did. If Daniel Lazare stays with that, I'll be surprised, but I've been surprised before. We'll be right back with David Horowitz, author of Unholy Alliance, and Daniel Lazare.
Read the whole thing. (BTW, rather than withdraw the analogy, Lazare reiterates and extends it.)

On the other hand, maybe they just get along

Julian Borger today has an interesting piece in today’s Guardian about the strangely affectionate relationship between George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, a relationship that has been fostered since they were appointed by GWB to together head up US relief efforts for last Christmas’ Asian tsunami disaster. Unfortunately he spoils what is an otherwise interesting and amusing piece by attempting to add an intriguing political/psychological dimension to it, suggesting, in all seriousness, that George Sr. is acting out of some sort of resentment of George Jr.

After detailing the weird camaraderie that has grown between Clinton and Bush Sr., Borger engages in deep thinking (if one can characterize going off the deep end as deep thinking.)
Bush does not emote lightly, and there seems no doubt that the affection is genuine. But before this portrait of twilight-years bonhomie dissolves entirely into soft focus, it is worth remembering that these are two lifelong partisans, who appreciate the political nuance of every action. To put it another way, if this high-profile friendship was politically damaging, both men would find another golf partner.
For Clinton, the political benefits are obvious. As he seeks some sort of international statesman role, and his wife seeks the presidency, it can only do good to be seen as non-partisans hobnobbing with the political opposition. But for Bush Sr. “the political calculus is more complicated.” Borger rejects the notion that Sr. is helping to “round off” Jr.’s more sharpened edges.
Americans have long been aware of a sharp distinction between Bush the elder and Bush the younger. What the father does, and who he spends time with, tells them nothing about the son.
After going through the litany of ways in which Jr.’s presidency is essentially a “negation of his father” (a reasonable assessment, BTW), including a little anecdote in which Jr. apparently dissed dad in favor of a “higher father”, Borger tells us that Sr. has “struck some blows of his own” against Jr.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, his former national security adviser and closest political confidant, Brent Scowcroft, warned of "an armageddon in the Middle East" if the administration pushed ahead with its invasion plans.
I can almost see the secret meeting up in Kennebunkport as Sr. arranged for his minion Scowcroft to undermine his son’s policies.
Worse still in the eyes of the president's partisans, George senior conferred his annual award for public service in 2003 on Senator Ted Kennedy, arguably the administration's fiercest and most effective critic in Congress.
Wasn’t that not too long after Jr. himself stood on stage praising Kennedy over their work together? Never mind. Borger is thinking deep thoughts.
It is not hard to see the blossoming and heartfelt camaraderie with Clinton in the same light. It serves as a reminder to the American public that there was a time when the country was not so divided and was run by a president who preferred cooperation to confrontation. It could well be the smiling revenge for a son's political betrayal, in a family drama crying out for the stage and screen.
Not content to leave us with this ridiculous psychobabble, Borger finshes by serving up this howler:
As Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton White House aide, [and fellow Guardian columnist – ed] succinctly puts it: "The father has found a good son, the fatherless son has found a good father."
I'm at a loss for words.

More Guardian nonsense

In addition to Simon Tisdale, The Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash also weighed in yesterday on President Bush’s Tuesday speech. While not quite as empty of substance as Tisdale, Ash demonstrates that he still doesn’t quite understand America.

Ash claims that, in returning to America after six months, he has discovered a new “sobriety”, by which he means simply that he thinks people are starting to think like him. Apparently only the tipsy, or perhaps the outright drunk, could possibly disagree with his views on Iraq. Citing Bush’s approval ratings, he congratulates America, with typical Guardianesque condescension, for finally facing up to the “reality” that Iraq is a “massive blunder”, informing his fellow European sophisticates that it turns out most Americans can’t, after all, be fooled most of the time...even by the dreaded FOX News.

But the one who has been fooled is Ash. Not, that is, in the seriousness with which Americans take the situation in Iraq, but rather in his understanding of all that has come before.

