OpinionMeister

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Oh, Those Special Interest Trips!

The Washington Times reports on the numerous trips, paid for by outsiders, that members of congress are suddenly remembering and reporting. Link.
Scrutiny of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's travel has led to the belated disclosure of at least 198 previously unreported special-interest trips by House members and their aides, including eight years of travel by the second-ranking Democrat, an Associated Press review found.
At least 43 House members and dozens of aides had failed to meet the one-month deadline in ethics rules for disclosing trips financed by organizations outside the U.S. government. [...]

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, disclosed 21 trips. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, reported 20 past trips, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, reported 13.

All of the mud being thrown at Tom DeLay concerned trips that he had fully disclosed. That is how his enemies knew about them. Now it develops that, by reporting his trips, Tom DeLay is just about the most honest person in the entire Congress. Will the Democrats now bring ethics charges against the 43 members, mainly Democrats, who failed to report their trips until such trips became front-page news?

Arthur Anderson Conviction Overturned

The Washington Post reports on the Supreme Court's decision overturning the conviction of Arthur Anderson LLP. Link.
The Supreme Court today threw out the June 2002 conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron Corp.-related documents, ruling unanimously that the jury instructions at the trial for the now-defunct company were improper.

The decision was a major defeat for the Department of Justice, which prosecuted one of the nation's largest accounting firms against the advice of numerous critics, who believed the case too weak for criminal trial. [...]

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, writing for the court, said the judge's instructions to the jury were too loose, failing to require proof that Andersen "knowingly" obstructed justice.

The instructions, he said, "failed to convey the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing" on the part of Andersen and its employees. "Indeed," said Rehnquist, "it is striking how little culpability" the instructions required. [...]

The District Court judge in the trial instructed the jury to convict if it found that Andersen intended to subvert or impede the SEC investigation. But the judge declined to add that the company must also be found to have acted dishonestly, despite the statute's use of the word "knowingly."

"No longer was any type of dishonesty necessary to a finding of guilt," Rehnquist wrote today, "and it was enough" for Andersen "to have simply 'impeded' " the government's investigation.

That, he said, was an improper interpretation of the statute. "Knowledge and knowingly are normally associated with awareness, understanding or consciousness," Rehnquist wrote. "Only persons conscious of their wrongdoing can be said to knowingly" behave corruptly.

I am glad that this conviction was overturned, even if it was for some legal technicality. Prosecutors should never have brought this case to trial. If a crime had been committed, it was not by an intangible entity called Arthur Anderson LLP, but by certain human beings working there. If there were guilty parties, the prosecutors totally let them off the legal hook, by prosecuting the organization. Instead of locating a few perps who committed a crime and putting them in jail, these prosecutors caused thousands of honest employees who had never even worked on the Enron account to be fired, as they put the entire company out of business. Prosecutors were more concerned with the headlines they would receive by prosecuting one of the largest accounting firms in the country, then with bringing guilty parties to justice.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Industrial Espionage Ring Broken

The Washington Post reports on the busting of an industrial espionage ring operating in Israel, that used planted Trojan Horse programs to spy. Link.
Israel's business community has been rocked by a major computer espionage scandal that was uncovered when a husband-and-wife book-writing team complained to police that someone had hacked into their computer system and stolen files.

Investigators traced the alleged theft to the wife's former son-in-law, a computer programmer, and determined that he had also sold copies of "Trojan Horse" software to private detectives who used the software to spy for corporate clients on competing firms.

Last week police arrested 16 people in Israel, including senior executives of some of the country's leading high-tech companies and the private investigators they had allegedly employed. At the same time, British authorities, acting on an Israeli request, arrested the former son-in-law and his wife in London and are holding them pending an extradition hearing later this week. [...]

In a statement released over the weekend, police said they had discovered a "Trojan Horse" virus on Jackont's computer that they were able to trace to an unnamed source. The virus allowed the person to control the computer, make changes to its programs, monitor everything it contained and raid it for information -- all without leaving any hint of the virus's existence. Investigators also discovered that the same person had sold the "Trojan Horse" to three of Israel's largest private investigation companies, which used it to illegally collect data for their corporate clients.

Police said the virus was planted via e-mail or a promotional computer disk supposedly sent to the target company by a well-known and reliable business partner. They said dozens of companies may have been spied upon without ever realizing they were under surveillance.

It is amazing how easy it is to spy on a competitor's computer, and how apparently difficult it is to detect. I would hope that the latest security software could detect these Trojan Horses. Perhaps all of the victims had failed to follow the most basic security precautions.

If the perpetrator had been content to make money selling his illegal software to private detectives, it is unlikely that any of this would have been detected. It was when he used the same software to spy on his ex-in-laws, and spread what he found on their computers over the Internet, that led to their detection.

If there is a moral in this I guess it is that if you are dealing illegally with someone, make sure he doesn't carry around some old hatred strong enough that he will endanger your illegal conspiracy to get his enemies.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Non to EU Constitution

BBC reports that the French vote was decisive. Link.
French voters have overwhelmingly rejected the European Union's proposed constitution in a key referendum.

With 85% of votes counted the "No" vote stood at almost 56%, according to interior ministry figures.

The vote could deal a fatal blow to the EU constitution, which needs to be ratified by all 25 members states.
What this deals a large blow to are the European elites, not to the EU. The media all seem to equate this constitution with the EU. They are not the same. What the French rejected, and the voters in several other EU countries soon will reject is this specific constitution, not the idea of a constitution in general. Anyone who struggled through this excruciatingly long and complex document would see that it was a constitution for a Socialist Union, not for a democratic EU. The unelected bureaucrats would have become more solidified as total dictators.

This is not a defeat for the EU, but a victory. The people want a simple, democratic constitution. The elites must scrap this one, start from scratch, and write a new constitution that will be acceptable to the people, not only to the elites.

Put a Cork in it. No, Maybe Not.

The Washington Times reports that research is showing that screw tops and bag-in-a box packaging keeps wine better than either real or artificial corks. But the image problem is keeping makers of fine wine from moving too quickly. Link.
Winemakers are twisting tradition and altering the age-old ritual of opening a bottle of wine.
They are taking risks with innovative packaging to improve their wine and grab the attention of more wine drinkers, turning to screw caps, boxes with spouts and even aluminum cans, as well as creating funky labels and off-the-wall names.
"You won't find a winemaker that says packaging doesn't matter," said Sheldon Parker, general manager of Napa Wine Co., which produces 80 brands for various wineries at its facility in Oakville, Calif. "It's all about image. Winemakers are fighting for shelf space and brand awareness."
The taste, of course, is what gets drinkers refilling their glasses. But getting them to try a wine is no easy task. [...]

There are 12,000 to 15,000 brands sold in the U.S., according to John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a group that is trying to encourage people to drink more wine.
All of those brands are vying for the customer's attention.
The good news for wineries is that there are more wine drinkers in the U.S. than ever before, and they are drinking more of it.
Last year, U.S. adults drank an average of 2.77 gallons of wine, compared with 2.46 gallons in 2000 and 2.13 gallons in 1995, according to Adams Beverage Group, a market research group and trade publisher. [...]

The screw-cap closure is actually better for the wine than a cork, wine industry officials say.
Corks can ruin between 5 percent and 8 percent of all wine, if not more, reports show. The cork taint is usually caused by a fungus that gets into cork and reacts with the wine, causing it to smell and taste bad.
"Corks are beautiful and organic and have tradition, but are tragically flawed," said John Locke, senior creative director of Bonny Doon Vineyard, which has 99 percent of its wine under screw caps.
Screw caps aren't new in other countries, nor do they have the same negative connotation. Australia and New Zealand have been in the forefront of the movement.
U.S. wineries are behind the curve, but many of them are taking steps to improve their wine, despite the screw-cap perception.
Hogue Cellars, based in Prosser, Wash., undertook a 2½ year study on the effects of two types of screw caps, natural cork and synthetic cork, which is a plastic alternative.
The result: Screw caps maintained freshness more effectively than natural or synthetic corks. That was the proof the winery needed to make the switch to screw caps. [...]

