Archive:

May 2005, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Press Didn't Uncover Watergate:  The revelation that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's secret informant, whom they nicknamed "Deep Throat", was Mark Felt, Jr. makes this a good time to dismiss, again, one of the great myths of Watergate, that it was uncovered by the press, in particular by Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein.

Soon after Woodward and Bernstein's book, All the President's Men, was released, Edward Jay Epstein wrote a devastating review for Commentary magazine.  (The review is included in his fine collection, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism.)   Here are two excerpts from the review:
In keeping with the mythic view of journalism, however, the book never describes the "behind-the-scenes" investigations which actually "smashed the Watergate scandal wide open" — namely the investigations conducted by the FBI, the federal prosecutors, the grand jury, and the congressional committees.  The work of almost all those institutions, which unearthed and developed all the actual evidence and disclosures of Watergate, is systematically ignored or minimized by Bernstein and Woodward.  Instead, they simply focused on those parts of the prosecutors' case, the grand jury investigation, and the FBI reports that were leaked to them.
. . .
In the end, it was not because of the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein, but because of the pressures put on the conspirators by Judge John Sirica, the grand jury, and congressional committees that the cover-up was unraveled.  After the Watergate conspirators were convicted, Judge Sirica made it abundantly clear that they could expect long prison sentences unless they cooperated with the investigation of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (the Ervin committee).
(Maybe my memory is faulty, but I don't recall the ACLU, or similar groups, protesting the outrageous sentences that Sirica used to threaten men who had been convicted of a single non-violent burglary.)

Epstein has the facts right, but the myth is still so attractive to journalists that I expect it will last my life time, and probably longer.

(How well did the prosecutors understand Watergate?  Well, there's this little bit:
But who was "Deep Throat" and what was his motivation for disclosing information to Woodward and Bernstein?  The prosecutors at the Department of Justice now believe that the mysterious source was probably Mark W. Felt, Jr., who was then a deputy associate director of the FBI, because one statement the reporters attribute to "Deep Throat" could only have been made by Felt.
And, of course, there are still Watergate mysteries, in particular, what those who ordered the burglary hoped to learn by bugging the Democratic headquarters.  I have seen, from time to time, some quite gaudy theories, involving John Dean and his wife, but I have never looked into them.)
- 6:22 PM, 31 May 2005
More:  Here's the complete article, which I had not realized was available at Epstein's site.
- 5:55 AM, 2 June 2005   [link]


Coincidence?  Probably, but it's an interesting one.  The map, accompanying this New York Times article on the the French rejection of the EU constitution, shows the nations which have ratified the EU constitution, to date.  Here's the list: Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Lithuania, and Slovenia.  Do those nations have anything in common?

Those who know even a little World War II history will recognize that the first three were then ruled by Fascists.  (Some would quibble about including Franco's Spain in that list, but most would not.  And many would say his regime evolved away from Fascism after the war.)  Austria had a powerful Nazi movement, which helped Hitler seize power there, during the Anschluss.  Hungary had a significant Fascist movement and was allied to Hitler for much of the war.  Slovakia helped break up Czechoslovakia when Hitler threatened that small nation.  So the nations that have already ratified the treaty include all the formerly Fascist nations of Europe.  And none of the nations, Poland, Britain, and France, that did the most to resist him.

(As far as I know — and my knowledge of these small countries is not extensive — Greece, Lithuania, and Slovenia were victims during World War II, not perpetrators, although I believe the latter two supplied some volunteers to Hitler.)
- 4:03 PM, 31 May 2005   [link]


Horseradish can be more than just a condiment.
Sometimes you've got to fight fire with fire.  Sometimes, for instance, you've got to fight the overwhelming stench of pig manure with ... horseradish.

Scientists at Penn State have discovered that minced horseradish root, added to a slurry of hog manure with a smidgen of calcium peroxide, can greatly reduce odors.  Since foul smells emanating from manure ponds are a major complaint about large-scale hog farms in the United States and overseas, the research holds promise for making such farms better neighbors.

