The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
CJR checks out the Chalabi media shit list
It's pretty much After the Lord Mayor's Show to the power of several zillion. But completeness demands a mention of a piece in the July/August issue (written when, I wonder?) by Douglas McCollam (related links at the indispensable Romenesko).
He looks at the list (Knight Ridder March 15) published by the Information Collection Program (ICP) - an emanation of the Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress - of 108 articles supposedly wholly or partly sourced by the ICP; and talks to some of the hacks who begot them.
Useful background, but nothing staggering.
Several hacks pleaded that, whilst they had used ICP material, they had nevertheless flagged up the fact that sources had been supplied by the INC, and left it to the reader or viewer to judge.
Which, of course, poses a variation on the Andrew Gilligan/45 minute question: in presenting a third party allegation, how far is a news organisation to be deemed to be making that allegation itself?
However caveated, the mere fact that a 'reputable' media outlet puts out a story is bound to lend credibility to that story. The suspicion is raised that the journos have undisclosed sources of information by which they have checked that the information is basically kosher.
And, even where a story is broken in an amply caveated article, the echo chamber usually tends to water down or omit such shilly-shallying, and furnish only the red meat .
The questions arising that bother me most McCollam doesn't really deal with. Chalabi lies and cheats to become leader of his country: and US pols don't do likewise? Journos cream their jeans over cloak-and-dagger scoops, and think some caveat sprinkles cover their asses ethics-wise: so what is new?
It's the editors' role in the whole sorry business that needs much more attention: well before the war - perhaps from the mid-1990s - editors of the top papers will have known or suspected that Chalabi was a crook. So, in waving through INC-sourced pieces, they were not dupes but turning a Nelson's eye to their dubious foundations.
Many may not have sought the invasion of Iraq as Hearst sought the Spanish-American War; but the benefits of going along with an administration hell-bent on war were, I suspect, deemed well worth the risk of Chalabi's material proving a bust. (For the propensity of the media at the time to go along, one might take the infamous March 6 2003 Bush presser.)
And what, exactly, has been the cost of going along? A loss of circulation? Cut-backs in advertising? One might compare, say, the truly abject New York Times with the somewhat more assertive Washington Post : has the Times suffered for its (relative) cowardice ?
My guess is that analysis would struggle to falsify the null hypothesis at the 95% level: if Times indicators have dipped, showing correlation, let alone causation, with its kow-tow to the administration, with so many confounding factors, would surely be next to impossible.
No one has resigned; Judith Miller has yet to be transferred to the obituaries section; Jack Shafer, yours truly, old uncle Dan Okrent and all have huffed and puffed; and the caravan has moved on.
Besides, there's a definite fin de régime feel to things in Washington (so far as one can determine from 3,000 miles away): with President Kerry it would, to an extent, be Year Zero, Morning in America, the Late Unpleasantness grandfathered if not forgotten. With a second term Bush, a wholesale change of personnel - and a marked reluctance to invade the bejasus out of the lesser breeds - would secure a similar drawing of the line.
There is something of a parallel, perhaps, with the mood on the Clinton impeachment after the event: with folks on both sides of the aisle ecstatic that the lunacy was finally over, with no desire for inquests .
The awful truth is that, in general, the current Siamese twin relationship between the media and the Administration works well for both sides. Separating Siamese twins is often a tricky business, where a number of organs are shared; independence is, of course, preferable - on the ground of human dignity alone. But twins as interconnected as the hacks and the pols?
The desire of a new administration to start a fresh page with the media put me in mind of a line from Flanders and Swann's At The Drop of Another Hat, their second show, from c1963, happily transcribed online . The pair have been touring in America:
I must say, wandering around..., things have come to a pretty underpass here in England while we've been away. It's small wonder to us that satire squats, hoof in mouth, under every bush. The purpose of satire, it has been rightfully said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cozy half-truth, and our job, as I see it, is to put it back again.
I recommend this site to social historians and others interested in plunging a thermometer into the rectum of mid-20th century English life.
The challenge is to footnote the references and allusions. For example, the reference to satire would be explained by online ferreting for (as a start) Beyond the Fringe, Private Eye, the Establishment Club and That Was The Week That Was.
(The site also has the lyrics and - vital! - the introductions to the songs for both At the Drop of a Hat and its sequel.)
Whatever happened to the House ethics truce story?
After the initial flurry of activity following Rep Chris Bell's complaint to the House Standards Committee about certain activities of Majority Leader Tom DeLay (June 23), I did a little mooching around the subject in search of some House Ethics 101 paper in which the history of the last couple of decades were neatly set out and analysed. No sich animule.
Such variegated characters as Dan Rostenkowski, Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich fill out the cast list; but sorting the story out was clearly going to be a job of work. So the caravan has moved on.
Referring to the Poor Man's Nexis for "ethics truce" out of curiosity, I see the only piece noted since June 23 is a diatribe from Rep John Carter, DeLay's colleague from the 31st District.
Now, the rules of the media game require that a story does not remain news unless elected representatives keep saying stuff about it. And, evidently, the Democratic leadership (Oxymoron Corner!), Comstock Nancy Pelosi and all, have been keeping mum, rather than acting as Ikettes for Bell.
Skeletons in the Dem cupboard? Surely not...
Kerry plays three card monte with Tommy Nee
For a man who aspires to the mantle of Most Powerful Man in the World, influencing the destiny of billions, to dicker with the leader of three jumbo-jet-fuls of bolshie Boston cops  would, of itself, show an unflattering descent into street-corner politics à la Charles Murphy.
According to Brian McGrory in the Globe (June 29),
Kerry aides were hoping that a deal in principle had been struck: Kerry's withdrawal from yesterday's speech in exchange for a police promise not to picket the convention.
It would be sordid enough for Kerry to welsh on an engagement to speak to 200 elected representatives as the price for Nee keeping his goons away from Convention delegates and the frames of news cameras.
However, it seems that Nee got the better of the presumptive candidate. According to Jim Barry, an official of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, at least:
Police won't picket the FleetCenter the night of Kerry's acceptance speech or any other night, Barry said, largely because there's no good venue. But they will picket delegate hotels through the week and urge people to boycott Menino's welcoming speech. They'll picket at every kickoff party that Menino attends, fortified with officers from New York, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. They're planning a rally on City Hall Plaza on convention Monday.
(The cops found no difficulty finding good spots to picket when their targets were construction workers contracted to fit the FleetCenter out for the Convention...)
It is just possible, surely, that the odd news crew might station themselves outside one of those delegate hotels in the hope of some rough stuff. And Menino might be a little testy with picketers, in the circumstances.
Meanwhile, back with the Convention, it's a yawnfest. And those cable news shows have acres of airtime to fill . Which footage do you show -
(Added to this will be the general chaos that the Convention is liable to inflict on the centre of the city.)