Screw caps are helping with the acceptance of another packaging alternative: the bag-in-a-box.
More premium wines are turning to the airtight bag housed in a box to keep the wine fresher longer and allow for more portability.

I live in wine country, but I do not claim to know a great deal about it. I do harbor prejudices against screw tops or bags, but when brands I am familiar with try them, I will try them, knowing that I read than they keep the wine fresher,

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Fed Ex Enlists in War on Terror

The Wall Street Journal reports of the extraordinary degree to which Federal Express has enlisted in the war on terror. Link. (subscription required)
FedEx has opened the international portion of its databases, including credit-card details, to government officials. It has created a police force recognized by the state of Tennessee that works alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The company has rolled out radiation detectors at overseas facilities to detect dirty bombs and donated an airplane to federal researchers looking for a defense against shoulder-fired missiles.

Moreover, the company is encouraging its 250,000 employees to be spotters of would-be terrorists. It is setting up a system designed to send reports of suspicious activities directly to the Department of Homeland Security via a special computer link. [...]

Supporters of an expanded role for business in homeland security note that U.S. industry has often been a government ally in wartime. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. manufacturers responded by retooling factories to produce tanks, trucks, planes and munitions.

Cooperation between businesses and federal law-enforcement agencies generally isn't advertised and customers are seldom aware of it. In some cases, people waive their right to privacy when they use a particular company's service. With FedEx, customers consent to having shipments inspected as soon as they hand over their packages and sign the shipping forms. [...]

To orchestrate its deliveries, FedEx has spent billions of dollars over the past 15 years on elaborate computer systems. It compiles troves of data about its customers and the six million packages carried daily across the world, tracking them from point of origin to final destination.

The company also maintains a large global security force, currently 500 strong. Before 9/11, it concentrated on combating employee theft and intercepting illegal shipments of narcotics, explosives or hazardous materials. [...]

Two years ago, after intense lobbying by FedEx of the Tennessee state legislature, the company was permitted to create a 10-man, state-recognized police force. FedEx police wear plain clothes and can investigate all types of crimes, request search warrants and make arrests on FedEx property. The courier cops say their main job is to protect company property and systems from abuse and fraud and help combat terrorists and criminals.

As a recognized police force in Tennessee, it has access to law-enforcement databases. FedEx also has a seat on a regional terrorism task force, overseen by the FBI, which has access to sensitive data regarding terrorist threats. Robert Bryden, the recently retired vice president of FedEx corporate security, says it's "remarkable" for a private company to have a seat on the task force. Across the country, FedEx is the only one, the FBI says.

There is a delicate line that Fed Ex must be careful not to cross. It has a responsibility to protect its customers' privacy within reason, but "within reason" allows it to cooperate with authorities when acts of terrorism are suspected. Al Qaeda does not have its own logistics outfit. It must rely on shipping companies, such as Fed Ex, to move things such as bomb-making materials. If nothing else, Fed Ex is protecting its image from the threat that a bomb will move through its system. If I were an Islamofascist bomb maker, I would certainly choose some company other than Fed Ex to ship my work through.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

New Pipeline Should Increase World Oil Supply

BBC News reports that after ten years of construction, a pipeline connecting the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean is about to start filling. Link.
Starting in Azerbaijan, the 1,600km (1,000 mile) pipeline will pass through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

The project has taken more than 10 years to finish and will unlock one of the world's biggest energy reserves. [...]

Wednesday's inauguration at the Sangachal oil terminal near Baku was attended by presidents from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Turkey.

US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman also was present at a ceremony where the taps were turned on. [...]

The Caspian area produces a high-quality light crude, but has suffered in the past because of the difficulty of getting its oil to consumers in Europe, the US, China and Japan.

Until now, states in the region sent almost all of their oil via Russian pipelines.

There are several positives here. The most obvious is that soon there will be more oil flowing into the international market. Yet there is also a geo-political angle. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has tied to keep the former republics dependent on Russia, giving it leverage to interfere in their affairs. With this pipeline, oil from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan will flow directly to the West, without passing through Russia. That sounds to me like money well spent.

Bolton Up-or-Down Vote More Likely

The Associated Press reports that Sen. Boxer has dropped her hold on the Bolton nomination, clearing the way for a debate and vote. Link.
On Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., decided to drop her plan to use procedural delays to prevent the debate on Bolton from beginning, according to spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz. Her decision came after conferring with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat, Joseph Biden of Delaware, and after the resolution of a sharply partisan battle over Senate filibusters that has seemed to take some of the wind out of the opposition to Bolton.

Democrats said they have not ruled out a procedural tactic to postpone a vote, but several said it is unlikely.

"There is no desire for a filibuster," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

I still think that, on balance, the judicial filibuster deal was a net negative, but at least there are some positives coming out of it. I have often read about one senator putting a "hold" on a nomination, but I have yet to see a good description of the exact procedure. Perhaps it is time for a thermo-nuclear option - a senate rule change to abolish the hold. It is bad enough that 40 senators can kill a nomination. It is a whole lot worse that one senator can indefinitely delay a nomination,.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Stem Cells - The Wrong Priority

A big fight is brewing in Congress over expanding research into embryonic stem cells. Of the various types of stem cells, only embryonic ones are controversial, so, naturally, that is the one Congress wants to ram down people's throats. Research on the other types has been proceeding, and progress is being made. Never-the-less, if any usable products come out of this research, it likely will be in 20 or 30 years.

Where should Congress be looking to get more life-saving bang for the buck? The FDA. There are numerous drugs, existing today, that could, and should be saving thousands of lives every year. The problem, the bureaucrats at the FDA, loving to throw around their power, make the manufacturers of these drugs jump through one hoop after another, while people die. When other federal agencies play bureaucratic games, people are inconvenienced or lose money, but when the FDA bureaucrats play these games, people die. These bureaucrats are murdering tens of thousands of Americans as surely as if they were stuffing them into gas chambers. It is murder through negligence and reckless disregard for people's safety, rather than through active acts, but it is murder none-the-less.

Congress should return the FDA to its original mandate: to pass on the safety of drugs. That is very quick. It is convincing the FDA bureaucrats of the efficacy of the drugs that takes many years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Doctors are quite capable of judging the efficacy of drugs. They do not need the FDA bureaucrats for that. We could have cheaper drugs years earlier with no added risk to our safety.

Adjunct Therapy for Prostate Cancer - A Wife

The Washington Times reports on a UCLA study that found that prostate cancer patients with wives or in a committed relationship had fewer and less severe side effects from treatment than single patients. Link.
Married patients experience an improved sense of "spiritual well-being," fewer adverse effects from treatment and less anxiety about the disease, according to new research. Married men even have less distressing symptoms. [...]

Prostate cancer is the second-deadliest cancer for men and will strike 232,090 of them this year, according to the American Cancer Society. [...]

For a year and a half, Dr. Litwin surveyed 211 prostate patients who were either married or in a committed relationship, and 80 single patients. Using a series of questionnaires given to the patients every six months, Dr. Litwin assessed their mental health, personal spirituality and the stress brought on by the disease itself.
Dr. John Gore, another urologist and a member of the research team, said the "partnered" men had less anxiety and fear about the disease recurring and were better able to deal with the distressing side effects of treatment, which typically include fatigue, nausea and pain.
"Partnered men did report significantly fewer urinary symptoms. Moreover, partnered men reported significantly fewer general cancer-related symptoms than single men," the study notes.
"Men in a relationship reported better mental health, as well as greater levels of spirituality," the research states, concluding that the "personal relationship independently improved the patient's quality of life and mitigated the psychological and physical impacts of cancer, its treatment and adverse effects."

It has been pretty obvious for some time that mental state plays a major role in our health. People who are alone are more likely to be depressed, and depressed people do not survive illnesses as well at the general population. This does not mean that all single people are alone. Many have extensive networks of friends. However, I suspect that if you broke down the results of the single patients by how alone they were, you might find that to be the most significant differentiating factor, rather than marital status.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Judicial "Compromise"

I watched on Fox News as 14 "moderate" senators of both parties announced a "compromise" solution to the judicial filibuster issue. The problem was, I could not understand what made it a compromise. A compromise is when both sides give up something in order to gain something they would not have gained otherwise. I have yet to see anything that the Republicans gained.

