Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Investigative reporting is not stenography" 
So sayeth Maureen Dowd, in her column in today's NY Times.

Gail Collins, The Times' editorial page editor, must be REALLY pissed off at her bosses Keller and Sulzberger, to let Dowd's column run as is. And, I'd guess, Keller felt he was not in a position to say no.

Here are a few excerpts - Dowd's saying things that a lot of us have been saying for a long time now. However belated, it's nice to see it coming from the Times Op-Ed page.

Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.

When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D. issues. But he acknowledged in The Times's Sunday story about Judy's role in the Plame leak case that she had kept "drifting" back. Why did nobody stop this drift?

I was wondering that very same thing after I read last Sunday's Times PlameGate article.

And here's a lesson that that almost everyone in today's mainstream media needs to learn:

Judy admitted in the story that she "got it totally wrong" about W.M.D. "If your sources are wrong," she said, "you are wrong." But investigative reporting is not stenography.

Dowd's column closes with this:

Judy refused to answer a lot of questions put to her by Times reporters, or show the notes that she shared with the grand jury. I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.

Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same thing I've always covered - threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.

Brava, Ms Dowd. I know the Times is now in "pay to play" mode, so you may not be able to read it online - but if at all possible you should check it out, in print or in bits, if you care about the health and future viability of the US press.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Vote by Mail in New Jersey 
Whoever you plan to vote for in November (You ARE planning on voting, right?), you owe it to yourself to check this out. Although not billed as such, New Jersey now has by-mail voting.

The actual change in the law was to remove the restrictions on absentee ballots. It used to be that NJ voters were only eligible to vote as absentees for a very limited universe of reasons - being out-of-state on election day, and being disabed were the main ones. But the law was changed this year, allowing voters to request absentee ballots for any reason, or no reason at all. So there's nothing to stop you from applying for an absentee ballot and then voting at your convenience at any time up to election day (which this year is on November 8th).

The New Jersey Division of Elections website has some minimal info about this, and links to a pdf of an absentee ballot application.

There is just NO excuse anymore not to vote.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Is Big-time Dick gonna be swallowed? 
Jan Frel blogs at Alternet with an email purported to be from a House staffer with lots o' down'n'dirty scuttlebutt on Patrick Fitzgerald's TreasonGate investigation.

One of the highlights:
...[Colin Powell] had traveled on air force one with bush and cheney, and brought to their attention a classified memorandum about the issue of whether there was indeed a transaction inolving niger and yellow cake uranium. the document included ambassador joe wilson's involvement and identified his wife, valerie plame, as a covert agent. the memorandum further stated that this information was secret. powell told mccain that he showed that memo only to two people--president and vice president. according to powell, cheney fixated on the wilson/plame connection, and plame's status.

powell testified about this exchange in great length to the grand jury investigating the plame case. according to sources close to the case, powell appeared convinced that the vice president played a focal role in disclosing plame's undercover status.

. . .

lead prosecutor patrick fitzgerald has apparently been looking at the precedent of formerly indicted nixon vice president spiro agnew. this shows the likely path, because addressing executive immunity and privilege questions would necessarily begin start with a plea-bargain deal that would entail a resignation.

Arrest Warrant for Tom DeLay 
Doin' a little happy dance right now...
Arrest warrant issued for lawmaker DeLay

HOUSTON (Reuters) - An arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday and bail set at $10,000 for former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay ahead of his scheduled court appearance this week in Austin, Texas for money laundering and conspiracy charges, a Texas court clerk said.

The so-called "capias" was a "purely procedural event" but would require DeLay to turn himself into authorities to be fingerprinted and photographed, Travis County Grand Jury Clerk Linda Estrada said.

Court officials said DeLay was expected to go to Fort Bend County jail in his district near Houston for booking, but that had not been confirmed.

"To any sheriff or peace officer of the state of Texas, greetings, you are hereby commanded to arrest Thomas Dale DeLay and keep him safely so that you have him before the 331st Judicial District Court of Travis County," the warrant said.

DeLay has been charged with conspiracy and money laundering in a campaign finance scheme tied to his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority.

from Reuters, via Yahoo News

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Subway stories 
My all-time favorite NYC Transit/subway story may finally have been surpassed. The old fave:
The Lexington Ave. Express station at Wall Street & Broadway. It's a nasty, rainy day, and the trains are running very slow - it's been at least 20 minutes since the last uptown train, and it's afternoon rush hour. Nerves are frazzled.

A guy is threading himself through the crowd, up and down the platform, carrying a placard with a picture of Jesus and intoning "Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming." Finally an exasperated commuter sighs and says, loudly enough for all to hear, "Not if he's on the 4 train."
But here's a new favorite, one that could only have happened in post 9/11 New York:
One recent Friday afternoon, a bunch of rowdy schoolkids were hanging around the fourth car of a Manhattan-bound E train out in Queens.

