Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Governor-elect Rossi -- for now

The pachyderms can celebrate Dino Rossi’s apparent victory in the Washington gubernatorial election. He was certified as the governor-elect today following the recount.

By Friday, Christine Gregoire and the Democrats must decide whether to request another recount in an effort to erase Rossi’s 42-vote victory margin.

Many people believe that the Democrats will request a manual recount in precincts where they think they have the best chance to discover a few more ballots which can be identified as votes for Gregoire.

The Seattle Times opined that “cherry-picking” in a search for a few more votes is a bad idea, even if it does seem to offer the best chance to overturn the election’s result:
Logical? Yes. Strategic? Yes. But that is not the way to avoid long-term resentment over vote counting. Washington residents and both candidates have to live with the results of this election a long time. Gregoire cannot behave as if she wants vote counting to continue until she wins. The closer the state gets to the most reliable count, the better.

As expensive as the statewide recount would be, voters everywhere would benefit if there is no cherry-picking of counties or precincts in advance. If there is to be a hand recount, take the cleaner, more equitable approach and conduct it statewide.
+ + +
Gregoire should live up to her own mantra to count every vote and live with the results.

That sounds good to this pachyderm’s ears, but there’s a flaw in the logic. If a selective manual recount at the Democrats’ expense changes the election’s outcome, the law requires a statewide manual recount at the state’s expense. While it would be better for the Democrats to pay for a statewide recount rather than foist that cost onto the taxpayers, a partial recount won’t prevent a subsequent full recount.

Former governor and senator Dan Evans made a better argument in a guest opinion article in The Seattle Times: A manual recount will probably be less accurate than the machine-aided recount already done -- so we already have the most reliable vote count.

As Evans noted, demanding another recount won’t be the result of a desire to determine the true outcome of the election:
It's time to be honest about this. The point of challenging the outcome is not about proving the truth; it's about finding a way to change the result. If Christine Gregoire did not believe there was a chance that challenging the results would change the outcome, she wouldn't do it.

Gregoire may change the outcome reflected in the vote totals, but it won’t be a more reliable counting of the votes that causes the change.

She may gain the title of governor, and with a Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature she may be able to govern effectively -- but there would be a noticeable smell associated with her election victory.

The vote totals of Rossi and Gregoire are so close as to be within the margin of error in counting the votes and tabulating the results, so either person would be an “accidental governor.” We will never know for certain whether the apparent outcome was a pure accident -- a mistake despite the best, most careful efforts to count every vote.

It would be better to have an accidental governor than a governor who counted and recounted until she finally got the breaks to fall her way.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Medicinal Marijuana and the Commerce Clause

I didn't notice this ruling when it was issued: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals went against New Deal judicial precedent and found a limit on the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

Now that the case is at the Supreme Court, it might result in an interesting ruling.

The justices may find a way to decide the case without reaffirming or overruling decisions from the New Deal era, but it's hard to imagine how they could do so.

Here's an excerpt from The New York Times that outlines the issues pretty well:
Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Medical Use of Marijuana
Published: November 29, 2004

The Ninth Circuit panel held that under the Supreme Court's recent federalism precedents, the noncommercial, intrastate activity in which the women were engaged did not fall within Congress's constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.

But illegal drugs are fungible and exist within a national market, Paul D. Clement, the acting solicitor general, told the Supreme Court in arguing the administration's appeal, Ashcroft v. Raich, No. 03-1454. "What we're talking about here is the possession, manufacture and distribution of a valuable commodity for which there is, unfortunately, a ready market," he said.

Mr. Clement asserted that Supreme Court precedents dating to the New Deal made clear that "the relevant focal point is not the individual plaintiff's activities" but rather the impact on the economy of an entire category of activity, taken as a whole, that Congress has chosen to regulate.

In fact, much of the debate in the courtroom today centered on one particular precedent, Wickard v. Filburn, a decision from 1942 that upheld Congress's effort to support wheat prices by controlling wheat production. The court held that even the wheat that a farmer cultivated for home consumption could be regulated under the Agricultural Adjustment Act's quota system on the theory that all wheat production took place within a national market. That decision is regarded one of the most far-reaching extensions of Congressional power that the Supreme Court has ever upheld.

Ironically, Legal Fiction suggests that the federal prohibition of the use of home-grown marijuana for medicinal purposes will be one of the first cases in which conservative Republican judicial appointees will begin their assault on the New Deal era's expansion of federal power. If that idea is correct, then it seems the liberal, activist judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have fired the first shot in that assault -- by holding that the prohibition is an unconstitutional overreaching as it applies to such marijuana use.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Horsefeathers and Hot Air

On November 10, a press release from the Media Research Center’s Free Market Project reported their analysis of major TV networks’ coverage of global warming issues.

The analysis shows pretty clearly why so many people erroneously believe they know so much about the subject. Even people who paid fairly close attention to the networks’ coverage could not know what the anchors and editors chose not to tell them.

Here is a part of the report’s executive summary:

To document how network news has slanted the global warming debate, researchers with the Media Research Center’s Free Market Project analyzed all 165 news stories about global warming aired on the three broadcast network evening newscasts and two cable news shows between January 20, 2001 and September 30, 2004. Among the major findings:

  • Global Warming More Dangerous Than Kyoto Treaty: Three times as many network stories (46 percent) featured dramatic reports about global warming’s potential impact than mentioned the downside of signing the treaty (12 percent).
  • NBC, CBS and CNN Ignore Specific Cost of Kyoto: The cost to American taxpayers of adopting the Kyoto provisions have been estimated as high as $440 billion annually. ABC and the Fox News Channel were the only two networks that told viewers about the potentially crippling price tag. Even those were brief mentions in larger reports. NBC, CBS and CNN failed to pass on this essential information. No story on any network was devoted solely to discussing the treaty’s economic impact. Broadcast news shows mentioned polar bears three times as often as they discussed any cost attributed to signing Kyoto.
  • Bipartisan Opposition to Treaty Unreported: Only one of 165 news stories mentioned that the Senate had voted unanimously 95-0 against Kyoto. Forty-nine stories on all five news programs cited President Bush’s blocking or pulling out of Kyoto without mentioning the unanimous vote. That unanimous resolution included Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, though that is never discussed either. The Fox Report was the only show that included this key information about the Senate opposition.
  • No Science Debate Allowed: Broadcast news programs presented the claims of liberal environmentalists that global warming is a given, that mankind is to blame for it, or both, 55 percent of the time (77 stories). That’s six times more often than they showed valid scientific objection to global warming theories.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

They'll be ashamed someday

Down in Alabama, voting on a proposed constitutional amendment resulted in a margin of only 1,850 votes out of 1.38 million, so there will be an automatic recount on Monday.

These things happen in elections, but this one seems a little odd. The amendment would have removed language in the state’s constitution which requires racially segregated public schools.

As reported in the Washington Post:

There are competing theories about the defeat of Amendment 2, the measure that would have taken "colored children" and segregated schools out of Alabama's constitution. One says latent, persistent racism was to blame; another says voters are suspicious of all constitutional amendments; and a third says it was not about race but about taxes.

The amendment had two main parts: the removal of the separate-schools language and the removal of a passage -- inserted in the 1950s in an attempt to counter the Brown v. Board of Education ruling against segregated public schools -- that said Alabama's constitution does not guarantee a right to a public education. Leading opponents, such as Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles, said they did not object to removing the passage about separate schools for "white and colored children." But, employing an argument that was ridiculed by most of the state's newspapers and by legions of legal experts, Giles and others said guaranteeing a right to a public education would have opened a door for "rogue" federal judges to order the state to raise taxes to pay for improvements in its public school system.

The argument plays to Alabama's primal fear of federal control, a fear born of years of resentment over U.S. courts' ordering the desegregation of schools and the creation of black-majority legislative districts.

"Activists on the bench know no bounds," Giles said. "It's a trial lawyer's dream."