It seems pretty obvious that the Republicans had the 50 votes needed to change senate rules on judicial filibusters, if the Democrats continued to filibuster the seven nominees they had been filibustering. The "compromise" will allow votes on three of them, and two will be denied a vote. I did not hear what is to become of the other two. In exchange, the Democrats retain the power to filibuster any future judicial nominees they consider "extreme." The problem is, they have considered just about every Bush appointee so far as extreme. Without this "compromise," there would have been an up-or-down vote on all nominees now and in the future.

It reminds me of how our State Department negotiated with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Soviets would grab something that had not been theirs before. The State Department would go in and negotiate a "compromise" in which the Soviets would give back half, in exchange for us giving up something that had always been ours.. This would be proclaimed as a victory.

We were strong enough that we were able to survive those "compromises." Time will tell whether the Republicans are strong enough to survive many "compromises" like this one.

What The Hell Were They Thinking? - Part 2

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports on a Federal Bureau of Prisons money-saving measure, with the headline "Prisoner transfer program plagued by escapes." Link.
When federal prison officials decided to transfer drug dealer Dwayne Fitzen from one prison to another, they bought him a one-way bus ticket from Minnesota to California.

They trusted that the convict known as "Shadow" would check himself into Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution at the end of the two-day trip last fall. What happened next may come as no surprise. Fitzen got off the bus in Las Vegas and vanished. The U.S. Marshals Service considers him "armed and dangerous" and has added him to its growing list of convicts who escaped while traveling alone by bus. [...]

The little-known furlough program, also known as "voluntary surrenders," was started by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to save money and relieve prison crowding. The program is usually reserved for prisoners being transferred to low security facilities, which typically house nonviolent inmates.

Bureau officials would not discuss the program or provide information about the number of prisoners who travel alone by bus or the number who have escaped. The bureau's Web site states that prisoners usually can't take a bus unless they have less than two years remaining on their sentences. But an assistant warden said the limit is 10 years.

I'm sure that it does save money. You no longer have to pay to house and feed these guys. I wonder how many advanced degrees in criminology the guy who thought this one up has. Probably he is an outside consultant who received a high-six-figure fee to tax his brain and come up with the plan. They should just have asked the prisoners how they would like to be transferred. They would have gotten the same answer for no money at all.

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

The New York Sun reports on (hopefully) unintended consequences of one bit of federal largesse. Link.
Rapists and other offenders convicted of the most serious sex crimes have been able, for the past several years, to get the erection-enhancement wonder drug Viagra for free through Medicaid, the government-financed health-insurance program for the poor.

According to the state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, who announced the finding yesterday, 198 Level 3 sex offenders in the state, who have been convicted of such crimes as child molestation and rape, had Viagra prescriptions subsidized by the state between January 2000 and March 2005.

A federal directive seven years ago that Medicaid pay for Viagra prescriptions for eligible male adults did not carve out an exclusion for convicted sexual offenders.

The comptroller's tally of 198 does not count lower-level sex offenders or the less-noted erectile-dysfunction drugs Levitra and Cialis, which have become popular Viagra alternatives and are also covered by Medicaid.

Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Federal, state and local governments are spending probably billions to fight sexual criminals. Then they go and spend millions to make it easier for convicted sexual criminals to continue their criminal behavior. How difficult can it be to put an exemption into the Medicaid funding for Viagra, Levitra and Cialis to not pay for these drugs if the patient is a convicted sex offender?

AMT May Be Next Tax Eliminated

The Washington Times reports that a bipartisan group of senators has proposed eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), since inflation has caused it to hit the middle class, rather than just the wealthy, as had been originally intended. Other senators have countered that it should be cut, rather than eliminated. Link.
Four senators -- two Republicans and two Democrats, including leaders of the Senate Finance Committee -- plan to introduce a $611 billion bill this week that would repeal the tax. The committee scheduled a hearing for today to examine the uncontrolled expansion of the tax. [...]

They object to the tax's growing reach and the burden it puts on unsuspecting taxpayers: higher tax rates and fewer tax breaks. Those affected must calculate their taxes twice, under the regular tax system and then the alternative system, and pay the higher amount.
"The time and the bureaucratic water torture that this tax puts people through just seems to me to cry out for reform," Mr. Wyden said.
Congress created the tax in 1969 after discovering that 155 wealthy filers had not paid taxes. At the time, lawmakers estimated the tax would affect one in 500,000 taxpayers.
As a result of inflation, an increasing number of taxpayers are covered by the tax.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last year predicted that the tax could hit as many as one in five taxpayers in 2010, including virtually all married couples with incomes between $100,000 and $500,000. [...]

Instead of repealing the AMT, lawmakers could free many families from the tax by eliminating some unintended effects. Congress did not intend that families pay the tax just because they had many children or lived in states with high property and income taxes.
The CBO estimated that one-fifth of taxpayers could be freed from the tax in 2010 if children were treated the same under the regular tax system and the AMT. That change would cost about $175 billion over a decade.
If deductions for state and local taxes paid on income and property were similarly changed, about one-third of those projected to pay the tax in 2010 would be dropped from its rolls. That would cost about $360 billion over a decade.
Combining those two options would drop 18 million taxpayers from the tax in 2010 at a 10-year cost of $440 billion.

The AMT was passed as a vengeful measure to "get the wealthy." It is therefore no surprise that it is a bad tax, and that its consequences are far different than its original intent.

The concept of the tax is defensible if the particulars are radically changed. Legislators were horrified to learn that the super-complex tax code they had created led to different people with identical incomes paying very different taxes. The intelligent alternative would have been a simple, flatter tax, with no deductions or credits and low marginal rates. Instead, they created just such a flat tax, but only as a backup for people who got to deduct "too much." The AMT would be a much fairer tax than our current income tax, if it were the primary tax, rather than a backup that hits only some payers.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The MDs Had it Wrong - Episode 497

The associated Press reports that everything you heard about too much sunshine just might be wrong. Link.
The vitamin is D, nicknamed the "sunshine vitamin" because the skin makes it from ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen blocks its production, but dermatologists and health agencies have long preached that such lotions are needed to prevent skin cancer. Now some scientists are questioning that advice. The reason is that vitamin D increasingly seems important for preventing and even treating many types of cancer.

In the last three months alone, four separate studies found it helped protect against lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, lung and, ironically, the skin. The strongest evidence is for colon cancer.

Many people aren't getting enough vitamin D. It's hard to do from food and fortified milk alone, and supplements are problematic.

So the thinking is this: Even if too much sun leads to skin cancer, which is rarely deadly, too little sun may be worse.

No one is suggesting that people fry on a beach. But many scientists believe that "safe sun" — 15 minutes or so a few times a week without sunscreen — is not only possible but helpful to health.

I am a minor league sun worshiper. I have light skin and so I burn if I get too much sun right away. Yet I learned decades ago that if I slowly build up a base of tan, I can take more and more sun without burning. I do wear sunscreen, but I keep it within reason - usually using #8, which allows enough sun through to allow my skin to tan without burning. It now sounds like this also allows enough sun through to produce vitamin D.

Knowing the potential problems, I see a dermatologist once per year, and he freezes off the pre-cancerous stuff. I guess at heart, I am an Aristotelian. I believe in the golden mean. I can do things that I like that the "experts" say are dangerous, if I do them in moderation. Now it appears that my following this philosophy with respect to the sun may have been better for me than listening to the "experts" would have been.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Funny Satire on Dems' Senate Tactics

PoliPundit has a funny satire, looking at what might happen if the tactics being used by the Democrats in the Senate to deny judges a vote were used elsewhere. Link.

Anti-Reid Ads Running in Nevada

The Washington Times reports that Progress for America is running ads in Nevada that attack Senator Harry Reid. Link.
The ads, which begin running today in Nevada, highlight derogatory comments Mr. Reid has made about major figures such as President Bush, whom he called "a loser," Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, whom he called "a hack," and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he said was an "embarrassment." [...]

The ads use the same message that Republicans used last year in unseating the former Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota. He lost his bid for re-election amid Republican charges he had abandoned South Dakota values to become the chief obstacle to Mr. Bush's policies.