One kid was swinging from the bars. Others were pushing and shoving. This was one day after the mayor and police commissioner went public with information that terrorists were planning to attack the New York subway with exploding suitcases and baby carriages. Life seemed normal underground.

One kid pulled a pair of black and red wires, probably computer cables, from his knapsack and left them dangling from the bag's side.

"Check this out," he told his friends.

The teen then placed the bag on the floor near the door to the next car. At Queens Plaza, the kid popped his head out of the car and told the conductor that there was a suspicious package on board the train.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are being temporarily delayed," the conductor announced moments later. "We are sorry for the inconvenience."

A man on the train, aware of the prank, jumped from his seat and snatched the kid's knapsack from the floor. He hurried to the door, pushed the kid out of the way, and hurled the bag across the platform. Textbooks, notebooks, pens and pencils, an iPod and strands of wire burst from the bag on impact.

"That's my bag," said the young man who planted the allegedly suspicious package, running after his belongings. "Are you crazy?"

"Not crazy, just tired!" the man answered before turning to the conductor in the booth.

"We found the owner of the unattended bag - false alarm," he informed the conductor, then jumped back on the train.

"Ladies and gentlemen, 23rd Street-Ely Avenue is the next stop," the conductor announced. " Sorry for the delay. Watch the closing doors."

via Sisyphus Shrugged

Monday, October 17, 2005

When Incompetence isn't enough 
Unlike recently-confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts, who professes to believe in stare decisis and is qualified by experience, at least, to serve on the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers has lots of strikes against her - most notably that she has no obvious qualifications for the job.

James Dobson of Focus On The Family has been pushing for Miers' confirmation, despite opposition from much of the conservative base. Now we know why, thanks to John Fund of the Wall Street Journal
Two days after President Bush announced Harriet Miers's Supreme Court nomination, James Dobson of Focus on the Family raised some eyebrows by declaring on his radio program: "When you know some of the things that I know--that I probably shouldn't know--you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice."

Mr. Dobson quelled the controversy by saying that Karl Rove, the White House's deputy chief of staff, had not given him assurances about how a Justice Miers would vote. "I would have loved to have known how Harriet Miers views Roe v. Wade," Mr. Dobson said last week. "But even if Karl had known the answer to that--and I'm certain that he didn't because the president himself said he didn't know--Karl would not have told me that. That's the most incendiary information that's out there, and it was never part of our discussion."

It might, however, have been part of another discussion. On Oct. 3, the day the Miers nomination was announced, Mr. Dobson and other religious conservatives held a conference call to discuss the nomination. One of the people on the call took extensive notes, which I have obtained. According to the notes, two of Ms. Miers's close friends--both sitting judges--said during the call that she would vote to overturn Roe.

The call was moderated by the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. Participating were 13 members of the executive committee of the Arlington Group, an umbrella alliance of 60 religious conservative groups, including Gary Bauer of American Values, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and the Rev. Bill Owens, a black minister. Also on the call were Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court and Judge Ed Kinkeade, a Dallas-based federal trial judge.

Mr. Dobson says he spoke with Mr. Rove on Sunday, Oct. 2, the day before President Bush publicly announced the nomination. Mr. Rove assured Mr. Dobson that Ms. Miers was an evangelical Christian and a strict constructionist, and said that Justice Hecht, a longtime friend of Ms. Miers who had helped her join an evangelical church in 1979, could provide background on her. Later that day, a personal friend of Mr. Dobson's in Texas called him and suggested he speak with Judge Kinkeade, who has been a friend of Ms. Miers's for decades.

Mr. Dobson says he was surprised the next day to learn that Justice Hecht and Judge Kinkeade were joining the Arlington Group call. He was asked to introduce the two of them, which he considered awkward given that he had never spoken with Justice Hecht and only once to Judge Kinkeade. According to the notes of the call, Mr. Dobson introduced them by saying, "Karl Rove suggested that we talk with these gentlemen because they can confirm specific reasons why Harriet Miers might be a better candidate than some of us think."

What followed, according to the notes, was a free-wheeling discussion about many topics, including same-sex marriage. Justice Hecht said he had never discussed that issue with Ms. Miers. Then an unidentified voice asked the two men, "Based on your personal knowledge of her, if she had the opportunity, do you believe she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?"

"Absolutely," said Judge Kinkeade.

"I agree with that," said Justice Hecht. "I concur."
Roberts may not have been a cause that Senate Dems could rally 'round, but in light of this - along with what we already can see about Miers - if they can't see through to blocking her nomination they have no business calling themselves Democrats.