The prospect (or perhaps fear is a better word) of a court ruling that would take the school funding issue out of the hands of the legislature has produced an unfortunate result.

The probability of a federal court’s action seems vanishingly small; but if the state’s constitution can be read as guaranteeing a publicly-funded education the chance of a lawsuit in state court is not so small. One need only look to see what has occurred in other states, where school funding issues have been the subject of court rulings.

One could argue (as editors and “experts” apparently did) that this small chance is no reason to vote against the proposed amendment, but the argument would ignore the normal human instinct to ponder the motives of the amendment’s proponents.

Alabama’s constitution requires racially segregated schools, but that provision has no legal effect. Removing it would be a purely cosmetic act.

Such a cosmetic act would nevertheless be an important achievement, since erasing such provisions from the law with the approval of the people would be some evidence that the majority has accepted as right what was once imposed by a court.

The apparent disapproval of the amendment has done the opposite by causing many people to believe that racist motives linger -- and explain the election’s result.

Requiring a publicly-funded education would have more than a cosmetic effect, so it seems natural to wonder whether the opportunity to go to court in an effort to force the legislature to increase school funding is the proponents’ principal motivation.

If it is, they should put their efforts into the legislative process, rather than planning on judicial intervention. In a republic, taxation and the expenditure of public funds are to be decided by the people’s elected legislative representatives. Period.

Without the influence of the school funding issue, the cosmetic act of removing the racial segregation provision should be accomplished with ease -- and the people of Alabama will be one small step closer to the time when they can demonstrate that they feel genuine shame about the way some of them and their ancestors behaved toward fellow human beings.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Rather Gets Fulsome Praise; Brokaw and Jennings Exemplify Poor Taste

A letter to the editor published in The New York Times praised Dan Rather so highly that it’s hard to believe the writer was sincere.

James Taranto’s Best of the Web Today went so far as to congratulate the apparent prankster: “Well, we admire a good prank as much as anyone. Congratulations to Davidman for gulling the Times' editors into publishing such an implausible letter.”

Here’s the conclusion of that letter:
I'll miss Mr. Rather's principled stands on issues like the eulogies for American service members killed in Iraq. That his popularity waned over the years shows, if we needed any directive, how poor taste has become dominant.

I will miss his courtly manner, his discernible humanness, the excitement of getting the unadorned story told by a reporter and journalist, not by just a reader of the news.

Considering the fact that the writer managed to include an insult directed at the news anchors of ABC and NBC — who have, for years, achieved higher viewership ratings than CBS News — it seems probable that Taranto is correct.

The writer was able to call Dan Rather “a bit Li'l Abnerlike” (that is to say, a yokel) and to attribute the higher ratings of Brokaw and Jennings to their viewers’ poor taste — and get the “Grey Lady” to publish the letter. That’s an amazing accomplishment.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Time Machines and Dodge Ball

The puzzling letter to the editor from Mick Horan that was published in The Sun on November 21 turns out to have been intended as a response to a letter from Gary Minder ― published November 13 in The Sun.

Horan’s letter was discussed

Identifying the original letter was made possible by Horan
in his "blog".

Since Horan played dodge ball rather than rebut the original letter, our thanks go out to him for identifying the letter to which he thought he was responding.

Note that Minder’s letter referred to Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth allegations which were indisputably true: Senator Kerry falsely claimed that he and his swift boat went into Cambodia at Christmastime in 1968; Kerry met with the communist delegations in Paris and parroted their party line thereafter; and Kerry testified at a Senate committee hearing in 1971 ― portraying U.S. forces in Vietnam as war criminals.

Rather than rebut Minder, Horan dodged. He claimed that the allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) had been discredited, and that only one member of SBVT had been on Kerry’s boat. The purported discrediting was done by left-leaning blogs and news media, but had little substance. The incidents during Kerry’s tour of duty in Vietnam were witnessed by several other people, making it irrelevant that only one enlisted man who had served on Kerry’s boat was a member of SBVT.

Horan seems not to have looked for the truth beyond brief visits to wrong-wing blogs. One of those he says discredited SBVT allegations made the false assertion that none of the SBVT members witnessed any of the questioned events. (See the “fact” following “false claim #2”
here.) There is a substantial difference between a valid effort to impeach the credibility of witnesses and a false statement that there were no witnesses. (If there are valid points made somewhere in rebuttal of the SBVT allegations, perhaps someone who doesn’t mind digging through the wrong-wing stuff can volunteer to cite them.)

It appears that Horan finished his letter to the editor with his imaginary description of Minder’s beliefs about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and links between Iraq and al Qaeda simply because Horan was playing dodge ball. Having dodged the points made by Minder, he thought it was part of the game to throw something at Minder ― and any old thing would do, whether based in fact or not.

Even with this new light on the subject, Horan’s puzzling apparent belief that there was no link between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda remains puzzling. Since Horan seems to know little or nothing about the factual basis for the SBVT allegations, he may also know little or nothing about the evidence which supported the decision to use force to disarm Iraq. He may well have honestly used “link” to mean “link,” if he was virtually ignorant about the evidence.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Making decisions without the use of a time machine

In view of the definition of "link," what could Mick Horan have meant by the last clause in his letter to the editor of The Sun?

It seems apparent from the context that Horan believes there was no "link," but what does he think that word means?

It seems plain that there were several contacts between al Qaeda (including Osama bin Laden himself) and Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime.

Despite evidence of such contacts, there has not yet been found clear evidence that al Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq had actually worked together.

The threat addressed by the Bush administration involved possible future actions by Iraq and al Qaeda. Faced with the evidence of contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq--which had indicated their desire to form a collaborative relationship--President Bush had to decide whether the probability that such a relationship would develop in the future was too great to ignore.

President Bush decided that the threat could not be ignored. Future cooperation between a terrorist organization that was seeking weapons of mass destruction for use against the U.S. and a dictator who could supply those weapons was too likely to occur.

Horan perceives himself as a man who is difficult to fool--a man who takes the "time to search for the truth."

Yet, he seems unable to understand that falsely denying the existence of evidence which supported a decision is not a valid way to criticize the decision.

The rationale for the use of military force to disarm Iraq was--with regard to "WMDs" and the possibility of their use by al Qaeda--based on the threat of an attack by terrorists in the future, not a past attack on the U.S. by Iraq.

Saddam's regime had been obligated to cooperate with the UN in destroying Iraq's WMDs, but had refused for more than 10 years to meet that obligation.

Waiting several years longer before requiring the disarming of Iraq was no longer a risk that could be accepted, once al Qaeda had demonstrated a willingness to attack the U.S. in ways which were previously unimaginable. The more time that passed, the more time there was for chemical and biological weapons to be transferred into the hands of terrorists.

Virtually every knowledgeable and reasonable person in the world believed--prior to the invasion--that Saddam's regime still possessed WMDs.

Finding out after the invasion that no stockpiles of weapons can be found has no relevance to the decision to invade, because the decision was already made before the subsequent non-discovery of stockpiles could be known.

The decision had to be made with the available information. The decision could not be based on the information which would become available months later--after Saddam's regime was removed from power.

We don't have the ability to travel into the future to examine the results of our decisions before we make those decisions.

Since no one has this ability, basing criticism of a decision on information which could not have been known by the decision maker is irrational.

It is possible for reasonable people to disagree about the decision made by President Bush, but it is not possible to base a reasonable opinion on facts which could not have been known until after the decision was made--just as it is not possible to honestly deny the existence of evidence of numerous contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq which indicated that a real threat existed.

Here's the definition of "link":
Link--noun--"4 anything serving to connect or tie (a link with the past)." Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th ed.)

Here is Horan's letter published in The Sun, November 21, 2004:
To the Editor:

Well it's plain to see a recent letter-writer has bought into the Swift Boat Veterans' lies — hook line and sinker.