The ads cost $50,000 and run through Tuesday on major networks in Las Vegas. They come as Mr. Reid is leading the Democrats' effort on the showdown over Mr. Bush's appellate court nominees, which comes to a head with key votes next week.
"Now Reid refuses to even allow judges the courtesy of an up-or-down vote," the ad's announcer says. "Is this the same Harry Reid we've come to know? What ever happened to Harry?"

Obviously, Progress for America is taking a long view. Reid just won reelection, and he won't have to face the voters for a while. However, it may be easier to hit him hard when he does run again if seeds of doubt had been planted in voters' minds over the preceding years. The ads also may remind other Democrats that will run in 2006 about Tom Daschle, and how these groups can come after them in their own states if they remain obstructionist.

Friday, May 20, 2005

At Least One Columnist Will Say It

It appears what I said about the MSM in the posting below does not apply to all columnists. Jeff Jacoby (not exactly in the MSM inner circle) faces some truths in a recent column. Link.
Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain. But when Reuters reported what Mohammad Hanif, the imam of a Muslim seminary in Pakistan, said about the alleged Koran-flushers — ''They should be hung. They should be killed in public so that no one can dare to insult Islam and its sacred symbols" — was any reader surprised?

The Muslim riots should have been met by outrage and condemnation. From every part of the civilized world should have come denunciations of those who would react to the supposed destruction of a book with brutal threats and the slaughter of 17 innocent people. But the chorus of condemnation was directed not at the killers and the fanatics who incited them, but at Newsweek. [...]

But what ''Muslims in America and throughout the world" most need to hear is not pandering sweet-talk. What they need is a blunt reminder that the real desecration of Islam is not what some interrogator in Guantanamo might have done to the Koran. It is what totalitarian Muslim zealots have been doing to innocent human beings in the name of Islam. It is 9/11 and Beslan and Bali and Daniel Pearl and the USS Cole. It is trains in Madrid and schoolbuses in Israel and an ''insurgency" in Iraq that slaughters Muslims as they pray and vote and line up for work. It is Hamas and Al Qaeda and sermons filled with infidel-hatred and exhortations to ''martyrdom."

But what disgraces Islam above all is the vast majority of the planet's Muslims saying nothing and doing nothing about the jihadist cancer eating away at their religion. It is Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a pro-democracy organization, calling on Muslims and Middle Easterners to ''converge on our nation's capital for a rally against terrorism" — and having only 50 people show up.

Except for letting Newsweek off too lightly, I heartily agree. Readers will already know what I think of Newsweek wanting so much to run an anti-military article that they did not check the facts from a single, anonymous source. Otherwise, Jacoby is right on.

We should have been warned in the 1980s by the death decree against Salmon Rushdi, but that was just that crazy ayatollah in Iran. Decades of oppression on non-Muslims, especially in Sudan and Saudi Arabia, were ignored. During the Cold War, it just did not seem like a front-burner issue. However, post-9/11, how can it be so totally ignored by the MSM?

Why Didn't Anybody Else Think of That?

Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi Muslim living in America, presents a novel idea in Opinion Journal: "If Muslims wish other religions to respect their beliefs and their Holy book, they should lead by example." Link.
As a Muslim, I am able to purchase copies of the Quran in any bookstore in any American city, and study its contents in countless American universities. American museums spend millions to exhibit and celebrate Muslim arts and heritage. On the other hand, my Christian and other non-Muslim brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia--where I come from--are not even allowed to own a copy of their holy books. Indeed, the Saudi government desecrates and burns Bibles that its security forces confiscate at immigration points into the kingdom or during raids on Christian expatriates worshiping privately. [...]

Although considered as holy in Islam and mentioned in the Quran dozens of times, the Bible is banned in Saudi Arabia. This would seem curious to most people because of the fact that to most Muslims, the Bible is a holy book. But when it comes to Saudi Arabia we are not talking about most Muslims, but a tiny minority of hard-liners who constitute the Wahhabi Sect.

The Bible in Saudi Arabia may get a person killed, arrested, or deported. In September 1993, Sadeq Mallallah, 23, was beheaded in Qateef on a charge of apostasy for owning a Bible. The State Department's annual human rights reports detail the arrest and deportation of many Christian worshipers every year. Just days before Crown Prince Abdullah met President Bush last month, two Christian gatherings were stormed in Riyadh. Bibles and crosses were confiscated, and will be incinerated. [...]

The desecration of religious texts and symbols and intolerance of varying religious viewpoints and beliefs have been issues of some controversy inside Saudi Arabia. Ruled by a Wahhabi theocracy, the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia have made it difficult for Christians, Jews, Hindus and others, as well as dissenting sects of Islam, to visibly coexist inside the kingdom.

The MSM love to run headlines, unbacked by any facts, like "Hate Crimes against Muslims up in the US." At most, they might site one example in a country of nearly 300 million people. On the other hand, violence, even deadly violence, against non-Muslims or against members of a different Muslim sect, is nearly a daily occurrence in the Muslim world, but rarely appears in the American MSM. Maybe the editors think that it is too boring, since they see it all the time, but the result is a lack of important knowledge among their readers or viewers.

We talk a lot about the bias in the MSM running primarily negative stories about Republicans or conservatives and primarily positive stories about Democrats or liberals. Maybe we should talk more about the bias in the MSM of running primarily positive articles about Muslims, and primarily negative articles about Christians. (The negativity does not seem to extend as much to Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jainists, Animalists or other non-Christian non-Muslims.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Syrian Moves Toward Democracy

NO, the headline is not a typo or a joke. Buried deep in the Washington Post is a report that should have been prominently on the first page. Link.
Beset by U.S. attempts to isolate his country and facing popular expectations of change, Syrian President Bashar Assad will move to begin legalizing political parties, purge the ruling Baath Party, sponsor free municipal elections in 2007 and formally endorse a market economy, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.

Assad's five-year-old government is heralding the reforms as a turning point in a long-promised campaign of liberalizing a state that, while far less dictatorial than Iraq under Saddam Hussein, remains one of the region's most repressive. His officials see the moves, however tentative and drawn out, as the start of a transitional period that will lead to a more liberal, democratic Syria. [...]

Most prominent among the reforms will be a recommendation for a new party law, said the officials, analysts and diplomats. It would envision the formation of parties as long as they are not explicitly based on ethnicity, religion or region. While this is potentially a dramatic step, analysts caution that even if the Baath Party recommends the change, enacting a law could take a year or more. Also, the party is not expected to surrender its constitutionally enshrined position as "the leading party of both the society and the state."

Emergency law allowing indefinite detention of suspects may be suspended, except in cases of national security, and the government will likely ease rules that require approval from the security services for a host of activities -- among them opening a hair salon.

As part of the reforms, the government is expected to enact a law providing for free elections of 15,000 members of municipal councils in 2007. The congress is also expected to endorse the free market as the country's economic orientation -- a break from the party's slogan of "unity, freedom and socialism." The move would formalize economic changes underway for more than a decade.

On the one hand, I'll believe it when I see it. On the other hand, it may really be happening. When Bashar Assad took over from his father, he spoke of reform, but such talk soon ended. It was widely believed that he was too reliant on his fathers old crones to buck their opposition to reform.

Two things have changed that may strengthen his hand if he truly favors reforms. First is the Bush Doctrine. Liberalization is breaking out on all of his boarders, and he cannot keep this fact from his people. Second is the humiliating retreat from Lebanon. If he can link the policies of the hardliners with the events that led up to that humiliation, especially the murder of Hariri, it might strengthen his hand vis-a-vis them.

In brief, I am not about to hold my breath waiting for this to happen, but I also will not totally disregard the possibility that some or all of it may occur.

LA Times - End Filibuster

An LA Times editorial broke ranks with the Democrats. Link.
We don't share these activists' enthusiasm for the White House judicial nominees triggering the current showdown. But we do believe that nominees are entitled to a vote on the floor of the Senate. The filibuster, an arcane if venerable parliamentary tactic that empowers a minority of 41 senators to block a vote, goes above and beyond those checks on majority power legitimately written into the Constitution.

