Archive for July, 2007

Oversight, accountability, and independence

The US government has accountability structures to help inhibit corruption and misuse of power. There are complaints and allegations that the Executive branch is stepping all over the Legislative and Judicial as a part of the ongoing political battle. The reality is much more dangerous than the allegations convey.

We are witnessing an attempt by Congress to take over a core function of the executive branch: the duty to execute the laws, which includes the discretion over when to prosecute violations of criminal law. Despite what Big Media would have you believe, this controversy isn’t about President Bush exerting undue influence over United States Attorneys. It’s about Congress trying to usurp the executive’s constitutional powers, by trying to force the Department of Justice to bring a prosecution that DoJ believes should not be brought. And it’s about congressional attempts to destroy any notion of executive privilege, by summoning executive officials before various congressional committees to interrogate them about high-level executive deliberations. [A True Assault on Prosecutorial Independence]

Bruce Fein worries that “If Congress turns the other cheek to President Bush’s latest assault, it will have plunged into irrelevancy.” His worries are typical of those who are making allegations about abuse of power.

The remedy for the president’s absolute prosecutorial discretion is for Congress to pass a modified version of the old Independent Counsel Act. It created a special three-judge panel, selected by the chief justice of the United States and empowered to appoint independent counsels operating outside the president’s control, for example, shielded from the president’s removal power. [Death of congressional oversight?]

John Yoo thinks that “Democrats who supported President Bill Clinton’s assertions of executive privilege in the ’90s are being hypocritical by jumping all over Mr. Bush now, too.”

Rather than run from this fight, supporters of the constitutional system ought to stand firm with the president. Presidents, Congresses, and the courts have long accepted a president’s right to keep internal executive discussions confidential. … Without secrecy, the government can’t function. No one thinks conversations between federal judges and their clerks, or members of Congress and their staff, ought to be aired publicly without good reason. The same goes for presidents–even if their poll ratings are low. [Contempt and Congress]

A key here is in the standing of the allegations. Where is the crime? The ACLU effort against the telephone surveillance program was dismissed because they couldn’t show any crime or any harm. The Plame lawsuit was dismissed because she could not demonstrate the status she claimed. The Libby case was also an obstruction of justice about a crime that did not occur.

The current effort is based on the firing of District Attorneys. Again, no evidence of any crime or inappropriate conduct even after intensive investigation. Several potential witnesses, after seeing what was done to Libby, refuse to testify. That was reinforced by the efforts to smear the Attorney General with perjury by being very very sloppy in comparing testimony.

It is also worthy of note that Congress wants testimony in public and on the record even if it involves revealing national security secrets. Their interest is not in finding out what is going on or in providing appropriate oversight else they would accept the offers to discuss their concerns off the record.

For Fein and others, the challenge is to identify “President Bush’s latest assault” and put it on the table. Making such assertions without substance is where oversight and accountability become hollow words. Here is where Powerline thinks the Congressional oversight effort should go:

Congress can investigate whether meritless cases have been brought for partisan purposes, and whether investigations of Republicans have been obstructed, without probing communications within the executive branch. If Congress is genuinely concerned about such potential abuses, as opposed to simply attacking the White House for its own partisan gain, why not investigate the actual litigation practices of the U.S. attorney offices in question? If there is evidence of investigations of Republicans being aborted or stymied due to the ouster of a U.S. attorney, or of meritless cases being brought against Democrats by a replacement U.S. attorney, then there might be a substantial reason for someone to look behind the scenes of the executive branch to determine whether a particular U.S. attorney was removed for criminal reasons. If there’s no other mechanism in place to take that look (no special prosecutor, no adequate investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General), then Congress might have a substantial interest in doing so. [Is this investigation really necessary?]

The structure of the US Government provides three branches that are independent and have separate responsibilities in the chain of governance. That provides for oversight and accountability. The problem here, as illustrated by Congress, is that holding someone to account is a two party affair. If the allegations are false or misdirected, then so is the effort to provide oversight. In this case, it appears that Congress has decided that there is malfeasance. Rather than define and clarify that malfeasance, rather than identify the victims and the crime, they are attempting to remove the clothing from their political enemies in hopes of causing embarrassment. This is crude partisan politics and not appropriate oversight.