Never mind that the "so-called" charges were discredited by major newspapers and others. And, oh yeah, Kerry's crewmen, I mean the guys that were ON THE BOAT. I know about the one guy that wasn't (I'm sure you've heard the term Flip-Flop).

All I can say is that it's sad that attack ads work and people will not look beyond the talking heads on TV and invest a little time to search for the truth themselves.

They let their ideology get in the way of reason. Maybe the letter-writer subscribes to the philosophy "You can fool some of the people all of the time." I imagine the writer still believes that Iraq has WMD's and that there was a link between Saddam and al-Qaida.

The election was over two weeks ago ... the ads worked ... move on.

Mick Horan

Here are the pertinent parts of The 9/11 Commission Staff Report, released 17 June 2004:

Page 5:

In light of the historical animosity between Shia and Sunni Muslims, the confirmation of the Hezbollah role in the [1996 Khobar Towers] attack led many to conclude that Bin Ladin's Sunni-populated organization would not have been involved. Later intelligence, however, showed far greater potential for collaboration between Hezbollah and al Qaeda than many had previously thought. A few years before the attack, Bin Ladin's representatives and Iranian officials had discussed putting aside Shia-Sunni divisions to cooperate against the common enemy. A small group of al Qaeda operatives subsequently traveled to Iran and Hezbollah camps in Lebanon for training in explosives, intelligence and security. Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in Hezbollah's truck bombing tactics in Lebanon in 1983 that had killed 241 U.S. Marines. We have seen strong but indirect evidence that his organization did in fact play some as yet unknown role in the Khobar attack.

Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

Page 12:

Al Qaeda remains extremely interested in conducting chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attacks. In 1994, al Qaeda operatives attempted to purchase uranium for $1.5 million; the uranium proved to be fake. Though this attempt failed, al Qaeda continues to pursue its strategic objective of obtaining a nuclear weapon. Like-wise, it remains interested in using a radiological dispersal device or "dirty bomb," a conventional explosive designed to spread radioactive material. Documents found in al Qaeda facilities contain accurate information on the usage and impact of such weapons.

Al Qaeda had an ambitious biological weapons program and was making advances in its ability to produce anthrax prior to September 11. According to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, al Qaeda's ability to conduct an anthrax attack is one of the most immediate threats the United States is likely to face. Similarly, al Qaeda may seek to conduct a chemical attack by using widely-available industrial chemicals, or by attacking a chemical plant or a shipment of hazardous materials.

Here are the relevant portions of the 9/11 Commission Report, released 22 July 2004:

Executive Summary, page 16:

Are We Safer?

Since 9/11, the United States and its allies have killed or captured a majority of al Qaeda’s leadership; toppled the Taliban, which gave al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan; and severely damaged the organization. Yet terrorist attacks continue. Even as we have thwarted attacks, nearly everyone expects they will come. How can this be? The problem is that al Qaeda represents an ideological movement, not a finite group of people. It initiates and inspires, even if it no longer directs. In this way it has transformed itself into a decentralized force. Bin Ladin may be limited in his ability to organize major attacks from his hideouts. Yet killing or capturing him, while extremely important, would not end terror. His message of inspiration to a new generation of terrorists would continue. Because of offensive actions against al Qaeda since 9/11, and defensive actions to improve homeland security, we believe we are safer today. But we are not safe. We therefore make the following recommendations that we believe can make America safer and more secure.

Page 17:

+ + + Thus our strategy must match our means to two ends: dismantling the al Qaeda network and, in the long term, prevailing over the ideology that contributes to Islamist terrorism.

+ + +

We propose a strategy with three dimensions: (1) attack terrorists and their organizations, (2) prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism, and (3) protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks.

Chapter 2, Page 61:

Turabi [Sudan's Islamist leader] sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and join against the common enemy. In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support—even if only training—for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Ladin reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983.The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations. As will be described in chapter 7, al Qaeda contacts with Iran continued in ensuing years.52

Bin Ladin was also willing to explore possibilities for cooperation with Iraq, even though Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, had never had an Islamist agenda—save for his opportunistic pose as a defender of the faithful against Crusaders” during the Gulf War of 1991. Moreover, Bin Ladin had in fact been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan, and sought to attract them into his Islamic army.53

To protect his own ties with Iraq, Turabi reportedly brokered an agreement that Bin Ladin would stop supporting activities against Saddam. Bin Ladin apparently honored this pledge, at least for a time, although he continued to aid a group of Islamist extremists operating in part of Iraq (Kurdistan) outside of Baghdad’s control. In the late 1990s, these extremist groups suffered major defeats by Kurdish forces. In 2001, with Bin Ladin’s help they re-formed into an organization called Ansar al Islam. There are indications that by then the Iraqi regime tolerated and may even have helped Ansar al Islam against the common Kurdish enemy.54

With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary, Bin Ladin himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995. Bin Ladin is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded to this request.55 As described below, the ensuing years saw additional efforts to establish connections.

Footnote 55:

55. Intelligence reports, interrogations of detainee, May 22, 2003; May 24, 2003. At least one of these reports dates the meeting to 1994, but other evidence indicates the meeting may have occurred in February 1995. Greg interview (June 25, 2004).

Two CIA memoranda of information from a foreign government report that the chief of Iraq’s intelligence service and a military expert in bomb making met with Bin Ladin at his farm outside Khartoum on July 30, 1996. The source claimed that Bin Ladin asked for and received assistance from the bomb-making expert, who remained there giving training until September 1996, which is when the information was passed to the United States. See Intelligence reports made available to the Commission. The information is puzzling, since Bin Ladin left Sudan for Afghanistan in May 1996, and there is no evidence he ventured back there (or anywhere else) for a visit. In examining the source material, the reports note that the information was received “third hand,” passed from the foreign government service that “does not meet directly with the ultimate source of the information, but obtains the information from him through two unidentified intermediaries, one of whom merely delivers the information to the Service.” The same source claims that the bomb-making expert had been seen in the area of Bin Ladin’s Sudan farm in December 1995.

Page 65:

Though Bin Ladin had promised Taliban leaders that he would be circumspect, he broke this promise almost immediately, giving an inflammatory interview to CNN in March 1997. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar promptly “invited” Bin Ladin to move to Kandahar, ostensibly in the interests of Bin Ladin’s own security but more likely to situate him where he might be easier to control.73

Footnote 73:

73. On Bin Ladin’s promise to Taliban leaders, see government exhibit no. 1559-T, United States v. bin Laden. For the Bin Ladin interview, see CNN broadcast, interview of Bin Ladin by Peter Arnett on Mar. 20, 1997, May 9, 1997 (available online at According to KSM, Bin Ladin moved to Kandahar “by order of Emir Al-Mouminin,” that is, Mullah Omar. See Intelligence report, interrogation of KSM, July 12, 2003. On the Taliban’s invitation to UBL, see Mike briefing (Dec. 12, 2003); Rashid, Taliban, p. 129. Rashid has also described the move as part of Bin Ladin’s plan to solidify his relationship with, and eventually gain control over, the Taliban. Ahmed Rashid interview (Oct. 27, 2003).

Page 66:

There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported to have received a significant response. According to one report, Saddam Hussein’s efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin.74

In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin’s public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin’s Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December.75

Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides’ hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.76

Footnote 76:

76. CIA analytic report, “Ansar al-Islam: Al Qa’ida’s Ally in Northeastern Iraq,” CTC 2003-40011CX, Feb. 1, 2003. See also DIA analytic report, “Special Analysis: Iraq’s Inconclusive Ties to Al-Qaida,” July 31, 2002; CIA analytic report, “Old School Ties,” Mar. 10, 2003. We have seen other intelligence reports at the CIA about 1999 contacts. They are consistent with the conclusions we provide in the text, and their reliability is uncertain. Although there have been suggestions of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda regarding chemical weapons and explosives training, the most detailed information alleging such ties came from an al Qaeda operative who recanted much of his original information. Intelligence report, interrogation of al Qaeda operative, Feb. 14, 2004. Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any such ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. Intelligence reports, interrogations of KSM and Zubaydah, 2003 (cited in CIA letter, response to Douglas Feith memorandum, “Requested Modifications to ‘Summary of Body of Intelligence Reporting on Iraq–al Qaida Contacts (1990–2003),’” Dec. 10, 2003, p. 5).

