September 2005, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Design Flaws In Those New Orleans Floodwalls? Or construction flaws? Or both? NBC has dug up an old dispute between the Army Corps of Engineers and a contractor that provides evidence for all three possibilities.
NBC News has obtained what may be a key clue, hidden in long forgotten legal documents. They reveal that when the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems — problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.Which, if the company was correct, would seem to explain why the floodwalls failed. They were built figuratively, and perhaps literally, on sand. As well as being taller than they should have been, according to Corps' own design rules.
The experts that NBC consulted backed the construction company — but Pittman did lose in court and is now out of business.
If it was errors made during the 1990s that caused the floodwalls to fail, could we blame the Clinton administration? Not necessarily. The Army Corps of Engineers has been, for many decades, more a creature of Congress than a tool of any president. If I were looking for politicians to blame for this failure, I would start with the appropriate committee chairmen in Congress, not the Clinton administration.
(For more, see my previous posts here and here
- 2:43 PM, 30 September 2005 [link]
Judith Miller Gets Out Of Jail: And leaves those who have been following the case of the jailed reporter (which doesn't include me) as puzzled as ever. Here's Jonah Goldberg's summary.
I hope some day somebody writes all this down, because the whole story is unbelievable. Miller never writes a story about Plamegate, but insists she must keep her sources secret, even though the name of her primary source, Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby, has long since been a matter of public record -- and has publicly released her from her pledge of anonymity. She decides to go to jail to protect the principle of source anonymity, and is only weeks away from being sprung (because the grand jury she was refusing to talk to will go out of business in Ocrober) before she abandons her stand on principle and decides to talk. And all this in relation to a matter that may well not have been a crime to begin with. Weird wacko crazy bananas.And just to make it even wackier, one reason this is obscure is that editors at the New York Times will not speak about the subject — in defense, they say, of the people's right to know.
You can find more, in a similar vein, from Tom Maguire and Mickey Kaus.
For me, as for John Hinderaker, the most important part of this story was the beginning:
The entire Plame story, in my opinion, is one of the most overblown of modern times. The real story here is about her husband Joe Wilson, who, at his wife's instigation, was sent on a diplomatic mission to Niger for which he was ill-suited, and who then lied about his own findings there in a New York Times op-ed, for the purpose of damaging President Bush politically. Joe Wilson is one of the great scoundrels of recent times, but you wouldn't know it unless you are a regular reader of this or a handful of other sites. If you search our site for "Joe Wilson" or "Joseph Wilson," you will find a link to the Congressional report that concluded that Wilson is a liar.And you will find similar posts on this site.
- 7:32 AM, 30 September 2005 [link]
Bush's Approval rating is up.
President Bush's standing with the public improved over the previous week as he made a highly visible effort to manage the consequences of the second major hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in a month, a new poll out Thursday found.As I predicted.
I haven't seen any polls on changes in the approval rating for CNN, USA Today, or the rest of the "mainstream" media, but I would expect their ratings have fallen, and will fall more, as the public learns just how inaccurate and biased their coverage of Katrina was.
- 5:44 AM, 30 September 2005 [link]
Maybe The New Orleans Police Didn't Quit During Katrina: Maybe they were never there. In this post, I passed on the story that "at least 200" New Orleans police officers had walked off the job during Katrina. Now, thanks to talk show host Tony Snow, I learned of an alternative explanation: many New Orleans policemen are on the payroll, but not on the force.
On the heels of N.O. police chief Eddie Compass' resignation, allegations are emerging. Fox News' Tony Snow has said that of the 1700 police working for New Orleans, maybe only 1000 really exist.The blogger goes on to say that New Orleans kept that many on the rolls to qualify for federal funding. And it is possible that some had "no show" jobs, something common in cities run by corrupt machines.
This explanation for the missing officers seems at least as plausible to me as the earlier claim that at least 200 had just walked away. Policemen have their faults, but cowardice is not usually one of them.