The filibuster is an inherently reactionary instrument most famously used to block civil rights legislation for a generation.

When a left-wing paper like the LA Times breaks ranks with the Democrats, they should realize that they are on thin ice. If their bogus arguments don't even convince the LAT editors, you can imagine how badly they must be going over with the American people. If the Democrats continue on like lemmings for the judicial filibuster, it could prove to be the Tom Daschle element in the 2006 senate races. The rule change will become mute if they drop below 40 as a result of fighting for it.

Newspaper Guild President Echoes Jordan

World New Daily reports on a speech by the president of the Newspaper Guild, accusing the US military of targeting journalists Link.
Echoing a claim that led to CNN executive Eason Jordan's resignation, the president of the 35,000-member Newspaper Guild asserted U.S. troops deliberately are killing journalists in Iraq. [...]

According to a tape of her remarks, Foley said: "Journalists, by the way, are not just being targeted verbally or … ah, or … ah, politically. They are also being targeted for real, um … in places like Iraq. What outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number, and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq."

Foley continued, "They target and kill journalists … uh, from other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al -, like Arab news services like al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity. ..."

[Mark Hyman, a commentator on Sinclair Broadcasting's "The Point] called on Foley to immediately present evidence to support her claims or resign.

"Unfortunately, the damage may have already been done," he said. "Her remarks could lead to further bloodshed, including against Americans."

Hyman concluded: "The question is whether Newspaper Guild members will hold Foley accountable or will they give her a free pass in endangering American lives with inflammatory remarks without any proof?"

Haven't journalists learned anything from the Newsweek fiasco? Making outlandish accusations without any evidence can cause death and destruction. It is the favorite activity of Democrat officials, and its spread to the press adds further proof to the claim that the MSM are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

MD Gov Vetoes Wal-Mart Bill

The Washington Post reports that Maryland Governor Robert Erlich vetoed a bill that applied only to Wal-Mart and would have required it to pay 8% of its payroll in health-care benefits. Link.
Ehrlich chose Somerset County as his venue because it has one of the state's highest unemployment rates, and the fate of a planned Wal-Mart distribution center here has become entangled in the controversy surrounding the bill. [...]

"It singles a company out in a way that is discriminatory," he said of the legislation, which passed on largely party line votes, in the heavily Democratic General Assembly this year.

The bill would have required for-profit companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend 8 percent of their payroll on health-care benefits. As written, Wal-Mart is the only known company operating in Maryland that would be affected.

It is a problem when you base a party on nothing but a grouping of special interests. The Democrats are following the AFL-CIO lead in making Wal-Mart public enemy #1. However, the people that used to make up a majority of their voters are the target audience of Wal-Mart, which saves them a great deal of money as consumers, and are employed in large numbers by the firm. Democrats like to keep pointing out that Wal-Mart employees make less than United Auto Workers members who are lucky enough to still have a job. However, the employees know that the company pays a lot more than other retail merchants in the area.

Wal-Mart did not become the largest retailer in the country by exploiting people or ignoring the wants of its customers. It gives its customers good quality products at good prices, and it keeps its huge employee pool by treating them better than other employers of low-skilled workers. Otherwise, they would go and work somewhere else.

Background to Court Battle

American Spectator has a column by Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute, giving some background to the current battle over the courts. Link.
In the grand constitutional design, federal courts exist mainly to secure liberty, because that's what the Constitution does, especially since ratification of the Civil War Amendments crafted by the heavily Republican 39th Congress. Courts are supposed to keep Congress within its enumerated ends and to ensure that both federal and state governments respect our rights, whether enumerated in the Constitution or not. They've never done that consistently, of course, but as the independent, non-political branch, courts are charged with enforcing the Constitution's restraints on power.

Over the years, both parties have chafed under those restraints, and lashed out at the courts accordingly. But the first sustained, systematic attack came from New Deal Democrats, outraged that the Supreme Court was ruling their programs unconstitutional, sometimes 9-0. Finally, in 1937, Roosevelt threatened to pack the Court with six new members. The infamous scheme failed on the surface, but the Court got the message. It began essentially "rewriting" the Constitution -- removing limits on Congress's power, to make way for the modern welfare state, and politicizing the Bill of Rights.

That's when, on a grand scale, politics trumped law, the constitutional law of limited government. And it's never been the same since. With the floodgates opened, it soon became a majoritarian (or, just as often, special interest) free-for-all, with winners claiming the democratic "high ground" -- as if that's what the Constitution were about. Liberty and limited government gave way to majoritarian democracy. [...]

After the Democrats lose this battle, as they will, the focus will shift to the more civilized battle within the Republican Party and to the question whether the courts will give us the democratic constitution the New Deal Court invented, or the constitution of liberty the Founders set in motion. That will be one to watch.

It has been obvious for some time that, as the left lost control of the executive and the legislative branches, they turned to the courts to make law as they would want it. The Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to make laws. When judges make laws, they clearly are violating the Constitution and violating their oath to support and defend the Constitution. I have been amazed that Congress, which also has the exclusive power to impeach judges, has sat back and watched as judge after judge encroaches on its power.

But that is a fight for sometime in the future. The need now is for the Senate to change its rules, to restore the system that stood until 2001 where a majority of Senators approved or rejected a judicial nominee. Then we can get at least some judges who believe in the Founders' constitution of liberty.

What to Run and What to Spike

Ann Coulter gives an interesting perspective on Newsweek's record of spiking or running scoops by Michael Isikoff. Link.
When ace reporter Michael Isikoff had the scoop of the decade, a thoroughly sourced story about the president of the United States having an affair with an intern and then pressuring her to lie about it under oath, Newsweek decided not to run the story. Matt Drudge scooped Newsweek, followed by The Washington Post.

When Isikoff had a detailed account of Kathleen Willey's nasty sexual encounter with the president in the Oval Office, backed up with eyewitness and documentary evidence, Newsweek decided not to run it. Again, Matt Drudge got the story.

When Isikoff was the first with detailed reporting on Paula Jones' accusations against a sitting president, Isikoff's then-employer The Washington Post — which owns Newsweek — decided not to run it. The American Spectator got the story, followed by the Los Angeles Times.

So apparently it's possible for Michael Isikoff to have a story that actually is true, but for his editors not to run it. [...]

Newsweek seems to have very different responses to the same reporter's scoops. Who's deciding which of Isikoff's stories to run and which to hold? I note that the ones that Matt Drudge runs have turned out to be more accurate — and interesting! — than the ones Newsweek runs. Maybe Newsweek should start running everything past Matt Drudge.

Somehow Newsweek missed the story a few weeks ago about Saudi Arabia arresting 40 Christians for "trying to spread their poisonous religious beliefs." But give the American media a story about American interrogators defacing the Quran, and journalists are so appalled there's no time for fact-checking — before they dash off to see the latest exhibition of "Piss Christ."

Right wing conspiracy buffs might just see a pattern here. Obviously, Newsweek does not see all news as worth running. Just as obviously, they do not see all of the work of their top investigative reporter as worth running. It isn't the assuredness of the accuracy. They ran with a story based on one anonymous source, and spiked stories with multiple, identifiable sources. There appears to be only one rule. If it hurts the US military or a Republican administration - run it. If it hurts a Democratic administration (or even the US military during a Democratic administration) - spike it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

University Diversity Does Not Include Republicans

The Leadership Institute looked over data from the Federal Election Commission and looked at the contributions from faculty members at the top universities (as ranked by US News &World Report). Link.

USN&WR’s 2004
School Rankings

Kerry/Bush
Dollar Ratio

Kerry/Bush
Dollar %

Number of
Donations





Harvard

25 to 1

97% to 3%

406 to 13

Princeton

302 to 1

99.7% to 0.3

114 to 1

Yale

20 to 1

95% to 5%

150 to 3

Penn

32 to 1

97% to 3%

93 to 5

Duke

9 to 1

90% to 10%

98 to 7





MIT

43 to 1

98% to 2%

121 to 2

Stanford

6 to 1

86% to 14%

257 to 28

CIT

30 to 1

97% to 3%

22 to 2

Columbia

8 to 1

89% to 11%

197 to 14

Dartmouth

Infinity

100% to 0%

39 to 0

Aren't you happy to know that your kids will receive a range of opinion if you pay the big bucks for a top university? Unfortunately, that range is from left to far left. It was somewhat comforting to see that my alma mater, Columbia, was just about the least unbalanced of the top ten.