The only oversight for that malfeasance is in the hands of the voters.

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Epidemic of illogic

In Paranoid Logic. Dr. Sanity wonders about the epidemic of illogic and its effects.

If scientists can say that obesity is “socially contagious”, consider for a moment how a much more contagious psychological processes like paranoia and projection are. Indeed, this tendency to deny reality is at epidemic levels. In our own country, we must deal with an entire poltical party and half the nation in the grip of the illness.

In making paranoid pronouncements, the paranoid person always takes himself or herself extremely seriously.

Everything can be explained by paranoid logic. In fact, paranoia is really nothing more than the use of reason and logic in the service of the irrational and bizarre.

To those who are using such a defense, their behavior and rhetoric seem perfectly logical and internally consistent. It is, in fact, as impeccable as any reasoning can be–considering that it originates from distorted premises. Paranoia has been referred to as “the rational in the service of the irrational” for good reasons.

And, by that kind of “logic” it makes perfect sense to use the maximum force possible to destroy those who the paranoid believes are responsible for the evil:

The key points here:

    • People tend to conform to group norms whether it is lifestyle habits that lead to obesity or thinking habits that lead to paranoia and delusion.
    • There is a certitude and completeness that goes with unhealthy thinking that is necessary to confirm its credibility by creating a balancing weight to reality.
    • After a delusion has been created and internalized, then it is necessary to fit the ‘square peg into the round hole’ by doing whatever is necessary to attempt to make reality fit into the delusion: the ends come to justify the means.
  • These are things to look for when you evaluate the credibility of debate. Hysteria and emotional diatribe presented with an astounding certitude often accompany the attempt to make a complete picture distorted from reality. The conclusion is paramount and often based on a perception of a group norm. There is a stridency to do what is necessary to make the conclusion true.

    It is one think to assert that “the sky is blue and the grass is green” and yet another to say that “the war in Iraq is lost.” The manner of presentation should reflect the difference in the precision and accuracy of these statements.

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    Targets of opportunity

    Victor Davis Hanson takes a look at the allegations that the Bush Administration is The Real Threat to Civil Liberties. With so many targets, why are only a few cited and so many ignored when it comes to allegations about the threat to civil liberties? That is almost as interesting a question as to why those targets that get the attention do not really support the allegation being made.

    Four targets are identified: selective enforcement, prosecutor privilege, trends in the Supreme Court, and efforts to assure ‘fairness’ in public dialog.

    It is stereotypically easy to identify authoritarians who seek restrict civil liberties during war in the name of “national security.” But it is much harder to take on crusading special interest groups, district attorneys, court justices, and liberal Senators who ignore, twist, or subvert our constitutional freedoms under the liberal clarion call of helping minorities, stopping the war, or championing the underclass.

    If we are to lose our civil liberties, it won’t be all of sudden due to Patriot-Act zealots in sunglasses and flattops, but rather insidiously and incrementally by egalitarian professors, moral crusaders, muckraking journalists, and government utopians all unhappy that constitutional justice is too little and too late for their ever impatient desire to ensure heaven on earth.

    In other words, yes there are threats to our civil liberties. These threats are represented in targets that are often allied with our own views. That is why those who choose targets of opportunity rather than targets of merit must be very careful of their aim.

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    The real fascist threat

    There have been a lot of allegations about creeping fascism and the squashing of civil liberties of late. These have been directed in a manner that has raised questions about derangement.

    What has not gained much notice is the real fascist threat, the one that does infringe on civil liberties and has rather egregious examples to illustrate it. That threat is from prosecutorial zeal. Observations about this are one reason the independent prosecutor thing circa Nixon was allowed to expire. Mr. Nifong provided a rather public example recently in the Duke case. Then there is the junior high school pervert problem:

    Mashburn and Cornelison do not believe they’ve committed a crime, so they would like to exercise their right to the presumption of innocence – a bedrock principle of the English legal tradition now in great peril from American prosecutorial excess. Instead of letting the state bully them into a grubby, shaming deal, the boys would like it to do what justice systems in civilized societies are required to do: prove the crime. It’s a gamble: Those 10 charges each command a one-year sentence, plus lifelong sex-offender registration. … A society that looses the state to criminalize schoolroom horseplay is guilty not only of punishing children as grown-ups but of the infantilization of the entire citizenry. [Mark Steyn: Swat somebody’s butt, and yours belongs to the the D.A.]