So far as I can tell, the Kerry grovel looks a pretty poor deal all round .
Meanwhile Mitt Romney, filling Kerry's shoes at the mayor's conference, supplies a line which may well come in handy in the campaign:
A mayor, a governor, and a president have a responsibility for making tough decisions and balancing budgets; a senator doesn't.
A great deal of the material that misleadingly feeds the flip flop nonsense arises from Kerry's activity in the Senate - procedural votes, technical measures. But his lack of executive experience is a genuine point against him; and, with the Boston cops fiasco, Kerry has just given a neat illustration of his indecisiveness and lack of accountability.
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
First Amendment not greatly cherished?
A case of
a prophet hath no honour in his own country- up to a point.
A survey of attitudes to the First Amendment shows underwhelming enthusiasm for the jewel in the crown of the American political system.
I'm not sure how much reliance to place on the survey. For instance, Question 3 asks
Even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, government has placed some restrictions on it. Overall, do you think Americans have too much press freedom, too little press freedom, or is the amount of press freedom about right?
The results: 36/17/46.
Question 4 asks
Overall, do you think the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, too little freedom to do what it wants, or is the amount of freedom the press has about right?
Here, the percentages are 42/12/44.
And Question 20:
Some people believe that the media has too much freedom to publish whatever it wants. Others believe there is too much government censorship.Of those polled, 49% agreed with the former sentiment; 34% with the latter.
On personal speech - as opposed to freedom of the press - Joe Public is much more critical: asked (Q5)
do you think Americans have too much freedom to speak freely, too little freedom to speak freely, or is the amount of freedom to speak freely about right?the results are 11/28/60.
But soon flips to kow-tow when asked (Q9) for his views (Strongly, mildly agree; Strongly, mildly disagree) on
People should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to racial groups.which yields 17/18/14/49.
(Same question substituting religious for racial (Q7) produces a slim majority in favour of free speech: 30/24/13/31.)
The freedom to say inoffensive things is no freedom at all, of course: disturbing proportion of the American public seem to believe in precisely that sort of freedom.
Questions of broadcast censorship produce equally heartsink answers: for instance, to
Government officials should have the power to regulate during the morning, afternoon and early evening hours those cable television programs that contain references to sexual activity.the percentages for Strongly, mildly agree; Strongly, mildly disagree are 31/24/15/27.
Same question for late night: 23/24/19/34.
At the moment, there is no censorship of cable TV. Are the Congressional Comstocks (John Kerry amongst them) taking notice? You bet your sweet bippy!
The trends seem to be mixed, too. For instance, on Q20, the too much media freedom number is the worst for years 2001 (41%) and on; and to Q3 and Q4, the too much freedom answers maxed out in 2000 (no 9/11 effect evident).
But, to all questions, there is a persistent bedrock of opposition to freedom of speech in any form.
Perhaps these are folks who've savoured the WMD reports of Judith Miller, Presidential pressers, embedded reporting from Iraq and the like and decided that, if that's what American freedom of speech brings, it's not worth a Vice President's fuck.
An insight into plagiarism
A piece in the Romenesko Forums by one Bruce Bartlett (6/29/2004 3:57:36 PM) connects some dots fairly persuasively. He fingers as a contributory factor
the methodology of the news business, which puts a premium on "reporting," by which I mean the publication or broadcast of original information that has not appeared in print or on air elsewhere. All reporters are pressured to get "scoops."
The paradigm of the scoop would be a story that no other outlet had got hold of. The reality is that, for most journos, such stories are very much the exception. But - and is this some bizarre extension of the Frontier Mentality, the notion of a limitless tract of terra nullius open to the homesteader who stakes his claim? - the journo has to behave as if he is broaching virgin territory, even if he's part of a hundred-strong press pack.
reporters are loath to admit that someone else got there first. So when they are beaten to the punch, they only grudgingly will cite another paper as the original source. Instead, they will call the person or organization that made the news and ask all the same questions all over again, and then write a story completely ignoring the earlier publication. Since they talked directly to the source, reporters can pretend that they did "reporting." Very, very seldom are significant new details uncovered this way. More often than not, they just end up with quotes that are worded slightly differently.
He points out an allied problem with opinion polling:
Since they are loath to mention polls by competing organizations, the result is that the same exact questions get asked every day. This almost never yields useful information since there is inevitable noise in polling that causes results to differ even when the underlying facts have not changed. As a consequence, polls are almost never used to ask interesting new questions that would yield genuinely new information. Instead, we get the same presidential approval numbers day after day that tell us virtually nothing.
He suggests 
If reporters behaved more like academics, who love to cite their sources, they would be more willing to acknowledge where they got information, instead of pretending that they uncovered it themselves.
Bloggers do it: why not regular journalists?
This is, I fear, on a par with old Dan Okrent's plea last Sunday (June 28) for a self-denying ordinance on anonymous quotes: a thoroughly sound idea with no chance of realisation.
Warmongering in Congress over North Korea?
Before the Iraq invasion, we got the Iraq Liberation Act - signed by Clinton in 1998. We have a similar act for Syria.
And now North Korea. A cast list of the North Korea hawks and their activities in Congress comes from Better Angels; also links to expert commentary on the issue.
We have S 1903 from Sam Brownback and HR 4011 from James Leach. S1903 hasn't moved since being referred to the Judiciary Committee on November 20 2003; HR4011 has already been reported out by the International Relations Committee, referred to Judiciary where it has an extension to July 6 for consideration.
No indication whether either house has put similar measures to a vote, or, if so, with what result. And time is tight - even with a lame duck session; but, as with FCC censorship (June 26), the threat of riders persists.
As I understand it - and, no doubt, to oversimplify - the thrust of the bills is provocation: we get in the Dear Leader's face - by propaganda broadcasting, encouraging refugees to leave, etc - and he overreacts, thus providing us with a casus belli. Boom goes Pyongyang - although the fact that Seoul will inevitably have gone boom beforehand means the South Koreans are less than keen on the project.
One to watch, clearly.
Congress 23 legislative days left
According to the Toledo Blade yesterday, at least. And I'm assuming that doesn't include a lame duck session (my piece of June 17).
A messy win in Ashcroft v ACLU
[Following up June 28 piece.]
From an initial read-through, the Supreme Court decision in the net smut case (PDF) is deeply unsatisfactory from all viewpoints - except for the fact that the wretched law continues to be injuncted.
The majority take the narrowest possible view that secures keeping COPA in the deep-freeze: the government has failed to establish that the district judge abused his discretion in granting a preliminary injunction.
And the comprehensive constitutionality analysis of the Third Circuit is shoved to one side:
The Government has failed, at this point, to rebut the plaintiffs' contention that there are plausible less restrictive alternatives to the statute.
Rather than rule on, say, the vexed issue of community standards, the opinion of the court (from Justice Kennedy) fixes on technology: in particular, on the availability of blocking and filtering software. If the government could achieve a better result of protecting minors from smut by encouraging the use of such software, COPA would be unconstitutional.