More on Spain's 3/11 Bombing

Frank Gaffney has a column in NRO that tells of an investigative piece in a Madrid newspaper that found evidence that Spanish police fabricated evidence to disprove the govenment's claim of Basque involvement, effectively performing an "inside job" to aid a coup that brought the anti-terror-war socialists to power. Link.
On May 16, the Madrid daily El Mundo published an investigative report that is potentially as explosive as the 3/11 attacks themselves: It suggests that, almost immediately after the 12 bombs went off in one of the city’s busiest train stations, some in the Spanish police force fabricated, and then publicized, evidence. The object seems to have been to support the oppositions’ claims that Islamists angry over the government’s support for the war in Iraq were responsible.

At worst, the information uncovered by El Mundo could mean that the deadly bombing was actually perpetrated with the complicity of the same Spanish police bomb squad, Tedax, that was subsequently charged with investigating the crime.

Either way, if the leads published in recent days pan out, it would appear that Spain’s 2004 elections were stolen by terrorists, alright. But the terrorist operation that brought the socialists to power may have been an inside job — in effect, a coup perpetrated by some of the same authorities who are responsible for preventing terror. Explosive stuff, if true. But all preliminary and speculative right now.

The article then quotes an English translation of El Mundo directly. There are numerous bits of evidence presented. This is one of them.
Cellphones used for March 11 were unlocked in a phone shop owned by... a Spanish police officer. And not just any police officer: It was Maussili Kalaji, a Syrian born citizen who had been granted Spanish citizenship several years ago and entered the police department when he arrived in Spain [despite] his past as an Al Fatah member and as an agent for the Soviets' intelligence services.

Apparently as soon as [Kalaji] left the [Spanish] police academy, he was assigned to infiltrate extremist groups and so he got acquainted with such nice guys as Abu Dadah, currently under trial for the 9/11 plot and who will be on trial again in the future for his role on March 11. He also was assigned to the security detail of Judge Garzón, now on leave and teaching at a New York university — who insisted that, no matter what Aznar was saying on March 11, he knew from minute 1 that the bombings had been by Islamic terrorists, not ETA. I think we know now why.

And that's not all: Kalaji's sister was the translator for the police in charge of translat[ing] the wiretapped conversations between the alleged March 11 culprits before the bombings. And his ex-wife, also a police officer, was the first to arrive at the scene where another key [piece of] evidence pointing to Islamic terrorists and not ETA was found: a white van with detonators and some tapes with Koranic verses. Socialists blame Aznar's government for hiding this but, of course, maybe its guys got there first.

If corroborated, this evidence is explosive. Obviously the current, socialist Spanish government will not investigate, but someone has to. El Mundo will probably continue its investigation, but it does not have subpoena power. Nevertheless, it can supply an avenue to attract any Spaniard with information. If they get enough dots from anti-socialist Spaniards, they may be able to connect them.

True Sources of the Riots

Opinion Journal has a column by Claudia Rosett about the reasons behind the "Newsweek riots." Link.
We are hearing that Muslims, infuriated by a report of blasphemy, went on violent rampages that resulted in . . . dead Muslims and burned mosques. Meanwhile, not only is Newsweek apologizing and retracting, but the U.S. government is regretting the loss of life.

What's really going on here is two stories. One involves Newsweek and the ups and downs of U.S. journalism. The other involves a swath of the Islamic world in which anger, fueled by years of gross political misrule, is a chronic feature of life--seeking to acquire a target. What produced these particular riots was the intersection of Islamic-world furies and that brand of U.S. self-absorption in which no subject is more fascinating to the American media than any possible misdeeds of the U.S. itself.

For better or worse, the U.S. media occupy an extraordinary position in the world. Richer in resources than most, and freer than almost any, American reporters enjoy an astounding ability to pursue stories of many kinds, in many places. By and large they produce a brand of journalism that despite its flaws is more reliable than most. But it is also focused chiefly on the U.S.

The tragedy in all this is that while the entire world is by now acquainted with tales--true and false--about Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo Bay, the information pretty much ends there. When it comes to the Islamic world's most despotic states, almost no one outside their borders can reel off the names of the prisons they run, let alone tales of what happens within. [...]

But to whatever extent the press is engaged in the business of trying to report the truth, or contribute to the making of a better world, it would be a service not only to U.S. journalism, but to the wider world--including Muslims--to spend less effort dredging Guantanomo Bay, and more time wielding the huge resources at our disposal to report on the prisons of the Islamic world. It is in such places that the recent riots had their true origins.

Newsweek's negligence is inexcusable, but why does nearly everybody accept as normal that a story, even if true, of disrespect of a Koran would lead Muslims to rampage, burn, destroy and kill. I suspect that it is because it is only Muslims of that stripe that we meet in the news media. A lot of the blame rests with the moderate Muslims, who largely remain silent in the face of Islamic extremism. However, even when they do speak up or act, the MSM buries the story, if they run it at all. The only Muslim worthy of news coverage is the homicidal fanatic.

In the Muslim world, the only view of America that the government-controlled media shows its citizens is Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo Bay. These stories are grossly overplayed in the US media, but at least we get other coverage as well. The MSM coverage of the Muslim world is not much broader or representative than the Muslim press coverage on the US. Probably over 90% of the press coverage of Muslims in the US concerns their blowing up innocent civilians. Negligently anti-American coverage of Guantanamo may have sparked these riots, but the coverage of the riots as representative of the Muslim masses ignores the tremendous progress toward democracy that the Bush Doctrine has brought to the Muslim world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Levin Blames America First

Agence France-Presse reports on a Democrat Senator's take on the oil-for-food scandal. Link.
The United States did not do enough to curb corruption by American companies involved in the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq, say Democrats on a Senate committee investigating abuses in the program.

A report by the Democrats released late Monday said the State Department and the United States Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control had taken "virtually no steps" to ensure that American companies enforced sanctions against Iraq.

"We have to look in the mirror at ourselves as well as pointing fingers at others," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
There he goes again. Levin, a blame-America-first Democrat, well, blames America first. The sub-committee he sits on found massive bribes paid to French, Russian and UN officials to look the other way as Saddam Hussein violated the rules of the oil-for-food program to buy weapons and personal palaces, rather than food and medicines for the Iraqi people. Yet no news can put America in a good enough light for a Blame-America-first Democrat to not find a lead lining, an anti-American angle so subtle that nobody could see it before.

Dems' Love Affair With Castro Continues

The New York Sun reports that Cuban Americans living in New York are dismayed at how many New York Democrats voted against a House resolution expressing American solidarity with Cuba's democratic activists. Link.
Friday marks the beginning of the General Meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, a convention of 365 groups in Havana to discuss, among other issues, fostering democratic reform on the island, reducing poverty, securing labor rights, and protecting the environment.

One of the meeting's organizers, the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, has been jailed by the Castro regime for pro-democracy activism in the past. The last similar attempt to convene a major gathering in Cuba - a planned meeting of a human rights organization, the Concilio Cubano, in February 1996 - failed, resulting in a crackdown by the government that extended over several months. [...]

encourage participants, the assembly has solicited and received expressions of support and solidarity from representatives of international organizations, including members of the European Parliament and members of the American Congress. Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 193, which, among other provisions, extends "support and solidarity to the organizers and participants of the historic meeting." The resolution, introduced by a Republican of Florida, Mario Diaz-Balart, passed by a vote of 392 to 22. The bill had more than 50 co-sponsors, including a Democrat from New York, Rep. Eliot Engel of the Bronx.

New York was the best-represented state among the resolution's opponents, however, with six New York Democrats among the 22 nay votes.

Second only to wanting to raise taxes, you can count on liberal Democrats to support Fidel Castro. How can you ask them to vote for a resolution supporting pro-democracy opposition figures in a country that they believe is the most democratic in the world? They share a common enemy, the United States, and they are not about to revoke their support toward any enemy of the US.

