Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Watch For Tumbleweeds

Image credit John Sullivan, Wikipedia. Reduced by Cujo359

For the next few weeks, it's going to be pretty quiet around here. Once more, I have other things that I'll be doing that will be occupying my limited attention.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of thoughts I'd like to leave you with.

First, as I've mentioned before, Kevin Hayden is having a fundraising drive, and so far it's been a disappointment. So head on over there and help him out, OK?

Second, Slobber and Spittle Blue candidate Donna Edwards suddenly has an extra election to contend with. I received this e-mail from her campaign earlier in the week:

Last week I sent you news that Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has set a date of June 17, 2008, for a Special General Election to replace retiring Congressman Albert Wynn.

The Democratic Central Committees of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties voted overwhelmingly to heed the will of the voters of the 4th Congressional District and place my name on the June ballot as the Democratic nominee. Now, I have to run another campaign; run ads; and get voters to the polls all over again. The Special General Election is 48 days away.

Sure enough, Edwards was nominated by the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee to run for the seat vacated by Al Wynn. Like many of the corporate whores in DC, Wynn left before the House's conflict of interest rules changed. He's already accepted a job with a DC lobbying firm. It would be wonderful to seat Edwards early, since that would mean that there'd be another strong progressive voice in Congress this summer.

But she has to win the special election first. So head on over to SnS Blue and make a donation if you can.

Before you do that, though, there's one more announcement. I've added Eric Massa, a candidate for Congress from the 29th District in New York, to SnS Blue. The reason is simple - he belongs there. I had heard and read good things about him, but hadn't gotten around to checking his positions. Needless to say, I'm impressed. He's one of the few candidates who openly endorse the idea of a single-payer health care system, a system whose time has come in my opinion. That alone would make him a good addition to Congress, but there's much more. This would be a good year to put him there.

Well, I'm running out of time. There's lots of linky goodness here to explore, and I'll be back before the end of the month.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Keeping The Hamsters Turning

[Just what every blogger needs - a USB-powered hamster wheel from]

Whatever it is that powers the Internet these days needs to be fed, as do the folks who train the hamsters to put our words into readable columns and rows.

Over at American Street, Kevin Hayden is having a fund drive. It looks like the results have been discouraging:

After weighing how bored I am with political campaigns and how it’s become difficult to build traffic, no matter how many hours I spend readin’ & writin’, I’ve seriously considered pulling the plug, and doing something useful, like working at WalMart. Sure, it’s not as rewarding as volunteer hours at the Food Bank, but I note they still hire people in their dotage and provide a paycheck on time that won’t bounce.

Ass, Grass, or Cash

Now, that's discouragement. If one tenth of the people who read Kevin's blog contributed five dollars, he'd be set for the year. Instead, he's thinking of pulling the plug, and so soon after he won (yet another) Thinking Blogger award. Kevin's been a welcoming presence on the Internet, and in addition to his own wise voice, is giving several other folks a place to display their talents, as well.

So, if you read American Street and you want to keep reading it, please contribute.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Elizabeth Edwards On The State Of Journalism

It's been covered already by Scan at, and now by Crooks And Liars, but this is a terrific essay by someone who, as she put it, had a front-row seat in this Presidential campaign:

Watching the campaign unfold, I saw how the press gravitated toward a narrative template for the campaign, searching out characters as if for a novel: on one side, a self-described 9/11 hero with a colorful personal life, a former senator who had played a president in the movies, a genuine war hero with a stunning wife and an intriguing temperament, and a handsome governor with a beautiful family and a high school sweetheart as his bride. And on the other side, a senator who had been first lady, a young African-American senator with an Ivy League diploma, a Hispanic governor with a self-deprecating sense of humor and even a former senator from the South standing loyally beside his ill wife. Issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template and, therefore, took a back seat to these superficialities.

News is different from other programming on television or other content in print. It is essential to an informed electorate. And an informed electorate is essential to freedom itself. But as long as corporations to which news gathering is not the primary source of income or expertise get to decide what information about the candidates “sells,” we are not functioning as well as we could if we had the engaged, skeptical press we deserve.

Bowling 1, Health Care 0

It's a sad but true fact that journalism in this country, particularly the broadcast form, has reached a low point. If you want to know what's going on in most of the world, you read the foreign press. If you want to know what's going on in this country, you're left with few worthy choices.

In the end, we're only as strong as the debates we can have on the issues before us. With the steady consolidation of the news business into a few entities owned by a very few people, we are in serious danger of being so out of touch with reality that we won't even recognize it when it finally shows up on our doorstep.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Attack Of The Giant Squid

Image credit: National Maritime Museum UK. The caption reads:

Illustration showing giant squid attack, p.275 from Jules Vernes, 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea', First English edition, 1870. F5715-004.

Apparently, the Pacific Northwest has something new to be very afraid of:

WASHINGTON — They aren't your normal calamari. But the jumbo squid now lurking off the Pacific Northwest coast could threaten salmon runs and signal yet another change in the oceans brought on by global warming.

The squid, which can reach seven feet long and weigh up to 110 pounds, are aggressive, thought to hunt in packs and can move at speeds of up to 15 mph. In Mexico, they're known as diablos rojos, or red devils. They reportedly will attack divers when they feel threatened.

'Voracious' jumbo squid invading Pacifc Northwest waters

Despite the lurid headline, the squids seem to be more of a problem for fishermen than anyone else. They're feasting on the local salmon and other fish. Not especially good news for the local economy, but you'd think that everyone in the Northwest was in danger if you just read the headline and the lede.

We'd gone almost half a day without any lurid tales of monster sea creatures attacking people. As they say in the news business:

Dog bites man isn't news. Now, giant sea creature bites man - send a film crew!!

Needless to say, American news organizations have left it to their British counterparts to put things in perspective:

Local MP Ian Cohen has been urging people not to use this as an excuse to attack sharks. He is quoted in ABC local news saying:

“There is nothing more horrifying than a shark attack obviously, but we [need to] look at it and look at the figures and the frequency, I just hope that there is not a reaction to see that people would go out and start slaughtering sharks or support that...

"It happened when Steve Irwin got hit by the stingray - there was a spate of hunting rays.
"There are people who don't think in a broader way. If we vilify the shark as a creature as has happened for so many years, then there is not the pressure to acknowledge the need for conservation of these species."

Australia has one of the world's highest rates of shark attacks but few of them are fatal. The Shark Institute of Australia says sharks have killed 11 people off its shores in 50 years.

Surfer killed in fatal shark attack

More people die in auto accidents in the U.S. every day.

That's our news for you, keeping us afraid of the stuff that hardly ever happens to anyone and ignoring the stuff that kills us all.

UPDATE (Jun. 27): Someone at Pharyngula was kind enough to point me to an article on the sort of squid the article was referring to:

Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) hunt in large numbers along the coasts of both North and South America, from Chile to Baja California. They have occasionally been spotted as far north as San Francisco, but never before in large numbers or over long periods of time. In recent years, mass strandings of Humboldt squid on Southern California beaches have led to speculation that the squid might be expanding their range. This study provides the first scientific records to prove that assertion.
The researchers speculate that, during El Niño years, currents from the south help carry Humboldt squid northward to new feeding areas. However, Humboldt squid are believed to live for only a year or two, and El Niño events occur every three to seven years on the average. Thus, El Niño-related currents alone could not maintain a large population of Humboldt squid in this area.