But, since technology has changed in the years since the trial in District Court (not least because the first Third Circuit ruling was vacated and remanded in an earlier Supreme Court decision!), Kennedy says what's needed is a trial for the current facts to be established.
(A preliminary injunction only issues if the judge thinks the plaintiff is likely to win at trial - so the majority must think COPA is likely unconstitutional, one way or another.)
The upshot is to deprive the decision of usefulness in the general fight against Comstockery. In particular, in relation to FCC censorship enforcing 18 USC 1464 on broadcast indecency and profanity. The sort of ringing, principled endorsement of First Amendment protection we got in the Free Speech Coalition case (on online virtual child pornography) would have been an encouragement to broadcasters to seek to have §1464 struck down as unconstitutional.
At SCOTUSBlog, the decision is characterised as
a broad hint today that the lawmakers may be doomed to frustration if they try againto censor net smut:
Congress does the best it can to capture a moment in digital time as a basis for regulation, the inevitable legal challenge ensues to block the new rules, and then the predictable delays in litigation carry the dispute into an entirely new, and very different, digital moment.
One might construe the approach as trying to let Congress down gently - rather than giving them a snappish, sophomoric lecture on First Amendment principles, to allow COPA to sink into the mire under the weight of vague (and extra-legal) forces of technological change and the effluxion of time.
The Breyer dissent, apart from denying the majority view on the technology and bewailing the snub to Congress, points up another feature of the legislation:
The material subject to COPA is defined as
If COPA were limited to obscenity alone, there would be no question that it would clearly be constitutional - because obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. It is the non-obscene material harmful to minors that opens COPA up to challenge.
But Breyer says
the addition of these words [the material harmful to minors] to a definition that would otherwise cover only obscenity expands the statute's scope only slightly.
An observer from Outer Space might enquire: if the non-obscene material expands the scope only slightly why in Sam Hill was it put in the law in the first place?
Three reasons, I surmise:
Notable that Injustice O'Connor joins in Breyer's dissent: inspiring a feeling that, unsatisfactory as today's ruling may be, it is truly Solomonic compared with Grutter and Gratz.
Abject Kerry kow-tow to Boston cops
No Beantown Sister Souljah for John Kerry.
How good a deal, politically, is it for the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate to be seen to quaver before a tiny, grandstanding union of fat-cats, who are holding to ransom taxpayers many of whom are far worse paid than they are, and, in the process, shafting a Democratic mayor and ducking out of a meeting to put across to mayors from across the nation his proposals to improve the lot of folks who don't have the luxury even of paying taxes?
Union membership is down to 12.9% of the workforce (in 2003 - the proportion has fallen steadily ). Union votes are certainly not sewn up for Kerry - in 2000, Bush snaffled 35% of them.
But how many union swing voters in the current campaign would be impressed by a cringing obeisance to shibboleths of past ages, and how many might prefer to have seen a pro-active candidate who found a way to meet the mayors (albeit with some ritual genuflection to the good old days of labour relations)?
Why not fly the guy in by helicopter - a jesuitical approach to not crossing picket lines that Boston Police Patrolmen's Association leader Thomas Nee might appreciate? Or arrange a separate venue - there are only 200 mayors in attendance.
(Kerry seems, by the way, to have pissed off not only Menino but a good many of the visiting mayors - who, it seems, found no difficulty in crossing BPPA lines.)
At the minimum, it's a failure of news management by Kerry's people: whilst he clearly does not want to get involved in the minutiae of the dispute, all we see is him surrendering without a fight to a minute (1,400-strong) band of trouble-makers.
Whereas, the story should have been framed with Kerry as striving to deal with the pressing issues of the cities fighting against the outrageous, anti-democratic tactics of special interests. In support would have been footage on the nightly news of burly picketing cops harassing elected representatives.
At the very least, Kerry should have spoken to the mayors by video link. (See - even a transpondian kibitzer can come up with solutions!)
Monday, June 28, 2004
FBI blacklisted New York Times journo
Eric Lichtblau , in fact. Howie Kurtz has the story.
Give the ombud a rattle!
On June 23, I noted Sac Bee ombud Tony Marcano's piece on long series.
He's back again this week on the same subject. It clearly worries him .
The fact is that any subject can be made interesting to some people; but no piece can command the attention of all. And no one can successfully be ordered to find a topic, or a particular treatment, interesting, though moral blackmail or conformism may get him to fake it !
A paper that managed to fill its pages with pieces none of which commanded the interest of more than a handful of readers would go broke; but how many readers, even of so prestigious rag as the Bee, would actually bother to read each day - with attention and in their entirety - pieces representing, say, 80% of the news-hole?
Besides, part of the excitement of reading a newspaper, surely, is the lottery element: one man's series of the year is another man's fish wrapping.
There is quite enough wrong with the news business without inventing problems that don't exist.
Speaking of which, what has Marcano done later about anonymous sourcing in the Bee? Could the series thing possibly be misdirection?
Pennsylvania net porn case still in progress
The last time we were with the web-blocking case CDT v Pappert (April 6), oral argument had been set down for May 14.
In the event, apparently, the argument took place on June 23. And, according to the piece, District Judge Jan DuBois' 
decision could take additional weeks or months.
Supremes' decision in net smut case this week?
Thus spake Declan McCullagh, at least. Indeed, today may be the day!
(It's a truly lousy piece of sourcing by the way -
The court is expected to decide early next week whether the Child Online Protection Act violates Americans' right to free expression...
Not even a coy reference to officials speaking on condition of anonymity. On a strict reading, he could be relying on a gypsy's warning or a reading of the tea-leaves.)
What if the worst comes to the worst? One line to pursue is John Kerry's attitude to prosecution, of this law and smut generally. He's unlikely to be giving a speech on the subject; but now is the time to affect (so far as it can be done) the advice he is getting.
Clinton, as I recall, virtually shut up shop - except in relation to child pornography. Regular smut was hardly prosecuted at all. Part of the bastardy of COPA, of course, is that it smears the issue with the gloopiness of doing it for the kids. My impression is that Comstocks like Brent Bozell and his Parents Television Council are far better organised than they were under Clinton.
On the other side, we have the genuine overbreadth of the wretched law, which is, naturally, part of the First Amendment case. But - think of a President Kerry assailed on many fronts, including the Comstocks. With Bozell running Harry and Louise ads with the cutest little kids whose minds are being polluted on account of Kerry's intellectual elitist friends in the media and Academe.
An anti-smut crusade in the Justice Department would cost just a few dozen millions of bucks, and give great TV. Can you say Sister Souljah?
There are no votes in freedom of speech...
The documentation for Ashcroft v ACLU is on this Findlaw page, fourth case down.