(You can hear Snow's take here. Or so says Michelle Malkin. I haven't checked because I heard the original broadcast and have a slow connection to the net.
If you are wondering why New Orleans is short of police officers, the biggest reason, from what I have read, is the city's residency requirement. To be a police officer in New Orleans, you must live there. Since much of the city is expensive, dangerous, or both, this makes it difficult to find enough recruits.)
- 1:49 PM, 29 September 2005 [link]
The Dangers Of Selenium: In this post, I mentioned that selenium, in tiny amounts, may help prevent prostate cancer. I should have added that selenium, in larger amounts, is a deadly poison.
Selenium supplements have been promoted as an aid in preventing cancer. It is believed to act much like vitamin E in helping to prevent the damage done to cell tissue by oxidation. At the same time, certain types of selenium compounds, such as selenium sulfide, have been thought to cause cancer. A normal diet containing grains cereals and meat is considered to be sufficient to avoid the harmful effects of insufficient selenium intake. However, even small amounts of 5-10 times the RDA can cause toxicity or chronic selenosis. An overdose of selenium supplements can cause death.That should be clear enough, I hope.
And the danger is not just from man-made supplements. Some plants concentrate selenium, as we learned more than a century ago from studies of nervous diseases in cattle.
Sometimes referred to as milkvetches, locoweeds are members of the pea family. More than 392 species of Astragalus and 22 species of Oxytropis can be found worldwide, [Extension range management specialist Chris] Allison says. About 80 grow in New Mexico. Fewer than 20 are poisonous to livestock.Plants from the genus astragalus are widely sold as herbal supplements, as you can see with a quick search on "astragalus + supplement". I wouldn't touch them.
- 10:11 AM, 29 September 2005 [link]
The DeLay Indictment: Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics, calls it a Wild Card Indictment
According to the experts there isn't much "gray area" here. It comes down to two options: either [prosecutor Ronnie] Earle has the crucial witnesses to make the case or he's engaging in a blatant partisan smear by filing an indictment he knows he can't prove in court.There's a third possibility; Earle (like some other Democrats) may hate DeLay so much that he has misjudged the evidence. He may believe he has a case, even though he doesn't. And, there's a fourth possibility that falls in between the third and the second: Earle may believe that DeLay is guilty and know that he doesn't have the evidence to prove it, but thinks he may be able to dig it up before the trial.
Earle's prosecutorial career gives us reasons not to dismiss those second, third, and fourth possibilities. As you probably have heard, he has a reputation for indicting political opponents, recently Republicans, and in earlier years, conservative and moderate Democrats. Here are the two most famous examples.
The Majority Leader also deserves the presumption of innocence because of Mr. Earle's guilty past. A liberal Democrat, he has a history of indicting political enemies, Democrat and Republican, on flimsy evidence that didn't hold up in court. In the mid-1980s, he indicted Attorney General Jim Mattox, a rival of his ally Ann Richards, on bribery charges. Mr. Mattox was acquitted and won re-election.Was that speech legal under Texas laws? I haven't the faintest idea, but it does seem just a tad unethical, coming from a prosecutor.
And then there was Earle's decision to trade "Dollars for Dismissals".
Ronnie Earle, the Texas prosecutor who has indicted associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in an ongoing campaign-finance investigation, dropped felony charges against several corporations indicted in the probe in return for the corporations' agreement to make five- and six-figure contributions to one of Earle's pet causes.Again, I have no idea whether Texas law allows this; again it seems like dubious behavior from a prosecutor.
But it is also true that DeLay's career gives us reasons to think he may have been willing to cut legal corners. I have been troubled for some time by some of his tactics as whip, and then Majority Leader. I wouldn't say that he wants to win at any cost, but that he comes closer to that than I like. But it is only fair to add that DeLay's tactics are not unprecedented, and that he may have been less abusive of power than some of his Democratic predecessors.