Dr. Jerzy Dec, a senior research associate with Penn State's Institutes of the Environment, said the work arose out of earlier experiments involving phenols, chemicals used in various industrial processes that can pollute water and soil.  Those studies had shown that horseradish contained an enzyme that was effective as a phenol remover.
So now if you need a phenol remover — and who doesn't from time to time — you know where to look.  And if you have any left over, you can use it on your hotdogs.
- 2:01 PM, 31 May 2005   [link]


Poor Devils:  Poor Tasmanian devils.
Even by the brutish standards of Tasmanian devils, Rosie, Harry and Clyde have led a lamentable life.

A year ago, when the three were each the size of a sesame seed, they wriggled out of their mother's birth canal and undulated their way to her pouch.  There, each locked onto a teat and grew like gangbusters.

But tragedy struck. Within months, their mother developed devil facial tumor disease - a mysterious malady that in the last three years has killed nearly half of all the world's devils, marsupials that are found only in Tasmania.  Shortly after she died, the baby devils, grown to the size of tiny puppies, were found dangling from their mother's pouch, starving to death.
Scientists are so worried about the disease that they are trapping healthy devils for captive breeding, in case the disease can not be stopped in the wild.

There's much more in the article about this strange disease and the devils, including a description of their rather violent mating habits.
- 1:00 PM, 31 May 2005   [link]


"It's Just Like Vietnam!"  That's what I heard yesterday from local lefty talk show host Alan Prell, as he discussed Memorial Day, the war in Iraq, and how much he despises George Bush.  (In order of his increasing enthusiasm for the subject.  Although I must add that I have never figured out exactly why Prell despises Bush.  For him, and most of his listeners in Seattle, the conclusion is so obvious that no argument is needed.)

As Prell intended it, this is an absurd conclusion, since the military situations are vastly different.  For those who do not see the absurdity, columnist Gary Larson patiently explains some of the differences.
Only in Iraq, it's a case of "Now for Something Entirely Different," with apologies to fellow Monty Python fans.  Quagmire hypothesizes, possibly ideologically-driven, fail utterly to point out this plain fact: A multi-national coalition in Iraq does not --repeat, NOT--do battle with an armed-to-the-teeth, Soviet-supplied NVA (North Vietnam Army).  Just with a bunch of bloodthirsty anarchist thugs.

Moreover, Vietnam was a state-to-state war, fought in jungles, not deserts, for reasons of the Soviet-USA Cold War, not a war on terrorism.  Apples are not oranges.
The North Vietnamese had hundreds of thousands of regular troops with heavy equipment, including hundreds of tanks; the Iraqi terrorists have tens of thousands of irregulars with small arms and improvised explosive devices.  The North Vietnamese were supplied by the Soviet Union and Communist China, then two of the three greatest conventional powers in the entire world.   The terrorists are receiving some support from Syria and probably Iran.

But in one sense — though Prell does not understand this — the two wars are similar.  In both, the victory of America's enemies required an American withdrawal.  And to achieve that withdrawal, our enemies worked then to undermine our home front, as our enemies do now.  Then, claims of American atrocities are broadcast endlessly, and actual enemy atrocities are ignored or minimized, as they are now.  Then, many on the left and many in the "mainstream" media campaigned for an American withdrawal — without any consideration of the likely consequences, as they do now.

Did most on the left or in the media want the Communists to win in Vietnam?  Does Prell want the terrorists to win in Iraq?  I would say no to both questions.  But I would also say that many in the "mainstream" media and on the left acted in ways that aided our Communist enemies then, and that Prell, along with many others in the "mainstream" media and on the left, acts in ways that aid our terrorist enemies now.  So, in this way, this war is "just like Vietnam".