Chapter 7, page 228:

Atta’s Alleged Trip to Prague

Mohamed Atta is known to have been in Prague on two occasions: in December 1994, when he stayed one night at a transit hotel, and in June 2000, when he was en route to the United States. On the latter occasion, he arrived by bus from Germany, on June 2, and departed for Newark the following day.69

The allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001 originates from the reporting of a single source of the Czech intelligence service. Shortly after 9/11, the source reported having seen Atta meet with Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani, an Iraqi diplomat, at the Iraqi Embassy in Prague on April 9, 2001, at 11:00 A.M. This information was passed to CIA headquarters.

The U.S. legal attaché (“Legat”) in Prague, the representative of the FBI, met with the Czech service’s source. After the meeting, the assessment of the Legat and the Czech officers present was that they were 70 percent sure that the source was sincere and believed his own story of the meeting. Subsequently, the Czech intelligence service publicly stated that there was a 70 percent probability that the meeting between Atta and Ani had taken place. The Czech Interior Minister also made several statements to the press about his belief that the meeting had occurred, and the story was widely reported.

The FBI has gathered evidence indicating that Atta was in Virginia Beach on April 4 (as evidenced by a bank surveillance camera photo), and in Coral Springs, Florida on April 11, where he and Shehhi leased an apartment. On April 6, 9, 10, and 11,Atta’s cellular telephone was used numerous times to call various lodging establishments in Florida from cell sites within Florida. We cannot confirm that he placed those calls. But there are no U.S. records indicating that Atta departed the country during this period. Czech officials have reviewed their flight and border records as well for any indication that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001, including records of anyone crossing the border who even looked Arab. They have also reviewed pictures from the area near the Iraqi embassy and have not discovered photos of anyone who looked like Atta. No evidence has been found that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001.

According to the Czech government, Ani, the Iraqi officer alleged to have met with Atta, was about 70 miles away from Prague on April 8–9 and did not return until the afternoon of the ninth, while the source was firm that the sighting occurred at 11:00 A.M. When questioned about the reported April 2001 meeting, Ani—now in custody—has denied ever

Page 229:

meeting or having any contact with Atta. Ani says that shortly after 9/11, he became concerned that press stories about the alleged meeting might hurt his career. Hoping to clear his name, Ani asked his superiors to approach the Czech government about refuting the allegation. He also denies knowing of any other Iraqi official having contact with Atta.

These findings cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Atta was in Prague on April 9, 2001. He could have used an alias to travel and a passport under that alias, but this would be an exception to his practice of using his true name while traveling (as he did in January and would in July when he took his next overseas trip). The FBI and CIA have uncovered no evidence that Atta held any fraudulent passports.

KSM and Binalshibh both deny that an Atta-Ani meeting occurred. There was no reason for such a meeting, especially considering the risk it would pose to the operation. By April 2001, all four pilots had completed most of their training, and the muscle hijackers were about to begin entering the United States.

The available evidence does not support the original Czech report of an Atta-Ani meeting.70

Footnote 70:

70. For Czech source reporting and credibility assessment, see CIA briefing (Jan. 28, 2004); Eliska T. interview (May 20, 2004). For the information being reported to CIA, see CIA briefing (Jan. 28, 2004). For the leak and the ministers’ statements, see CIA briefing (Jan. 28, 2004); Shirley interview (Apr. 29, 2004). On April 4, 2001, Atta cashed an $8,000 check at a bank in Virginia Beach; he appears on a bank surveillance tape. For FBI evidence of Atta being in Virginia Beach, see FBI report, “Hijackers Timeline,” Dec. 5, 2003 (Apr. 4, 2001, entry citing 265ANY-280350-302-615, 688, 896, 898). For FBI evidence of Atta being in Coral Springs, see ibid. (Apr. 11, 2001, entries citing 265A-NY-280350-302, serial 381; 265A-NY-280350-MM, serials 3817, 5214). For Czech government finding no evidence of Atta’s presence and having evidence that Ani was not in Prague, see CIA briefing (Jan. 28, 2004). Aside from scrutinizing various official records, the Czech government also reviewed surveillance photos taken outside the Iraqi embassy. CIA briefing (Jan. 28, 2004); Shirley interview (Apr. 29, 2004). None of the people photographed that day resembled Atta, although the surveillance only operated from 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. CIA cable, review of surveillance photos, Feb. 27, 2002. For Ani’s denials of any meetings and request to superiors, see CIA briefing (Jan. 28, 2004); Intelligence report, interrogation of Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani, Oct. 1, 2003. For KSM’s denial of the meeting, see Shirley interview (Apr. 29, 2004). Binalshibh has stated that Atta and he were so close that Atta probably would have told him of a meeting with an Iraqi official. Intelligence report, interrogation of Binalshibh, Oct. 2, 2002. Binalshibh also stated that Bin Ladin was upset with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for committing atrocities against Iraqi Muslims, and that Bin Ladin would never have approved such a meeting. Intelligence report, interrogation of Binalshibh, Oct. 4, 2002. For Atta not using an alias during his July 2001 trip, see FBI memo, Penttbom investigation, Jan. 14, 2002.

Chapter 10, Page 334:

Responding to a presidential tasking, Clarke’s office sent a memo to Rice on September 18, titled “Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraq Involvement in the September 11 Attacks.” Rice’s chief staffer on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, concurred in its conclusion that only some anecdotal evidence linked Iraq to al Qaeda. The memo found no “compelling case” that Iraq had either planned or perpetrated the attacks. It passed along a few foreign intelligence reports, including the Czech report alleging an April 2001 Prague meeting between Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer (discussed in chapter 7) and a Polish report that personnel at the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence in Baghdad were told before September 11 to go on the streets to gauge crowd reaction to an unspecified event. Arguing that the case for links between Iraq and al Qaeda was weak, the memo pointed out that Bin Ladin resented the secularism of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Finally, the memo said, there was no confirmed reporting on Saddam cooperating with Bin Ladin on unconventional weapons.62

Footnote 62:

62. NSC memo, Kurtz to Rice, Survey of Intelligence Information on any Iraq Involvement in the September 11 Attacks, Sept. 18, 2001. On 60 Minutes (CBS, Mar. 21, 2004), Clarke said that the first draft of this memo was returned by the NSC Front Office because it did not find a tie between Iraq and al Qaeda; Rice and Hadley deny that they asked to have the memo redone for this reason.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Mitterand's dodge

Some words are difficult to translate. For example, le truc was translated by The Times as "the thingy" in an article describing some of the shady dealings connected with the reign of the late Francois Mitterand (1916-1996).

Since le truc was apparently used to describe a secret group of agents working outside the law on behalf of Mitterand when he was the French president, a better translation may be "dodge"--defined in Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Ed.) as "2 a trick used in evading or cheating 3 a clever or resourceful device, plan, etc."

Interestingly, The Times used the occasion of these revelations about Mitterand's corrupt behavior to point out that French President Chirac may be tempted by the power of the executive to have le truc of his own:
The Times, November 20, 2004
How Mitterrand’s secret network spied to protect the President
Trial lays bare the abuse of power employed by a man who trusted no one

TALL, handsome and soldierly, Christian Prouteau looked two decades younger than his 60 years as he stood in a Paris court and lectured the judge on the realities of French presidential power. “You don’t know the theory of le truc — ‘the thingy’. When there is a problem, you have to have a thingy. I was the thingy.”

The former Gendarmerie colonel began to lift the veil this week on the cell of military officers, spies and state officials who served the late President Mitterrand as his weapons against enemies.

