April 2006, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Profanity And The Left:  Glenn Greenwald wrote an almost fact-free post describing Bush supporters as follows:
Soon after 9/11, the Bush movement became driven by much more than a set of political beliefs.  It provides its adherents with much more than just a vehicle for political activism.  It gives them purpose and a feeling of strength and power that they otherwise lack.  In that sense, it is not dissimilar to a religion, and it is therefore unsurprising -- but nontheless ugly and destructive -- that their beliefs and convictions are not grounded in facts and reality but in a resolute faith that cannot be shaken by facts.  Every event is interpreted so as to bolster the faith, facts are disregarded which undermine the faith and fact-free assertions are embraced which confirm the faith.
(That's the first time I have seen Bush supporters described as a movement, a silly word for such a disparate group.)

Greenwald followed that up with an almost meaningless post titled "Using generalizations to describe political groups".  Tom Maguire then mocked that post, as he has other Greenwald posts.

I couldn't resist joining in the fun and added a comment, which included this point:
And there's a second fact that anyone can verify for themselves in an hour or so on the net.  In general, Bush supporters on the net are much less likely to use profanity than Bush opponents.   Typically, profanity is used to shock, to appeal to emotion rather than to reason.
Why is profanity (and obscenity) far more common at sites that attack Bush than those that support him?  I don't think there is a single reason for that difference, but I do think that one reason is that conservatives are more likely to appeal to reason than leftists.  Those who use profanity in political debates are often trying to end an argument by shocking their opponents.   Lawyers often joke that, if the facts and the law favor your opponent, you should try to win the case by abusing the opponent's lawyer — and profanity and obscenity are often ways to do that.

(In general, I try to keep this site "sprog friendly", as I explained here.  If parents and children can read this site together, without either being embarrassed, then I will have succeeded at that goal.)
- 3:07 PM, 30 April 2006   [link]

Mt. St. Helens Blogging:  Mt. St. Helens is, I think, prettiest in the winter, especially at sunrise and sunset.  Here's a set of twelve sunrise pictures from this last winter for your enjoyment.

(Click on a picture to see the full-sized version.)

And here's the web cam.  The view sometimes changes very quickly, especially at sunrise, so you may want to refresh it frequently.
- 12:39 PM, 30 April 2006   [link]

Open Letter To The New York Times #2:  In March, I promised a series of open letters to the New York Times.   I got sidetracked, as I often do, by other stories.  But I still think my idea is a good one and so I am restarting the project, although this week promises to be very busy.

What prompted me to restart this series was a curious piece last Monday by David Carr, describing the conflict between President Bush and the national press over leaks of secret information.  Here's how Carr ended his piece.
Still, the press likes to cite its moral authority, especially in the face of an administration that has reflexively invoked executive privilege, a tool that was used 4 times between 1953 and 1974 at the height of the cold war and 23 times between 2001 and 2004.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Bush has made it clear that he does not buy the industry's widely held conceit that it serves as a proxy for the American people.  That, he has suggested over the course of his two terms, is his job.

The national press seems to be saying otherwise.
But he never explains where that "moral authority" of the press comes from.  And that prompted me to send the New York Times this letter:
To the Editor:

In his article on the controversy over the Pulitzer prizes (April 24), David Carr says that the national press claims "moral authority" to publish military secrets, even in a time of war.

But Carr never explains where that "moral authority" comes from.  I understand where President Bush's authority over military secrets comes from; he was elected in 2000, and re-elected in 2004.  But Bill Keller of the New York Times and Leonard Downie of the Washington Post appear to believe that they have the "moral authority" to override President Bush, even though neither Keller nor Downie has ever been elected to national office.  (And the presidential candidate endorsed by their newspapers in 2004 was defeated.)

Carr should ask Keller and Downie where their "moral authority" comes from.  And he should ask them to explain why their "moral authority" overrides the choice made by 62 million voters in November, 2004.

James R. Miller
Kirkland, WA, April 30, 2006

(Some months ago, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, Gail Collins, claimed that she wanted to publish more conservative letters, but just didn't get them.  What I hope to show with this series is that the Times does get good letters from conservatives, but that the letters editor filters most of them out, because the Times is allergic to publishing criticism of its own work.

Of course, the Times can spoil my argument, slightly, by publishing a letter in this series.  But I don't expect that to happen.