SCOTUSBlog today says
The last day of the term will be tomorrow. The Court will issue its decisions in Alvarez-Machain and Ashcroft v. ACLU.
YET MORE (June 29)
On the Clinton - or rather the Janet Reno - record in prosecuting obscenity, I see from the Respondents' Brief on the Merits (p35n) that there have been fewer than 15 obscenity prosecutions annually since 1997. (And that period, if I'm not mistaken, includes the term of the Christian right's golden boy, John Ashcroft!) More detail on the obscenity prosecution record of both Clinton and Bush administrations in my piece of November 11 2002.
FCC media concentration decision - counter-intuitively counter-productive?
The Third Circuit decision in Prometheus Radio Project (June 26) remains unread.
But I note that already some are suggesting (LA Times June 26) that the decision may penalise most not the mega-players like Murdoch and Disney but the smaller media groups who might offer the big boys some competitition.
Whether the view rises to the level of plausibility, I know not. Any port in a storm for poor old Chairman Powell, though...
Transcontinental Indian electoral skullduggery?
Paging Bob Novak (January 13)!
Whilst the Republicans have the K Street Project, privatisation and allied machinations (May 20) as their what the French call pompe à finances, the Democrats  have the gaming Indians .
We've come across the Mashantucket Pequots of Connecticut before ; they have used the pure chance of the location of their lands (close to Megalopolis megabucks) to cream a king's ransom from gaming.
Now, I read in the Hartford Courant  (June 27) allegations that the Mashantucket Pequots are interfering in the election in - South Dakota:
Organizers of an Indian voter registration campaign say the influential Mashantuckets are blocking their fund-raising efforts, a contention the Pequots deny.
In particular, one Midwest Indian
blasted the Pequots for assuming that the Rapid City-based "Four Directions Committee" was merely a front for the Democrats. Speaking at a meeting at Mohegan Sun, he said the Pequots told Sodak Gaming Inc., a supplier of slot machines based in Rapid City, not to make a $100,000 donation to the campaign. The Pequots are one of Sodak's best customers.
The piece says that the Mashantucket Pequots have been big donors to both parties; but doesn't explain why they should want to stymie voter registration that would benefit Democrats (notably, Tom Daschle, of course).
Clearly, the allegation  opens the possibility that Indian gaming is perverting US politics on an altogether bigger scale than I had imagined.
The Boston Police Strikes Back
Last time we were here (June 12), Mayor Thomas Menino seemed to have put one over on cops' leader Thomas Nee (Officer Dibble with attitude!).
But, whilst our attention has been elsewhere, the diddly-diddly music has struck up once more and Nee has been leading Menino another merry dance.
It happens that Boston is playing host to the US Conference of Mayors; and none other than presumptive candidate John Kerry was booked to address those attending on Monday. Needless to say, the resourceful Nee had not omitted to spot this exercise in mayoral vainglory . And plutocrat Kerry has to doff his cap to organized labor even though (or, perhaps, because) its power is these days much diminished.
Nee to Kerry (Count John McCormack himself could scarcely manage a soupier vocal line):
It's my hope that Sen. Kerry...will honor our line. There's no doubt in my mind that the content of his heart is with us and with the plight of the working class.
I'm thinking that top note at the end of Mother McCree - just the old Democratic Party we knew and loved.
(Only a killjoy would point out that, with their perks and Spanish practices, Boston cops - mere patrolmen - are well into six figures, some of the best paid police in the country.)
The upshot: despite Menino's pleading, Kerry has persisted with his decision not to cross the cops' picket lines. He's decided to give his scheduled session a miss - though he doesn't seem to have given up the hope that some workaround might be found to allow him and the mayors to meet without sacrificing his union kow-tow.
Menino snatched victory from the jaws of defeat over the Convention picketing: could he manage it a second time?
The New York Times ombud goes further - on anonymice
On June 13, I had promising news from Daniel Okrent on the subject of anonymous sourcing.
In this week's piece, he throws down the gauntlet to the cream of his profession:
will the chief editors of USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The A.P. jointly agree not to cover group briefings conducted by government officials and other political figures who refuse to allow their names to be used?
Now, you know, I know and he knows that absolutely nothing will come of this. The fact that this is truly (and not ironically) a modest proposal will make its being comprehensively ignored all the more telling. One might as well forbid a child to eat the slice of chocolate cake it finds on its plate.
One might condemn such a futile gesture on Okrent's part as conspicuous hang-wringing, wanting only a Hearts and Flowers accompaniment. But, given the recent history of the Times and the Post on anonymous sources, futility would come under the heading of fair comment.
The same piece has Okrent querying the Times' decision to run on A1 a review of the Clinton doorstep by chief book critic Michiko Kakutani, who Zeros in to give the tome the Pearl Harbor treatment.
Okrent has drunk too deep of the objective journalism Kool Aid not to be affronted by the fronting (ha!) of what is by definition an opinion piece.
But he can't help admitting the absurdity of the duality:
The front page is the home for news, and arguably for analysis, but if it's also the home for unbuckled opinion about figures on the public stage, then you could argue that editorials belong there, too.
The one thing which is fatal to all systems of dualistic thought is a tertium quid - and true believer Okrent supplies the fatal entity: analysis. For what is an analysis piece than the opinion of a specialist  on the implications of the news of the day? There will be some primary facts in such a piece (usually, some pols' bloviations), but the essence is the application of expertise to those facts to come up with an opinion on the likely course of events (or whatever the purpose of the piece might be). There is no duality, but, at the very least, a range. And even that two-dimensional analogy is probably inadequate for many pieces of the genre.
(And, I dare say, analysing what purport to be straight news pieces would come up with a good deal of material which is inferential, and thus involves an element of opinion.)
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Affirmative action at Harvard: the wrong kind of black
With the hanging curve of Grutter and Gratz, a supposedly conservative administration had the chance to hit affirmative action out of the park.
Now, satisfaction for those who might (foolishly) have relied on such an eventuality comes rarely and obliquely. As with a New York Times article (June 24) on the Peculiar Institution as practiced in Cambridge, Mass:
While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.
British readers will recall the railway authorities explaining their failures as being due to
the wrong kind of snowon the line. These wolves in dusky clothing are evidently the wrong kind of black.
Evidently, a whole bunch of folks with an adequate (one suspects, foreign) education see the market distortion imposed by the infamous system and exploit it for all it's worth. Embracing Phineas T Barnum's aperçu to the limit. And HNIC Gates acts all Stepin Fetchit.
And note particularly the reference to
children of biracial couples.
In the ideology of grievance, these are the equivalent of our old friends, the self-hating Jews. Any individual of partially European descent who finds value in this element of his racial inheritance is evidently to be pitied.
But also the peculiar success of West Indian immigrants. Colin Powell, of course, was born of Jamaican parents. Roi Ottley's New World A-Coming - of which I have a copy somewhere - waxes lyrical on the upward mobility of Caribbean families.