So I'm not ready to give this fight to Earle or to DeLay. But I will be watching for delays as well as DeLay. If Earle doesn't have the evidence — and recognizes that fact — then he will want to drag out the trial as long as possible, preferably through the 2006 election.
(You are going to hear a lot about Delay in the next few days, how he is nicknamed the "Hammer" and just how tough he is as a political operative, and all that. But you may not hear this, from the 2004 Almanac of American Politics.
One issue on which DeLay has surprised his detractors is foster care. In September 1994 Christine DeLay became a trained Court Appointed Special Advocate and the DeLays became foster parents to several children. DeLay was infuriated in January 2000 at the violent death of two-year-old Brianna Blackwood, supposedly under the care of the District of Columbia foster care agency, after she was returned to the custody of her biological mother by a judge who heard nothing from the agency or the lawyer appointed to represent the girl. DeLay angrily confronted District officials. He sought action in the House to change the D.C. system; D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, usually opposed to congressional interference in District affairs, said, "His commitment is sincere, and it's deep, and he has special credibility because he and his wife have had foster children." Liberal columnist Mary McGrory, who has long crusaded for better treatment of foster children, wrote admiring columns about DeLay. Back in Texas, Christine DeLay has been raising money for a $5 million foster home, The Oaks at Rio Bend, to serve 250 abandoned and abused children, with sports facilities, a chapel, counseling — and no government money.And, while I am on this subject, I want to mention that Delay's predecessor, Dick Armey, had his own charity. He recognized that the public schools in the District of Columbia were terrible and raised money for scholarships to private schools so that at least a few of the kids could escape. He didn't do this for political reasons. It wouldn't have mattered in his safe district, and he sought no publicity for the effort.
So we can say that two most recent Republican House Majority Leaders, both white conservatives, have made considerable personal efforts to help District of Columbia kids — most of them black, many of them poor, and few of them from Republican families.)
- 8:52 AM, 29 September 2005
More: Byron York gives us another interesting detail about the prosecutor; Earle is starring in a movie. It is hard not to suspect that Orrin Judd is right when he says, "no indictment, no movie".
And Debra Saunders gives you some of the reasons I have been worried about DeLay's ethics for years.
- 8:03 AM, 30 September 2005 [link]
You'd Think The Paw Print would have been a hint.
But there are now calls for an inquiry into the election from New Zealand First MP Ron Mark who is concerned about cases like the Queenstown Jack Russell, Toby, whose owner managed to enrol him to vote.But perhaps I am being picky, thinking that a busy election official should be able to distinguish a paw print from a signature. After all, according to those same officials, the New Zealand "enrolments are 98% accurate". (In some businesses, that level of inaccuracy would be considered disastrous.)
I don't know if New Zealand allows voting by mail, but if they do, it would have been easy for Peter Rhodes to cast a ballot for Toby. He may be a fine dog, but I hope you will pardon me for suspecting that Toby may not be as informed on the issues as one might like.
(By way of Tim Blair.)
- 1:02 PM, 28 September 2005 [link]
Worth A Look: "Zombie" takes a picture of an "anti-war" demonstrator from the San Francisco Chronicle and shows you what the newspaper left out.
But this simple analysis reveals the very subtle but insidious type of bias that occurs in the media all the time. The Chronicle did not print an inaccuracy, nor did it doctor a photograph to misrepresent the facts. Instead, the Chronicle committed the sin of omission: it told you the truth, but it didn't tell you the whole truth.This kind of omission is routine, and has been for decades. That's why many of us have begun taking our own pictures so that we can show what the "mainstream" media will not. For another small example, see my post on an anti-Bush demonstration in August, 2003. For many more on last weekend's demonstrations, see here or here.
Now, if we look at the San Francisco Chronicle picture that "zombie" was critiquing with a photographer's eye, we can see non-political reasons for their choice and (perhaps) their cropping. Their picture is more dramatic than any of the alternatives from "zombie". But that doesn't explain the consistency of these omissions and the similar omissions from the accounts of such demonstrations, omissions criticized sharply by Christopher Hitchens and more gently by Howard Kurtz.