In listing the indications of this “new sobriety”, Ash says:
First of all, neocons are no longer calling the shots. As a well-informed Washingtonian tells me, the nominations of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank and John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN actually show they have been kicked upstairs.
The idea that the dreaded “neocons” were ever “calling the shots”, or that the term “neocon” was even coherently understood, has always been more legend than fact, propagated by a left in search of an ideological bogeyman on which to target its venom. But look at the Cabinet departures from Bush’s first term in office, effected in January. Who among his departing advisors could accurately be called a “neocon”? Indeed, the most notable change, replacing the dovish Colin Powell with the more hawkish Condoleeza Rice, could hardly be deemed an indication that the proponents of Iraqi liberation were falling out of favor. And citing the nomination of John Bolton as an indication that the “neocons” are being kicked upstairs is especially foolish. Who ever thought that Bolton, who worked under Colin Powell, was “calling the shots” anyway?

Ash continues:
There is little talk now of proud unilateralism and America winning the Gwot on its own. Everyone stresses the importance of allies.
Again, Ash has been fooled by the rhetoric of the left, for there was never any talk, from the Bush administration anyway, of “proud unilateralism”. If Ash had been listening to the administration itself, rather than simply accepting the characterizations of its critics, it would not come as a surprise to him, nor would it appear as a change in policy, to find Bush stressing the importance of allies. He always has. The refusal of other countries to work with the US ought not be confused with a US refusal to seek the support of other countries.
On Iran, which even six months ago threatened to become a new Iraq crisis, the US is letting the so-called E3 - Britain, France and Germany - take the diplomatic lead.Even with the election of a hardline Iranian president, military options are not being seriously canvassed.
When were such options ever being “seriously canvassed"? Again, the left has certainly long-been accusing the US of planning a “neocon” invasion of Iran, but there has been nothing in the Bush administration posture to suggest it was ever under serious consideration. Again, Ash has been fooled into thinking the rhetoric of his cohorts is an accurate representation of reality, and presents his stumble upon the truth as evidence that his political opponents are finally coming around to his way of seeing things.
And if the European diplomacy with Iran does not work, what is Washington's plan B? To take the issue to the United Nations! What a difference three years make.
Apparently Ash has never heard of UN resolutions 1441, 1483, 1490, 1500, 1511 and 1546 all of which were passed, with US support, by the UN with regard to Iraq in the last 3 years. Nor must he have heard of this, this, this, or this, all resolutions put forward by the United States itself in an attemtp to engage the UN in the process, also within the last three years.

Of course, Ash doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea. He still thinks Americans, or at least Republicans, are embarrassingly unaware.
One is still gobsmacked by things American Republicans say. Take the glorification of the military, for example. In his speech, Bush insisted "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces". What? No higher calling! How about being a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an aid worker? Unimaginable that any European leader could say such a thing.
I suppose it may well be unimaginable, which is probably why it fell to the US to spend 40 years and untold billions defending Europe during the Cold War. Such a virtue, that European disdain for the military. But really, who can take seriously a man who is “gobsmacked” by the notion that a national leader, speaking in front of a military audience and trying to rally the support of his fellow citizens, might suggest that serving one’s country during a time of war is among the most noble tasks one can undertake? Talk about embarrassing.

Ultimately he proves that, in addition to his misunderstandings of the past, he can’t even understand what Bush is saying now.
Then he made this extraordinary statement: "To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban - a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends."
Ash thinks this rather sensible sounding goal is “extraordinary” because, prior to the invasion, he says there were no terrorists in Iraq.
This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says: "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."
No, it isn’t. Bush wasn’t trying to explain “why he was right”. He was explaining what we must do. Although his critics, who think there couldn’t possibly be any justification for liberating Iraq, continually focus on the past, Bush is looking forward, something that his critics seem averse to discussing at all.

Again, as I said yesterday, a debate about what strategy should now be pursued in Iraq would be a welcome discussion. Unfortunately, we are not getting it from The Guardian, and if Ash is any indication, it is ill-equipped to provide it.

We need real criticism

The Guardian today unleashed its great minds on analysis of President Bush's Tuesday speech, including Simon Tisdale, who, not surprisingly, was not impressed. Unfortuantely, Tisdale's criticism's are almost entirely empty. After raising the inevitable and tired objections to Bush mentioning 9/11 and Iraq in the same breath (note to Simon - it is possible for 9/11 to have given impetus to the action against Saddam without Saddam having to have been directly involved in 9/11), Tisdale gets to his, um, substance.
As before, he offered no way back and no joint, consensual path forward.
What does this mean, "no way back"? Back to what? Is Tisdale seriously looking for a return to the status quo ante bellum? That certainly would please Saddam, but I'm not sure about anyone else.