Here are the official biographies of Downie and Keller, if you would like to know more about these two men.)
- 7:47 AM, 30 April 2006   [link]

Wonder If They Could Be Trained  to attack car alarms?
A crocodile in northern Australia has chased a storm-clearance worker up a tree and made off with his chainsaw.

The 4.4m (14.5ft) saltwater crocodile called Brutus apparently took exception to the noise of the saw.
Though I suppose even a large crocodile might have trouble getting into a car.
- 8:14 AM, 28 April 2006   [link]

Whatever You May Say About Bill Clinton, there is no doubt that he had more impressive scandals than his predecessor or his successor.  Today's Wikipedia pick, Chinagate, briefly describes the scandal I consider Clinton's worst.
The 1996 United States campaign finance scandal, also known as Chinagate, refers to alleged efforts by the People's Republic of China (PRC) to influence domestic American politics prior to and during the Clinton administration as well as the fundraising practices of the administration itself.

While questions regarding the U.S. Democratic Party's fund-raising activities first arose over a Los Angeles Times article published on September 21, 1996[1], the PRC's alleged role in the affair first gained public attention when Bob Woodward and Brian Duffy of the Washington Post published a story stating that a United States Department of Justice investigation into the fund-raising activities had uncovered evidence that agents of the PRC sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) before the 1996 presidential campaign.  The journalists wrote that intelligence information had shown the PRC Embassy in Washington, D.C. was used for coordinating contributions to the DNC[2] in violation of United States law forbidding non-American citizens from giving monetary donations to United States politicians and political parties.  The PRC government denied the accusations.

Seventeen people were eventually convicted for fraud or for funneling Asian funds into the United States elections.  A number of the convictions came against long-time Clinton-Gore friends and political appointees.
Nothing in the first or second Bush administrations comes even close to matching that scandal.

Amazingly, Janet Reno never named a special prosecutor to investigate this scandal, in spite of requests that she do so from Louis Freeh, the FBI director, and Charles La Bella, the head of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force.  Sadly, few prominent Democrats echoed those calls.
- 2:44 PM, 27 April 2006   [link]

Riehl World View Asks An Interesting Question:  Did Dana Priest recycle the story that won her a Pulitzer reprimand?
Some might argue Dana Priest and the Washington Post, to some extent, filled out and re-cycled an old story three years later to take advantage of the climate and given the Bush administration yet another black eye for no reason.  One that it obviously didn't need, especially over a program everyone seemed to be rather pleased with three years before.
Sure looks like it.

(Not quite sure who writes this blog.  From the title and the email address, I would guess it's Dan Riehl.)
- 2:19 PM, 27 April 2006   [link]

Life Is Cheap in Sweden.
The 18 year old responsible for the brutal 'honour killing' of 20 year old Abbas Rezai in Högsby last year has been sentenced to four years' youth detention.  His parents were cleared of all charges by Kalmar district court.

After serving his sentence, the 18 year old will be deported from Sweden and banned from ever returning.
. . .
Abbas Rezai was found dead in the apartment belonging to the Afghan family in Högsby, in Småland.  According to the prosecutor, Kjell Yngvesson, the murder was an honour killing, in revenge for Rezai's relationship with the 16 year old daughter in the family.
The defendant claimed that he and Rezai got into a fight, but, if so, it was a strange fight.
Abbas Rezai had been beaten with an iron rod and a baseball bat, and hot oil had been poured over him.  He was also stabbed 23 times with a 29 centimetre knife.
The defendant is appealing his deportation.

Could fear of Muslims explain this incredibly light sentence?  Maybe.
- 1:53 PM, 27 April 2006   [link]

The Findings in this study won't surprise you.
A new study attempts to gauge the percentage of gays and lesbians who have chosen to marry in places where that option is legal, with estimates ranging from as little as 2 percent to more than 16 percent, depending on the location.
If, that is, you have been reading this site since October, 2003.
By itself, I think that gay marriage will have little effect on society, simply because so few gays will get married.  The first few months of data from Canada support this view.  My very rough back of the envelope estimate* is that there are 200,000 gays and lesbians in the Canadian province of Ontario, concentrated in the city of Toronto.  In almost four months since the Canadian court decision, just 443 Ontario couples have gotten licenses for same sex marriages in Toronto.  Even if we suppose that some got their licenses outside of Toronto, this is not a large number.  At that rate, it would take 5 years for there to be enough such couples to fill one mega-church and 50 years to fill a large American football stadium.  That's not a mass movement.
I went on to say that gay marriage might be important, not by itself, but because it might lead to the legalization of polygamy and polyamory.   I have changed my mind on one point since then.  I now think that legalizing polygamy (and, eventually, polyamory) would be almost inevitable if we legalize gay marriage.  The arguments for them are just too similar.  (There are thinkers I respect, notably Jonathan Rauch, who disagree with me, though almost all who disagree have personal reasons for favoring gay marriage that I do not have.)
- 9:04 AM, 27 April 2006   [link]