This may explain why the squid that appeared in 1997 disappeared within a year or two—they came and they ate, but they did not reproduce locally and eventually died out. Since 2002, however, the authors suggest that Humboldt squid have been both feeding and reproducing off Central California.

Humboldt squid on the move

A couple of points emerge once you've read the article. One is that the squid here, while large and potentially dangerous to divers, aren't the huge form of squid mentioned in this news report. True giant squid can grow to be 50 feet (15 meters) in length. The other is that the (re-)emergence of this species may have more to do with overfishing of tuna and other predators that compete with these squid than with climate change.

Friday, April 25, 2008

VA Caught Witholding Information

[Coffins coming back from Iraq in 2004. That's not the only cost of this war that the Administration doesn't want people reminded of, apparently. Image credit: The Guardian UK.]

Senator Patty Murray, D-WA, said yesterday that she thinks the Veterans Administration is vastly understating the numbers of soldier suicides:

The Veterans Administration has lied about the number of veterans who have attempted suicide, Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday, citing internal e-mails that put the number at 12,000 a year while the department was publicly saying it was fewer than 800.

VA Lying About Number Of Veteran Suicides, Senator Charges

To which I can only add: gee, go figure.

It's not like this Administration has ever lied to us about anything else.

Still, a propensity doesn't prove a specific case, so let's look at the basis for Murray's assertion:

The e-mails, uncovered as part of a class-action lawsuit filed against the VA in San Francisco, was reported by CBS News on Monday.

"Our suicide-prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities," Katz wrote in a Feb. 13 e-mail to Ev Chasen, the department's communication director. "Is this something we should [carefully] address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"

Chasen responded: "I think this is something we should discuss among ourselves, before issuing a press release. Is the fact we are stopping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news? And is this more than we have ever seen before?"

Murray: VA lied about vets' suicide attempts

Looks to me like being caught red-handed.

Numerous critics, including Sen. Murray, have been pointing out for some time that the VA is out of its depth when it comes to the mental health of veterans. Last year, CBS News conducted a study of suicide rates of veterans versus the general population. Their conclusions were that veteran suicide rates were at least twice the rate of the general U.S. population in 2004 and 2005. Their conclusion was the 6,250 veterans of various wars had killed themselves in 2005 alone. While some may quibble with some of the study's conclusions, it seems clear that veterans have special mental health needs that aren't being addressed adequately. Ilona Meagher of PTSD Combat points out this quote from an editorial in the Mankato (MN) Free Press:

Many veterans groups have favored the congressional proposals saying the number of veterans entering the VA health system from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan warrants the extra funding. In fact, Congress and the president in the most recent fiscal year boosted VA funding by an “emergency” $3.7 billion appropriation midway through the budget year after seeing tremendous increases in health care costs for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. That figure is close to the increase being proposed by Bush.

Editorial: Veterans funding or permanent tax cuts?

That's about three percent of the most recent "emergency appropriation" for Iraq requested by the Pentagon for the next few months of useless war.

If we spent a small fraction of the money we are spending on destroying Iraq to help these veterans, how much better off would they, and we, be? It's a question worth asking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Bitter Cup For Starbucks

Image credit: (reduced by Cujo359)

This week, Starbucks, the largest coffee chain in this arm of the galaxy, reported that things weren't going so well:

Citing a decline of about 5 percent in sales last quarter, Starbucks projected weaker-than-expected earnings and cut its full-year forecast on Wednesday, sending the company’s stock down nearly 11 percent in after-hours trading.

Pressed by the Economy, Starbucks Lowers Its Forecast

Before I go on, I should make a disclosure:

I don't like their coffee.

Unfortunately, Starbuck's misfortune seems to be tied to larger issues than coffee that can eat through armor plate:

Howard Schultz, the chief executive, called the current economic environment the weakest in the company’s 37-year history, “marked by lower home values, and rising costs for energy, food and other products that are directly impacting our customers.”

Pressed by the Economy, Starbucks Lowers Its Forecast

I don't think he's making excuses. Their coffee's been bitter for a long time. There's no reason to think people have suddenly caught on. Schultz went on to add:

Citing company research and alluding to the increased competition from Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and other fast-food outlets, he said customers were not substituting Starbucks purchases with “coffee products from others.”

Pressed by the Economy, Starbucks Lowers Its Forecast

The lines do seem to be shorter at other coffee shops, so I'm inclined to believe this. I think this also means that there may be fewer busy people out there. If you have an extra few minutes, you can make your own latte at home. One thing's for sure, though - it's not good news about the economy.

Gail Collins On the PA Primary

Gail Collins must have been reading my mind today:

The clamor for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the presidential race has reached new levels of intensity since the Pennsylvania primary. Of all the things Hillary has done, Obama supporters find her tendency to win large elections in swing states as by far the most irritating. If she beats him in Indiana, they’ll be surrounding her house with torches.

Hillary's Smackdown

It's been a long couple of weeks of competing charges of elitism and, well, Ms. Collins continues:

Then out came Chelsea and a pink and glistening Bill Clinton, fresh from that peculiar radio interview in which he referred to a mysterious memo that he said proved the Obama campaign played the “race card” in South Carolina. When asked about it later, he accused the reporter of not caring about the issues.

Hillary's Smackdown

I thought maybe this elitism thing was because the charges of racism and sexism were becoming passe, but it looks like I'm mistaken. Thankfully, Collins can keep this in perspective, too:

If you want to worry about something, worry about the way both of them have been pandering themselves over the edge. There was the dreaded read-my-lips, no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge during the Pennsylvania debate. Then Hillary tried to demonstrate her toughness by announcing she would “obliterate” Iran if it messed with Israel. And when it comes to political piñatas, we’ll always have Nafta. They both went into the tank on agricultural issues back in Iowa, so heaven knows what they’re saving for Indiana. Mandatory use of corn in highway paving materials?

Hillary's Smackdown

I can't wait for the general election, when the pandering goes large.

A Good Sign?

Most of the results (99.44 percent) are in for the Pennsylvania primary, and here are the results as reported in the unofficial count on the PA Department of State's elections page:

CLINTON, HILLARY (DEM) 1,237,696 54.6%
OBAMA, BARACK (DEM) 1,029,672 45.4%

That's as of 11:00 AM PDT. So it looks like it will end up being a 9 percent margin of victory. That's not huge, but she beat the spread. This means nothing's decided yet, which isn't what some folks want to hear.

There was a good sign, though. In the 15th Congressional District, the vote totals looked like this:

15th Congressional District
Democratic Primary

BENNETT, SAM (DEM) 62,600 100.0%

Republican Primary

DENT, CHARLES W. (REP) 23,485 100.0%

Results are here. While neither candidate was opposed, and more Democratic voters could be expected to show up than Republican thanks to the fact that the Republicans had already decided their Presidential primary, this still strikes me as a hopeful sign. Out of a total of 86,000 votes, Democratic challenger (and Slobber and Spittle Blue candidate) Sam Bennett won almost 73 percent of the vote. Eighty-six thousand votes is quite a few votes for a congressional district even in a general election.