The editor who chose and (perhaps) cropped that Chronicle picture may have done so for dramatic reasons, but when similar omission happen again and again, it is impossible not to conclude that the omissions are usually deliberate.
(By way of Little Green Footballs.)
- 9:50 AM, 28 September 2005 [link]
Were Journalists In The "Mainstream" Media Too Eager To Get Bush? It's beginning to look like it as the criticism of their coverage of Katrina begins to pile up. Two weeks ago, James Pinkerton awarded a victory to the "mainstream" media in the battle over Katrina.
So what happened? To put it plainly, the substantial pro-Bush contingent of the New Media -- that is, cable news, talk radio, and the Net -- was overwhelmed. Yes, the blogosphere could take down Dan Rather, but that was a dry and slow process of threshing out real and counterfeit typewriter fonts, military phraseology, and antique zip codes.But in their rush to get there first with the most, those in the "mainstream" media were just a little careless with the facts. And bloggers, in their patient way, are beginning to undermine many of the most dramatic Katrina stories and force corrections. Yesterday I mentioned that bloggers had helped force Tim Russert to correct Aaron Broussard's wild claims. And I can't help but think that fine posts like this one by Eric Scheie, in which he destroys the credibility of Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot, or this one by Tom Maguire, in which he shows that the New York Times made many of the same errors that Times reporter David Carr criticized in the TV coverage, will have an effect.
Maybe it is bloggers, maybe it is second thoughts, but we are beginning to see more and more "we were wrong" stories from the "mainstream" media, such as this one from the Los Angeles Times, or this one from the Associated Press. And critics like Matt Drudge are unlikely to let the issue drop soon.
So I think Pinkerton was too quick to award the victory to the "mainstream" media. They may have gotten their first with the most, but they were so pleased with themselves that they printed and broadcast many stories that were just too good to check (from their point of view). And now they are beginning to pay for that error.
Will Bush gain from this, as he did after Dan Rather got caught? Probably not, in my estimation. It wasn't a single falsehood that hit the Bush administration; it was a storm of them and they will have some permanent effect on his support, though I would expect to see some recovery from the current lows. But the "mainstream" media will also lose as the evidence of their sloppiness and bias accumulates.
(For more, see this post by John Cole, who goes through the Broussard-Russert encounter last Sunday and then demolishes a bunch of other mistakes at the end of the post. Some journalists are not pleased by these efforts, which shows, I suppose, that the critics are beginning to get to them. And some of those critics are even beginning to call for investigations of the coverage, as you can see here and here. Fine with me, as long as the investigations are not done by the government.)
- 2:25 PM, 27 September 2005 [link]
Can Diet Prevent Cancer? Maybe, but researchers are finding that common sense idea hard to prove.
The diet messages are everywhere: the National Cancer Institute has an "Eat 5 to 9 a Day for Better Health" program, the numbers referring to servings of fruits and vegetables, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation has a detailed anticancer diet.For instance, there was the plausible idea that reducing fata and adding fiber would help prevent a number of cancers. It was not hard to think of reasons this might be so, especially for colon cancer, and it fit some of the evidence from other countries. But here's what researchers found when they did randomized studies that followed people for years:
But as the results from those studies have begun to roll in, many researchers say they are taken aback. The findings, they say, are not what they expected.And then there are puzzles, such as this one:
In 1930, for instance, stomach cancer was the second leading cause of cancer death in women and the leading cause in men. Now, Dr. Stampfer says, stomach cancer is not even listed in the American Cancer Society's 10 leading cancers.No one knows what caused the decrease, although I have seen speculation that it is the decline in smoked meats or perhaps the tighter sanitary standards for our foods.
So no one knows what foods you should eat to avoid cancer, but almost everyone is willing to give you advice on the subject, anyway. I won't join the crowd though I do eat what most would consider a fairly healthy diet.