Americans Are Getting Bigger:  And that means that some old safety standards must be revised, as NewsMax explains in this brief article, titled, "Coast Guard: Wide Hips Sink Ships".
The Coast Guard recommended Wednesday that operators of small boats raise weight estimates for passengers to reflect that Americans have gotten fatter since the first standards in 1942.

The recommendation arises from an investigation of an accident in which an overloaded water taxi capsized and killed five people in Baltimore in 2004.

The operator assumed that the average passenger weighed 140 pounds, based on the Coast Guard's standards for a mix of men, women and children in calm inland waters.  For passengers in boats on the ocean, the standard was 160 pounds.
And there are other accidents that may have had the same cause.

The Coast Guard has increased the standard to 185 pounds.  (Another thing that has changed is our population mix; proportionately, we have fewer children than we did in 1940, and far more old people.  At Disneyland, you might still be able to assume that the average person on a ride weighs just 140 pounds, but you couldn't on a cruise ship.)

(Rick Atkinson's fine book on the American campaign in North Africa in World War II has a description of the standards the draftees had to meet in 1940, which shows just how much bigger we've gotten:
Physical standards remained fairly rigorous; soon enough, the day would come when new recruits claimed the army no longer examined eyes, just counted them.  A conscript had to stand at least five feet tall and weigh 105 pounds; possess twelve or more of his natural thirty-two teeth; and be free of flat feet, venereal disease, and hernias.  More than forty of every hundred men were rejected, a grim testament to the toll taken on the nation's health in the Great Depression. (p. 9)
105 pounds!  When was the last time you even saw a man who weighed that little?  If the men in those old World War II photos looks small, that's because many of them were.)
- 7:41 AM, 27 April 2006   [link]

How Much Do You Carry In Pocket Change?  Probably less than the Palestinian Foreign Minister.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar has had $450,000 stolen from his hotel room during his current visit to Kuwait, the Itim news agency quoted the Kuwaiti media as saying Wednesday.

According to the report, al-Zahar had asked the Kuwaiti authorities to keep the theft under wraps, but the incident was confirmed by a security official at the hotel.
(And if you do carry more than he does, please don't say so publicly.)

Why was he carrying that much cash?  Two possibilities occur to me, payments to terrorists and theft.  The second seems more likely, since the first could be done by underlings more safely than the second.  We can be almost certain that the money was not intended for anything legitimate.

Remember this cash, and the immense sums stolen by Yasser Arafat, the next time you see a story about the poverty and suffering of the Palestinians.
- 6:26 AM, 27 April 2006   [link]

Send In The Mercenaries:  (Even if you have to call them "private security firms".)  That's the central message of this opinion piece by Rebecca Ulam Weiner.
Three years of fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan have left an estimated 180,000 dead and nearly 2 million refugees.  In recent weeks, both the UN and the US have turned up the volume of their demands to end the violence (which the Bush administration has publicly called genocide), but they've been hard pressed to turn their exhortations into action.  The government in Khartoum has scuttled the UN's plans to take control of the troubled peacekeeping operations currently being led by the African Union, and NATO recently stated publicly that a force of its own in Darfur is "out of the question."  Meanwhile, refugee camps and humanitarian aid workers continue to be attacked, and the 7,000 African Union troops remain overstretched and ineffective.

But according to J. Cofer Black, vice chairman of the private security firm Blackwater, there is another option that ought to be on the table: an organization that could commit significant resources and expertise to bolster the African Union peacekeepers and provide emergency support to their flagging mission.
This is the solution to some of Africa's many civil wars that I have favored for years, not because it is a good solution, but because it is the least bad solution available.  UN forces have been — at best — ineffectual, in many of these conflicts, because the UN soldiers are too few, too poorly trained, too poorly equipped, and too undisciplined.  Nations that do have effective military forces are unwilling to commit them to Africa.  But the military tasks are often small enough so that they could be handled by mercenaries.  (Sorry, private security firms.)