If I were in Charles Dent's campaign, I'd be concerned right now. This doesn't prove he's in trouble. I'd bet only half the folks who would have voted for him showed up for this election. This does show that it's not going to be easy for him, though.

You can help replace Dent by contributing to Sam Bennett through Slobber and Spittle Blue.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We Get Letters ...

Image credit:

Actually, I get e-mails from the Democratic Presidential candidates on a regular basis. It's not that I'm special, it's the same e-mails everyone gets who might conceivably give them money. Tonight, of course, they're talking about the Pennsylvania primary. Clinton's campaign writes:

Thanks to you, we won a critically important victory tonight in Pennsylvania. It's a giant step forward that will transform the landscape of the presidential race. And it couldn't have happened without you.

I'll just point out that it really wasn't thanks to me. I'm just on a list. Obama's campaign writes:

Votes are still being counted in Pennsylvania, but one thing is already clear.

In a state where we trailed by more than 25 points just a couple weeks ago, you helped close the gap to a slimmer margin than most thought possible.

Once again, whatever happened here, it wasn't my doing.

Let's just say that I'm loving this contrast in realities here and leave it at that.

Meanwhile, the margin of victory looks to be roughly 10 percent:

CNN: 95% in, 206K lead by Clinton, 10% gap.

State:92.5% in, 203K lead, 9.8% gap.

Looks very very close to double digits, but the CNN official delegate count is still just 52-46 with 60 outstanding still.

VERY close to double digits

To me, there's nothing magical about ten percent. It's a number. It just happens to be the threshold some folks have decided is the difference between Clinton actually winning and just coasting. My opinion is that she's won, but the opinions that really matter are those of the superdelegates, who must decide who looks more electable based on this and other races.

As the Obama campaign has observed, they came from 25 points down. The chart at the top of this article, courtesy of, shows that clearly. It includes polls results through yesterday. What it also shows is that the margin looked closer to many of the polls. This wasn't a light turnout, either. Quite the contrary, according to the New York Times:

Pennsylvania is on its way to the record turnout that election officials have been predicting for weeks, according to poll workers from across the state.

Election officials were reporting extremely heavy voter activity in many of the state’s 67 counties throughout the morning, starting with long lines reported even before the polls opened at 7 a.m.

The Caucus: Heavy Turnout In Pa.

Obama also spent a tremendous amount of money:

Flush with cash, Obama reported spending $11.2 million on television in the state, more than any place else. That compared with $4.8 million for Clinton.

AP: Clinton Grinds Out Victory Over Obama In Pennsylvania

So Clinton beat the expectations, it seems to me.

With primaries left in Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon, this thing isn't over. Nor should it be.

UPDATE: As of 11:45 PDT, it's looking like the unofficial count at Pennsylvania Dept. of State elections page has Clinton ahead 54.3 - 45.7, an 8.6 percent margin. This is a bit closer to the expected result - Pollster's prediction was a 6.6 percent margin. It probably means that the delegate count will not heavily favor Clinton. (h/t cinnamonape at Firedoglake for the link).

On Identities

Image credit:

The Internet's always been a bit of a wild place, where people can lose themselves in strange identities that they can't assume in real life. That's fun and, if not taken too far, healthy. There's a point at which it's no longer fun, though. Today Taylor Marsh wrote this over at her site:

As many know, my name is showing up all over the web. The latest is on a petition to encourage Clinton to "withdraw now." ... As I've said before, but will repeat again, I'm not making comments or signing anything on the web these days. But it's obvious some think I'm so powerful that it's important to have my name show up in all things anti-Clinton. Don't believe it.

All Eyes on Pennsylvania

While I'm sure some people are just poking fun, using someone's identity to post obnoxious, false, or libelous comments isn't a laughing matter. Nearly everyone who has a blog of any size nowadays has an OpenID identity that's assigned by the big blog sites whenever you log into one of them. If someone's logged in, a link to his Blogger, Wordpress, or Typepad identity is placed under his name. If it's not there, assume it's not that person unless I tell you otherwise.

Any comments purporting to be someone they're not will be removed, unless I think it's blindingly obvious that this is what's happening and the purpose is only lighthearted humor.

Happy Earth Day

As the political e-mail is reminding me, it's Earth Day today. Apologies to any dial-up users who may be stopping by today, but this view from the peak at Carlsbad caverns is just too beautiful to reduce it further. Click on it to see it full size, without all the jaggies.

All those plants out there are tough, and they're well adapted to their environment. Yet they're also vulnerable to even small changes in that environment. Let's not change it any more than we have to, OK?

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Proud Puppy, Part II

Image credit:

OK, it's time to stop procrastinating. HopeSpringsATurtle was kind enough to pass on the Excellent Blogger Award, A.K.A. the E for Excellent Award to those who aren't paying close attention. So that's twice someone's done that. Looks like I'd better put the thing up before it happens again.

Before I do, though, I'd like to make a point to those considering creating awards of this type. That point is - there's a thing called exponential growth. Here's how it works:

Suppose you give an award to five people. Then they, in turn, are obligated to give it to five more people. How many people now have the prize? That's easy, it's:

5 + 5 x 5 = 30

Now, each of these five people is obligated to give it to five more. Assuming no repeat prizes, that number is now:

30 + 5 x 5 x 5 = 155

Let's consider that three generations of awardees. Still not bad, right? Now let's look what happens in succeeding generations:

GenerationPopulation (Awards)

Before long, in other words, everybody has one. The problem is even worse when you have to award ten people to accept one.

If you think we're not there already, consider that this blog is read by fewer than fifty people on a regular basis. I've been given two of them - one of them twice.

If I ever create an award, I promise to make you pass it on to no more than two people. That way, by the time we reach the saturation point, everyone will have forgotten who was to blame for starting it in the first place.

Enough complaining, on to the fabulous prizes...

First off, here are the awardees for The Thinking Blogger Award. Shoephone tapped me for this one some time ago. I've had trouble figuring out whom to give it to ever since. That's not because there aren't lots of worthy candidates. There are. It's just that most of them already have one, some are too big for a prize like this, and some of the ones who are on this list don't even know who I am. But, hey, as we say in theatre, without further ado:

  • Colorado Bob - this is probably the oddest award, because it's a site that hasn't been updated in forever, by a guy who called it his "Internet Tombstone". Still, Bob is one of the brightest folks I've run into, and he tells great stories. Go to his site, and read his stories.

  • Sic Semper Tyrannis - Patrick Lang, a former special forces soldier who served in the Middle East for much of his career, runs a site that he calls "A Committee Of Correspondence". He's built up quite a little committee over there, with some really bright people. He did it by offering trenchant, bullshit-free observations about the Middle East, the military, and politics.