(In the afternoon, conservative talk show host Michael Medved broadcast what amounted to a reply to Prell.  (I think the show was a rerun from previous programs.)  Medved used all three hours of his show to refute the lies about Vietnam told by the left and echoed by the media.   It was clear, to anyone listening to Medved, that he, unlike Prell, had made a serious effort to understand the our involvement in Vietnam.  During the program, he referred to such standard histories as Michael Lind's Vietnam: The Necessary War, Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: The Necessary War, and Guenter Lewy's America in Vietnam.

If Prell had studied these books (or other standard histories), he would have a far different picture of the war in Vietnam.  For example, he would have learned, from Lewy's book, written shortly after the fall of South Vietnam, that we (and the South Vietnamese) could have won.  I don't know of any serious military experts who disagree with that conclusion now, though I suppose there must be a few.

Medved said that tapes of the program were available on his web site (though I didn't find them with a quick look), so you may be able to hear his arguments, if you missed the show.

Finally, we use exclamation points to show strong emotion.  But what strong emotion did Prell have when he made that statement?  It may be going too far to say he was gleeful that the nation was in, as he saw it, the same "quagmire" as Vietnam, but I can't think of any better word to describe his emotion.  Am I saying that Prell thinks that a disaster for the nation is fine if it discredits George W. Bush?  No, but I do think that, at least some of the time, he feels that way.)
- 10:53 AM, 31 May 2005   [link]


Supporting The Troops:  "Lexington Green" has a practical suggestion for Memorial Day — and makes a generous donation to back it up.   And he links to this Winds of Change post by Joe Katzman, who gives a long list of ways to support the troops, and not just our troops, but those of our friends and allies, too.
- 7:19 AM, 31 May 2005   [link]


Memorial Day:  The holiday grew out of the post Civil War "Decoration Days", when people in both the North and South decorated the graves of soldiers.  That makes this picture, from Arlington, appropriate, since the cemetery was started during the Civil War — on, as you may know, Robert E. Lee's plantation, which had been seized by the Union forces.



The picture was taken by Air Force Master Sgt. Rick Corral, who used it to illustrate this touching account of the cemetery and what he found there.
- 1:02 PM, 30 May 2005   [link]


Right Deed For The Wrong Reason:  George Will agrees that many in France and in the Netherlands who vote against the European Union constitution will do so for foolish reasons.
T.S. Eliot, a better poet than philosopher, wrote: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

Nonsense.  If the French and Dutch reject the constitution, they will do so for myriad reasons, some of them foolish.  But whatever the reasons, the result will be salutary because the constitution would accelerate the leeching away of each nation's sovereignty.
Those who openly oppose the constitution in France are mostly so extreme, so far to the left or right, that they could not fit into either of our major parties.  But that does not mean that their vote is wrong, even if their reasoning is incorrect — as it mostly is.  For me, as for Will, the key question is whether citizens of the European nations should give up on their elected governments in return for a vague European identity.  That bigots like Le Pen, or totalitarians like the Communists and their allies, are doing the right thing may be ironic, but their wrong reasons do not make make the deed wrong.
- 8:38 AM, 29 May 2005
More:  It wasn't even close.
French voters dealt a crushing defeat to the European constitution today, demonstrating their determination to punish the leaders of France and of Europe after a bitter campaign that split the country in two.

As the polls closed, the French Interior Ministry said the no camp had 57.26 percent, compared to 42.74 for yes, with nearly 83 percent of the votes counted.
And the turnout was high.
Turnout was estimated at over 70 percent, far exceeding other recent elections in France.  The final figure was expected to surpass turnout in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty 13 years ago that paved the way to the euro
Proponents may have made one great mistake.
Every voter received a copy of the proposed constitution in the mail, and polls suggest that 80 percent either read it or discussed it with friends.

The constitution has 448 articles.
With 448 articles, it is not hard to understand why voters were able to find something to disagree with, once they began to read and study the document.