In a stunning reversal ... 
No sooner did I write my last post than I read Bob Herbert's column in today's NY Times:

It's no wonder the Democrats are gleeful.

They should get over it, and get on with the very difficult business of convincing the public that Democrats would do a better job of governing a country that is already in deep trouble, and sinking deeper by the day.

It's not enough to tell voters how terrible the Republicans are. (Leave that to the left-leaning columnists.) What Democrats have to do is get over their timidity, look deep into their own souls, discover what they truly believe and then tell it like it is.

Give us something to latch onto. Where do we go from here?


What the Democrats have to do is get off their schadenfreude cloud and start the hard work of crafting a message of hope that they can deliver convincingly to the electorate - not just in the Congressional elections next year, but in local elections all over the country and the presidential election of 2008.

That is not happening at the moment. While Americans are turning increasingly against the war in Iraq, for example, the support for the war among major Democratic leaders seems nearly as staunch and as mindless as among Republicans. On that and other issues, Democrats are still agonizing over whether to say what they truly believe or try to present themselves as a somewhat lighter version of the G.O.P.

He's right, of course, and that IS the question for the Dems - where do they go from here? I'm afraid they have no clue what people are looking for, and without a compelling story of their own to tell, 2006 voters likely as not will stick with the 'the evil they know.' The DLC folks want the party to move farther to the middle and I can't say I disagree entirely. What we know now as "the middle" is so far off the charts that Richard Nixon would have had to look over his right shoulder and squint into the distance to see it. But I'd be happy to see the Democratic Party move to the middle - as long as it's the middle as we understood it in 1975.

I'm sad and horrified for my country, but ... this story makes me unaccountably happy.
Cheney May Be Entangled in CIA Leak Investigation, People Say

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- A special counsel is focusing on whether Vice President Dick Cheney played a role in leaking a covert CIA agent's name, according to people familiar with the probe that already threatens top White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis Libby.

The special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, has questioned current and former officials of President George W. Bush's administration about whether Cheney was involved in an effort to discredit the agent's husband, Iraq war critic and former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, according to the people.

Fitzgerald has questioned Cheney's communications adviser Catherine Martin and former spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise and ex-White House aide Jim Wilkinson about the vice president's knowledge of the anti-Wilson campaign and his dealings on it with Libby, his chief of staff, the people said. The information came from multiple sources, who requested anonymity because of the secrecy and political sensitivity of the investigation.

from Bloomberg, via War and Piece

It makes me want to sing that song from Broadway's "Avenue Q"
Right now you are down and out and feeling really crappy

I'll say.

And when I see how sad you are
It sort of makes me...


Sorry, Nicky, human nature-
Nothing I can do!
Making me feel glad that I'm not you.

Well that's not very nice, Gary!

I didn't say it was nice! But everybody does it!

D'ja ever clap when a waitress falls and drops a tray of glasses?


And ain't it fun to watch figure skaters falling on their asses?


And don'tcha feel all warm and cozy,
Watching people out in the rain!

You bet!



People taking pleasure in your pain!

Oh, Schadenfreude, huh?
What's that, some kinda Nazi word?

Yup! It's German for "happiness at the misfortune of others!"

"Happiness at the misfortune of others." That is German!

Watching a vegetarian being told she just ate chicken

Or watching a frat boy realize just what he put his dick in!

Being on the elevator when somebody shouts "Hold the door!"


"Fuck you lady, that's what stairs are for!"

Ooh, how about...
Straight-A students getting Bs?

Exes getting STDs!

Waking doormen from their naps!

Watching tourists reading maps!

Football players getting tackled!

CEOs getting shackled!

Watching actors never reach

The ending of their oscar speech!

The world needs people like you and me who've been knocked around by fate.
'Cause when people see us, they don't want to be us,
and that makes them feel great.

We provide a vital service to society!

You and me!
Making the world a better place...
Making the world a better place...
Making the world a better place...
To be!


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Looks like The Times isn't any too happy 
I missed this yesterday. From The Raw Story:
Reporter in leak case to take leave of absence effective immediately

John Byrne and Jason Leopold

New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail protecting her source in the recent CIA leak investigation, will take an indefinite leave of absence effective immediately.

"Judy is going to take some time off until we decide what she is doing next," Times' spokesperson Catherine Mathis told RAW STORY Saturday afternoon.

RAW STORY spoke with Miller by telephone at the New York Times newsroom in Washington Friday evening. She said that she had not previously been questioned about her plans going forward, and deferred extended comment to her publicist.

The Times' Sunday story asserts that Miller has not signed a book deal as previously reported.

"She said she thought she would write a book about her experiences in the leak case, although she added that she did not yet have a book deal," the article says. "She also plans on taking some time off but says she hopes to return to the newsroom."