    And an example of the efforts to fill the federal prisons with drug offenders.

    the case against the lawyer fell apart, though they stuck him with one count of mail fraud and pretty much destroyed his life. And since then I’ve been a consistent opponent of the “war on drugs” because, as I wrote the other day and as I’ve written before in The American Spectator and elsewhere, it corrodes the integrity of the justice system, and it’s foolish to think that that that corrosion can be confined only to one corner of the law. [Maclean’s Canada – Blogs | Conrad Black Trial]

    What happens is that a government agent is given the charge to nail the bad guys. They are provided with public sentiment about what are the bad things. Sometimes the desire to get the job done obscures the fundamental justice. That can create much pain and expense for the innocent. It also can stimulate distrust and cynicism about government and its action. That doesn’t bode well.

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    Teardown: FTNY contrasted

    The Firefighters Union doesn’t think much of Giuliani as a candidate for President. They released a video some compare to those of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth effort in the last Presidential campaign. The problem is, nobody has had much success showing how the Swiftboat Veteran’s were off base but the same cannot be said for the Firefighters Union. Jin Geraghty provides an example of the kinds of things you might look for when you view campaign related advertising. Whether or not you agree with the politics, the facts of the matter will apply. Look for these techniques that Geraghty describes as the measure of honesty in the ad should tell you a lot about the people behind it.

    I watched it, trying to see if there were any legitimate gripes among the attacks. …They are few and far between, and the overall tone of the video makes the Swift Boat Vets for Truth ads look like C-SPAN. … the union members are just grasping for what they can find, throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticking. … Every Rudy decision is looked at with the benefit of hindsight and the least sympathetic interpretation possible. It’s a hit piece, and whatever legitimate gripes firefighters may have with Rudy are subsumed by a nasty, sneering contempt.

    As is often the case, the manner of argument is a first good indicator of just how skeptical one should be of the content of the argument.

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    Shock Troops

    QandO reports “More information continues to come out of Iraq concerning the three stories The New Republic published entitled “Shock Truths”. Michael Goldfarb has done yoeman’s work keeping up with all of this.”

    McQ provides several good examples that illustrate how an appropriate skepticism needs to qualify the stories one hears. The stories are of the ‘baby killer’ type that are important to those who consider the military with contempt. There may be a grain of truth behind the allegations somewhere but there is good reason to doubt the overall veracity of the stories about contemptible soldier behavior.

    It appears that the real shock troops are The New Republic and its ilk in the media. This is just another episode in a long line of misrepresentation that taints the current discourse.

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    Talk a lot; don’t care about the implications; don’t see; don’t hear

    The Washington Times wonders about the moral imperative.

    Those now calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq have moral responsibilities. … What they lack is any compelling rationale for the precipice over which they seek to push Iraq. … President Bush yesterday sounded many familiar notes concerning the dangers of withdrawal, notes that are simple but need restating: Withdrawal hands al Qaeda a major victory and imperils us all. “People will begin to wonder about America’s resolve,” Mr. Bush said. … There is a moral obligation to think rationally and morally about the consequences of withdrawal from Iraq. We still do not see it happening.

    This need to consider the moral and ethical implications of the action one promotes seems to be a near plague. Dr.Sanity talks about the peace activist who promotes killing as another example.

    By her words it is clear that this Nobel Peace Prize winner is not actually opposed to killing at all. Specifically, she wants to kill the President of the United States. She has said so multiple times, and because she is a Nobel Prize winner, people and children cheer her, instead of calling her a hatemonger; or arresting her; or admitting her to a psych ward. … If Williams really were a champion of peace, she would be denouncing the true threats to peace in the world and saving her vitriolic rhetoric to oppose Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist jihadi groups that believe it is OK and even a moral necessity to rid the world of Jews and infidels.