(Most Americans will find the use of simple majorities for changes this large strange.  Yet that is much more common elsewhere than our practice of requiring super majorities for everything from bond issues to Senate votes to Constitutional amendments.)
- 2:37 PM, 29 May 2005   [link]


"Marginalized And Denigrated":  This morning when I tuned in to the "Weekday" program on our local PBS affiliate, KUOW, I heard something unusual.  Before I tell you what that was, let me give those who are not familiar with the program a brief description.  On Fridays, Weekday brings in three journalists to discuss current issues with the host, Steve Scher.  (This week assistant producer Katy Sewall has been substituting for Scher.)  In recent weeks, the three journalists have been Knute Berger, editor of the Seattle Weekly, Susan Paynter, columnist for the Seattle PI, and Danny Westneat, columnist for the Seattle Times.  As they discuss the issues, they also read emails and take phone calls from listeners.

There are various ways I could summarize the Friday Weekday program.  I could say it was four journalists talking to each other. Or, I could say, with equal accuracy, four lefties, or four Democrats, talking to each other.  And if you have listened to the program even a few times, you will have noticed that few Republicans, independents, conservatives, or moderates email the show, and even fewer call in.

But today one did.  A listener called in, identified herself as pro-choice Republican woman from the Eastside suburbs and told the group that she thought they had "marginalized and denigrated" her and Republicans in general.  She noted, as I have, that the show does not attract many Republicans, and wondered aloud whether any of the four even had a Republican friend.  Although she was angry, she made a rational argument and noted that she liked to listen to NPR and that she was pleased by a point that Westneat had made.  (Westneat had just argued that, despite what some on the left think, Bush really did win last November's election.)

This woman's speech got my attention, since I agreed with every word, and have had similar opinions for quite some time.  I was hoping for more, but host Katy Sewall redirected the conversation by saying that she didn't want the woman to feel "marginalized and denigrated".  Both then apologized, as women often do, and the program drifted away from the serious allegations that the woman had made.

Though it drifted away from her charges, Sewall did give the three journalists a chance to dispute them.   Westneat played the clown and took pride in the fact that the woman had liked some of what he had said.  Berger noted that news organizations respond to their readers (or listeners) by matching their ideologies, without, perhaps, realizing how that discredited both the Seattle Weekly and KUOW.  I don't recall what Paynter said, if anything.

But none of the three disputed the woman's charges, or even asked her what they had said that made her feel "marginalized and denigrated".  None even — and I am old enough so that I was hoping for this — claimed to have a Republican friend.  (Could any of the three have recycled that old bigot's line and said: "Some of my best friends are Republicans?"  I don't know any of them personally, so I can't say, but I doubt it.)

So, in effect, they conceded her charges.  But what interests me even more is that they did not want to discuss them.  Was that because they didn't think they could refute them?   Or because they have such a low opinion of Republicans that they prefer to avoid talking to them about issues?  This response, or I should say lack of response, is in sharp contrast to the practice on most commercial talk programs, where hosts usually give extra time to people holding opposing views.  Why didn't they respond to her charges?  I don't know, but I'll ask them.

Finally, host Katy Sewall ended the program in a way that supports the idea journalists are out of touch with much of the public.  Suppose you were talking to a veteran, or someone currently in one of the services.  How would you bring up the Memorial Day weekend?  Would you thank them for their service and ask them how they planned to commemorate the day?  Most of us would, I hope.  Katy Sewall just asked the three journalists how they intended to enjoy themselves.  (None said that they planned to honor our military.)

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 2:46 PM, 27 May 2005   [link]

Want To Look At Some Global Warming Numbers?  Climatologist has George H. Taylor has some for the Pacific Northwest.  He has some nice graphs showing the effects of "urban heat islands", and makes this significant point:
The warmest decade in the last century in Oregon, according to rural station records, was the 1930s.  The last several decades have indeed seen a warming, but current temperatures remain below those reported 70 years ago.  What's more, one must use temperature data with great caution in order to avoid contamination caused by land use changes, including the urban heat island effect.
(As always, when I discuss global warming, I urge you to look at my disclaimer, if you haven't already.)
- 9:44 AM, 27 May 2005   [link]


Maybe The Terrorists Are Running Short on suicide bombers.
Iraq insurgents attached explosives to a dog today in a bid to bomb a military convoy near the northern oil centre of Kirkuk but the animal was the only casualty, police said.