  • Folo, Lotus's blog. It's been on the Dickie Scruggs case like a tick on a swaybacked mule ever since it began, and has built an impressive list of contributors and commenters in a short time. She's also interested in Pakistan and other South Asian issues.

  • Screw Loose Change, run by James B. and Pat, this is a terrific resource to send people who are in 9/11 denial. If you think having Colorado Bob's site on this list is strange, maybe this one will seem even stranger. These guys are both conservatives, and they even display that ridiculous "101st FartingFighting Keyboardists" banner. But after reading a post in which Pat wrote (in the comments):

    Oh, debunking911 I certainly know there are folks from both sides who believe in the CT, but it's like the Clinton death list reversed. There were liberal nuts who believed Clinton had Vince Foster murdered, but there were a heck of a lot more conservatives, because they were predisposed to believe the worst of Bill and Hillary. So it is that more of the "Truthers" are going to be liberal; they're predisposed to believe the worst of GWB.

    I realized these guys weren't just idealouges. It's easy to recognize nonsense coming from the other side. When you recognize it from your own, you're a thinker.

  • The American Street - This is Kevin Hayden's blog. It's been around for what, five years now, Kevin? I have tried to avoid giving this to the "big" blogs, but Kevin's been one of the most welcoming folks on the Internet, and he provides some of the wisest political observations out there. If you haven't visited, please start.

The awardees, should they choose to accept this award, must agree to link back to the originator of this prize, and find five other awardees.

Well, that's it for that award. I realize some of the folks on this list don't even know who I am. They might not even want it, and are probably saying "Who are you to be giving this thing to me?". It took me a long time to formulate an answer to that one, but I finally have:

I'm the 250 pound carnivore with sharp teeth and anger-management issues, and I'm feeling a bit peckish. Take your prizes quietly and move along.

We'll be taking a short break before we reveal the winners of the Excellent Blogger Award. Stay tuned.

A Technical Note

I've noticed, through experience at other Blogspot blogs, that if you hit the "publish this comment" link below the comment you're previewing, it won't publish. At least, it doesn't work with my Firefox setup, and I've received complaints about this thing not working for some reason.

To avoid your comment not being published, use the orange "Publish Your Comment" button on the right. That does work. To illustrate:

So, to review, don't hit the link that's crossed out, hit the button that's circled.

Better yet, make sure that your comment has published before you leave for other parts of the Internet. In a month or two, the situation could conceivably be reversed.

No, I don't know why it works this way. I've sent a complaint to the help group.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Expelled: No Idiocy Allowed

[This is the graphic of Expelled Exposed, a website devoted to debunking the movie. Click on it to go there.]

Until a few days ago, I'd been blissfully unaware of a dreadful piece of fictional non-fiction called Exposed: No Intelligence Allowed. The subject of this catchy little title is a documentary film alleging that the academic world has excluded a plucky band of creationists from scientific discussions. They've done this, we are asked to believe, by firing them or not hiring them in the first place at our institutions of higher learning for no reason other than their beliefs.

To this, I have one thing to say, which is that this issue was discussed 150 years ago, and the outcome is where we are now. No one on the creationist side of the debate has added any real content to the debate since then. Dr. Micheal Shermer, a psychologist and the publisher of Skeptic magazine explains:

Intelligent Design Theory is not science. The proof is in the pudding – scientists, including scientists who are Christians, do not use IDT when they do science because the theory offers nothing in the way of testable hypotheses. Lee Anne Chaney, Professor of Biology at Whitworth College, a Christian institution, wrote in a 1995 article in Whitworth Today: “As a Christian, part of my belief system is that God is ultimately responsible. But as a biologist, I need to look at the evidence. Scientifically speaking, I don’t think intelligent design is very helpful because it does not provide things that are refutable—there is no way in the world you can show it’s not true. Drawing inferences about the deity does not seem to me to be the function of science because it’s very subjective.”

Intelligent-design theory lacks, for instance, a hypothesis of the mechanics of the design, something akin to natural selection in evolution. Natural selection can and has been observed and tested, and Charles Darwin’s theory has been refined.

ID theorists admit as much. At a 2002 conference on Intelligent Design, leading ID scholar William Dembski said: “Because of ID’s outstanding success at gaining a cultural hearing, the scientific research part of ID is now lagging behind.”

Not Intelligent, Surely Not Science

As if that weren't enough, the movie features a sequence in which Ben Stein, the movie's narrator, wanders around a Nazi concentration camp to the tune of John Lennon's "Imagine". It equates evolution with atheism, which it in turn equates with nazism, managing a triple play of offensive fallacy in the space of perhaps five minutes. I suspect Stein hasn't committed this many offenses against logic and human decency since his job as Richard Nixon's speech writer disappeared.

It scarcely seems possible, but the movie's producers' case has been further hampered by their behavior during the movie's pre-release publicity. At a sneak preview in Minneapolis, for which he was registered, biologist P.Z. Myers was excluded from attending. Richard Dawkins, one of the best known biologists on the planet, was apparently not recognized before he was allowed to enter. Dawkins takes up the tale:

Now, to the Good Friday Fiasco itself, Mathis' extraordinary and costly lapse of judgment. Just think about it. His entire film is devoted to the notion that American scientists are being hounded and expelled from their jobs because of opinions that they hold. The film works hard at pressing (no, belabouring with a sledgehammer) all the favourite hot buttons of free speech, freedom of thought, the right of dissent, the right to be heard, the right to discuss issues rather than suppress argument. These are the topics that the film sets out to raise, with particular reference to evolution and 'intelligent design' (wittily described by someone as creationism in a cheap tuxedo). In the course of this film, Mathis tricked a number of scientists, including PZ Myers and me, into taking prominent parts in the film, and both of us are handsomely thanked in the closing credits.

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn't immediately leave the premises. Did it not occur to Mathis -- what would occur any normally polite and reasonable person -- that Myers, having played a leading role in the film, might have been welcomed as an honoured guest to watch it? Or, more cynically, did he not know that PZ is one of the country's most popular bloggers, with a notoriously caustic wit, perfectly placed to set the whole internet roaring with delighted and mocking laughter? I long ago realised that Mathis was deceitful. I didn't know he was a bungling incompetent.

Lying for Jesus?

Which I just suppose shows that you're never too old or well educated to learn something new. From exile across the street in an Apple store, Myers wrote this:

I'm still laughing though. You don't know how hilarious this is. Not only is it the extreme hypocrisy of being expelled from their Expelled movie, but there's another layer of amusement. Deep, belly laugh funny. Yeah, I'd be rolling around on the floor right now, if I weren't so dang dignified.

You see ... well, have you ever heard of a sabot? It's a kind of sleeve or lightweight carrier used to surround a piece of munition fired from a gun. It isn't the actually load intended to strike the target, but may even be discarded as it leaves the barrel.

I'm a kind of sabot right now.

They singled me out and evicted me, but they didn't notice my guest. They let him go in escorted by my wife and daughter. I guess they didn't recognize him. My guest was ...

Richard Dawkins.

He's in the theater right now, watching their movie.

Tell me, are you laughing as hard as I am?