    It is not only in advocating reneging on a commitment or advocacy of assassination but also in active avoidance of any exposure to evidence that may potentially cast a negative light on these behaviors. Cal Thomas asks a plaintive question about this sort of avoidance.

    All Mr. Bush is saying is give Gen. David Petraeus a chance. … That is a reasonable request; especially since the progress report was originally slated for September. … But the political season has begun and between Democratic politicians who are conducting their own insurgency against a weakened president — a president they have helped weaken by their nonsupport of the war effort …

    The adage often used is that words are cheap. That is countered by the one that says words mean things.

    It was easy to authorize action in Iraq with a long list of grievances. Actually taking action on that authorization appalled those who now show the value they placed on their own words. Aghast that their words were taken as offered, they now offer more words to counter the earlier words.

    Promoting assassination is also easy. It is like the terrorist leaders who urge others to be suicide bombers. Doing it is best left to someone else.

    When you find someone who can act that is likely to show the hollowness of your words, then, of course, you have to silence them or take some action to minimize the effect of their action so your words don’t look so silly.

    It is like those who make solemn pronouncements about ‘failed’ and ‘miserable’ and ‘incompetent’ and how this administration has achieved nothing. They have to either run fast or start a massive denial or reality campaign to maintain any dignity at all.

    Time will tell. We will see the implications of these words if they are indeed turned into action. It would probably be much better if there were proper considerations of the morality and truthfulness of the words before action is taken. That is why Sen. Reid’s evasion of the question as noted by the Washington Times is worth consideration. Just what are the moral consequences of what we propose? We did consider them going into Iraq despite the propaganda campaign to the contrary. Reid and colleagues do not seem to be doing so in promoting abandonment of the effort in Iraq and its people.

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    Disraeli’s Dictum and Worstall’s Corollary

    Tim Worstall describes the power of creating the agenda in The Mismeasure of Managing Health Care. The topic is health care and Moore’s latest propaganda film.

    On this system of measurement, the actual level of treatment in the US could fall, but the amount tax financed rise: and the US would be declared to have improved its system. Yes, really, a decrease in the absolute level of treatment could mean a rise up the rankings.

    Which rather means that the ranking system isn’t of all that much use to us here.

    So to add to Disraeli’s Dictum above, I offer you Worstall’s Corollary: you let me make the rules about how we’re going to do the measuring and I’ll force our rulers into taking the measures you want. For the simplest way of using statistics to lie is to make sure your desired conclusions determine the statistics you collect.

    Many of the arguments about national health care result in a focus on questionable measures augmented by Disraeli’s “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” These are often used to create an agenda supporting a false premise to attack the US health care system.

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    Trying to understand and explain religion

    Beyond Demonic Memes, Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion by David Sloan Wilson is an attempt by one biologist to understand another on religion. Both Wilson and Dawkins are atheists and both have tried to explain away religious belief.

    Wilson makes a bias clear when he mentions the “unaccountable corporations and extreme income inequality” as having nothing to do with religion. This is a contrast to his plea that “We should be equally concerned about other distortions of factual reality.”

    What Wilson describes is that the idea that evolution is now understood to not only be a matter of genetics. As organizations grow in size and complexity, their evolutionary pressures also expand to include more abstract concepts. War and religion are to be understood, in evolutionary terms, as pressures that involve a social group which is made up of individual humans who are, in turn, made up of living cells. What works for an individual cell may not work, in raw evolutionary terms, for the individual. What works for the individual may not work for the society in which he lives.

    Wilson also describes the fact that not all we see is the direct result of an evolutionary pressure. Some of what we see may be a byproduct of something else. Sometimes what we see is only a small part of a whole that isn’t readily visible.

    This is why the reference to “unaccountable corporations” is notable. Corporations are their own organisms as social entities. They have evolutionary pressures on them. Evolution is an accountability mechanism as expressed in the phrase “only the fittest survive.” For an evolutionary biologist to be so flippant about a social organism in the light of his own discussion about accountability mechanisms is a clear example of how a personal bias can distort perception.