And - I confess this had escaped me till now - it seems that Guinier is also an incomer - her
mother is white and [her] father immigrated from Jamaica.
She complains that colleges
are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves.
Is this an epiphany?
It seems that the Harvard authorities are anxious to avoid publicity about the matter. One student said that
Harvard officials had discouraged them from collecting the data on who the black students were.
We are, I fear, decades away from seeing the whole ghastly business of affirmative action swept away. But, meanwhile, some very modest satisfaction may be found in the contortions that its supporters are required to go through.
Something not quite right with that Wolfowitz apology
It appeared - PDF and all - with Cablenewser. Then Wonkette added her four pennyworth . A whole big thing: the guy giving it the full Hearts and Flowers treatment.
A throwaway in a follow-up Cablenewser piece:
Did you notice that the letterhead spells Washington wrong (Washingtion?!)
Which, according to the guy's PDF it certainly does.
However - this is one crappy administration. But surely typos in the stationery of the Number 2 civilian at the Pentagon is a little too sloppy to be credible?
I mean, how long has the letterhead with the typo been in use? Are there other examples? Has the signature been checked? Etc, etc... AP (June 24) reports it straight, as does the New York Times. And Al Kamen in WaPo does likewise, with some background.
Now, I'm not sure whether the journos concerned are accustomed to receiving letters from the Wolf Man; or to noticing little things like typos in the engraving.
But - well, it's a puzzle. Exactly how was this open letter made available? Did any spin come with it? I can't see any trace of the letter on the DOD site - but I'm not a regular visitor, and could well just not be looking in the right place.
The fact that the letter is, as I believe, a wholly exceptional communication to come from Wolfowitz - or, indeed, from anyone else in the Administration - makes me particularly suspicious.
How is it possible for the combined ranks of the journalistic profession to miss an obvious fact in plain sight?
Recall (from April 12) the case of the title of the August 6 PDB - Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US - which caused such a furore during the Rice testimony before the 9/11 Commission: in the case, this key nugget of information had previously been 'hidden' in a front page Washington Post piece bylined by Bob Woodward!
And FCC hammered on media concentration...
I mentioned the Prometheus Radio Project case on April 14.
In the event, the opponents of the FCC's proposed new rules on media concentration won the day (WaPo June 25). The piece says that
Powell...had seen past media ownership rules tossed out by courts for being based on flimsy data and reasoning.
Last year's rules were evidently supposed to fully evidenced.
Powell argues that, without his new rules, further concentration may be harder to avoid - though he would say that, wouldn't he?
The Third Circuit opinions are dated June 24. All 213 pages...
Those indecency amendments
Following up my piece earlier today:
Proof if any were necessary of the fact that the 'quality press' assumes its suckers will take what they read on trust is the fact that it usually declines to give them any help in checking their stuff.
Exceptionally will a piece on a government report or court decision include a link. And, where it comes to a cascade of amendments to an appropriations bill (such as those on FCC indecency censorship to HR 2400), the media's response is Cheney's: Fuck yourselves!
Let's try : the primary amendment is Brownback's SA 3235 (which links all the secondary amendments passed - all by unanimous consent except SA 3464 (as described earlier)):
3457: states aggravating factors which, if found, are to double the per incident fine to $550,000 (subject to a daily limit of $3 million).
3464: looks virtually identical to SA 3235 (a spot the difference puzzle, evidently!).
3465: adds to 3235/3464 a screed of findings on media concentration and a provision purporting to void the FCC's new rules issued last year on the subject (court action has anticipated this result, I believe - perhaps a follow-up on the topic later).
3466: adds another screed of findings, and provides that TV violence shall not be broadcast (or carried on cable or satellite) outside safe haven hours unless it is blockable.
These last two items were, from memory, included in the version of S2056 reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee, and thought likely to cause difficulty in conference (the House bill HR 3717 is much cleaner). Anything changed on that? No idea, but it can't be much longer before we find out.
The text of S 2056 as reported out is fuller than the amended SA 3235.
In particular, there is no equivalent in SA 3235 of §104 of the bill which amended 47 USC 503(b)(5), which deals with forfeiture liability of (broadly) those who neither have a broadcast licence nor are applying for one.
The scheme of §503 (as relevant to indecency) is that any violation of 18 USC 1464  is liable for a forfeiture penalty (§503(b)(1)(D). That includes the station operator, but also the on-air talent  who utters the naughty words.
§503(b)(2) quantifies the penalties for the various classes of offender; for those other than station operators, §503(b)(2)(C) says
the amount of any forfeiture penalty determined under this subsection shall not exceed $10,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, except that the amount assessed for any continuing violation shall not exceed a total of $75,000 for any single act or failure to act described in paragraph (1) of this subsection.
So talent like - oh, Howard Stern, to pick an example purely at random - could, under the existing rules, have been fined up to $75,000  a pop, in addition to the fines levied on operators for his indiscretions.
(There are procedural differences in §503 between operator and non-operator forfeitures that I'll leave aside.)
§104 would have applied an increase in the limit on fines on non-operators to $500,000.
There was, I seem to remember, some suggestion that this provision was the first to give the FCC the power to fine talent for uttering naughty words: in fact, it seems that they've had the power all along to hit Stern and Co directly. But, they haven't. Any more than they've done much fining of operators until recently.
Two main areas:
First, Supreme Court opinions in the internet smut censorship case Ashcroft v ACLU are still due. According to SCOTUS Blog,
The lead opinion in this case probably was assigned to Justice Breyer.
Which is bad news, it suggests, because
Justice Breyer's previous opinion on this statute (which can be found beginning at page 29 of this pdf file) hints that perhaps he believes that the nationally uniform "community standards" of the law makes the statute analogous to the telephone-indecency statute the Court upheld in Sable Communications - which, if true, would be good news for the government.
These guys are Supreme Court litigation specialists, so...
The devil is always in the detail; but a loss in the ACLU case (after success in the Free Speech Coalition case, and the extremely strong Circuit Court opinions in ACLU) would surely be a blow (see further below).
Second, as I suggested (June 10), the Senate have cut their losses on S 2056, and gone for (on Roll Call 134) a rider (the Brownback Amendment to HR 2400 ) simply to increase the maximum amount of fines which the FCC can levy on broadcasters flouting 18 USC 1464 (obscenity, indecency and profanity) to $275,000 per violation or day of continuing violation, up to $3 million per violation!
The roll of shame is almost perfect: any sad sack liberals out there can shed their illusions: John Kerry voted for the amendment!
Anatomise that decision carefully: as we know, Kerry has missed 89% of roll call votes this year. He's always up and doing somewhere else - unless he sees that a vote is particularly advantageous, November-wise. Brent Bozell's anus given a premium work-out by Treebeard's tongue, and no accident about it.