The insurgents wrapped an explosive belt around the dog's body and detonated it as the convoy passed through Dakuk, 40km south of Kirkuk, the town's police chief Colonel Mohammed Barzaji said.

"The dog was torn apart by the explosion which caused neither injury among the soldiers nor any damage," said Barzaji, adding that the bomb had been detonated outside a Shiite mosque.

"Eight suspects have been detained," he said.
Haven't seen any reaction from PETA yet, but I recall that when Palestinian terrorists used donkeys for the same thing, PETA was outraged.  (PETA did not object to killing Israelis, but to using donkeys to do so.  I wish I were making that up, but I'm not.)

(Alan Clark, in Barbarossa, his history of the Eastern Front in World War II, says that the Soviets trained dogs, laden with explosives, to crawl under German tanks.  It wasn't much of a success, since even trained dogs found the battlefield terrifying.)
- 3:11 PM, 26 May 2005   [link]


By Way of Timothy Goddard, I learned that I had joined (without knowing it) the Coalition of the Chillin', the folks who think that Republicans should relax, at least for now, about the compromise reached over the filibusters of Bush's judicial nominations.

(Not sure whether I agree with the Coalition's final point about the Lord of the Rings.  It has been so long since I read Tolkien's books that I am no longer familiar with the plot.)
- 2:43 PM, 26 May 2005   [link]


Good News, If True:  The most recent polls suggest that the French will vote no (or, if you prefer "non") on the new European constitution.
The leader of France's ruling party has privately admitted that Sunday's referendum on the European constitution will result in a "no" vote, throwing Europe into turmoil.

"The thing is lost," Nicolas Sarkozy told French ministers during an ill-tempered meeting.   "It will be a little 'no' or a big 'no'," he was quoted as telling Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, whom he accused of leading a feeble campaign.
It is good news because the proposed constitution is a mess that will benefit the pampered (and often corrupt) EU bureaucrats, but make matters slightly worse for the average European.   When the Europeans (most of them, anyway) adopted a common currency, skeptics said that it would hurt the European economies.  For the most part, they have been stumbling ever since — not that they were doing that well before.  The closer ties of the new constitution would make matters worse.

The facts about the poor economic performance of the European Union are not a secret.  The facts do not matter to those European elites who want to drag their countries into a closer European Union.  Why?  Some want to prevent World War I from happening again, though the danger of that seems low to me.  Some want to make Europe a counterweight to the United States, though they seldom explain why increasing the rivalry between us and them would benefit, us, them, or the rest of the world.  And more than a few want a piece of the great Brussels pie, where bureaucrats can get rich on the perks, and politicians, at least unscrupulous politicians, can do even better.

Since I wish the Europeans well — yes, even the French — I hope they reject this new constitution.

(Dan Drezner has a summary of recent French poll results graphed here.  And if you want to see more reasons for skepticism, you can find them here.)
- 7:33 AM, 26 May 2005
More:  As a savvy emailer reminded me, the traders are betting heavily against a yes vote this Sunday.

Anatole Kaletsky gives some of the dismal facts about EU economic performance, but misses the variation among the countries.  A few, Ireland for instance, are doing quite well and the expansionist policies that Kaletsky proposes would cause trouble for them.  (What should the Europeans do?  Kaletsky has an answer that would ruin Paul Krugman's day: Europeans should do "exactly what America did in similar circumstances in 2001".)