One Democrat's Alternative on SS

We finally got a Democrat alternative to President Bush's Social Security plan. Link.
Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, broke with his party leadership yesterday and introduced a plan to fix Social Security by raising taxes, saying it's time more Democrats join the dialogue by introducing plans of their own. [...]

Mr. Wexler's plan would increase taxes to take care of Social Security's projected shortfall. The proposal would subject income above the $90,000 cap to a 6 percent tax -- 3 percent paid by the worker, 3 percent paid by the employer. Income less than $90,000 already is taxed at twice that rate. [...]

Mr. Wexler said he also has spoken privately with several of his Democratic colleagues about moving forward with plans and that "there's a lot more support for this kind of action than people might believe."
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, is considering introducing a plan that would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax while exempting the first $4,000.

I am Shocked! Shocked! A Democrat wants to solve a problem by raising taxes. The main objection of the Democrats to Mr. Bush's suggestion to means test the rate of growth of benefits is that is turns Social Security into a welfare program by separating benefits from payments made. The problem with raising Social Security taxes is that it automatically raises benefits, since benefits are linked to taxes paid. Mr. Wexler's solution to this problem: charge the wealthy more taxes, but do not raise their benefits. Democrats have an incredible ability to hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. X is good if a Democrat wants it, but bad if a Republican wants it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Real Nail Biter

The Associated Press reports that it is still too close to call if a vote is held this week to ban judicial filibusters. Link.
Both sides in the debate over Senate filibusters of judicial nominees claim to have enough support to prevail on a vote to ban the practice, even as the parties’ leaders acknowledge that several Republicans senators they are courting have yet to commit.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., intends this week to call up for a vote the nominations of judges Priscilla Owen of Texas and Janice Rogers Brown of California. President Bush nominated both for the federal bench during his first term, but they and five others were blocked by Democrats. Bush renominated all seven judges this year.

Should Democrats move this week to block Brown and Owen, and Republicans fail to break a filibuster, Frist would call for the Senate to vote on whether to ban use of filibusters against judicial nominees.

Both sides said Sunday they had the votes to prevail, including having support from across the aisle.

Another possibility exists. If five Democrats decide that it is more important to maintain the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, expected later this year, they can vote for closure, and no rule change will be voted on. If the Republicans cannot force an up-or-down vote an all judicial nominees, they do not deserve to be in the majority. Why do we need a Republican majority if the Democrats can call all of the shots.

Flushed Koran Story an "Error"

Newsweek magazine confessed that its facts were wrong in a story that had deadly consequences. Link.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newsweek magazine said on Sunday it erred in a May 9 report that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, and apologized to the victims of deadly Muslim protests sparked by the article.

Editor Mark Whitaker said the magazine inaccurately reported that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that personnel at the detention facility in Cuba had flushed the Muslim holy book down the toilet.

The report sparked angry and violent protests across the Muslim world from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan to Indonesia to Gaza. [...]

The weekly news magazine said in its May 23 edition that the information had come from a "knowledgeable government source" who told Newsweek that a military report on abuse at Guantanamo Bay said interrogators flushed at least one copy of the Koran down a toilet in a bid to make detainees talk.

But Newsweek said the source later told the magazine he could not be certain he had seen an account of the Koran incident in the military report and that it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts.

Whitaker told Reuters that Newsweek did not know if the reported toilet incident involving the Koran ever occurred. "As to whether anything like this happened, we just don't know," he said in an interview.

Does this sound familiar. A major liberal news outlet gets some unverified information that makes the Bush Administration look bad. Rather than take the time to verify the facts, and take the risk that they will verify that the "facts" are wrong and they will not have another anti-Bush article to run, they speed the story into print. However, the consequences were far worse than when Dan Rather rushed the memo story onto the air without checking whether the memos it was based on were authentic,

Here people died. In the American legal system, there is a name for it when your negligence causes someone's death. The word is "murder." There is no chance that our legal system will prosecute the guilty parties at a major news outlet for murder, but I hope the relatives of the victims sue Newsweek for their entire net worth. That so-called news organization is far more deserving of being put out of business than Arthur Anderson was.

A Victory for Free Interstate Commerce

The Supreme Court ruled that states that allow in-state wineries to sell directly to its citizens must allow out-of-state wineries to do the same. Link.
The court said the state bans are discriminatory and anticompetitive.

"States have broad power to regulate liquor," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "This power, however, does not allow states to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment of out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers."

"If a state chooses to allow direct shipments of wine, it must do so on evenhanded terms," he wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The ruling means that legislatures in the 24 states barring out-of-state shipments will have to review their laws to make sure in-state and out-of-state wineries are treated equally. As a result, states could choose to allow wineries to sell to consumers directly, but could also bar all wineries from doing so.

This was a good call by the Court. The 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition, gave states the power to regulate alcohol sales in the state. However, the Commerce Clause requires that states do not discriminate against interstate commerce. Taken together, these two portions of the Constitution mean that states can ban alcohol sales outright, ban certain types and allow others, and throw any other restriction they want at the industry, as long as it applies to all sellers, not just ones in the state or ones out of the state.

I have lived in several states and have seen the effects of different regulation. Alcohol was the cheapest in states where you could buy beer, wine and liquor in the supermarket. Beer and wine were reasonable, but liquor was outlandishly expensive in states where liquor could only be sold in state owned stores, or where liquor stores could only buy their supplies from a state wholesale monopoly .I also lived in one area where alcohol could be sold in bottles, but liquor by the drink was banned. These are all acceptable alternatives of the power granted by the 21st Amendment. However, no state could say, "You can buy this brand in the supermarket at whatever price they choose to charge, but this brand you must buy from our monopoly at double the price available in neighboring states." It would be no different if instead of "brand" you substituted "wines from an in-state winery" and "wines from an out-of-state winery."

Friday, May 13, 2005

Economists for Personal Accounts

A new release from the Cato Institute tells that over 450 economists, including many Nobel laureates, are endorsing an ad that calls for Social Security personal accounts. Link.
More than four hundred-and-fifty of America's top economists, including Nobel laureates Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Robert Mundell, Edward Prescott and Vernon Smith, are calling for the nation's troubled Social Security system to be reformed by giving workers the option of shifting all or part of their payroll taxes into privately invested accounts.

In ads sponsored by the Cato Institute in tomorrow's Roll Call newspaper and The Washington Times, the economists argue that America's Social Security system is facing a financial crisis because of its flawed pay-as-you-go structure. They say that any solution "must uphold the time-honored principles of ownership, inheritability and choice." [...]

The ads will appear just hours before the House Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing into Social Security reform. Among those testifying before the panel will be Michael Tanner, the director of the Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Choice -- widely considered the leading intellectual impetus for transforming the soon-to-be-bankrupt system into a savings program that would allow Americans to invest their payroll-tax contributions in individual accounts.

For an economist, this call should be a no-brainer. The Social Security was set up as a lottery. Few workers in 1936 lived to 65, and so they lost everything they had paid in payroll taxes. Those who lived beyond 65, were unlikely to live for very many years. Today, the vast majority of workers live long enough to collect, and many of them collect for more than 30 years. A system based on robbing the many to pay the fortunate few cannot survive these demographic changes. Only a system that puts part of the payroll tax into an invested account can allow today's young workers to collect anything when the retire. Luckily it appears that most young workers know this. Very few of them believe that Social Security will be able to pay them anything when they retire.

More Phony CBS " News Reporting"

Power Line posts about the latest effort by CBS to help the Democrats in their judicial filibuster fight. Link.
Today's hottest media story relates to a CBS News report on the judicial filibuster by Gloria Borger that aired Monday night. The segment included an interview with Ken Starr, in which Starr, seemingly in reference to the Republicans' effort to end the filibuster, said: "This is a radical, radical departure from our history and from our traditions, and it amounts to an assault on the judicial branch of government." [...]