    “Extreme income inequality” is another notable indicator of bias that misleads. Labeling extremes is a value judgment and therefore highly subjective based on the measures one is using for comparison. An inequality should only matter if there is inequity and then it is the inequity that should be noted and not the inequality. When it comes to income, there is a floor defined by charity, both private and public, that is intended to ameliorate problems of inequity. That pins one side of the extreme. Therefore a complaint about “Extreme income inequality” becomes simply a complaint that how much income anyone should be able to achieve should be limited. Limiting ones income is an imposition of inequity.

    What much of this misses, Dr. Sanity catches. God is a Window in our Humanity.

    Because it seems to me that, only if He is real do the concepts of justice or truth live up to their meaning; and only then does the universe make sense. Only if God is real does the meaning of life take on a dimension that is worthy of the human mind.

    The search for God is nothing more and nothing less than a search for and understanding of one’s own self.

    For the biologist, atheist or no, the challenge is to find room for these psychiatric concepts in the concepts of evolution. Wilson describes the hypotheses being explored to meet this challenge. Perhaps the most important concept still needed is a grasp of the influence of the profession of a belief and the all too common academic anti-capitalist bias in trying to ‘explain’ and understand religion in human society.

    There may be more out there that we just don’t get. That can give us hope – if we remain healthy.

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    Do your eyes roll?

    The NY Times raised a stink in a story about a potential candidate for president’s wife. Joe Gandelman explains why in Smelly Journalism Dept: Fred Thompson’s Wife

    To those of you who roll your eyes and groan when you hear people go on and on about the biased news media that injects its personal opinions into news stories and peppers them with assumptions … it’s an incredible example of a manufactured story that should be shown by journalism professors to students about lazy, assumption-filled journalism. … journalistic standards are being relaxed in these days of competition from tabloids, talk radio, blogs (where anything goes and goes quickly), Ophra — and a general relaxation and degradation of what Americans allow politicians and at times the press to inject into elections as “issues.” … this Times story has a basic assumption that neither the writer or the editor could prove — one that should have been edited out from the lead of the story. …

    It is interesting that Joe starts off with presuming a defense, those “who roll your eyes” at allegations of media bias. To me, that says that defensive behaviors are sufficiently generalized and obvious to be of note. The ‘note’ is that the defense is defending something not defensible. That is why Dr. Sanity’s comments are so often found pertinent.

    There is a good need for a comparison and contrast in these examples of media bias. The debate usually gets down to trivialities. How many examples can one find for one side or the other? How important is each example? How is the accuracy of the example measured in terms of both factualness and of context? Is it really an example of bias? Who does it more and who less? What is balanced, anyway?

    These are not simple measures which is why the argument can get so involved and emotionally charged. It is also why secondary measures that involve more objective data can be important. These include things like patterns in journalist voting records, party affiliations, and campaign donations. A fundamental concept in both journalism and science is accepting that the observer has an inherent bias and that needs an appropriate consideration in the evaluation of the precision and accuracy of an observation or measure.

    And, as we tend to do here, you can look at the pattern of the argument. Joe’s explanation sticks to the issue. Innuendo about particular individuals or groups of individuals is minimized. As a contrast, Real Climate often offers examples that drip with condescension, delve into motivations and personalities, and illustrate questionable debate methods. For example:

    However, in the new found enthusiasm for digital photography, many of the participants in this effort seem to have leaped to some very dubious conclusions [No man is an (Urban Heat) Island]

    “new found enthusiasm” ? – “leaped …” ? No recognition of the points raised or the logic used, just denigration as in “dubious conclusions” which is a judgment or opinion expressed as fact. This is followed by an army of straw men that are then destroyed. Again, bad form for debate if intellectual integrity is desired.

    These are only examples, singular items to represent a poorly measured phenomena in a subjectively interpreted statistical analysis. The issue is not to ‘prove’ bias or anything else but to provide a starting point for your own critical reading and interpretation of news and opinion. Don’t “roll your eyes” without have a good objective understanding of what stimulates your response!