+ + +

Much has been reformed since the murky final years of Mitterrand’s 14-year reign, with its mysterious suicides and financial scandals. However, for critics of the monarchical Fifth Republic, the near-absolute power of the presidency is still fertile ground for abuse, intrigue and shady practice. Only executive immunity and Gallic tolerance for sleaze has shielded President Chirac, who succeeded Mitterrand in 1995, from questions about his alleged financial abuses. [Emphasis added.]

+ + +

The trial has exposed the odd way in which the presidency is financed by other organs of state. “Its money escapes the auditors a little like the royal purse did,” said M Ménage, who was Mitterrand’s deputy chief of staff. Judge Kross voiced amazement that all staff at the Élysée had “fictional jobs”.

The still-unchecked funding of the presidency made headlines again yesterday when members of parliament challenged a sixfold rise in its costs in M Chirac’s nine-year tenure. “This uncontrolled spending is a hangover from the French monarchy,” a Socialist MP said.

There may be good reason for the general absence of surprise about the suspected involvement of close associates of Chirac in the corrupt UN "Oil for Food" program. Such dodges seem to be an integral part of the French society.

Sunspots: The Sun omits part of the story on tax reform ideas

Yesterday, the Washington Post identified some of the ideas which may become part of President Bush's tax reform agenda.

The Seattle Times published the same article, including a byline identifying the reporters and the Washington Post as the source.

Playing catch-up today, The Sun of Bremerton, Washington, copied some of the original article verbatim, omitted its clear statement of a crucial concept, and added some "balance"--that is, criticism from some of Washington's Democratic congressmen. The article in The Sun contained no byline other than "by Sun staff and news services."

One of the possible changes in federal income tax law would be to eliminate the deduction of state and local taxes.

As noted by The Sun, such a change would take away the recently approved income tax reform which allows (for the next two years) the deduction of sales taxes paid by individuals who itemize deductions on their federal tax returns:

According to sources familiar with the ongoing tax deliberations, the Bush overhaul plan could repeal an income tax deduction for state and local sales taxes on federal income tax returns in Washington and other states, enacted just five weeks ago, to help pay for proposed dramatic tax cuts on savings and investment.

Advisers said the administration is considering that move, along with the idea of scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance and the federal income tax deduction for state and local income taxes in those states that have such a tax.

The Sun neglected to state clearly the idea that President Bush intends to reform the tax code while keeping the financial impact "revenue neutral." Had the staff at The Sun simply copied this part of the Washington Post article, the idea would have been stated:

But before the tax panel is even named, administration officials have begun dialing back expectations that they will move to scrap the current graduated income tax for another system.

Instead the administration plans to push major amendments that would shield interest, dividends and capitals gains from taxation, expand tax breaks for business investment and take other steps intended to simplify the system and encourage economic growth, according to several people who are advising the White House or are familiar with the deliberations.

The changes are meant to be revenue-neutral. To pay for them, the administration is considering eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns and scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, the advisers said.
In short, every reduction or elimination of a tax in one part of the code must be offset by a tax increase or an elimination of a deduction in another part.

The Sun deleted the word "Instead" and copied the rest of one of those three paragraphs:

The administration plans to push major amendments that would shield interest, dividends and capital gains from taxation, expand tax breaks for business investment and take other steps intended to simplify the system and encourage economic growth, according to several people who are advising the White House or are familiar with the deliberations.
The third of the above-quoted paragraphs--except for the "revenue neutral" part--was stated in the third paragraph of The Sun's article (also quoted above).

Having hit all around the original Washington Post article's statement about revenue-neutral tax reforms, The Sun presented an incomplete report.

While it would be true that the temporary tax deduction for sales taxes would end--either at the close of the two years now authorized or earlier as part of a larger reform--an offsetting tax reduction would balance out the effect on Washington's taxpayers.

The temporary authority to deduct sales taxes eliminated an inequity (which had existed since 1986) by making both sales taxes and state and local income taxes deductible. Before this recent change, the federal income tax code favored those states which relied substantially on income taxes--and discriminated against the few states which relied instead on sales taxes.

If neither sales taxes nor income taxes imposed by state and local governments were deductible, there would be no discrimination in favor of one form of taxation or another.

If the change is "revenue neutral," the amount of federal income tax collected would be roughly the same--and the impact on individuals would be roughly the same.

Since the people who itemize deductions are virtually all among the group of people who save and invest, eliminating the sales tax deduction and reducing the federal income tax on savings and investment earnings would result in no adverse impact on most taxpayers.

It would reward those who save and invest, thereby increasing the available capital--which would, in turn, increase the rate of growth of our economy and the rate at which new jobs are created.

A close reading of The Sun's article reveals a concise statement of the method for achieving a "revenue neutral" result in its concluding paragraph, but The Sun's staff couldn't resist doing so in a pejorative way:

To pay for those large tax cuts, the administration is looking at eliminating both the deduction for state and local taxes, and the business tax deduction for employer-sponsored health insurance. That would raise nearly $926 billion over five years, according to White House and congressional documents.
The offsetting tax changes which achieve the revenue-neutral objective are, in the parlance of The Sun, a means "to pay for those large tax cuts." The amount the reform would "raise" is presented as though the effect is something other than zero on the people affected by the possible reforms.

If The Sun won't provide its readers an unbiased and complete report of the facts, its staff ought to acknowledge the source of the article they partially copied--so readers of The Sun can readily go to that source for additional information and "balance."

Knowing that our Democrats oppose the reforms is useful information, but knowing what they oppose is essential. Without the latter, one cannot know what to make of the opposing statements of the Democrats.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Kyoto Protocol Ratified; or, It's alive!

The French news service, Agence France-Presse (AFP), made available two articles announcing that Russia had delivered its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to the UN.

The first was an essentially neutral news report, but the second was written as a "good guys and bad guys" story of the birth of a treaty.

President Bush's name didn't appear in the neutral report, but he is clearly depicted as the bad guy in the second.

Here are excerpts from the first article:
AFP--Thursday November 18, 8:23 PM

Kyoto Protocol to take effect from Feb 16

The Kyoto Protocol to combat global warming will take effect from February 16, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced after Russia formally handed over its instrument of ratification.

"The protocol will become legally binding on its 128 Parties on February 16 2005," the UNFCCC said in a statement received here, released after Russia handed the document to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Nairobi.

+ + +

"A period of uncertainty has closed. Climate change is ready to take its place at the top of the global agenda," said Joke Waller-Hunter, executive secretary of the UNFCCC's secretariat.

Russia's move removed a years-long question mark over the future of the landmark agreement, which aims to curb carbon gas pollution blamed for disturbing the Earth's climate system.

Kyoto's framework was agreed in 1997 but it took four years to agree its complex rulebook.

In 2001, the United States walked away from Kyoto, saying the cost for meeting its targets would be too high for the US economy, which is massively dependent on the fossil fuels that are at the source of the problem.

It also said Kyoto was unfair, because only industrialised nations -- and not fast-growing developing ones such as India and China -- have to make targeted emissions cuts under the pact's 2008-12 timeframe.

Waller-Hunter noted that only four industrialised countries have yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol -- Australia, Liechtenstein, Monaco and the United States.

Australia has followed America in saying that it will not ratify Kyoto.

Together, those two countries account for more than a third of greenhouse gases emitted by the industrialised world.

+ + +

US abandonment stripped Kyoto of the world's biggest producer of carbon gases and left the treaty on the brink of collapse.

Russia's ratification was necessary for Kyoto to survive.

Its ratification clauses require a minimum threshold of approval by polluting industrial signatories for it to be transformed from a draft agreement into a full-fledged treaty.

Note how the action was described as having been taken by the United States, which is consistent with the facts.

Both the President and the Senate (by a vote of 95-0) agreed that the Kyoto Protocol was a fatally flawed treaty which the United States should not ratify.