Two reporters inside the newsroom say they have heard Miller will resign from the paper.

Miller was not cooperative with the Times internal probe, reporters told RAW STORY Thursday. This was confirmed in the New York Times' internal probe.

"In two interviews, Ms. Miller generally would not discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written account of her grand jury testimony or allow reporters to review her notes," the Times reporters wrote.

The paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, says Miller provided a "detailed report."

"The package we are giving readers includes Judy Miller's account of what she told the Special Counsel," Keller said in a statement. "No other reporter drawn into this investigation has provided such a detailed report. We're relieved that we can finally put this story in the hands of our readers, who will draw their own conclusions."

I like the phrasing - "Judy is going to take some time off until we decide what she is doing next." Apparently Judy has no say in what she's doing next. At least not at The Times.

The Judy Miller show 
These are the thoughts I jotted down while reading the Judy Miller/TreasonGate article in today's New York Times. I'm sure I'll think of more later, and I'll probably keep most of it to myself. The blogosphere, the mainstream media, and vast stretches of winguttia will be filled with this stuff for the next several weeks.

I find it really hard to buy into Miller's claim that she doesn't remember who gave her the name "Valerie Flame" - she's supposed to be a pro - she'd keep careful track of who her sources were, especially when it involved personal information about a 3rd party. And it clearly had to come from some source, because if she'd looked up Joe Wilson's wife herself she would have found the name 'Valerie Wilson,' or even (though less likely) 'Valerie Plame' - but certainly not 'Valerie Flame.'

If Bill Keller really told Miller she could no longer work on WMD and Iraq issues, why did he subsequently allow 5 more of her articles on the subject into the paper? He could have killed them, which would have forced her in the direction he wanted her to go, instead of publishing them and encouraging her to continue working on stories he claims he didn't want her working on.

According to the article, "Sulzberger and Keller knew few details..." yet they "did not review Miller's notes." Last year Times senior management felt obliged to publish a mea culpa of sorts about their Iraq coverage, particularly about the totally off-base WMD stories - stories that were reported by Ms Miller (though she wasn't mentioned by name). Why, after her poorly researched and totally wrong articles had embarassed the paper so badly, were Sulzberger and Keller so trusting that they'd once again put the paper's prestige, legal resources, and money on the line simply on Ms Miller's say so? She'd already burned the paper and, according to the article, she seemed to have little interest in the needs or desires of her employers. Are Sulzberger and Keller really that credulous and irresponsible?

Speaking of credulous - Miller's credulity strains mine. After her reporting on Iraqi WMD, based primarily on one less-than-honest source (Ahmed Chalabi), she can say with a straight face that Scooter Libby was "a good faith source who was usually straight with me?" Is she so ignorant of domestic politics that she'd believe that Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff would be "straight" with anyone in the press unless it served the administration's (or Cheney's) goals? And when she says that Libby wasn't forcing the Wilson/Plame info on her - that it was matter-of-fact background stuff - it raises the credulity quotient even higher. If you want information to get around, and you want it to seem genuine and unforced, would you paint it on a sign with ten-foot high letters, or shout it in the face of every reporter you come across? Or would you pass it off as 'oh, by the way' material?

The Times claims that "If Ms Miller testifies, it may be immeasurably harder in the future to persuade a frightened government employee to talk about malfeasance in high places." That is so much self-serving BS, it seems to me. In this case, the "malfeasance in high places" was Libby and Rove's attempt to use the press to attack an actual whistle-blower. When reporters get a story like the Plame one, it not only would make sense to get independent confirmation (and, I suppose, The Times would have attempted to do so if they'd actually published the story) but also ought, at least, to raise the reporters hackles. Why is the information being disseminated? What administration goals does it advance? Who gets helped, and who hurt, by the story - and what larger policy agenda is involved? These are the stories that ought to have been generated. That no one wrote them nor, apparently, even thought to write them, says scads about what's wrong with the press in this country today. In particular Ms Miller and The Times, after being burned so badly by the Bush Administration on the WMD stories, should have been much more suspicious of Administration motives.

Finally, although Ms Miller's suspicion meter didn't seem to jiggle at all for information provided by Chalabi or Libby, why did she suddenly get so suspicious of motives and honesty when it came to Libby's assurances that she was free to testify? She'd been told by Libby's lawyer, and then in writing from Libby, that she was free to reveal him as her source - yet she insisted that he come and tell her face to face. Would that she had been so careful about information that has cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq.

Miller time 
I've been avoiding the blogosphere this morning, so I can get my own first impressions of the Judith Miller story in this morning's NY Times.

So ... I'll jot those first impressions down, and post them in a bit.

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