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    Symptoms of legal system problems

    The 6th Circuit’s decision on the appeal about the telephone tapping program illustrates just how politicized the legal system has become. The decision was 2-1 and Republican appointed judges vs Democrat appointed judges.

    The majority noted that the complaintants had no standing as they could not show that their conversations has been monitored nor could they show any damages or other standard issue for complaint.

    The minority said that the program violated a law and should be heard anyway, even without any evidence that it had been used or that anyone had been ‘harmed’ by it.

    The politics are the slant in the usual media outlets. Infoworld provides a bit more balanced presentation in Court dismisses lawsuit against US wiretapping

    “The plaintiffs cannot show they have been or will be subject to surveillance personally,” Batchelder wrote.

    The plaintiff’s attempts to sue for other reasons, including violation of their First-Amendment, free-speech rights, are a “thinly veiled ruse,” the judge added. None of the plaintiffs has shown that their speech has been hindered, she wrote.

    There are two key issues here in the allegations against the Bush administration. One is that of illegal conduct. The other is that of suppression of free speech. These are taken as a given by many of the administrations opponents but this case contradicts that reality.

    The precedent, and even basis, of legal action is that harm has to occur before a legal remedy is sought. In this case, nobody had their speech impaired or supressed, and there was no harm caused to anyone that can be demonstrated. The suspect actions have not been deemed illegal by the authorities (including Congress) who can prosecute. These facts have not stopped the complaints and political opponents have undertaken the role of public prosecutor. The Appeals Court has, in this decision, said that such behavior should not be supported.

    What is important here is that differences of opinion have taken on this form of legal harassment and there has been an a priori pre-judgment of illegality, even by a judge, without a full hearing of all of evidence. It is a case of complaining about being silenced while using the legal system to silence those who do not agree with your views.

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    Their passion is killing us

    If you can handle it, go read Bruce Thornton’s thoughts on VDH’s private papers! History in your face with a dire warning:

    “The 21st-century progressive church may appear less lethal than fascism or communism, but its eagerness to don the hair shirt of Western guilt and self-loathing is in the end as suicidal as the rants of Jim Jones in Guyana.”

    The Passion of the Left, CIA’s new revelations fan the flames of “progressive” myths of our past.

    You know the story, since it continues to be told non-stop by the media, television, movies, and half the curricula in schools and universities … The problem is, subsequent history has uncovered the facts that expose the hollowness of these myths. … But don’t confuse “progressives” with the facts. Their melodrama of moustache-twirling capitalists and their Republican minions controlling the oafish masses with God, patriotism, and Wal-Mart is too flattering to the typical liberal’s elitist pretensions

    A very concise summary with just enough history that you can follow up with your own thinking and research – if you can handle this reality.

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    It is worthy of note that the Miss America candidate as the Miss Universe competition in Mexico City was booed as her final presentation. Trying to understand such uncivil behavior has lead to many theories and ideas.

    One explanation of the unity on the left is its belief that today’s divisive political questions have easy answers–but because of their illiberal opinions and aims, conservatives are unable to see this and, in a mere six years, have brought democracy in America to the brink. This explanation, however, contradicts the vital lesson of John Stuart Mill’s liberalism that political questions, as opposed to mathematical questions, tend by their very nature to be many-sided. Indeed, it contradicts the left’s celebration of its own appreciation of the complexity and depth of politics.[The Conservative Mind: The American right is a cauldron of debate; the left isn’t. by Peter Berkowitz]

    When you see uncivil behavior, such as that shown the Miss America candidate, you are not seeing nuance. No room for doubt is allowed. An easy answer is being expressed. It is projected onto a convenient symbol.

    Civil behavior is, in itself, an expression of respect for nuance. It allows for complexity of other persons, their beliefs, and their opinions. It allows for “Expression or appreciation of subtle shades of meaning, feeling, or tone” (American Heritage Dictionary)

    Peter Berkowitz, as in the quote above, points out that many of those who lay a claim to understanding nuance and tolerance may not express it in their behavior. His point is that nuance leads to discussion and debate. The uncivil behavior shown at the Miss Universe contest illustrates that leftist, liberal, or progressive anti-American views lack nuance. Hence they lack understanding and suffer from a lack of intellectual integrity. Yes, just one more example, just one more example that doesn’t look like much by itself. Just one more example.