[In an e-mail, Starr responded,}I sat on Saturday with Gloria Borger for 20 minutes approximately, had a wide ranging, on-camera discussion. In the piece that I have now seen, and which I gather has been lavishly quoted, CBS employed two snippets. The 'radical departure from our history' snippet was specifically addressed to the practice of invoking judicial philosophy as a grounds for voting against a qualified nominee of integrity and experience. I said in sharp language that that practice was wrong. I contrasted the current practice and that employed viciously against your father with what occurred during Ruth Ginsburg's nomination process as numerous Republicans voted, rightly, to confirm a former ACLU staff worker. They disagreed with her positions as a lawyer but they voted -- again rightly -- to confirm her." [...]

It is also being reported that Starr has asked for a copy of the video of his interview and been turned down by CBS.

Didn't CBS learn anything from the Dan Rather incident. They are in last place and slipping, and yet they keep doing what most turns off their potential viewers. People want news, not propaganda, but that is precisely what CBS continues to produce.

No, I take it back. They did learn something from the memogate affair. They got caught then because they made the memos public, and they could be examined. This time they are refusing to release the full tape, so Ken Starr's claims cannot be compared with theirs.

Some Possible 2006 Competition for Hillary

The Daily Standard reports that Nixon son-in-law Ed Cox may enter the New York senate race. Link.
Cox, who has declined to make a statement on his intentions, has made steps toward running for Clinton's New York Senate seat, including launching an exploratory committee. Associates to Cox believe that he will win the endorsement of New York Governor George Pataki.

By the time Hillary Rodham married future president Bill Clinton in 1975, Ed Cox had been married to the daughter of then current president Richard Nixon for four years and had been making valuable in-roads within the Republican party. He became a loyal intimate to his father-in-law, standing by him through Watergate and regularly traveling abroad with the former president.

While Cox's Rose Garden wedding to Tricia Nixon brought him into the Nixon family, and in some ways the administration, Hillary was trying to bring it down. While on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee, she helped to write articles of impeachment against the president. [...]

He is chairman of the State University Construction Fund, trustee of the State University of New York, chair of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and commissioner of the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination. In addition, Cox has written pieces for the New Republic and the New York Post.


I do not know enough about Cox to have an opinion as to how strong a candidate he will be. It is very much in the Republicans' interest to field a strong candidate in the 2006 senate race. Many consider Hillary the front runner for the 2008 presidential nominees of the Democrats, and the best way to weaken her chances is to bloody her in the 2006 race. In 2000, she coasted to an easy victory against an exceptionally weak Republican candidate. If she gets to coast through to an easy victory again, it will greatly strengthen her in 2008. The only possible silver lining would be that she would never have faced a tough race, and may be unprepared for one in 2008. However, I would easily forgo that silver lining to see her face a really tough race in 2006.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dems Must Choose on CAFTA: Unions or Hispanics

Dick Morris has an interesting column on the hard choice CAFTA is forcing on the Democrats. Link.
The Bush administration is planning to submit CAFTA — the Central America Free Trade Agreement — to the Congress for approval. Democrats and labor unions are indicating their usual opposition, and a fight reminiscent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) battle over trade with Mexico in the early ’90s seems about to begin.

But the battle comes at a critical time for the political parties, since the Hispanic vote has come dramatically into play in the recent presidential election. While Al Gore beat Bush by 65-35 percent among Hispanics, Kerry won by only 55-45. Hispanics cast 10 million votes in 2004, so the gains Bush made over his 2000 vote share amount to a 2 million vote swing in his favor. Since Bush won by only 3.1 million votes in 2004, the importance of the Latino vote is apparent.

CAFTA is an attempt to bring to the poverty-stricken countries of Central America the benefits of free trade with the colossus of the north. These nations are among the world’s poorest, and free trade would be a tremendous boon to their economies. [...]

With 2 million people who were born in Central America now living in the United States, the Democrats oppose CAFTA at their peril. These voters will not take kindly to nativist sentiment in the party that says it offers them opportunity and compassion.

Hispanic voters are much less concerned about immigration issues than about free-trade questions. Once they are here and have become citizens and voters, the opening of borders is a far-away issue at best. But likely each of these voters has family still living in Central America. The more than $10 billion sent home by Mexicans and Central Americans living here attests to their concern for the folks back home. If the Democratic Party wants to have an all-out battle with the Republicans over compassion for Central America, it would be a serious mistake.

Hispanics now outnumber blacks as the largest ethnic minority. Democrats have the privilege of ignoring the black vote, since it is so firmly in their pocket, but they have to fight for the Hispanic vote. Mexican-Americans may not care about CAFTA, but voters from Central American countries will care very much. They will care enough that it may trump most or all other issues when they next decide their vote.

How Goes the Nominee War?

The Washington Times reports that Republicans, after a late start, are catching up in the PR war over judicial nominees. Link.
Key Republicans said yesterday that although Democrats did a better job in the early fight over President Bush's judicial nominees, the GOP has achieved "parity" in the public relations battle.
"We were a little slower on the draw," said a Republican strategist close to the effort. "But we're there now — at parity with them in terms of mobilization and intensity and breadth and depth of coalition effort."
The strategist said Democrats went into battle mode over judges the day after Mr. Bush was re-elected in November. Republicans did not catch up until about two weeks ago. [...]

Seeking to counter a similarly aggressive Democratic campaign to preserve the filibuster, Republicans are writing op-ed columns, booking Bush surrogates on cable news channels and deluging reporters with e-mails. [...]

In recent days, the administration has assumed an increasingly vocal role, with Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales speaking out on behalf of the nominees.
Yesterday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan flatly rejected any talk of a compromise that would confirm only some of the president's seven blocked nominees.
"They should all get an up-or-down vote," he told reporters. "Senate Democrats have gone to an unprecedented level to block nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote."

The Republicans have a much easier story to sell. They are not demanding confirmation of Bush's nominees, but only an up or down vote. The American people recognize fairness when they see it. From the Democrats, they are seeing and hearing only mud being slung at specific nominees, including an African-American woman. They know that, if these nominees were as bad as the Democrats' ads say, they would not receive a majority vote for confirmation. The mud slinging is not a good justification for denying these nominees an up or down vote. The people will not man the barricades when the Senate changes its rules to allow senators to vote yeah or nay on all judicial nominees.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

No Drivers License - No Problem

NRO has a column by a LAPD officer about the latest example of legislative madness in Sacramento. Link.
Allow me to introduce you to Senator Gilbert Cedillo, Democrat of Los Angeles. [...] Recall that it was Cedillo who introduced legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses. In 2003, the bill was passed by both houses of California's famously left-leaning legislature and hastily signed into law by a desperate Governor Gray Davis, who at the time was facing what proved to be a successful recall effort. Public outrage over the issue helped propel Arnold Schwarzenegger into the governor's mansion. Under pressure from Schwarzenegger, California legislators, including Cedillo himself, voted to repeal the bill they had only recently passed. [...]

Let's imagine Officer Dunphy is on patrol one night and happens to observe, as he does from time to time, a driver going too fast or otherwise driving so as to make himself a hazard to navigation. Let's further imagine that Officer Dunphy pulls the offending driver over with the aim of issuing him a citation, the receipt of which will encourage said driver to be more careful in the future, thus enhancing not only his own safety but that of the entire motoring public. Now suppose this driver has not gone to the trouble of obtaining a driver's license, either in California or anyplace else, and that he also has failed to obtain the liability insurance required under California law. Not only would Officer Dunphy issue the man a citation for the moving violation that precipitated the stop, but also for having no driver's license and no insurance. And, to make sure this person does not immediately resume driving and flouting the lawfully enacted statutes, Officer Dunphy summons a tow truck and impounds the man's car for 30 days.

Senator Cedillo's proposed legislation would exempt illegal immigrants, and only illegal immigrants, from having their cars impounded, and would lower the fines levied against them for failing to purchase car insurance. Cedillo's reasoning, as best I can summarize it, is that because illegal immigrants are prohibited by law from obtaining driver's licenses, and therefore cannot purchase insurance, it is unfair to treat them in the same manner as those citizens who, through their own indolence, fail to obtain one or the other or both.

Let me get this straight. If this bill were to pass (very unlikely, given who the governor is today), illegal aliens would be granted a legal status higher than that of citizens, and they would be exempt from laws that restrict citizens and legal residents.

Maybe I should not be surprised. After all, this is merely the logical result of the cult of victimhood.