And a joint, consensual path forward? Joint with whom? And how in the world does a single leader offer a “consensual” solution to something? Tisdale’s criticism is devoid of substance.
Oblivious to the inherent contradiction, he vowed to defeat a weakened,
immoral enemy that was simultaneously ubiquitous and on the attack.
The only potential contradiction here is between a weakened enemy and a ubiquitous one – surely there is nothing about a weakened, immoral enemy that precludes his ability to attack. But Bush, of course, never said anything about the enemy being ubiquitous. Indeed, his rhetoric – “…defeat them abroad before they attack us at home” – is premised upon the enemy not being ubiquitous. Tisdale just invented it. Another empty criticism.
There would be no timetable for a withdrawal, he said, despite claims that the American presence is the main problem. Nor would there be an unpopular, but arguably necessary, increase in troop numbers until Iraq's post-Saddam institutions were secured.
This is, of course, Tisdale trying to have it both ways. How can an increase in the US troop presence be “necessary” if it is the American presence that is “the main problem”? But Tisdale hides behind weasel words. It’s not he who thinks the American presence is the problem, of course, it is “claims” from the ether which suggest it. And Tisdale can’t say for sure that troop increases are necessary, only that it is “arguable” that they are. Not only is Tisdale’s critique incoherent, it is cowardly.

Then Tisdale even has the gall to claim that it is Bush’s advisors who are fostering domestic political hostility.
Off-stage, Mr Bush's chief adviser, Karl Rove, was busily drawing divisive domestic battlelines, lambasting Democrats and other "liberals" who he said wanted "to offer therapy and understanding for our attackers".
Is it possible that Tisdale is so astonishingly ignorant of American politics that he is unaware of what the Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has been saying in the last 6 months? Dean has at various times called Republicans “evil”, “corrupt”, and “brain dead”, and claimed that Republican voters have “never made an honest living in their lives.” But Tisdale would have you believe that it is Rove who is drawing divisive domestic battlelines? If ignorance is not to blame for this ludicrous judgement, then surely it must be contempt for the intelligence of his audience.

Ultimately what Tisdale finds “most telling” is that Bush just won’t grovel for forgiveness for what Tisdale perceives as his sins.
Most tellingly, Mr Bush once again refused to admit any mistakes before, during or after the 2003 invasion.There would be no raking over the past, Dan Bartlett, his communications director, insisted. In other words, Mr Bush does wars. He does freedom and he does democracy, as defined in Washington. But he does not do apologies.
Does such adolescent whining really pass for incisive political analysis these days at The Guardian? I mean really. In the first place, the failure to itemize in a speech one’s missteps is not a “refusal” to admit mistakes. (And to do so would be stupid politics.) Secondly, can Tisdale name a single politician in history who has “apologized” for undertaking an ongoing policy? The only thing “telling” about Tisdale’s observation is that Bush is a normal politician…and Tisdale is a petty ankle-biter.

Which is unfortunate. There are certainly aspects of the current situation which are worth debating. For instance, should Bush set a timetable to begin withdrawal? He certainly has a point that, to do so could embolden the insurgents to simply hold out. On the other hand, it is also true that, in the absence of a known time at which the cord will be cut, the Iraqi security forces could have little incentive to stop relying on US troops. A discussion of the relative merits of the two strategies would be interesting and could be enlightening. If there are alternative strategies to Bush's "hold the course", I wouldn't mind hearing them.

But unfortuantely that doesn't seem to be in the cards. Ironically, despite the harping that Bush has "no solutions" to the "disaster" in Iraq, it is critics such as Tisdale that are avoiding a substantive discussion of where we go from here, while remaining content to offer up empty criticism, petty political sniping, and demands for meaningless apologies for perceived sins of the past.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Gulag watch

The BBC is still at it with its boilerplate promotion of Amnesty International's idiotic characterization of Guantanamo. The final three sentences of today's Guantanamo story:

Recent critics of the high-security detention centre include former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Amnesty International has branded the camp "the gulag of our times".