During the Clinton administration, the U.S. signed the protocol with the stated desire to work with the other parties to modify it enough to make it acceptable.

After more than three years of futile efforts at changing it, President Bush decided that further efforts would be a waste of time--and so notified the other parties.

Here are excerpts from the second article:
AFP--Thursday November 18, 11:19 PM

After seven-year gestation, Kyoto Protocol set to be born

The Kyoto Protocol, the UN's long-troubled pact for combatting global warming, finally got the green light, with February 16 announced as the date when it will become a binding treaty.

Bedevilled for years by bitter negotiations and a US walkout, Kyoto will take effect just under three months from now, after Russia, in a ceremony in Nairobi, handed the UN legal instruments declaring it had ratified the accord.

+ + +

The move comes nearly seven years after Kyoto's framework was agreed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) -- the offshoot of the 1992 Rio Summit designed to tackle Earth's worsening environmental crisis.

It took four further years of haggling to decide Kyoto's rulebook, a thick and complex volume that includes several revolutionary, but never-tested, ideas for combatting global warming.

During that time, Kyoto's political future was almost destroyed by US President George W. Bush.

In March 2001, in one of his first acts after taking office, Bush said his country, even though it had signed the 1997 framework agreement, would not ratify the outcome.

He said the cost of meeting Kyoto's commitments would be too high for the US economy, dependent on the oil, gas and coal whose burning releases carbon dioxide gas, causing a "greenhouse effect" that is causing the atmosphere to warm.

Bush also branded Kyoto as unfair, because only industrialised nations -- and not fast-growing developing ones such as India and China which are now big polluters -- have to make targeted emissions cuts under the pact's timeframe.

Developing countries are being given financial help to avoid joining the path of fossil pollution and to help cope with the effects of climate change.

US abandonment stripped Kyoto of the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, accounting by itself for a quarter of the global total.

Only adroit action by the European Union saved the treaty, but even so, Russia's ratification remained necessary for Kyoto to take effect.

Its clauses require a minimum threshold of ratification by polluting industrial signatories for it to be transformed from a draft agreement into a full-fledged treaty.

Only four industrialised countries -- the microstates Liechtenstein and Monaco, plus Australia and United States -- now remain outside Kyoto.

The treaty is portrayed in the headline as a living being that is nearing the time of its birth, while President Bush is depicted in the article as the person who tried to kill it.

Note that the first article described the objections raised by the executive and legislative branches as simply the position of the U.S., while the second depicts these objections as Bush's opinions.

Students of journalism might benefit from studying these two examples of how a news story can be reported--unless, of course, they come away from the case study with a preference for the propagandistic version.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Who's the boss in King County?

Today, Gregoire overtook Rossi and gained a slim lead--158 votes--in the race for the governorship of Washington.

The lead change came as a surprise, since King County (a county dominated by the Democrats) somehow came up with a lot more uncounted votes than earlier estimated.

As stated in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Gregoire edged ahead by 158 votes out of more than 3 million cast, after days of trailing Rossi. Democrats celebrated when they heard that election officials in King County - which favors Gregoire - discovered they had 10,000 more uncounted ballots than previously estimated.

"I'm beginning to think we might win this," said state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt.

Rossi's campaign was thrown for a loop by the King County news - just the latest twist in the two-week roller coaster ride that is the 2004 gubernatorial election.

"Boss" Crump--of Memphis long ago--supposedly used to say: "Just tell me how many votes you need." Crump often managed to come up with the votes needed in statewide races to overcome a lead established by a political opponent in east Tennessee.

It's too bad we don't seem to have a colorful figure like Boss Crump in Seattle. It would be a lot more entertaining to wonder how the boss produced those votes, rather than simply puzzling over the substantial underestimate of ballots that remained to be counted.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Leave origins for after-school discussion

It took a while to get from the York Daily Record to the Associated Press wire service, but now the word has spread; and the sophisticates can laugh at the rubes of Dover, Pennsylvania, who insisted that "intelligent design" be taught alongside the standard Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection.

The school board in Dover decided not to include teaching the origin of life as part of the curriculum. They adopted this language to define that part of the curriculum:

"Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught."

Since the theory of evolution through natural selection is offered as a scientific explanation for the origin of species, but has absolutely nothing to say about the origin of life, the school board perhaps thought it wouldn't be fair to lay bare the pet ideas of the sophisticates by including a discussion of the origin of life.

Why pull their punches? Why not require a simple exposition of the two viewpoints?

On one side is cosmology--the study of the origin of the universe. On the other is the belief that the universe was created by God.

On one side is evolution through natural selection, which offers an explanation for the development of different life forms once life came into existence. On the other is the belief that life was created by God.

The generally accepted theory about the origin of the universe among those studying cosmology is commonly called "the big bang." There is nothing in the theory to explain what went bang, or what existed before that bang. Indeed, there is nothing in the theory to explain the beginning.

We naturally think in terms of cause and effect, and so do scientists. We also think in terms of a beginning and an end, but that part about the beginning is a touchy issue among many scientists. They may toy with ideas about what caused a big bang, but they have some difficulty in guessing whether the universe began from nothing at all, or has eternally existed in one form or another.

Having no natural theory to explain how the universe could have existed eternally, or could have appeared out of nowhere, they hope eventually to come up with an idea about the cause of the effect, that is, the cause of the beginning of the universe.

Much the same problem faces scientists regarding the origin of life. The theory of evolution through natural selection is a pretty good explanation for the survival of, and variations among, life forms. But it doesn't include an explanation for the beginning of life itself.

Consider how things look to the sophisticates:

  • It is sophisticated to believe that the universe either always existed or appeared out of nowhere, and that life appeared through some rare combination of circumstances which we can neither figure out nor replicate. But, it is silly superstition to believe that the missing parts of the natural explanation are missing because no supernatural cause is permissible as part of the explanation.

  • Those who believe in an effect which had no cause are scientists, while those who believe that the cause was a Creator whom we cannot fathom are ignorant rubes.

  • Those who believe that life just happened are enlightened scientists, despite the fact that the beginning of life defied the laws of physics by introducing, maintaining, and increasing order rather than allowing a continued descent into a disordered and homogenized puddle of energy and matter. But, those who believe that such a complex assembly of parts is evidence of an intelligent design by a Creator are superstitious buffoons.

  • Having faith in a big bang is enlightened science. Having faith in the Creator who caused that bang is superstition.

  • Having faith in the spontaneous appearance of life through random interaction of matter and energy is enlightened science. Having faith in the existence of the Creator who made life is superstition.

Both viewpoints involve faith, but they aren't equal. One is laughable when its limitations are ignored, while the other involves mankind's earnest efforts to fathom the unfathomable and to discern the meaning of life itself.

It's really not a fair contest.

The school board was correct to show mercy by not including the origin of life in the curriculum.

Science has its uses and its limits--and it would do no good to have the children laugh at science.

Friday, November 12, 2004

What if not all crows are black?

According to the New York Times, there may be a change in the strategy followed by people who advocate for equal legal treatment of homosexual and heterosexual behavior:

Fearful that aggressive action could backfire and generate public hostility, gay rights groups are planning to limit the scope of their legal challenges to the constitutional amendments banning gay marriage that were passed by 11 states last week.

The groups are making a temporary retreat from their most fundamental goal, winning the right for same-sex marriages, and focusing instead on those measures that addressed civil unions in some way. The groups say that broader suits seeking the right to marry could add fuel to President Bush's efforts to create a federal prohibition on gay marriage. Many of the state amendments passed by overwhelming margins, and Karl Rove, the architect of Mr. Bush's re-election, said this week that there was a broad national consensus that marriage is between a man and a woman.

From the viewpoint of some advocates of equal treatment, the article notes a practical reason for changing strategy:

"The consequences - the risks - of losing [in the courts] are great," Mr. Coles said. "And we're unprepared for the consequences of winning." In his eyes, he said, winning in court too soon could mean losing in the court of public opinion, in Congress and under the United States Constitution.