[emphasis from original]

This story is confirmed by another witness, Kristine Harley:

The beefy cop patroling the audience at the screening of Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed threw PZ Myers out of the theatre right in front of me!

For a second, Rev. Barky and I thought we'd be thrown out too just because we were talking to him. PZ Myers is interviewed in the film, but in order to see it, according to producer Mark Mathis, he'll have to fork over $10 on April 18.

Expelled From "Expelled"

In addition to displaying their lack of interest in real knowledge, the incident also points up just how difficult it is to engage creationists in an honest conversation. Here's what the movie's producer had to say afterward:

“It is amazing to see the reaction of PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and their cohorts when one of them is simply expelled from a movie. Yet these men applaud when professors throughout the nation are fired from their jobs and permanently excluded from their profession for mentioning Intelligent Design,” said producer Mark Mathis. Mathis was at the event that has raised this controversy.

Mathis continued, “I hope PZ’s experience has helped him see the light. He is distraught because he could not see a movie."

EXPELLED Controversy Top Issue in Blogosphere

Read the Myers quote again. Does that strike you as "distraught"? He thought Mathis was an asshole, and an amusing one at that.

When they were interviewed for the film, Dawkins and others were lied to by the producers about what the show was about:

What? I didn't do any interviews for pro-creation films, and I certainly haven't said that "freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry" aren't part of the university. There must be some mistake.

But then I noticed in the credits for the movie that a certain familiar name is the associate producer, or ass-prod, as I'll henceforth consider him.

[graphic "assprod.gif" here]

Denyse O'Leary also ties Mathis of Rampant Films to this movie, and this page from Expelled uses the same graphic that Rampant Films used for Crossroads. The case is closed: Ben Stein's propaganda film for ID is the one I was interviewed for.

I'm gonna be a MOVIE STAR

Prof. Dawkins adds:

PZ and I had been tricked into participating in Crossroads without ever being told that the true purpose of the film was the one conveyed by the later title Expelled -- the alleged expulsion of creationists from universities. Mathis said that it was common practice for films under production to have working titles, which later change in the final version. That is indeed true. However, yet again, Mathis shows himself up as a willful deceiver.

Lying for Jesus?

Mathis claim was shown to be false by a commenter named Wesley R. Elsberry at a forum on creationism:

Genie Scott pointed out to me that I should check the date that they bought their domain name:

% whois

Registrar: TUCOWS INC.
Whois Server:
Referral URL:
Name Server: NS1.FILMPR.COM
Name Server: NS2.FILMPR.COM
Status: ok
Updated Date: 16-feb-2008
Creation Date: 01-mar-2007
Expiration Date: 01-mar-2009

February 28, 2007 is the very latest they could claim "working title" as an excuse for their ruse.

When did Scott, Dawkins, and Myers get interviewed? April, 2007 for Scott and summer, 2007 for Dawkins. Does someone have Myers' interview date handy? Was it before February 28th? I somehow doubt it.

Antievolution: The Critic's Resource - Topic: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed., Sternberg, Gonzalez, Crocker - A film

According to his blog entry in August, 2007, PZ Meyers was contacted by Mathis by letter in April introducing himself as the prodducer of Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion. Thus, he, too, was given the wrong name after the domain had been purchased.

To make matters worse, they've apparently used "Imagine" without permission.

What is so intellectually dishonest about creationism, you might ask? It's the fact that they really don't explain anything. Science is about posing explanations for how the universe works, and then testing those assumptions. Creationists don't bother with any of that. Amanda Gefter explains by describing her conversation with Mathis at a sneak preview (from which Mathis was sneaking away):

I said that the film spent a lot of time making the point that proponents of evolution can't explain how life arose from non-life, and asked how intelligent design explains it.

It doesn't, he acknowledged. "Then don't you think it's strange that you tried to pin that on the scientists?" I asked.

"Well, it's a real hole in their theory," he said.

"Actually, it's not - the theory of evolution never purported to touch on the issue of how life arose from non-life, it's about how species arose from other species."

I said that in science, criticising someone else's theory doesn't make your theory right, and that the film never bothers to say how intelligent design explains anything at all. He countered that intelligent design says there are things that are too complex to be explained by natural selection.

I asked how ID explains the complexity, but he said, "I don't have time for this," and walked away.

Are ID proponents being silenced?

In short, Mathis' claim is like saying that there's a hole in the classical physics laws of force, momentum, and speed because they don't predict chemical reactions.

The fact is, these folks have nothing to say worth listening to. Once you get past the vitriol, slight of hand, and the victimization, that becomes abundantly clear. If there's anything that this piece of celluloid tripe will add to this debate, it is a clear example of just how true that is.

UPDATE (Apr. 21): I should have mentioned that if you want to see more examples of the mendacity of the producers of this movie, read Kristine's roundup and click on the links. She's also linked to several reviews, none positive as far as I can see.

No Conflict Of Interest Here

Image credit: The New York Times.

The New York Times has published a huge article today concerning the largely successful efforts of the Pentagon to influence public opinion by influencing the retired officers and other military analysts we see trotted out as independent experts by the news:

Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were trifling compared with what [Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Torie] Clarke’s team had in mind. Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. “We didn’t want to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Mr. Meyer said.

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Rather than complain about the “media filter,” each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time, Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be “writing the op-ed” for the war.

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

By way of personal disclosure, I should point out that I'm employed in the defense industry. I should also add that I've encountered at least one of the individuals mentioned in this article, and that I neither like nor respect that individual. I say that only to explain that I could legitimately be accused of having a prejudice here. Sadly, such disclosure has been lacking in the people you see on the TV screen who are considered experts:

Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

In all the time I've seen these folks on TV, I cannot recall a single time that it was pointed out that these folks either worked for defense contractors, consulted for them, or were lobbyists on their behalf. The conflict of interest in such relationships should be obvious. Needless to say, these guys don't see that themselves:

CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one of its main military analysts, [retired Army General James] Marks, was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.

General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed, and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.

“We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN said in a written statement.

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil’s military business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6 billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

There's a term for opinions like Gen. Marks' in the defense industry. We call it "bullshit". He should be familiar with this executive order, which by Joint Ethics Directive DoD 5500.07(PDF) and its predecessors, applies to all government employees, including the military:

"Part I Principles of Ethical Conduct

"Section 101. Principles of Ethical Conduct. To ensure that
every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the
Federal Government, each Federal employee shall respect and adhere to
the fundamental principles of ethical service as implemented in
regulations promulgated under sections 201 and 301 of this order:

"(a) Public service is a public trust. requiring employees to
place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles
above private gain.

"(b) Employees shall not hold financial interests that conflict
with the conscientious performance of duty.

Executive Order 12674 of April 12, 1989 (as modified by E.O. 12731)

[emphasis mine]

Every government employee is made aware of these obligations, and nearly everyone who works for a defense contractor is made aware of them, as well. There's a reason they are there. These people aren't public employees any longer, but they should all be aware of why these rules exist.

To their credit, a couple of the subjects of this article have at least had regrets:

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

I know how you feel, Ken. So does just about everyone who's in Iraq right now, not to mention a couple of million people who've escaped.