Many of the men have been held for three years without trial.

As usual. Wouldn't it be easier for the Beeb to simply replace the lines with an asterisk that reads "You know the drill"?

Souter v Souter

On the back of yesterday's item on the Supreme Court's alteration of the meaning of "public use" and its expansion of the legitimate use of eminent domain, I thought you would be interested in the following letter, sent Monday to the town council in Weare, New Hampshire.

Mr. Chip Meany, Code Enforcement Officer
Town of Weare, New Hampshire
Fax 603-529-4554Dear

Mr. Meany,

I am proposing to build a hotel at 34 Cilley Hill Road in the Town of Weare. I would like to know the process your town has for allowing such a development.

Although this property is owned by an individual, David H. Souter, a recent Supreme Court decision, "Kelo vs. City of New London" clears the way for this land to be taken by the Government of Weare through eminent domain and given to my LLC for the purposes of building a hotel. The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest as it will bring in economic development and higher tax revenue to Weare.

As I understand it your town has five people serving on the Board of Selectmen. Therefore, since it will require only three people to vote in favor of the use of eminent domain I am quite confident that this hotel development is a viable project. I am currently seeking investors and hotel plans from an architect. Please let me know the proper steps to follow to proceed in accordance with the law in your town.

Thank you.

Logan Darrow Clements
Freestar Media, LLC

For those of you who may not know, the current owner of the land, David H. Souter, is a Justice of the US Supreme Court, and member of the majority which issued the New London decision allowing governments to seize private lands for projects such as this.

I for one look forward to visiting Weare and staying in the newly minted Lost Liberty Hotel.

(Thanks to Mark K. for tipping me off to this.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Supreme injustice

It is interesting to me that, in coverage of the US Supreme Court, pretty much the entire British media establishment, from the BBC to The Times, has written about the Court’s incoherent dual (dueling?) rulings on the display of the 10 Commandments, its unsurprising ruling on file sharing, and its refusal to involve itself in the Plame investigation, but not one media outlet here has covered what is to me the most important ruling of the session – the ruling that it is constitutional for local governments to force private property owners to sell their property to other private entities to make way for “economic” development.

The case involved a plan by the city of New London, Connecticut, to redevelop 90 acres of waterfront land into an upscale marina/office/living area by authorizing a private, non-profit entity, the New London Development Corp, to first establish a development plan for the area, and then to purchase the land so as to begin development. The problem was that several homeowners refused to sell. So the city delegated its eminent domain powers to the NLDC to seize the land. The homeowners sued, and the case landed in the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the city’s use of eminent domain, or rather the NLDC’s use of it on behalf of the city, was constitutional, and the homeowners are therefore out of luck.

The ruling is a remarkable interpretation (if that is the correct word for pretending words mean something other than their plain meaning) of the Constitution’s fifth amendment, which allows the government to seize private property for “public use” provided “just compensation” is offered. The relevant question is whether a private development owned and operated by a private developer for use by private businesses and private individuals qualifies as a “public use”. The city of New London claims that it does, on the grounds that such a development would produce more jobs and taxes than it does currently, and would “revitalize” the city’s economy. Amazingly, the Supreme Court agreed with it.

It is worth noting that the majority on the Court was comprised of its left-wing, joined by “centrist” Justice Kennedy. Characteristically dispensing with any fidelity to the meaning of the words which comprise the document they ostensibly use to justify their decisions, the liberal justices also seem to have dispensed with the myth that it is the left which looks out for the little guy. After all, as Justice O’Connor pointed out in her dissent, it will be those with “disproportionate influence and power in the political process” who will reap the benefit of this ruling, since “the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.”

The ruling is even likely to result in lowering the threshold of “just compensation”. In the past, developers such as NLDC had to entice hold-out homeowners with more attractive buy-out packages. Now there is no incentive at all to make a bid more attractive, since it can ultimately just grab the property anyway through eminent domain.

It is an appalling ruling. Justice Scalia asked the New London lawyers, during oral arguments “You can take from A and give to B if B pays more taxes?" The answer, apparently, is yes. As Justice O’Connor put it, without any exaggeration, “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded--i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public--in the process.”