And Timothy Garton Ash, who wants the French to vote yes, supports my point about the European constitution, with this description:
Let's be frank: this constitutional treaty is a messy, uninspiring piece of work.  It has neither the simplicity, the elegance nor the fundamental ordering functions of a constitution.  In reality, it's not a constitution - it's a treaty.  It was a mistake to make so many detailed legalistic and bureaucratic provisions an integral part of the document presented to every voter
And this comes from a proponent.  And not just an ordinary proponent.  Ash compares this vote — I am not making this up — to the war crisis of 1940.  He admits he is overdramatising his argument, but doesn't entirely give up the comparison.
- 2:12 PM, 26 May 2005   [link]


The Weather Was Tolerable today, so I went out and took a few pictures   This one is taken looking west through a Kirkland condominium.  The ship in the center of the picture is a surplus NOAA research ship, now being used as a breakwater.



The 6,866 foot high mountain near the center of the horizon is the Brothers.  It is about 45 miles away.  To get there from the Kirkland waterfront (if you were flying), you would cross Lake Washington, Seattle a little north of downtown, the Puget Sound, the Kitsap peninsula, and the Hood Canal.
- 4:12 PM, 25 May 2005   [link]


More On The Filibuster Fight:  Dick Morris comes to much the same conclusions that I did, and adds this nasty, unfair, but very funny crack about Robert Byrd.
Byrd we can discount.  He probably voted to sustain the filibuster in case a new civil-rights bill comes down the pike.  After all, it was his legendary 14-hour talkathon to kill the 1964 bill that still resonates in our memory.
Lefty Robert Kuttner thinks that Bush and Frist won.
What does the vaunted compromise actually do?  First, it guarantees an up-or-down floor vote on three of the most reactionary judges ever to come before the Senate: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, and Priscilla Owen.  It was Democratic resistance to these appellate nominees that caused Frist to go nuclear in the first place.  He and George W. Bush won.  The three judges are now likely to be confirmed, and other extremist nominees will keep coming.

Second, the deal commits the GOP to relent on the plan to scrap the filibuster, but only for now.   Frist is free to revive the nuclear option any time he likes, say, when the first Bush nominee to the Supreme Court comes before the Senate.  Frist can hold this threat over the heads of Democrats, who are committed to minimize the use of filibusters.
(By "reactionary" one should understand that Kuttner means judges who, for instance, agree with the majority on same sex marriages and racial preferences.)

From this post, I would say that Tom Maguire is in the "kick the can down the road school" and thinks that the agreement just postpones the fight.  And he draws attention to these key paragraphs from a Fox story.
Democrats, pointing to a slight change in wording from an earlier draft, said the deal would preclude Republicans from attempting to deny them the right to filibuster.  Republicans said that was not ironclad, but valid only as long as Democrats did not go back on their word to filibuster only in extraordinary circumstances.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the issue had been discussed at the meeting in McCain's office, and was "clearly understood" by those in attendance.
I can add to that.  Three of the seven Republicans who signed the agreement, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John Warner of Virginia, have said that if the Democrats filibuster any of Bush's current nominees, they will support a rule change immediately.   (The first two said that on the record yesterday and talk show host Tony Snow just added Warner to that list.)

The argument that this is a disguised Democratic surrender gets support from this article in the usually very well informed newspaper, The Hill.
Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the deal a "significant victory" for the country, democracy, and "every American."

Reid added that other Michigan judges nominated for the sixth Circuit "are going to be approved."   Frist said he expected other stalled nominees, Richard Griffin, Susan Nielson, David McKeague, and Thomas Griffith, to get votes.
If Frist and Reid are correct on those judges, then I would have to agree with Kuttner that it was a big win for Bush.

Law professor Paul Campos raises a more fundamental question: Why did we ever decide that our federal judges should be legislators, deciding the most fundamental questions in society, but never answering to the voters?  It was a good question when it was raised by people on the left during the New Deal; it is still a good question, though it is usually raised by people on the right.

Finally, a New York Times editorial writer adds an unintentional comic touch to the discussion.
If nothing else, the deal to end the Senate's "nuclear option" showdown was heartening in that it did demonstrate that moderates still exist in Washington, and actually have the capacity to work together to get things done.
Why comic?  Because there are no moderates on the New York Times editorial board and there will never be any as long as Gail Collins runs it.
- 9:33 AM, 24 May 2005   [link]