The potential conflict of interest in being someone who is both supporting a war and representing companies who are profiting from it is obvious, it would seem, to anyone except the people who are alleged to be experts, and the news channels that hire them:

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said.

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

In short, "We're journalists for cryin' out loud. You can't expect us to ask people questions!"

That's the other thing that's wrong about this - the news, including Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and others have neither investigated, nor disclosed the relationships that these analysts have with the defense industry. When they were caught at it, CNN's response was basically "Oops. Sorry." I have to laugh whenever a journalist at one of these places accuses blogs of being biased and unprofessional. At least we have the excuse of not being professionals.

The scope of the Pentagon's effort is breathtaking. An assistant SecDef was apparently occupied with this task for much of her tenure. They set up a separate office expressly for this purpose:

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

Much of what has gone on may still be hidden, but what the NYT was able to unearth indicates an extensive effort:

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

If someone ever totals up the cost of this operation, I'm sure it will run into the tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps I should say the "direct" costs, since the actual cost in bad policy decisions is incalculable.

This article underscores the pitiful level of professionalism in American broadcast journalism, and the extent to which this Administration has gone to spin the news in the interest of its dubious policies. It also shows how pervasive the defense industry is in shaping the opinions that affect it. These relationships have brought us into a war that has been ruinous for Iraq and may end up being the same for us.

We can't afford this any longer.

UPDATE: Patrick Lang, who sometimes appears on PBS as a military analyst, has this to say:

Yes, and those who did not "play ball" were systematically excluded from access by the Pentagon. The MSM picked up those cues (presumably transmitted by the Administration) and stopped talking to many of the best people.

I was invited to one briefing at the Pentagon. At the meeting, many of those mentioned in this article were present. The purpose of the meeting was to give Rumsfeld the chance to explain the Abu Ghraib mess.

I asked some awkward questions and was not invited again.

They did not Drink the Koolaid?

Lang's been one of the honest ones, and well worth listening to even if you end up disagreeing with him. It's sad that such voices were quickly left out of the discussion.

UPDATE 2: Over at Firedoglake, bmaz makes an interesting point:

Since 1951, Congress has enacted an annual, government wide prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for purposes of "publicity or propaganda." For instance, in 2005, the prohibition stated:

No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, Pub. L. No. 108-447, div. G, title II, 624, 118 Stat. 2809, 3278 (Dec. 8, 2004). (The language of the prohibition has remained virtually unchanged since 1951.)

All of these ginned up propaganda programs started hitting the public consciousness in 2005, causing a public outcry and Congressional calls for an investigation, which was undertaken by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO issued a formal report in February 2005 indicating that the Bush Administration efforts to shape the news via the prepackaged video news releases were inappropriate.

The Pentagon’s Media Analyst Domestic Psy-Ops Program: Is It Legal?

"Interesting" might seem like an understatement, until you realize that this Administration has broken far more serious laws, and Congress has no interest in enforcing them.

Friday, April 18, 2008

There's Courage Under Fire, Then There's Us ...

[How it should be - Liberty standing tall in the face of terrorism, not running around in a panic. Image credit: National Park Service]

Via Christy, Kung Fu Monkey puts our times in perspective [emphasis and bold from original]:

I am just not going to wet my pants every time some guys get arrested in a terror plot. I will do my best to stay informed. I will support the necessary law enforcement agencies. I will take whatever reasonable precautions seem, um, reasonable. But I will not be terrorized. I assume that the terror-ists would like me to be terror-ized, as that is what is says on their nametag, rather than, say, wanting me to surrender to ennui or negative body image, and they're just coming the long way around.

Wait, Aren't You Scared?

A little caution and even a bit of fear might be a good thing. Blinding, panicky, wet-your-pants-as-you-throw-your-civil-rights-in-their-path fear isn't:

I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations -- "Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don't have the stones to face that fact head-on!" -- who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

Wait, Aren't You Scared?

The irony is so thick these days it's tough to see through it.

How do all those folks with those big stones measure up against figures from our past?

Maybe it's just, I cast my eyes back on the last century ...

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

... and I'm just a little tired of being on the wrong side of that historical arc.

Wait, Aren't You Scared?

Me, too. Last September I was trying to write an essay like this and just couldn't stand it. It's too painful to contemplate what a fear-plagued, panic-stricken country we've become. As Kung Fu Monkey claims to be, I'm not very brave, and I'm certainly not fearless. Yet I see through this without difficulty. Why can't the rest of the country?

To tell you the truth, I think I know the answer to that one.

UPDATE: Via Eli, Democracy Arsenal writes:

Here is the title of a report from(PDF) the Government Accountability Office on combating terrorism released today:

The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

That is not some line buried in the report. That is the title.

GAO Slams Bush on Terrorism - says Al Qaeda attack likely and we have no plan

Frightened and panicky is just the way our politicians like us, I think.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Judiciary Committee Releases Report On Politically Motivated Prosecutions

Salem Witch Hunt

[Artist's conception of the Salem Witch Trials. Image credit: Knowledge News]

Lotus has written today about the release of the House Judiciary Committee's report on selective prosecutions by the Justice Department under President Bush. Here are a couple of choice quotes from that report's summary, with emphasis added:

There is extensive evidence that the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman was directed or promoted by Washington officials, likely including former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Advisor to the President Karl Rove, and that political considerations influenced the decision to bring charges. Several witnesses have corroborated testimony before two Judiciary Subcommittees that the investigation against Governor Siegelman was “coming to a close” without charges until Washington officials directed local prosecutors to go back over the matter from top to bottom, and that decisions regarding the Siegelman case were being made at the very highest levels of the Administration. That testimony in turn corroborates the sworn statements of a Republican attorney that the son of the Republican Governor of Alabama told her that Karl Rove had pressed the Department to bring charges. The issue of the involvement of Mr. Rove or others at the White House in the Siegelman case remains an important open question.

There is also significant evidence of selective prosecution in the Siegelman case. Department investigators pursued leads relating to Governor Siegelman but appear to have ignored similar leads involving similar conduct by Republican politicians.

Allegations of Selective Prosecution in Our Federal Criminal Justice System

The U.S. Attorneys in Alabama appear to have been pikers compared to their counterparts in Western Pennsylvania:

The prosecution of Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht by politically-connected U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan continues to raise concern about selective prosecution. Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh powerfully described for two Judiciary Subcommittees his view that both the charges and the conduct of the prosecution reveal it, like other Pennsylvania cases he described, to be an “apparent political prosecution” and one that was “undertaken for political reasons as opposed to being done to serve the interests of justice.” After a two-month trial, a Pennsylvania jury recently failed to convict Dr. Wecht on any charges and, after the judge declared a mistrial, juror interviews revealed that “the majority of the jury thought he was innocent.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also stated its concerns about the matter, editorializing that the case “added up to a big zero” and that it would be a “travesty” for the prosecution to continue, concerns echoed by a group of local Republicans and Democrats who recently wrote the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney Buchanan urging that plans to retry Dr. Wecht be reconsidered. The jury foreman observed that “as the case went on, my thoughts were that this was being politically driven.” And news that FBI agents were contacting members of the Wecht jury only further raised alarm.