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    hyperbolic hysterics over hypocrisy

    It is a case of watch out for the spittle. It seems the Libby commutation really hit a nerve. IMAO takes off on this in BREAKING NEWS: Scooter Libby Has Gone a Perjury Spree.

    It has been confirmed that Lewis “Scooter” Libby, freed from the threat of prison by President Bush, has broken probation and gone on a perjury spree, lying to prosecutors in multiple states and obstructing their investigations of high-profile non-crimes. … Democrats say this only confirms their worst fears. “We warned you!” said Senator Harry Reid in a statement to the press, “By getting that madman out of prison, President Bush has doomed this entire country. Dooomed! DOOOOOOMED!! He needs to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and have them focus on capturing Scooter Libby.”

    The reality seems to be that all anyone can offer is an allegation of hypocrisy. If Libby gets his sentence commuted, then why not all the other prisoners with perjury or obstruction of justice convictions? If the President has been adamant about harsh sentences and sentencing guidelines, why interfere in this one?

    Hypocrisy is an interesting allegation. It is, by its nature, an ad hominem argument about the integrity of someone. Such arguments are an indication of weakness when the debate is about issues. What this debate is about, though, is the character of the President. It is not about Libby or sentencing guidelines or other such things but rather about the person elected to office. That ties back into the stimulus for the process that led to the Libby case. That, in turn, belies much of the argument being made about character as it becomes more evident that this is a matter of character assassination rather than character assessment.

    What is also being aired is that the special prosecutor may have had a special bone to pick with the defendant in regards to previous law cases. The irony is that that case involved Marc Rich who was pardoned by President Clinton. There are many other questions about the investigation and prosecution that do have long term consequence.

    One question is whether the Libby commutation of sentence is worth the hyperbolic hysterics. Will it set a precedent? Not likely. Will it have any long term consequence? Not likely. The legacy of the Libby case may end up as another example for those trying to spring death row inmates falsely convicted, if the politics could be removed.

    What will have a long lasting and detrimental effect will be the increased risk imposed on high profile civil servants. This has been a discussion over the last few years in regards to the need to expose very personal things, such as tax returns and medical records, the reporting of campaign efforts, and the manner by which some who disagree escalate to verbal or even physical attacks.

    One response to the Libby case was a refusal to testify to Congress in regards to the Attorney General scandal gardening. This is another case of no impropriety or crime but plenty of allegation and hot air being used to try to trap someone, anyone, that could support a political agenda. These kinds of things invite retaliation in turn. An example is the attacks on the prosecutor that are being seen now. That is a positive feedback that escalates partisanship and rancor.

    Where this goes in the public can be seen by those who claim the Constitution has been shredded by the current administration, that fascism is running rampant, that torture has been legalized and become standard policy, that the Iraq war is based on a lie, and more. These claims, despite having no basis in reality, are the reality for some. The political combat has overcome all else.

    One has to ask what kind of people we will have running for office or willing to serve in high profile positions when they know their livelihood and their reputation may be at stake. It seems you will either get people who don’t care, don’t know enough to care, or revel in the combat.

    That is the long term consequence of worry. The goal is to ‘get’ the other guy. It is not to solve problems. ‘The country can go to hell as long as I can demolish those who don’t agree with me. ‘

    Oh, my. What a crop of weeds we sow.

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    Libby, Berger, Clinton

    The criminal behavior cases of Libby, Berger, and Clinton have come together for a comparison and contrast dialog. There are many issues to ponder and implications to consider. The two of most relevance seem to be materiality and motivation. That is, what does it have to do with anything and why did he do it?

    Berger was convicted for stealing records from the National Archives. He was fined.

    Clinton was impeached for perjury and lost his law license.

    Libby was convicted for the obstruction of justice and was fined, sentenced to a jail term, and had his professional license removed.