(The article ends by mentioning one possible exception, selenium.
A study that randomly assigned people to take selenium or not to see whether it protected against skin cancer found that it had no effect on that cancer, but that the men taking it had only a third as many prostate cancers.Guys, especially guys my age and older, may want to know what foods are rich in selenium. Here's a list from the National Institute of Health.)
- 11:18 AM, 27 September 2005
But See this post for the dangers of selenium, in larger amounts.
- 10:24 AM, 29 September 2005 [link]
Congressman Peter King tries to give Chris Matthews a hint.
Chris, you won't give me a chance to answer the questions. Just because the president doesn't watch you on television, it doesn't mean he's not doing his job. You know, Franklin Roosevelt wasn't hired to listen to radio accounts of D-Day. You're hired to do the job, and the president can do his job without having to listen to Chris Matthews or Andrea Mitchell or Tim Russert, or any of the others.If you read the whole post, you'll see that King landed a few other blows. It is good to see a media figure being told that our news organizations failed with their Katrina coverage. I'm not sure they'll figure that out by themselves.
(Peter King is the son of Irish immigrant who became a New York policeman. That may help explain why the congressman is unwilling to take guff from Chris Matthews, or the French, or anyone else.)
- 8:20 AM, 27 September 2005 [link]
Kudos To Mark Trahant for this admission.
Trahant goes on to say that his mind was changed by the explosion of vote fraud in Great Britain when they introduced large scale voting by mail.
We have similar problems with voting by mail in the United States. It is hard even to estimate how many fraudulent votes are cast in our elections since the crime is often invisible. If someone steals something from you, you'll almost certainly know it; if someone votes fraudulently in one of your elections, you probably won't know it happened. But we do know this: When fraudulent ballots are detected in the United States, they usually were mailed to the elections office. (In most American states, the majority of ballots are still cast directly, not mailed.)
It is not hard to understand why fraudulent votes are more common with mailed ballots. Over the centuries, we have learned (often through bitter experience) that the act of voting should be public, and that the ballot should be secret. Voting by mail is generally done in private, and the ballots are checked by anonymous clerks in private. Mailed ballots need not be secret, which makes bribery and even intimidation easier.
Evidence caused the editorial page editor of the Seattle PI to change his mind. I think most who looked at the same evidence would come to the same conclusion he did. Perhaps this forthright column will encourage a few more journalists to look at that evidence.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(For more on the problems of voting by mail, I recommend John Fund's Stealing Elections, especially chapter 3.)
- 7:15 AM, 27 September 2005 [link]
Worst Performance By A Journalist During Katrina: Do you have a candidate for that prestigious award? (It must be prestigious since so many journalists tried so hard to win it.) Then add your nomination here.
- 5:08 PM, 26 September 2005 [link]
Cuddling Up To President Bush: Democratic politicians almost all attacked President Bush for his response to hurricane Katrina. But there were two interesting exceptions: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.
Here, for instance, is a discussion of a Russert interview with Nagin, in which the mayor refused to blame Bush personally.
I think the president, for some reason, probably did not understand the full magnitude of this catastrophe on the front end. I think he was probably getting advice from some of his key advisers or some low-level folk that had been on the ground that this was serious, but not as serious as it ended up being. My interactions with the president is, anytime I talked with him and gave him what the real deal was and gave him the truth, he acted and he made things happen.Although Nagin exonerates Bush, he did not exonerate Governor Blanco, as you can see if you read the entire post.
Similarly, Governor Blanco made a point of thanking Bush when she made the Democratic response to one of his Saturday speeches.
I want to take this opportunity to thank President George W. Bush. He has recognized that Katrina was no ordinary hurricane and that our federal government will have to help us in extraordinary ways. We are prepared to work as partners.Why aren't Nagin and Blanco following the party line? I can only speculate because I don't know either well. When I speculate on why they are cuddling up to President Bush, three reasons pop out, one admirable, and two not so admirable. The admirable reason is that they are simply telling the truth as they know it. Neither is a career politician, and so they may not automatically give the standard partisan responses.