But the prejudice against the firms is strong, as Weiner shows with this pair of questions:
When the world's governments and multilateral organizations have proven as ineffectual as they have in Darfur, should they turn to the private sector for help?  In the absence of a viable alternative, is the international community's aversion to what some call "mercenarism" stronger than its will to fight genocide?
So far, the answer to that second question is yes.  The "international community", specifically the UN, does prefer genocide to using mercenaries.  I was not surprised to learn, for example, that Kofi Annan had specifically rejected using a private firm during what Weiner calls the "Rwandan refugee crisis".  (I assume she is talking about the time after the genocide.)

Finally, it is worth noting that, though the situation in Darfur is horrendous, there are many other civil wars in Africa.  As far as deaths go, the worst is probably the civil war in the Congo, where three million may have died, according to common estimates.  (That's far more than the US has lost in all our wars put together.)  It might be possible to put together an effective international force for one or two of these conflicts, but not for all of them.  All the more reason to use mercenaries to end some of these wars.

(Remarkably, the author is a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and, even more remarkably, the piece was published by the very liberal Boston Globe.)
- 7:04 AM, 26 April 2006   [link]

Maybe We Should Stop Making Them:  Now that we are losing money on every one we make.
What happens if a penny is worth more than 1 cent?

That is an issue the United States Mint could soon face if the price of metals keeps rising.   Already it costs the mint well more than a cent to make a penny.

This week the cost of the metals in a penny rose above 0.8 cents, more than twice the value of last fall.  Because the government spends at least another six-tenths of a cent — above and beyond the cost of the metal — to make each penny, it will lose nearly half a cent on each new one it mints.
I realize that getting rid of the penny may not be popular, especially with retailers.
Pennies, meanwhile, are in high demand. Last year, the mint made 7.7 billion of them — more than the number of all the other coins it produced.  In the first three months of this year, the pace of penny production rose to an annual rate of 9 billion — the highest since 2001.

Why so many?  Perhaps there is now some hoarding in expectation that metal prices will keep rising, but mostly it is an issue of sales taxes, which in most states are added to the retail price and assure that the total price of many items will require pennies to be given in change if a customer pays with dollar bills.  That helps explain why the idea of eliminating the penny has gone nowhere.
But I still think it makes a lot of sense.

(The push for dollar coins is also motivated in part by costs.  A dollar coin cost more to produce than a dollar bill but lasts much longer and so is cheaper in the long run.)
- 2:41 PM, 25 April 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Natan Sharansky, who knows a little about being a dissident himself, salutes another dissident.
There are two distinct marks of a dissident.  First, dissidents are fired by ideas and stay true to them no matter the consequences.  Second, they generally believe that betraying those ideas would constitute the greatest of moral failures.  Give up, they say to themselves, and evil will triumph.  Stand firm, and they can give hope to others and help change the world.

Political leaders make the rarest of dissidents.  In a democracy, a leader's lifeline is the electorate's pulse.  Failure to be in tune with public sentiment can cripple any administration and undermine any political agenda.  Moreover, democratic leaders, for whom compromise is critical to effective governance, hardly ever see any issue in Manichaean terms.  In their world, nearly everything is colored in shades of gray.

That is why President George W. Bush is such an exception.  He is a man fired by a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its critical connection to international peace and stability.
Since Sharansky is an honest man, he goes on to mention where he has differed with Bush, before ending with this:
Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere.  For should that spirit break, evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would be disastrous.
And since I try to be honest, too, I will have to say that I think that Sharansky is wrong when he says that even Bush's "fiercest critics" would admit that Bush has championed the cause of freedom.   Sadly, Bush's fiercest critics are unwilling to grant him any good qualities, or to recognize any of his genuine achievements.
- 1:16 PM, 25 April 2006   [link]

Mary McCarthy, through her attorney, is denying that she leaked.
The lawyer for a Central Intelligence Agency official dismissed last week after being accused of leaking classified information said on Monday that his client denied disclosing any classified information and was not the source for newspaper articles about secret C.I.A. prisons abroad.
And her lawyer, Ty Cobb, isn't just any old lawyer.
What is significant about Mr. Cobb is that he defended some of the highest profile criminals in the Clinton Administration including cabinet officers, a White House staffer, and a former Senator:
The word "criminals" may be a little harsh, since Mr. Cobb did save some of his clients from convictions.  But I think we can say he is the lawyer you hire if you are a Democrat and in serious legal trouble, especially if the trouble has political consequences.  (Elsewhere, I saw a report that Mr. Cobb charges his clients 750 dollars an hour.  I don't know what DC lawyers generally charge, but that suggests to me that McCarthy is just a little worried.)
- 10:10 AM, 25 April 2006
Update:  The CIA is sticking to its story.
The Central Intelligence Agency on Tuesday defended the firing of Mary O. McCarthy, the veteran officer who was dismissed last week, and challenged her lawyer's statements that Ms. McCarthy never provided classified information to the news media.