That strikes me as much more newsworthy, and as having far greater implications for the future of the nation, than whether or not the public will be able to catch a glimpse of the 10 commandments in a courthouse. Although, it must be said, the liberal members of the court could apparently use a refresher on those commandments, one of which says, if I recall correctly, something about not stealing.

The importance of being Mayor

Doing their best to prove that being mayor of a big, cosmopolitan city is a job of the utmost importance, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg sets his sights on the public scourge of coffee drinkers on the subway, while London Mayor Ken Livingstone targets profligate toilet flushers.

Keep up the good work, gentlemen. God knows what we would do without you.

Sloppy and lazy

The BBC picks up the Supreme Court case story I mentioned yesterday. Like The Guardian, it too ignores the role that The New York Times played in encouraging both the appointment of special prosecutor Fitzgerald and the use of his “full powers” to investigate the leak…powers which the Times and its reporter now seek to prevent him from using against them.

The BBC also asserts as fact that the leak was “a federal offence”. As I pointed out yesterday, it is not at all clear that the leak was indeed a violation of law. Even The Guardian pointed out that:
Reports from the investigation have suggested that it has decided that the leak of Ms Plame's identity did not represent a violation of the intelligence identities protection act, and is concentrating instead on the possibility of perjury charges.
More sloppy and lazy reporting from the BBC.


On my ride to the office this morning, listening to the BBC, this is what I hear (paraphrasing, since I have not yet mastered the art of transcribing while driving):

Mark Pougatch: Let’s go to Iraq to find out the reaction of the Iraqi people to President Bush’s speech last night. Was there any reaction?

Reporter in Iraq (missed his name): Not at all, Mark. I don’t know a single person who was even aware that it was happening. They even have a radio call-in show in the morning here, and no one has mentioned Bush. They were talking about doctors today.

At this stage I’m thinking to myself…what’s the point of this report? Surely they knew, before wasting time going to the reporter in Iraq, that he didn’t have anything of interest to report on. Why are we listening to him?

MP: So the Iraqis weren’t listening?

Reporter: Well, clearly the speech was not aimed at an Iraqi audience. It was, afterall, broadcast at 4am local time. You have to understand that this is an audience that cannot be spun. They know how bad things are here on the ground. And they know that there is no prospect for improvement....

Ah. Now I understand the point of the report. Yet another in the litany of Iraq-is-a-hopeless-disaster reports. Yawn.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush's Blues....maybe

Reading the BBC’s analysis of the current political climate in Washington (President Bush faces second term blues) suggests to me that things must not be all that bad for Bush at the moment. For if they were, there would be little reason for the BBC to engage in such distortion in trying to convince us of how dire the situation is for Bush.

Reporter James Coomarasamy (henceforth to be called JC, thankfully) begins by reading George Bush’s mind and asserting he is delusional.
When President George Bush famously said on the day after his re-election that he had earned political capital and was now going to spend it, he was already succumbing to that classic second-term delusion of infallibility.
Not he “seemed to be” succumbing, or he “might have been” succumbing, mind you. No. JC knows W, and W was succumbing to it. But what about this “classic” delusion, anyway? This must be one of those “classics” that’s cropped up in the 13 years I’ve been out of the country, because I’ve never heard of it before. I would have thought, though, that if it was so much a “classic”, Google wouldn’t have such a difficult time finding a reference to it.

JC continues:
With approval ratings at their lowest level of the presidency - over the situation in Iraq and an unpopular domestic agenda - it may be that Mr Bush had earned less capital than he thought.
Now that sounds more likely than the delusional theme. But I’m sure that I remember talk of Bush’s approval ratings plumbing new depths last year. Is it really true that he’s sunk even lower? Alas, no. It appears that JC got that one wrong, too.
He has encountered unexpected cross-party resistance over some controversial nominations, such as John Bolton's for UN ambassador, in a Republican-held Congress unwilling to roll over.
I sometimes wonder whether I share the same language with BBC reporters. I mean, “cross party resistance” is hardly the term I would use to characterize a situation in which a single Republican senator joins forces with 37 Democrats to obstruct the passage of a nomination. But then again neither would I hold out a filibuster organized and implemented almost exclusively by Democrats as an example of a Republican congress “unwilling to roll over”. Is it me?