And, now we have Comstock Kerry's true colours finally flying, worth mentioning a piece in the current issue of CJR:
Senator John Kerry...wins the White House in November [and] appoints Michael Copps, the senior Democratic commissioner on the FCC, and a logical choice, as chairman. Kerry then chooses a Democrat to fill the seat left empty by Powell, bringing the commission to full strength and resulting in a three-to-two Democratic majority.
A search on copps would show a good six or eight Plawg pieces on Comstock Copps; whilst Chairman 'Sonny Boy' Powell, trimmer though he is (like father...), at least makes noises in support of the First Amendment, Copps is for enforcement first and last.
With Copps in charge of the FCC, the Enforcement Bureau would become a profit centre. Fuelled by complaints from Bozell's Parents Television Council, and with the fines increased (if the Brownback Amendment is agreed in conference) to ten times the current level of $27,500, US broadcasting will be back to Pleasantville. The blacklists and Red Channels of the 1950s will appear a Shangri-La compared to the regime imposed (with implied sanction from the elected branches) by a Copps-led FCC.
However, Copps' fist may have commenced action a trifle prematurely.
Having indulged Copps' druthers, let's take a squint at mine: for the last decade, from 1995, when Infinity settled the outstanding, Howard Stern-caused, fines levied on it (March 14) until the Bono Golden Globes decision was reversed (March 19), it was pretty much all quiet on the FCC censorship front. Even the on-air antics of Stern, by miles the greatest cause of FCC censorship fines, had resulted in no fines over a practically a decade.
The policy was a variation of don't ask, don't tell. The broadcasters didn't go wild; and the FCC fined little and seldom.
The elephant in the room, then as now, is the same. But, since the FCC have broken with their earlier policy and look set - especially under a Chairman Copps - to fine broadcasters to the full extent possible - it's high time he was woken up.
That pachyderm is the complete and utter unconstitutionality of 18 USC 1464 (at least as regards indecency and profanity). Under the previous FCC policy, there was no need for broadcasters to go nuclear (or rather, constitutional) on the Commission's ass: the fines were at - or rather, well below - the cost of doing business level.
With a Copps scorched earth policy, and new maxima from Congress, all bets are off. The constitutional argument becomes an imperative.
(First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere had the temerity to make the argument before Rep Joe Barton and his Energy Committee boys (March 14).)
The suitably named Revere was also behind a petition submitted by various parties - including Howard Stern's ultimate boss Viacom - calling for a rethink of the Bono decision (April 21).
My guess is that, with the ante being raised by Congress and the FCC , broadcasters will have no alternative but to call for the football and let the constitutional Minutemen fly. (Revere, Minutemen - could this be a plan coming together?)
Returning whence we came, a favourable decision in the ACLU case - on the community standards issue, for instance - might well be helpful in mounting a challege to §1464. At the very least, it would establish what the First Amendment climate was amongst the current panel. More likely than not, a change of personnel would have occured by the time a §1464 case came to the Supreme Court.
Those in the cheap seats are having fun with the coincidence of the 100% GOP turnout for the 99-1 vote on the Brownback Amendment (John Breaux (D-LA) voted against - why?) and Dick Cheney on the Senate floor telling Patrick Leahy
Mentioned just for completeness..
STILL MORE (June 28)
Harry Jaffe at the Washingtonian has background on the Post's handling of the Cheney fuck story:
How did [WaPo] come to print that four-letter expletive known as the f-word?
Friday, June 25, 2004
Federal report on corrupt California prisons
Back on January 17, I looked for the first time at the cesspool which is the California prison system, prompted by the draft report of Special Master John Hagar into affairs at Pelican Bay.
Now, Hagar has issued his final report (PDF). Disappointingly, though, he suggests  that criminal contempt charges be considered against two former officials of the California Department of Corrections, Edward Alameida and Thomas Moore, no prosecutions or criminal investigations are proposed in relation to the font of the corruption, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
While any intrusion of the law into the CCPOA's empire is to be welcomed, I strongly suspect that only when senior officials in the union start joining the victims of its members' abuse behind bars will substantial improvement be possible.
The body of the report - which I've yet to get round to! - may or may not offer comfort on that matter.
South Carolina legislature under Radical Reconstruction
One of the best-known scenes of DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation is the unflattering tableau of the South Carolina House of Representatives .
Griffith's main source for the flick was the works of Thomas Dixon, The Leopard's Spots and, mainly , The Clansman. (Scenes of Negroes and carpetbaggers enjoying Liberty Hall in both the Leopard (p109ff) and the Clansman (p263ff.)
An earlier - if not the original - source for legislative mayhem in South Carolina under Reconstruction is JS Pike (James Shepherd Pike), who, it seems, who wrote for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune on the subject .
Pike's pieces, written in early 1873, were collected in a book published in 1874 entitled The Prostrate State.. An etext is available .
A sample from Chapter 1 (page 12):
...The wealth, the intelligence, the culture, the wisdom of the State, have broken through the crust of that social volcano on which they were contentedly reposing, and have sunk out of sighlt, consumed by the subterranean fires they had with such temerity braved and defied.
And this written for a Northern liberal rag! By 1874, I hypothesise, even the liberal element in New York were heartily sick of Reconstruction, and appreciative of anything that might hasten its demise .
For all his high dudgeon on Southern antics, Pike, it seems, was not averse to dipping his snout in the trough of patronage: according to a promising-looking piece on Lincoln and the New York press, Pike was made US Minister to The Hague by Lincoln .
Dixon actually uses Pike's words
rioting in the halls of his masterfor the heading of the chapter of The Clansman on the subject: The Riot in the Master's Hall
And you thought Bush was dumb...
Taking a little time out from the current fray to appreciate the politics of yesteryear, I come across an online copy of Arthur Schlesinger's The Vital Center of 1949 .
From my incomplete reading, it appears to be a statement of centrist Democrat principle in the era of Harry Truman's Red Scare, triangulated between the Taft Republicans on the right and the Wallace-ites  on the left (for whom he has very harsh words).
In places, I'm reminded of some of Christopher Hitchens' less moderate invective for the Iraq war, and against the peaceniks: in a month in which Bo-Bo Man David Brooks has come in for criticism for his sweeping generalisations unsupported by evidence, it's interesting to note that Schlesinger cleans his clock  in that department .
When he gets more specific, he becomes interesting: in a passage (starting on page 128 ) on the CPUSA, we get (page 136n) a quote from Earl Browder (still party secretary, I think) in 1944, whose new line was that, in the light of wartime cooperation (Big Three pow-wows, Second Front and so forth) capitalism and communism could peacefully co-exist :
If JP Morgan supports this coalition and goes down the line for it, I as a Communist am prepared to clasp his hand on that and join him to realize it.
JP Morgan died in 1943 .