But intelligence officials would not say whether they believed that Ms. McCarthy had been a source for a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in The Washington Post about secret C.I.A. detention centers abroad.  Media accounts have linked Ms. McCarthy's firing to the articles, but the C.I.A. has never explicitly drawn such a connection.
But the New York Times leaves out the most sensational part.
In a statement on Thursday to CIA employees, [Porter] Goss said that "a CIA officer has acknowledged having unauthorized discussions with the media, in which the officer knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence, including operational information."
Operational information!  Isn't that the most sensitive of all?

Unless I am missing something in these stories, it sounds as though Goss and the administration think they have a powerful case for her firing, and perhaps more.
- 5:48 AM, 26 April 2006   [link]

How Damaging Are Leaks?  Obviously, to answer that question I would have to know far more about our secrets than I have any right to know.  (Full disclosure: I once had a job that required a "Secret" clearance.  When I left that job, I lost the clearance.  There are some things I know — or, I should say, knew, since I have forgotten most of them — that I can not legally talk about, even to myself.)  But I must say that this assessment from "spook86", who describes himself as a "former member of the U.S. intelligence community", is disturbing.
A final note: during my spook days, I saw a classified analysis of the impact of media leaks over the past ten years.  The impact of these disclosures--in terms of blown sources and lost intel information--was absolutely staggering.  The senior official who prepared the report is now retiring.  I hope he will publish his unclassified version of the study in the near future.   The public needs to know the real impact when classified information finds its way into print or broadcast, with no regard for the security consequences.
If what spook86 says in the rest of the post is true, it is easier to leak than it used to be — and almost impossible to catch leakers.
- 8:27 AM, 25 April 2006   [link]

Only Suckers Still Believe 60 Minutes:  That's what you have to conclude after reading this post.
It seems that CBS is finally testing the waters for the story on the Niger forgeries they have kept on the shelf since the fall of 2004.  Joshua Marshall teamed up with CBS for the story, which had them all very excited — until they received some information from their sources that contradicted the story they wanted to tell.  When CBS got busted for the forgeries they tried to fool the American public with in September 2004, they had to wait to pounce with another story so riddled with half-truths and outright deception as the one they put together about another set of forgeries.  With Bush hovering around the low 30s in approval ratings, the time has come to strike.  The name of the game is Omission of Facts.
Or this post on the same 60 Minutes story:
Last night, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a segment on Iraq pre-war intelligence -- focusing on the Niger-Uranium controversy -- that was so slanted I half suspect that Democratic Senator Carl Levin produced it.
And you'll see that both posts have the facts to support their arguments.

60 Minutes based much of their story on what a former Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, may have told American intelligence.  But the editors at CBS omitted much of what Sabri had said.   Deliberately, because what they omitted didn't fit their anti-Bush message?  Maybe.

(If you are interested in a more balanced treatment of Sabri's claims, see this post.

We did learn one thing from that 60 Minutes story:  Former CIA officer Tyler Drumheller is not to be trusted.  He must have known that CBS was deceiving the public — and he helped them do it.)
- 7:01 AM, 25 April 2006   [link]

AllahPundit Has A Fine, link-filled Blog Primer, for those who want to get caught up on the firing of Mary McCarthy
This is one of those stories where, if you miss the first 48 hours, you end up feeling so far behind the curve that you tune it out and never bother with it again.  So here's a round-up of news and blog coverage which, while longish, will bring you up to speed.
It's also one of those stories where the conservative blogs run far ahead of the "mainstream" media.  (The leftist blogs are mostly ignoring the story or hoping it will go away.)  For instance, judging by today's story in the New York Times, our newspaper of record still doesn't know the full extent of McCarthy's contributions to Kerry and the Democrats in 2004, something several conservative bloggers figured out days ago.
- 6:03 AM, 25 April 2006   [link]