Allegations of Selective Prosecution in Our Federal Criminal Justice System

Those of you who followed the Scooter Libby trial should recognize a significant problem with the emphasized phrases above. In the Libby case, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, even though he was opposed by some of the most able attorneys money could buy, managed to gain convictions on some subtle charges in a complicated case. In the Wecht case, the government is attempting to retry even though it's pretty clear they weren't going to get a conviction the first time. Paul Kiel explains:

The government's case relied on charges that Wecht had used resources from his coroner office for his private practice. Most of the counts of wire fraud against Wecht related to his use of county fax machines ($3.96 worth, his lawyers say) for his personal business. He was also charged with improperly billing the county for gasoline and mileage costs -- for a total of $1,778.55, his lawyers say.

Allegedly Political Prosecution Ends in Hung Jury

Two grand or so worth of fraud triggers a two-year federal case, and now they want to go to the expense of another trial. What could motivate the U.S. Attorney to pursue such a case? Former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburg, suggested that this was a case that should have been handled by an ethics panel. I certainly agree with that assessment, as do at least a couple of prominent Pennsylvania Republicans.

Moving on to Mississippi, the report continues:

Charges against a group of judges and a practicing attorney in Mississippi arising out of what appear to be relatively common campaign fundraising practices raise similar issues of selective prosecution. A Republican-connected attorney who appears to have engaged in similar conduct was not indicted by this U.S. Attorney, further raising concerns about the possibility of selective prosecution.

Allegations of Selective Prosecution in Our Federal Criminal Justice System

This case looks a bit more circumstantial, and the accusations hinge partly on the fact that Dickie Scruggs, a prominent Mississippi attorney and brother in law of Senator Trent Lott, the former Republican majority leader, was not prosecuted for similar behavior. Unfortunately, given the preceding cases and the general level of apparent political influence in this Department of Justice, it certainly is worth further investigation.

Whether more investigation will be possible remains to be seen. The Justice Department has refused to release any more data than were available publicly already.

There is one ray of sunshine, though. The Judiciary Committee has announced that it will be issuing a subpoena for Karl Rove to testify about his involvement in Gov. Siegelman's prosecution.

UPDATE (Apr. 18): I've noticed in the comments on Lotus's article on this subject that there's a tendency to punch a strawman, which is that the report alleges that the people prosecuted weren't guilty of something. In the case of Cyril Wecht, I think he was clearly guilty of some questionable judgement, and may have committed the sort of fraud that would normally result in restitution or some similar punishment. Siegelman's case I'm less familiar with, but the apparent intervention of Karl Rove in a case that the local U.S. Attorney was seemingly willing to drop is the issue there. In the case of Judge Diaz, the government brought two weak cases against a sitting judge:

In addition, Justice Diaz never heard any cases involving Mr. Minor’s clients nor did he vote on any cases involving Mr. Minor. On those facts, the decision to indict Justice Diaz appears questionable at best, as confirmed by his acquittal. In fact, upon Justice Diaz’ acquittal of the corruption charges, Dunn Lampton was quoted as saying: “I knew we would have a problem on [prosecuting] Diaz because he didn’t vote on anything.”166 Regardless, U.S. Attorney Lampton appears to remain undeterred in his pursuit of a federal conviction of Justice Diaz. Three days after the acquittal, Mr. Lampton announced a second federal indictment of Justice Diaz, this time claiming that the campaign loans amounted to personal income that Justice Diaz had not properly reported. Justice Diaz was acquitted of that charge as well, after the jury deliberated on fifteen minutes. And in current comments, Mr. Lampton has hinted at yet more to come: “There are
other things I am aware of regarding Justice Diaz that caused me to refrain from commenting further on [the weakness of the prior cases], but it will come out later, and you’ll see. . . . I believe there was sufficient evidence to convict him, but maybe not for what he was charged.”

Allegations of Selective Prosecution in Our Federal Criminal Justice System

Two weak cases are followed by an inappropriate statement about future prosecutions.

On the subject of Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht, the report makes this point:
It has been contended that Dr. Wecht’s case is indicative of other prosecutions in the Western District of Pennsylvania. Since beginning her tenure as U.S. Attorney in the Western District in 2001, [Mary Beth] Buchanan has apparently never brought corruption charges against a Republican official, and has only prosecuted officeholders who are Democrats. In addition to Dr. Wecht, Ms. Buchanan conducted highly visible grand jury investigations during the run-up to the 2006 elections of Tom Murphy, former Democratic Mayor of Pittsburgh, and Peter DeFazio, the former Democratic Sheriff of Allegheny County. During the same period, Ms. Buchanan did not bring a single charge against any Republican, including declining to prosecute former Republican Senator Rick Santorum for allegedly defrauding a local community by claiming residency when he and his family resided in Virginia.

Allegations of Selective Prosecution in Our Federal Criminal Justice System

Ms. Buchanan spent a lot of money to prosecute a weak case for a penny-ante "crime" against a Democratic politician, but refused to prosecute a U.S. Senator for apparently lying about his residence. It's possible there's a good explanation for the latter decision, but I can't think of one for the former.

You have to wonder what was on the minds of these USA's if it wasn't politics.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hypocritical Wanker of the Day Award: Rahm Emmanuel

Image credit: UNHCR [These are Iraqi refugees. Apparently, Rahm Emmanuel doesn't think they're trying hard enough.]

It took almost six months, but someone finally managed to knock Clear Channel off their perch ...

Rahm Emmanuel, as quoted by the Washington Post:

We've put about $45 billion into Iraq's reconstruction . . . and they have not spent their own resources," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). "They have got to have some skin in the game."

Bush to Cut Army Tours to 12 Months

This turd has been one of the leading cheerleaders for this war on the Democratic side. Given the utter absurdity of this conflict, I suppose I should expect nothing more out of him. Unfortunately, he still walks upright, so I do.

I'll just quote someone else for a moment, with some expository links added:

So this is a game? Over a million Iraqis dead, 4-5 million refugees? How much skin does Rahm think Iraqis should put up for his war? Does he wish more Iraqi children to die?
Now the U.S. Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, want Iraqi's to pay for the bullets that kill them.

Monsters in Congress - "Skin in the Game"

Now, I'll quote me:

Nevertheless, a pattern is obvious. Since the war began, refugee influx to the most likely destination countries, particularly the United States, has slowed to a trickle. If anything, it should have changed by orders of magnitude in the opposite direction given the number of refugees the war has created.

Iraq's Refugees

I suggest that if Rahmy wants more skin in this game, maybe he should set a good example. Fight to have more refugees resettled here, instead of fewer.

Bet he doesn't have the courage to do less than he expects Iraqis to do.

UPDATE (Apr. 16): Added illustration and caption.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Understand Where I Am

[I suppose there are a thousand more appropriate images for this topic, but somehow a black and white cat in a sink is as confrontational as I feel like being. The cat's black and white, get it? ;)]

At least, I usually understand where I am on my good days ...