Thursday, June 24, 2004
The fabulous Baker family
By way of a kinda-sorta Reagan memorial, just idly flipping through a tome  on the personnel of political Washington in 1982, and come across the name of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker. It gives some information on his family achievements in office-holding - but the full picture (some of which is much more recent!) is rather amazing: both Baker's father and step-mother (who survived Baker, Sr for 30 years, to 1994) were in the US House (she elected to fill his place, and not seeking re-election); Baker's first wife was Joy Dirksen, daughter of Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen; after he was widowed, he married Nancy Landon Kassebaum, only the third woman to serve two full terms in the Senate  and daughter of Alf Landon, patron (via the Literary Digest) of George Gallup, who - most shocking revelation of all to your woefully ill-informed blogger! - died only in 1987 at the age of 100 and a month.
A good deal of suggestive material there (as it were): various permutations of married (or formerly married) legislators (or former legislators), that sort of thing. The Political Graveyard site has all sorts of categories; but pols married to other pols doesn't seem to be one of them (unless, as with the Bakers, there are at least three pols related to one another). Not a subject for active research, I think - worth keeping on the back-burner, though.
These days, Baker is US Ambassador to the Empire of Japan.
The book (p32) mentions that Baker's daughter Cynthia was keen to follow in the family business. No sign that she's managed it, though.
Did Warren Harding desegregate federal offices?
One of those pebble in the shoe points, this.
David Bernstein is piqued by some survey or other placing Warren Harding as worst US president to list some of his accomplishments. Included in the list is:
after the horribly racist Wilson years, undoing Wilson's segregation of federal offices, supporting anti-lynching legislation, and delivering a bold speech (in Birmingham!) in favor of equality for African Americans;
Now, Wilson is a character whom I loathe for his sanctimonious expansionism and the respectability his ism lends to modern-day missionary-adventurers (from various parts of the political spectrum) in their plans to win democracy for the world by blood and iron.
Wilson was a son of the Carolinas, and, as a boy, a witness of Radical Reconstruction; Thomas Dixon sang his life in The Leopard's Spots and The Clansman; yadda, yadda, history written in lightning.
Although he had  appealed to Negro voters (promising increased patronage jobs) and gained the endorsement of the NAACP (its first!), Congressional arithmetic demanded indulging the sensibilities of Southerners:
At a Cabinet meeting early in the Administration, Southern members expressed disingenuous concern over alleged friction between Negro and white government employees. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, a Texan, proposed segregating the races to eliminate the supposed problem. Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo supported him. Burleson also claimed support for the idea from moderate Negro leaders such as Bishop Alexander Walters, president of the National Colored Democratic League. The rest of the Cabinet, along with the President, while not explicitly endorsing segregation, did not oppose it.
Burleson, it seems, was particularly thorough in implementing the policy at the Post Office. Other departments dragged their feet, and the enthusiasm for segretating Federal offices abated, such that,
while segregation remained entrenched in a few departments, the growth of the practice was largely halted by the end of 1913.
There seem to have been no further proposals to segregate Federal offices during the rest of Wilson's presidency.
What, then of Harding? The online evidence in favour of the desegregation contention that I've located is vanishingly thin, viz this piece:
In 1913, Wilson introduced segregation into the federal government...It was left to Wilson's successor, Republican Warren G. Harding to scrap the segregation policy.
Interestingly (well, barely), a second piece boosting Harding does not include desegregating Federal offices on the list of things for which we should be grateful.
Moreover, a third piece positively states:
Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge...failed to reverse the policy of segregation in the civil service that had been initiated by [Wilson]...
To judge by the Labor Department paper (the only half-decent source I've found on the subject), Federal offices in Washington were bequeathed to Harding in 1921 part segregated and part not and the presumption (weak as water!) must be that nothing changed until World War 2 at the earliest.
Further research is so necessary!
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Iraqi WMD coverage: again
A couple of pieces from Village Voice taking an unusual line:
On June 1, Richard Goldstein's treatment of the New York Times' infamous Editor's Note  suggests an explanation:
The media in general jumped to the government's jingo whip. That speaks to the force that really dominates our press: public opinion.
What a jolly good theory! From the media's viewpoint, of course: far better be accused of cowardice than of being accessory to war crimes!
It does chime in with Dana Priest's comments in Michael Massing's famous New York Review of Books treatment of the subject (February 10):
Many readers...were intolerant of articles critical of the President. Whenever The Washington Post ran such pieces, reporter Dana Priest recalls, "We got tons of hate mail and threats, calling our patriotism into question."
Administration and voters in a pincer movement on the Filter! Von Schlieffen, eat your heart out!
Goldstein had a follow-up yesterday, prompted by his earlier exculpation of the Times as a cause of the war.
He rightly points out that relations between the media and its customers are complex and dynamic, and certainly don't all work in one direction:
...the media...create a space to challenge this consensus, and that space is one of the main arenas for social change...We ought to hold the Times responsible for abandoning this role - and for failing to report the facts - but not for the massive loss of life in Iraq. That blame should fall on the government, which became a medium unto itself by providing incendiary rhetoric and imagery that made most people feel like they were in the middle of a low-res hyper-real combat film.
Not only advertising revenue was at stake:
To the extent that a publication cares about being respected by its readers, it will trim its sails to please them.
The customer is always right.
A pleasingly cynical Realpolitik analysis, full of Ninth Beatitude thinking.
Except - what happens when the readers find out that they have been deceived? I can't recall seeing polling evidence of Times readers following the Editor's Note, as to how many intended to stop buying or subscribing as a result of the WMD reporting fiasco.
This would in turn depend on what expectations they had of the paper in the first place: worshippers at the Temple of Objective Journalism (and how many are they?) would no doubt have applauded the general stenographic bent to the coverage, and comfort themselves that the lies and deceptions were, at least, officially sanctioned lies and deceptions .
Simpler folk - such as your humble blogger, before his painful and barely commenced initiation into the arcana of the journo freemasonry - might have assumed that the foremost newspaper of the nation might have checked what went into its columns .
Others still might have assumed that journalists actually had some pride, and and that they would have rebelled against being spoon-fed junk by USG and friends under pain of losing contacts. (Even simpler folk, you might think.)
Was there a market for doubt on Iraq from the Times in the pre-war period? There were the marchers, of course. And the polling evidence showed persistent majorities who favoured war only with UN support, or with allies . Are there publicly available polls of the Times readership asking similar questions in that period? I'd guess that the readership skews left compared with the population as a whole, and that the proportion of war doubters, and the intensity of their doubts, would be have been correspondingly larger.
So, all other things being equal, there might have been money to be made in taking a deliberately sceptical stance on USG's war propaganda. Was this even considered? If so, at what level, and when?
Perhaps, as Goldstein mentions, it was fear of a backlash from advertisers - who would not necessarily skew as left as their Times customers!