More JC:
When the Republican leadership tried to force through the appointment of judges by threatening to end the Senate tradition of filibustering, seven Republican senators struck a deal with seven democrats.
Ah yes. That long held Senate tradition of filibustering federal judicial appointments that has been implemented all of once in the approximately 220 year history prior to Bush’s term in office. Again, we seem to have a language problem. By “Senate tradition” JC obviously means “nearly unprecedented action”. Interesting, isn't it, that Republicans attempts to have a vote are "forcing" but Democratic obstructionism is an exercise in "tradition".

And who does JC go to get a bead on what Republican’s in the Senate are thinking? Why, none other than Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chaffee, the man who refused to vote for Bush in the last Presidential election and around whom speculation has swirled since 2001 regarding a possible switch in parties . He must be kidding, right?

To be sure, Bush’s ratings have seen better days, and he faces big political challenges in the coming months. But if things are as dire as Coomarasamy tries to present them, you have to wonder why he goes about telling it to us in such a misrepresented way.

The Guardian misses the story

There are some stories that just shouldn’t be covered if one does not have the time, the column inches, or the will to tell the whole story. This is one of those stories.

In covering the US Supreme Court, The Guardian today focuses on the Court’s refusal to hear the appeal of two reporters who face contempt of court charges and jail time for refusing to reveal their sources regarding a leak which revealed the identity of a CIA agent. The Guardian treats the story as a classic case of journalistic ethics and freedom versus the government’s ability to investigate a crime, which of course it is. But it is also much more, and in its treatment The Guardian ignores all the details which make the story compelling.

According to The Guardian’s telling, the story goes like this: In violation of federal law, an unknown Bush administration official leaked the name of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to certain members of the press. Plame’s husband Joe Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration, says that it was done deliberately as retribution against him for his criticisms of Bush policy. An investigation was begun, in order to uncover the leaker, which resulted in some members of the press being subpoenaed to reveal their sources. The reporters refused, were found in contempt of court, and had their appeal to the Supreme Court rejected. This bodes ill for the future of investigative journalism, which relies upon promises of secrecy in order to compel whistleblowers to talk. End of story.

But it isn’t. It isn’t even the beginning of the story. In fact the story begins with none other than Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson. More than just a critic of the Bush administration, Wilson was actually sent by the CIA to Niger in February 2002 to investigate rumors that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy uranium there. After spending “eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people”, Wilson returned claiming that no such attempts had ever been made, and in July 2003, penned an article in the New York Times making his mission and his “findings” public, while also accusing the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence. The article was big news and made a lot of waves.

Enter Robert Novak, conservative syndicated columnist. Wondering how on earth a career diplomat and Clinton appointee like Wilson was chosen to investigate the uranium/Niger claims, Novak called the White House and put the question to “a senior administration official”. The official responded that Wilson had been sent by the CIA’s counter-proliferation section on the recommendation of one of its employees, Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame. After confirming it with another official (who apparently responded “Oh, you know about it”) Novak mentioned the fact in a story about the scandal growing around the allegation that the White House ignored Wilson’s findings. All hell then broke loose.

Wilson denied the claim that his wife got him the assignment (a denial that a congressional committee has since discovered to have been false, along with many of his other claims), and accused the Bush administration of outing his undercover wife as a CIA agent (a potential felony) in response to his criticisms. His outrage, however, was difficult to take too seriously, given that he was so protective of her anonymity he proceeded to do a whole spread in Vanity Fair magazine on the issue, complete with a photo of he and “the most famous female spy in America” sitting in a Jaguar, she of course wearing a scarf and mysterious sunglasses to, er, protect her identity.

Wilson’s own outrage was matched only by that of the left-wing media, led by The New York Times, which howled at the notion that the Bush administration broke the law and jeopardized the safety of an undercover CIA operative in order to get even with her husband. The trouble was, there were plenty of questions about whether the “outing” was deliberate, as well as whether Plame was even a covert operative, bringing into doubt that any law had been violated at all. But, smelling political blood, The Times was not so concerned with such technicalities. Virtually every single one of the NYT’s regular liberal columnists got all in high dudgeon, variously accusing the Bush administration of deliberately endangering lives, being contemptuous of law, and inexcusably committing a felony.