The challenge now, gay rights leaders said, is to change public attitudes.

There's another way of looking at the matter. If we can reach a resolution of the issues through the legislative process, rather than having them settled by a handful of people in the courts, it seems likely that we would all be better off. The legislative process usually reflects public attitudes, and those attitudes will have at least as great an impact on societal acceptance or rejection of homosexual behavior as any new laws.

Society's attitudes toward homosexual behavior have changed quite a bit over the past century in response to efforts at persuasion, so there is no reason to believe that change cannot come through the legislative process.

Starting from a generally held belief that homosexual behavior was simply sinful and wrong, there was a move toward the idea that such behavior resulted from a mental disease or defect. This argument had some success, including the adoption of it by the psychiatric profession.

Understandably dissatisfied with being categorized as either sinners or mentally defective people, those in the "gay rights" movement argued in the 1960s and 1970s that homosexual behavior was simply a "lifestyle choice" which should be tolerated in a free society. That argument persuaded quite a few people, as evidenced by the frequent appearance of the phrase "sexual preference" in public discussions.

Having succeeded in persuading many people that homosexual behavior was a matter of personal choice, the movement ran into a logical and legal problem: Personal behavior which results from freely made personal decisions is commonly subject to the government's authority to make distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and to favor one behavior rather than another.

In response, there was yet another change in the argument put forward by advocates of egalitarian treatment: Homosexual behavior results not from a personal "lifestyle choice" but from "natural sexual orientation." If successful, this new argument would come close to the previous idea of mental disease or defect, but calling homosexual behavior "natural" might avoid a complete return to that view.

That brings us to the present. Presidential candidate John Kerry could state with an air of certainty that people who engage in homosexual behavior are simply being who they were born to be--just ask any of them.

The problems connected with the pursuit of equal treatment through lawsuits have apparently been recognized by some advocates of equal treatment of homosexual and heterosexual behavior.

Now, let's see if they can also recognize the problem with changing arguments to fit the moment--from mental disease or defect to "lifestyle choice" to "natural sexual orientation." Depending on who is asked, and when they are asked, the answers aren't the same. Persuading a majority of people to forget what you previously said may not be as easy as persuading Senator Kerry to toss those old arguments down the memory hole.

Besides, it is probably not correct to state that all people who engage in homosexual behavior do so as a result of one reason. Arguing that it is all the result of a natural, perhaps even congenital, condition is like arguing that all crows are black. When someone finds a crow that isn't black, the argument is disproved. Anne Heche's behavior, for example, appears to be a good rebuttal to the argument that homosexual behavior isn't a personal choice.

We may never know with certainty the reason or reasons for homosexual behavior, and claiming to know doesn't change the facts.

Nevertheless, many issues are settled for the time being in our legislative process without knowing with certainty the answers to all the questions surrounding them.

How to treat the differences between homosexuality and heterosexuality seems to be one of those issues which has to be decided without knowing all the answers.

It is far better to decide such issues in the legislatures, not the courts.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Each generation's duty

Each generation of free people struggles to preserve liberty.

The sacrifices made by veterans of World War I were memorialized through the declaration of a national holiday, "Armistice Day"--November 11th.

John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields," was the best known expression of the resolve of the men fighting in that war.

As it became clear that the great war to end all wars had not ended wars, November 11th became our day to honor our veterans of all wars.

McCrae's poem still states the duty of each generation best.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

"In Flanders Fields" was first published in England's "Punch" magazine December 8, 1915.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Scott al-Ritter of Leftistan

Scott Ritter, writing for Aljazeera, is still singing the same tune about Iraq:

It is a war the United States cannot win, and which the government of Iyad Allawi cannot survive. Unfortunately, since recent polls show that some 70% of the American people support the war in Iraq, it is a war that will rage until the American domestic political dynamic changes, and the tide of public opinion turns against the war.

Tragically, this means many more years of conflict in Iraq that will result in thousands more killed on both sides, and incomprehensible suffering for the people of Iraq, and unpredictable instability for the entire Middle East.

Ritter seems to want an active role in changing the "political dynamic" and turning American public opinion against the war in Iraq.

It's hard to imagine that he can believe publication of his writings by Aljazeera is the way to do it, but apparently he does. Lucky for us and the Iraqis.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Isn't supporting this research part of government's role?

When a possible cure involves no promise of large profits from newly patented medicines, and when there is a competing hypothesis which has already gained enormous political support and government financing, the possible cure must go begging for financial support.

In this
New York Times article, the possibility of a relatively inexpensive cure for Type I diabetes seems promising--but must rely on a fund raising campaign headed by Lee Iacocca to get started.

The reason for the resistance, Dr. Faustman and some colleagues believe, was simple: her findings, which raise the possibility that an inexpensive, readily available drug might effectively treat Type 1 or juvenile diabetes, challenge widespread assumptions. Many diabetes researchers insist that a cure lies instead in research on stem cells and islet cell transplants.

Dr. Faustman's story, scientists say, illustrates the difficulties that creative scientists can have when their work questions conventional wisdom and runs into entrenched interests. But if she is correct, scientists will also have to reconsider many claims for embryonic stem cells as a cure for diabetes, and perhaps for other diseases.

Ironically, research on an inexpensive cure based on a drug which has been around so long that the patent has expired ought to be a shoo-in for government funding, but stem cell research is currently the most attractive idea to government bureaucrats who control the grant process. We need the government to step in where the potential profits are too small to attract private investment, but we have bureaucrats who focus on what they think is "cutting edge" research.

PS--Rather than simply wait for the ship of state to turn slowly towards a policy of seeking out such worthy research projects, check out the fund raising campaign of Mr. Iacocca at the link above, and seriously consider sending a donation.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A liberal dogs Fox News

Fox News led the other cable news networks in election night coverage, according to this New York Times article, but the real news isn't about Fox News: The article actually identified a leftist organization as "liberal."

This astonishing slip of the tongue (or, perhaps I should say keyboard) occurred in the discussion of the allegedly rightward lean of Fox News.

It seems that Fox News denies there is a bias, but instead an inclusion of all points of view:

The advertising sales force at Fox News also has to deal with the cable network's reputation for leaning rightward, though not nearly as often as its corporate executives have had to defend against such charges.

While Mr. Ailes may have been a political adviser to three Republican presidents, he continues to vehemently rebut suggestions that the journalistic content offered on Fox News slants to the right. "Presenting a point of view is not necessarily biased,'' he said. "Eliminating a point of view is biased.''

But, as the New York Times reporter noted:

Critics, including dogged liberal organizations like Media Matters, have begged to differ, and the network's coverage of the presidential campaign has provided them with plenty of fodder. [Emphasis added.]

Discussing the impact of the recent Osama bin Laden video just before the election, Neil Cavuto, an anchor on Fox News, said the Qaeda leader was in effect wearing a campaign button for Mr. Kerry. And in early October, Fox News reprimanded its chief political correspondent, Carl Cameron, for fabricating several quotes ostensibly uttered by Mr. Kerry - many of them about a manicure - in a mock article mistakenly posted, briefly, on the Fox News Web site.

Never mind the paucity of "fodder"--look at that adjective used to describe Media Matters. Not only is that organization "liberal," it is "dogged" in its liberalism.

Keep an eye peeled for the reporter's name to appear in the byline of future articles about the efficiency of New York street sweepers, the loneliness of park benches at midnight, and the eternal battle against an accumulation of sewer gases under the streets of the city, now that he has broken the taboo. Poor old Jacques Steinberg: His journalistic career is surely finished.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

What's down with the U.S. dollar?

What is likely to happen to the value of the U.S. dollar in the near future?

Is it silly for Deutsche Welle to attribute the recent low relative to the euro to President Bush's reelection?

Dealers were fretting about the economic implications of the electoral win of US President George W. Bush, analysts said.