Or fear of a USG backlash: I'm not sure whether an complete boycott of a single paper has every been tried by an administration. One would suppose from reading Ken Auletta's famous New Yorker piece that this, if any, would be the administration to do it. More likely, USG would have worked something subtler - sand in the machine, unaccountable snafus, general harassment of Times-men.
Most likely, I suspect, it would have been the stenographic imperative that would have held it back: the paper's role as scribe to power, like medieval churchmen , trading autonomy for the illusion of indispensability.
Goldstein's final graf starts:
What conclusions do I draw from this? Mainly that focusing on the media distracts us from the really crucial task, which is changing public opinion. How can we do that in a world where power is so consolidated and so generous in its provision of spectacle? I don't know...
Since he has no answer , perhaps he'll forgive those of us who do when we continue, faute de mieux, to focus on the media.
Another journo artefact: the prize-winning series
The Sac Bee ombud Tony Marcano quotes
Miami Herald humor writer Dave Barrywith some useful inside dope:
Sometimes we'll do a whole series with more total words than the Brothers Karamazov and headlines like: 'The World Mulch Crisis: A Time To Act.' You readers don't bother to wade through these stories, and you feel vaguely guilty about this. Which is stupid. You're not supposed to read them. We journalists don't read them. We use modern computers to generate them solely for the purpose of entering them for journalism prizes. We're thinking about putting the following helpful advisory over them: 'Caution! Journalism Prize Entry! Do Not Read!'
Marcano is bemoaning one or two Bee series without visible reasons why readers should want to read them.
Postcard from Tijuana
First entered the British communal psyche as the handle of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. How many of those who bought the records could actually find the place on a map?
Then, thanks to TV, it vaguely penetrated the consciousness as a place of otherness to which SoCal teens might resort for humbling, ennobling or otherwise arc-worthy experiences.
Coming right up to date: Tijuana  is a little piece of Colombia transported to Uncle Sam's doorstep. Kingpin Arellano Felix has long been under lock and key: only a few weeks ago, CNN were reporting the arrests of two guys, Jorge Aureliano Felix and Efrain Perez Pazuengo -
ranked as among the most-wanted suspects both in Mexico and the United Statessuch that
One U.S. official declared the cartel to be "in ruins," and another predicted an "historic impact."
Can you say WMD?
The latest (LA Times today):
Francisco J. Ortiz Franco, a founding editor of the Zeta newsweeklywas murdered in front of his children; it seems that
Zeta has published numerous exposes over the years on the Arellano Felix drug syndicate, as well as the protection given to it by government officials and police.
This is the cartel that a wisely anonymous US official declared...to be in ruins. He is clearly from the same school as the morons who thought the American invaders would be welcomed by the Iraqis as liberators. If the Arellano Felix is done for, he fails to account for the
spiraling violence as rival Baja California drug cartels vie for control of the narcotics trade in [Tijuana].
Free enterprise: dontcha love it?
Zeta, happily, is online; it carries a piece under the hed Acribillan a jefe ministerial from Ortiz's co-editor Jesus Blancornelas on the assassination of a comandante de policía who formerly rejoiced in the name Sidarta Alfredo Walkinshaw Salazar. A pregnant girl was also hit in the head and, the piece says,
se encuentra delicada.
(The baby was successfully removed by section, apparently.)
There is also a piece, Bribonadas, venganzas, mezcolanza de política y smás en el Congreso , on Baja California state politics. Total ignorance of personnel and events hamper comment - but one does get the impression of lunatics in charge of the asylum. Lunatics capable of hiring assassins? Who knows?
Whilst, under the most favourable conditions, one might not expect a peripheral Mexican state to rival Switzerland as an epitome of sober and competent government, the US War on Drugs is clearly throws kerosene on the mayhem.
(Not to say Uncle Sam's effect on the place is altogether detrimental: a third piece is headed 18 mil vacantes solamente en maquiladoras de Tijuana)
Perhaps Baja California might catch my eye again at some stage - as always, getting up to speed with the cast and back-story is the barrier to entry.
Now DeLay has Dem lobbyists on a string
A case study on the MO of House managers, Democratic and Republican from The Hill today.
GOP managers wanted to know the strength of the Dem whipping effort on the foreign sales corporation replacementt legislation ; and so they encouraged Democrats who worked for lobbying firms (but who had worked for the Dem House leadership - oxymoron alert!) to advise them on the point. And made this information the entry price to certain GOP meetings they needed to attend to do their jobs.
A variation, the piece says, on the K Street Project I've discussed before (May 20).
Should one be surprised at House managers using all the leverage they have? Isn't that what they're paid to do? Have Congressional Dem leaders never used skullduggery to get a bill passed? I'm thinking of Lyndon Johnson, of course. But I'm sure there have been even more unscrupulous tricksters from both sides of the aisle.
This is, after all, the organisation that, until a few days ago, had had an ethics truce for years (June 15).
(The link from Kos, who seems to have higher expectations of politicians than I do.)
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Another missed opportunity for Senate Dems over coffin amendment?
It's an egregious schoolboy howler of a misapprehension this side of the pond to suppose the houses of Congress to be under parliamentary discipline, of the type prevalent in Westminster.
In particular, there is no Leader of the Opposition to inspire loyalty, if not obedience. To a legislator, the claims to assistance of a presumptive presidential candidate of his party are tenuous, compared to the imperative of consulting the interests of his constituents. (Congressmen might hope for coat-tail assistance; two-thirds of senators will be unable to benefit.)
But, where constituency interests are not engaged, the infliction of a defeat on the majority party is surely a desirable object, for boosting morale, if for no other reason?
Yesterday, we had Roll Call 132 in the Senate on the Lautenberg Amendment, which would have required USG to prepare a protocol on media coverage of the bodies of servicemen dying abroad - currently subject to a ban on photography.
The result: nixed 39-54, with 7 not voting, including John Kerry.
The Nays include the following Dems:
The RINOs were split: Snowe voted for the amendment, Chafee and Collins voted against. McCain also voted in favour.
Presumably, if there had been a chance of victory, Clinton and Kerry would have been present - or were they paired with non-voting GOPs ?
I recognise most of the names on the list of Nays - from their sterling obstetric work in the birth of that living abortion, the Medicare Bill , for instance.
The cruel fact is that the Dem Senate leadership (if that's not an oxymoron) know that a conservative state will most likely elect conservative senators - and infinitely better those senators be Blue Dogs  (helping the leadership towards regaining control of the Senate) than GOP, even if they vote against the leadership line every time there is one .
That, of course, is no excuse, for the leadership to throw up their hands: each of the ten Nays would have pet projects, would want to establish positions on issues through votes on amendments: even a minority leadership would doubtless have something to bargain with for a marquee vote like the Lautenberg amendment. How hard exactly did they try, I wonder?
A cursory search for studies analysing US Senate voting patterns of RINOs and DINOs  came up empty.
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