Even the Times’ editors got in on the act, demanding in an editorial calling for Attorney General Ashcroft to recuse himself from the investigation of the leak, and in another applauding Ashcroft's eventual recusal and the decision to appoint an independent special prosecutor, asserting without caveat that a felony had been committed in the naming of Plame.
[Special Prosecutor] Mr. Fitzgerald is charged with finding out who violated federal law by giving the name of the undercover intelligence operative to Mr. Novak for publication in his column.
The Times also demanded that:
[Deputy Attorney General] Mr. Comey must also allow Mr. Fitzgerald to use the full powers of a special counsel, including the ability to seek Congressional intervention if he finds his investigation blocked by a government official or agency.
We’ve all been told to be careful what we wish for, because we might well get it. Well, the Times got what it wanted, full powers and all.

The "respected" Fitzgerald proceeded to subpoena several reporters in an effort to discover the leaker. Two of those reporters, one of whom works for The New York Times, refused to testify before a grand jury and were then charged with contempt of court, resulting in the Supreme Court ruling reported on by The Guardian today. More interestingly, however, is how The Times has since changed its tune. Not only is it now opposed to Fitzgerald using his "full powers" of subpoena, in a February ’05 editorial decrying the “chilling” judicial decision that would compel its reporter to reveal her sources, the Times was now claiming that:
Meanwhile, an even more basic issue has been raised in recent articles in The Washington Post and elsewhere: the real possibility that the disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity, while an abuse of power, may not have violated any law.
For months, nay, over a year, The Times had been assuring us that a felony had occurred, while intimating that Bush and Ashcroft were actively preventing an investigation. Now, suddenly, with its own reporter’s head on the block, we’re finally told that, well, maybe, perhaps, it wasn’t all as bad as we’ve been suggesting all along? Please.

Clearly it is a notable event when the Supreme Court refuses to prevent reporters from being jailed for not revealing their sources. But in the case at hand, there is a great deal more to the story that makes it compelling, and The Guardian dropped the ball by ignoring the bigger story.

(a note of credit is owed to James Taranto of, who's covered this story well and I garnered many of the NYT links from his work).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Get some perspective

The BBC today hypes up a story covered by The New York Times this weekend, about several dozen Muslims who were held by the US in the weeks following 9/11 under the material witness law.

The US indefinitely detained some 70 Muslim men after the 11 September attacks on baseless accusations of terrorist links, US rights bodies say.

The US Justice Department held the men under a federal law as witnesses likely to flee, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union say.

The actual HRW report can be found here.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy puts the hysteria of HRW and the ACLU, and that of their cooperative sponsors in the media, into perspective. A snippet:

So here is the problem: You identify a large number of people who, at a minimum, have information that might be vital to protecting against terrorist attacks, and who might in fact be terrorists or at least facilitators. It is very early in your investigation, so you do not have sufficient evidence to charge them with a crime or to say conclusively either that they are not dangerous or that they will willingly tell you what they know rather than flee. What do you do? It would be irresponsible to do nothing, but you also can't watch people 24/7. There aren't anywhere close to enough agents for that — and when they even try to shadow people, the ACLU and HRW can always be relied on to thunder, through their mouthpiece, the New York Times, that the civil rights of uncharged innocents are under attack, that the Constitution is in tatters, that John Ashcroft is poised to pounce on their local library, etc.

Well, the law does not require you to do nothing. It permits the government to detain people for a brief time in order to compel their information, either in the grand jury or in other court proceedings.

Contrary to what you might think from the latest spate of "coverage," the government may not sweep innocent people up and hold them in secret. While grand-jury proceedings are supposed to be kept secret from the Times, they are not kept secret from the court. A prosecutor has to go to court and get a material-witness arrest warrant. This means the arrest does not happen unless the government satisfies a federal judge (you know, those public officials from whom the ACLU says the Patriot Act needs more supervision) that there is a reasonable basis to believe that (a) the person at issue has information that would be important to an ongoing investigation, and (b) the person might flee without providing that information to the grand jury or the court (as all Americans are obligated by law to do) unless the person is detained until his testimony can be secured.