A few months ago, Natasha over at Pacific Views linked to a wonderful essay on race relations in the late Twentieth Century. In a conversation with a close relative tonight, I couldn't recall its name. So, I decided to write about it if only because I don't want to forget how to find it again.

It was written not long after the Jena Six incident, in which black and white teenagers fought over who had the right to sit under a tree in a schoolyard. The white kids hung nooses from the tree one day, which as you might imagine, didn't go over well with the black kids. This prompted Lower Manhattanite to write an essay about his experiences as a young man visiting North Carolina:

It is, “par for the course”. The tale of Jena reminded me of an incident that took place in my family some 14 years ago. It was a simple family a small southern town. A tiny place in the extreme southernmost end of North Carolina. So small, that the town didn't have a McDonald's—just an outlet of an odd chicken sandwich chain called “Skats”. My family descended on that little town—some 220 of us, totally juicing the hamlet's economy, while sending the town into a tizzy. We emptied the ATM at the bank and the Food Lion supermarket the Friday afternoon we all arrived. Skats ran out of peach shakes—the only flavor they had. Filled every hotel room—doubling up in quite a few. My family came from wherever they had been flung. But these places were mostly northern cities. Philly. Boston. Chicago, et al. Those who came “home” were thousands of miles away physically in most cases—psychologically in almost all.

My mother and father, both of this little two-stoplight town, were also far removed from the mores of the Jim Crow south of their youths, as were many of the adults, but not so far that the rattle of the junebugs, the sound of the freight trains's horn as it signalled its thrice daily bi-secting of “town”, and yes...the spectre of institutionalized, fist-to-the-gut racism was in any way forgotten.

You see, once the bulk of the family arrived, a huge meeting was held in the town square, honoring my family, and giving the reunion's organizers the chance to kill two birds with one stone—taking the opportunity while everyone was together to pass out info on what was happening that special weekend. There would be the big barbecue on the grounds of the local high school, the tour of places in town reknowned in family “legend”, a trip to the cemetery to honor the ancestors, and of course, the big Sunday breakfast before the church service we were all “ahem!”, expected to attend.

But one thing in the information packet began to start a buzz among the present.

There was a note about the local nightspots. Namely, that there were none. Save for the juke joint down the road a piece across from the “Fish Shack”, and of course, the few spots some 35 minutes away in Wilmington. But one of the note's points of interest got some of the young people going. It stated, that after 8:00 P.M., NO ONE WAS TO GO DOWN ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS, PAST THE GREEN HOUSE (an actual green-colored house), AS THAT WAS THE DEMARCATION LINE BETWEEN FREE-GOING COUNTRY, AND KLAN TERRITORY.

Do you understand where you are?

Just to emphasize, this is the mid-1990's we're talking about. Yet there was still a klan territory in this town. As you might expect, a few of those at the reunion decided to test the veracity of that warning - they went across the tracks and were shot at by the local bigots. The family had a meeting, at which their crazy uncle set them straight:

And then my Uncle R. The supposedly “crazy” Uncle R. (mentioned in comments in Jesse's “Genius” post) stood up, towering in his crisp overalls and bright red work shirt—and brought his frying pan-sized hand down suddenly on a table, and it boomed like a grenade in the lunchroom, stopping us all dead in our tracks.

He thundered, “Ya'll have no clue do you? No clue at all! I read the papers—I hear about what goes on up north. Cops shootin' you down every God-blessed day, but that's okay! That's fine! And then you all come down here, thinkin' everything is fine and mellow. You haven't a care in the world. And you leave your brains at home and forget the simplest things. Do you have the common sense that God gave a gnat? Do you understand where-you-are?

The room fell silent. He looked around at the assembled and repeated it.

“Do you understand...where-you-are? He took a breath. “Where we are?”

We all knew what he meant. That where we all had come from—those four corners of the world were not much different. That we had our own silent codes we had to live under. And that in our descending on Tiny Town, N.C., we had forgotten about that place's awful, and indelible codes and behavior because of race. How in this day and age, flouting those codes was still in many ways a potentially dangerous thing. And that we needed to realize that.

Do you understand where you are?

If you haven't read this essay, please click on the links and do. If you're a white person living in this country, it's likely to be an eye-opener.

My own experiences with prejudice have been nowhere near as dreadful, but they at least help me imagine what it's like for ethnic minorities here. Part of that experience is being an atheist in America. We're probably the most openly despised group in America. One recent American President has said openly that he doesn't think we qualify as citizens. I've put up with a lifetime of condescension, put-downs, and people trying to convert me, because I just don't understand. I've been told that just because of my religious (non)beliefs, I must be amoral, full of myself, and well deserving of going to a place where people are on fire for eternity. One pathetic bigot even told me that he thought I should be grateful that police and fire services were there to protect my sorry ass.

But at least I can avoid this issue by not discussing religion, should I choose.

The other experience was many years ago when I spent a few months working in Korea. I met lots of wonderful people over there, and I don't think that Koreans have anything to be ashamed of relative to other countries in how they treat foreigners. If you respect them and their society, they'll treat you well. There were more than a few times when I wandered through Korean cities when I was the only white guy, and probably the only foreigner, for blocks. I never felt safer. Even there, though, I'd encounter people who wouldn't do more than stare at me as though I didn't belong there. I was big, pale, had a big nose and round eyes, and so I was strange looking and a little scary. They wouldn't have thought of me as a Korean even if I'd spoken fluent Korean, had Korean citizenship, and knew where all the best restaurants were.

Now, try to imagine being treated that way in your own country.

A few months ago I was watching a college football game. The announcers, who both sounded white, got into a discussion about Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback. He had made a comment that some of the criticism against him might have been related to the fact that he was black. The announcers agreed that racism wasn't necessary to explain unfair criticism - quarterbacks are often unfairly criticized.

While this is certainly true, I think they overlooked something. I'll bet you that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two highly-rated white quarterbacks, have never in their lives heard the phrase "Go back to Europe, Honky!" yelled at them. If they had, they probably would have laughed. I'm also quite sure that McNabb has heard the corresponding phrase yelled at him, possibly even at his home stadium. I bet he didn't think it was funny. Nor have Brady and Manning had to listen to someone on a national TV broadcast suggest that they were rated more highly because they were white.

So, I can't blame McNabb for wondering.

We think we've come a long way, and in some respects we have. When I was in elementary school there were still places in the South that had separate facilities for "colored" people. Today, open discrimination is mostly a thing of the past, and can often be rectified if it is encountered. We still have a long way to go, however. If you think it's no different being a minority in this country, you've never spent any real time as one. I'd suggest spending a few months in Asia as a big, funny looking pale person, or a few months in Africa as a little, funny looking pale person. Or spend a few months pretending to your friends and relatives that you've converted to atheism. Then get back to me. While the Jeremiah Wrights of this country are certainly annoying and the sort of hateful rhetoric they spew isn't helpful for making race relations better, the anger behind it is understandable.

Some things are hard to swallow, even when you have a lifetime of practice.

That's why on the good days, I usually understand where I am. I understand even better on the bad days.