Or, they might be trying to help themselves politically when they try to get closer to Bush. Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco may have decided that to get the federal aid they want — and to keep as much control over it as possible — they need to work with Bush, rather than against him. And, either or both may have decided that the best way to avoid scrutiny of their own actions in response to Katrina is to reject all such scrutiny, even if that deflects some criticism of Bush. They may realize, in short, that for their own interests, it is best to bury questions of blame as quickly as possible.
(Of course, Blanco and Nagin may have different reasons for adopting similar strategies. From what I have seen, I would be a little more ready to credit Nagin with honesty and a little more ready to suspect that Blanco does not want an examination of her own record.)
- 10:02 AM, 26 September 2005 [link]
Broussard Versus Russert, Round 2: I forgot to watch Meet The Press yesterday, as I had planned to do, so I missed a another remarkable performance by Aaron Broussard. But the transcript is available, and so we can see that Broussard is now telling a different story.
Russert begins the second round by reviewing Broussard's performance on the program three weeks earlier:
Mr. Russert: Your comments this morning are in stark contrast to three weeks ago. You're praising the federal government today. That was not the case. As you well know, Mr. Broussard, when you appeared here last time, very difficult time, very emotional time. You made some accusations that ricocheted around the country and have created an enormous response. I want to go back and play those for you. And then some things written about them and give you a chance to respond. Let's watch.Three weeks ago, Broussard continued by telling the sad story of the mother who died after waiting days for help from the feds. We now know that she was in the nursing home that did not evacuate, in spite of having a plan to do so, and that the home refused help from local authorities. And, it is almost certain that she died on the Monday of the storm, not the Friday afterward, as Broussard had said three weeks ago.
When Russert confronted Broussard with these facts yesterday, Broussard back pedaled, blaming his mistakes on his staff, and then bluffed.
Listen, sir, somebody wants to nitpick a man's tragic loss of a mother because she was abandoned in a nursing home? Are you kidding? What kind of sick mind, what kind of black-hearted people want to nitpick a man's mother's death?Some might wonder about the heart of a man who would exploit that death to smear innocent people. Connoisseurs of demagoguery will want to read Broussard's entire performance yesterday; the rest of us may want to turn away in disgust.
As Russert said yesterday, Broussard's original accusations "ricocheted around the country and have created an enormous response". Will the journalists who helped spread those accusations give this correction equal time? It's unlikely.
(Russert credits bloggers for spotting the inconsistencies in the original story, but he did not apologize for being suckered in the first round.
There's unrelated bit, earlier in the transcript, that's worth mentioning:
[Russert] Is it the overtopping or faulty design? What is going on in New Orleans?Underdesigned is a nice way to put it, I think.)
- 8:15 AM, 26 September 2005 [link]
How Biased Was The BBC Coverage Of Katrina? So biased that even the NPR ombudsman noticed.
But occasionally, I have heard BBC reporting on my local public radio station that sounds odd -- even at variance with the tone of NPR.The damage that the BBC does to the United States by such reports is considerable. Their stories are published all over the world and often set the tone for stories by other foreign news agencies. When I see surveys of public opinion in other nations, I often see evidence that many believe those caricatures from the BBC.
(I have less confidence that NPR listeners will be able to spot the bias in the BBC reports than Jeffrey Dvorkin does. American listeners may, as a group, be better informed than those abroad, but it is not hard to find people, especially in the big cities of the Northeast and West, who are completely out of touch with much of the country.
By the way, kudos to Dvorkin for tying these caricatures to "a reflex European opposition to American foreign policy". He's right, but I wouldn't have expected to hear that from someone who works for NPR.
For a discussion of the bias in the European coverage, see this post.)
- 7:26 AM, 25 September 2005 [link]