    This dialog and its aspects is a hot topic in the blogs. Here are a few worth reading. The comments to the posts can also provide insight. Ankle Biting Pundits has one “prosecutor’s view” in BDP Thoughts On The Libby Commutation. Just One Minute notes a “slick straddle” by supporting the jury but not the judge and calls Reid’s response a “classic gaffe.” The American Mind opines that nobody is happy with the President’s action. Beldar analyzes an hypothetical to get into the materiality issue.

    In all three of these cases there was the suppression or obfuscation of evidence. The a priori assumption about such behavior is that its intent is to prevent discovery of a crime.

    Berger stole papers so that misconduct in office was not revealed in regards to national security.

    Clinton denied his culpability to avoid responsibility for sexual harassment or rape. As a side note, this is often dismissed as ‘just about sex’ which is an obfuscation and denial in its own right. The issues are related to sex but the illegal part was improper relationships with an intern and assault (contrast Paula Jones to the recent Duke case, for instance).

    Libby was convicted because his story conflicted with that of others in an investigation about a crime that didn’t happen. It can be assumed to not have happened because the independent investigator hired to find the crime failed to do so and the revelations of the investigation do not point to any crime as alleged.

    What the Reid crowd assert is that the sexual harassment and rape in regards to Clinton were not crimes yet the Plame disclosure was a crime, and a significant one at that, even if it wasn’t what Libby was suspected of doing. Therefore Clinton was unjustly impeached and Libby unjustly relieved of prison time in their world.

    Then there is the debate about the President’s authority and accountability in pardons and commutations of sentence. Why does the US Constitution provide these powers to a president? The obvious answer is that it is another form of appeal if the other systems fail to create justice. The accountability is strictly in the visibility, these actions being of a rather singular and special nature. Again, Clinton provides an example of how this power can be used for self protection and the rewarding of friends.

    What the brouhaha should say is that the issue is primarily political and not a matter of justice or crime. As has been seen in previous ‘independent investigator’ efforts, the process gets so loaded politically that justice takes a back seat. The Libby case is particularly pernicious because it is an effort to create a crime, which is new anf different when compared to the Clinton and Berger cases. The effort to create a crime has revealed that much of its foundation is particularly dishonest this go around. That helps no one and disrupts justice and the needs for civil order and good governance.

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    Can we accept that there is a true reality?

    Truth or Fiction is a Dallas Morning News opinion worried about people and their penchant to avoid reality.

    A weakness for conspiracy theory goes hand in hand with willingness to credit rumors as fact. Both, he said, are part of a psychological strategy that helps Muslims cope with their own humiliation and lack of economic, technological and educational development relative to the rest of the world. Yet the inability to deal straightforwardly with facts not only makes relations between Muslim nations and the rest of the world unnecessarily difficult, it also perpetuates the knowledge deficit and weakness pervading the Muslim world.

    Americans who read stories like this might smile, shake their heads and give thanks that they don’t live amid such gullible people. They can only maintain that pose of superiority if they ignore the destructive role rumor played in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The moral panic surrounding Katrina, stoked in part by media rumor-mongering, had serious, perhaps even lethal, consequences for stranded New Orleanians.

    It’s not news that people are prone to believing things that confirm their biases. What is news, I think, is that people are losing the sense that truth is knowable and that one has a moral obligation to seek the truth, no matter how difficult it may be to deal with. Truth is often painful, but truthiness is therapeutic.

    We all must learn to be more vigilant about seeking the truth as we become aware of our own biases. But we cannot do that if we don’t believe that objective truth exists and can be known. If we come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that there is no such thing as Truth, but rather truths – my truth, your truth, their truth – then our minds will be, paradoxically, both closed airtight and so open that our brains fall out.

    The recent BBC bias report and its ongoing insistence that it is impartial anyway is a testimony to the fact that many see truth as what they see and no farther. The media’s posturing about balance and impartiality indicate that there is a recognition that the search for what is the actual reality has value but their behavior does not lend credence to their actual holding of that value.

    Rod Dreher, the Dallas Morning News editorial columnist who wrote Truth or Fiction, describes what he sees. Trying to describe why it is important and then trying to communicate that to others is much more difficult. The importance of reality is perhaps the most important truth that is given much lip service but very little actual effort.

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