Read the whole thing.

Growing insurgency?

A TAE reader brought this one to my attention.

Yesterday, writing about the fact that the US has held talks with some Iraqi rebels, the BBC made this claim:
US officials have acknowledged that the Iraq insurgency is growing.
Unfortunately the “officials” remain nameless, and what they actually said remains unspecified. It is likely, I suspect, that the “official” to whom they refer is General John Abizaid, top Gulf commander for the US, although he in fact said no such thing as the BBC claims. During his recent congressional testimony, Abizaid did say:
In terms of comparison from six months ago, in terms of foreign fighters, I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.
However, he then immediately went on to add:
In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was.

If Abizaid is indeed the official from whom the BBC derived its claim, then it is plain that the Beeb is simplifying and spinning his testimony to make it sound as negative as possible. If he is not, then the BBC ought to make it plain which officials are saying this, and what they’ve actually said.

Also worth noting is that, since it first published the story, the BBC has updated the article. The offending line now reads:
US officials have said that the Iraq insurgency is growing, and Mr Rumsfeld admitted the revolt could last up to a dozen years.
Why “admitted”? Why not “said”, or “claimed”, or “stated”? As my correspondent asks, had he ever said anything contrary in the past?

Just another example of the Beeb using subtly prejudicial language to manipulate its audience.

Franken seeks to top reggae

The Guardian today joins, albeit belatedly, the US media establishment in trying to hype Air America - the left's answer to talk radio's right-wing dominance - into broadcasting success with this free advertisement for Al Franken and Air America. Although the subhead says that “James Silver reports”, it would have been more accurate had it said “James Silver puckers up”. Much of the article is turned over to Franken’s own words about himself and his political opponents, giving him free and uncritical rein to take a pop without allowing them the courtesy of even a minimal defense.

But on the success of Air America itself, Silver tells us that:
…there is no doubt that Franken and Air America - which has been going for 18 months and is syndicated in 65 cities around the US, attracting 2.7 million listeners - have carved out a niche in enemy territory.
Sounds good, I guess, unless you know that 65 cities is less than 25% of the 285 radio markets in the US. I’m guessing Franken didn’t tell Silver that. Nor did he tell him that even in extremely liberal New York City Franken’s own ratings are relatively poor, and Air America’s even worse.

From Byron York last month we find out that:
The [NYC] station on which [Air America] is heard, WLIB, used to broadcast a mix of Caribbean music and talk. In its last quarter before switching to Air America, it won 1.3 percent of the total audience in New York. Despite all the publicity, Air America is now actually drawing lower ratings than the old music format; in the most recent figures, Air America score a 1.2 percent share of the New York audience.
Seems like Franken will have to set his sights on Bob Marley before he targets Rush Limbaugh.

Good luck, Euan

The most astonishing news of the weekend was that Euan Blair, 21-year-old son to Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be taking an internship in Washington working for – egads! – a Republican. According to the BBC, Blair will be working on the exciting-sounding House Committee on Rules which, according to Democrats is “one of the most partisan” committees in Congress. Given the Dem’s obstructionist approach to virtually everything these days, that’s saying something.

But The Independent picks up the story today with a new twist:
US congressman with anti-gay voting record to be Euan Blair's mentor
Apparently Blair (Euan, not Tony) will find himself under the tutelage of one David Dreier, the California Republican who chairs the Rules Committee. It soon becomes clear, however, that by “anti-gay voting record” what the Indy actually means is a moderately conservative voting record on things which have nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. We learn that “In 24 years in the House he has consistently advocated lower taxes and smaller government and a muscular foreign and national security policy” and that he was criticized by “the right” for his “relatively moderate stance on immigration.”

Of his voting record on actual “gay” issues, however, we learn nothing whatsoever, it being mentioned solely in the headline and the lead sentence , but then nowhere else. We do find out, however, that this “anti-gay” congressman was himself outed as a homosexual during his last campaign, a claim which Dreier apparently has not confirmed, although The Independent helfpully points out that Dreier "is not married". It is a tightrope The Independent is walking, trying to smear the guy as both “anti-gay” and a closet homosexual at the same time. But they do manage it, and all within the confines of objective journalism by adding the required “critics allege”.

Well done, guys.