"It's the same story we've had since the election result was made clear," said Chris Furness, currency strategist at the 4Cast economic consultancy firm.

"On the economic front we may well get growth, but we will get growth at the cost of higher deficits, certainly the trade deficit at least," said Furness, adding that the euro could hit 1.40 dollars within the next year.

At the BBC News World Edition there is no reference to the reelection of Bush, but there is a more worrisome description of the situation:

The fall came despite positive jobs data from the US Labor Office on Friday, showing that 337,000 new positions were created in the US in October - double Wall Street's expectations.

"What this (the dollar's fall) shows is that the structural problems in the US economy are completely dominating the positive cyclical news that we had today from payrolls [unemployment figures]," said Aziz McMahon, a strategist at ABN Amro in London.

"It seems now that the longer-term investors like pension funds and perhaps monetary authorities are either hedging their dollar risk or moving assets out of the United States.

"It looks like the dollar has further to fall," Mr McMahon said.

What kind of trading has George Soros been known for? How many people like him are there? Am I being unreasonably suspicious?

Update 7 Nov. 04: At MSNBC News there was a similar report, which included this description of the reaction of Chirac and Schroeder--and a prediction about currency traders' behavior in the near term:

In Europe, the stronger euro has raised fears that it will dampen what has been a moderate economic recovery because of a slowdown in exports. The euro is now 57 percent above its all-time low against the dollar of 82 cents from October, 2000.

French President Jacques Chirac said on Friday that he is “a little bit worried about the weakness of the dollar,” and hinted the European Union should take action. “This should provoke certain reactions on our part,” he said during a summit of European leaders in Brussels.

But Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany — whose economic recovery has been fueled by strong export growth — told reporters at the summit that he sees no reason for “serious concern,” adding that the exchange rate “is not yet dramatic.”

Analysts said that amounted to a green light for currency traders to press their bets because it is unlikely the Treasuries of those countries and the European Central Bank will intervene to reverse the euros rise.

The fundamental disagreement between French President Chirac and German Chancellor Schroeder apparently means that currency traders wouldn't be taking a big risk in the near future by betting against the dollar.

This part of the MSNBC report indicates that there is little reason for worry:

Commerzbank economist Christoph Balz said he expected to see the euro hit $1.31 in the next couple of months, but to settle in the long-term. “The U.S. economy is stronger than people think, which will lead to higher interest rates and make the dollar more attractive,” he said.

In addition, many analysts believe the Bush administration has deliberately sought a lower dollar in order to help U.S. exports.

It's true that U.S. exports can be aided by a lower relative value for the dollar, but it's also true that our imports will be more costly in many cases. How can anyone know whether the benefit will be likely to exceed the cost?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Printing Money via the Kyoto Protocol

Russia has considered the probable economic impact and decided that complying with the Kyoto Protocol's limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases will be a snap. The collapse of their inefficient heavy industry after the fall of the Soviet empire already reduced their emissions below what would be required by the Kyoto Protocol.

Here's an excerpt of the report by ABC News:

"The pact's approval followed fierce debates among Russian officials. Russia's foes of Kyoto, led by Putin's economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, warned that the pact would stymie the nation's economic growth. Kyoto backers rejected that claim, saying even after a five-year recovery, the post-Soviet economic meltdown has left emissions some 30 percent below the baseline.

"Russian officials have voiced hope that the treaty will enable Moscow to attract foreign investment for its crumbling industries through provisions allowing countries to trade greenhouse gas emission allowances.

"Under the treaty, Russia can sell unused emissions credits to countries that have exceeded their limits.
+ + +

"Once the deal takes effect, industrialized countries will have until 2012 to cut their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases to 5.2 percent below the 1990 level."

An interesting part of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the idea of letting countries "sell unused emissions credits."

Several developed countries that adopted the Kyoto Protocol gave away their right to develop their own economies further, at least when carbon dioxide emissions are involved.

Having given away their right to produce energy through the burning of hydrocarbon fuels, those countries must now buy back what they gave away--or find some way to allow their economies to grow while simultaneously reducing emissions.

Happily, the U.S. is not a party to this international agreement, so we can continue developing our economy as best we can without Kyoto's limits--just as our competitors in the global marketplace like China and India can.

Kyoto places no limits on emissions by "developing countries," and instead gives them "a new source of export earnings"--through sales of the newly created emissions credits to the developed countries which gave their rights away when they adopted the Kyoto Protocol.

If the trading of emissions credits actually occurs, it will be almost like printing money. How strange that anyone would consider the result of this trade to be "export earnings," since the sellers will have sold neither goods nor services.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Divisiveness of the Minority

Many of us in the U.S.A. are relieved by the general election results, and no doubt many are distressed by the outcome.

Amidst talk of "healing" the political divisions in our society and of the need for the majority to avoid being "divisive," it would be helpful if the minority recognized its own role in creating divisions in our society.

The reaction of many Democrats to the decisions made by the majority has been the principal source of the divisiveness about which those same Democrats have complained in the past several years.

Rather than agree to go along with the decisions of the majority, they have impugned the motives of the Republicans and generally behaved as though the Republicans are at best ignorant, if not stupid.

All forms of democratic government depend upon the minority's consent to abide by--or at a minimum, the minority's acquiescence in--policy choices made by the majority.

Decisions about public policy are necessary. If they weren't, we wouldn't need any form of government.

Since decisions are necessary, and since decisions require a choice among alternatives, there is rarely a way to avoid choosing an alternative which differs from the one desired by either the majority or the minority. Few important matters can be resolved with unanimity.

Without an agreement by all parties to accept the decisions made by the majority, then no democratic form of government could function for long. The participants must agree on the essential rule: Once the debates are over and the votes are cast, everyone will accept the decision as the choice of the group.

The minority has a duty to abide by the decision made by the majority in most circumstances. After all, the need for rebellion doesn't arise from each policy decision made in a republic.

Our own government includes limits on majority rule to protect the basic rights of those who find themselves in the minority at any particular time or regarding a specific issue, but that doesn't eliminate the need for consent. Few laws are even proposed, much less enacted, which abridge the natural rights of the minority, but most laws involve choosing between two or more ways to achieve an objective. By definition, the minority's preferred alternative isn't the one selected, so their consent to abide by the decision is needed.

Rather than react angrily at the majority's decisions, then blame the majority for the divisive nature of the minority's anger, the Democrats should accept the decision until they have--through the electoral and legislative processes--persuaded the majority of our citizens to agree with them.

Rather than assume that they are the political party of those with a superior intellect, the Democrats need to consider the possibility that they are so incompetent regarding some issues as to be unable to perceive their own incompetence.

Human nature includes a tendency to divide into groups of "us" and "them," and it seems evident that too many Democrats have allowed that tendency to have too strong an influence on their thinking and behavior.

Prejudice affects how we all perceive the world. We tend to notice and remember events which are consistent with our preconceived notions, and conversely we tend not to notice or remember events which may cause us to reassess our preconceptions. By our very nature, we tend to reinforce our prejudices rather than reexamine them.

Too many Democrats have succumbed to their own human nature, and have become bigots who can no longer understand the points of view of their political opponents, much less reexamine their own dogma.

Probably, there is no easy way to change, now that they have sunk to such a low; but losing enough elections may eventually cause them to step back and take a fresh look at the world around them and attempt to open their closed minds.

We wish them a speedy recovery, since our republic would probably benefit from their having regained the ability to avoid adolescent behavior and to participate fully in arriving at the group's decisions.

We are all "us," and they need to take that idea to heart.

Update 5 Nov. 04: Thanks to Instapundit the advice "To My Fellow Democrats" at The Backseat Philosopher received quite a bit of attention regarding this same subject.

Update 6 Nov. 04: The Washington Post reported today that the Democrats are debating "whether to seek any common ground with Bush or to be implacable in opposition." Read the article and test your ability to perceive that the minority party may continue to be the principal source of divisiveness.