Friday, December 30, 2005

Dear Dry Bones

Thank you for your Christmas wishes. I hope your Chanukah celebration continues with Joy and Peace for you and yours. Thank you also for today's post reminding us of the bizarreness of calendars. It reminded me that I knew that but had forgotten it. It was also, as usual, funny.

I will be very busy tomorrow and do not expect to have time to blog so:

May everyone's New Year's celebrations bring safety and joy.

Mark Steyn tells us how Arnold unrang a bell

In "Like It Is: Tookie goes to Austria" (HT: Powerline) Mark tells the tale of a bunch of Austrian lefty politicians calling for a name change on a local stadium. Apparently, and I admit I didn't know this, the city of Graz, Austria named a football (by which I assume they mean soccer) stadium after Arnold in recognition of his success on the world stage. This is a pretty typical local-boy-makes-good story, I remember the renaming of "Mohammad Ali Blvd" in Louisville, KY when I was a kid.

This story has a couple of twists though. Apparently the lefties in Graz were upset with Arnold not granting clemency to Tookie Williams. They were so upset that they started a movement to pressure the city to change the name of the stadium.... to the Tookie Williams stadium (you have to remember these are lefties and are therefore, by definition, not rational). They claim Arnold is a criminal because capital punishment is illegal in Austria and he should further be stripped of his citizenship (didn't he give it up when he became an American citizen???).

Arnold's response is the key to the story. I won't spoil it all because you should go read Mark Steyn's great article but here is the best part.

Writing to the mayor of his old town, Schwarzenegger noted that in the course of his gubernatorial term he'd have to make decisions on other death-row inmates, too - the next one comes up in January. So, wrote the governor, "in order to spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium... I expect the lettering to be removed by the end of 2005" - and, given that most European municipal workers are on vacation till the second week of January, that means the mayor may have had to sub-contract the job to any obliging Albanian Muslim refugees he could round up.

"The use of my name to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way is no longer allowed," continued Arnold. "Graz will not have any problems in the future with my decisions as governor of California, because officially nothing connects us any more."

And just for good measure he returned the "Ring of Honor" he was given in 1999 for the "pride and recognition" he brought Graz.

RU-486 injury and death report

WebMD Medical News has published this article detailing the known severe side effects of the drug. It is pretty well written. It details the 8 deaths and 607 other severe "adverse events" known to have occurred world wide in the 460,000 doses give. This amounts to about 1.33 serious events per thousand doses given. It does note that the adverse reaction problems are probably much worse than the statistics shown.

"The FDA reports that only about 1% to 10% of adverse events for any given drug are ever reported," she says. "And in this case women may be even less likely to report problems because they may be ashamed."

Therefore we assume that the severe adverse reaction rate is more than 1 in 100, which is a cause for concern. The article also notes that they tried to get a statement from the manufacturer of Mifeprex (part of the RU-486 dose) to comment without success.

There are two things that the article does not note which I think are noteworthy. Danco Laboratories, the manufacturer of Mifeprex never released the drug for this purpose and does not condone doctor's prescribing it for this purpose. Some argue that this could be a legal shield from the inevitable law suits. They can continue to sell their drug while being shielded (to at least some degree) from being sued because they didn't participate in FDA approval for this use. Some argue that the manufacturer is making some moral statement publicly (investor relations) while raking in the bucks off of sales. It may be neither or both.

The second relevant point is that many of the adverse reactions could be dealt with very easily if women were kept under observation in a hospital for 24-48 hours after taking the drugs. We know that at least two of the U.S. deaths from bleeding occurred in teenage girls who were given the drugs without parental consent and sent home, only to bleed to death because they didn't want to tell Mom and Dad why they were bleeding. In some countries women are required to stay under observation for this reason. I believe the FDA did not impose an observation requirement because of lobbying on the part of groups like NOW who claimed that the treatment wouldn't be "available" to young girls who didn't want to inform their parents that they were pregnant and getting an abortion. This is, of course, an infringement on their right to privacy (read abortion) and not a situation of infringing on parental rights.

If we did impose an observation requirement two things would certainly happen.

1. We would have a much better idea of the actual adverse reaction rate.
2. Fewer women would have long term effects (including death) from their adverse reactions.

Just a thought.

Women gone wild (or crazy)

The Arizona Daily Star has this story of a 26 year old woman who was arrested on charges of having sex with a 12 year old boy at a domestic violence shelter. As though it isn't messed up enough that this poor boy's father is (presumably) a violent asshole, some creepy woman at the shelter where he was supposed to be safe rapes him.

And, just so you know that women are going nuts the world over and not just here, we have this story. Some crazy rich 41 year old Jewish woman had a ceremonial wedding with the love of her life at Eilat dolphin reef. Yes, she really married a dolphin. There is reason to believe the 35 year old male dolphin has a sexual identity crisis resulting from spending his entire life named "Cindy". Follow the link to the original story to see the picture of the marital kiss. Of course, the woman loudly proclaims that "I'm not a pervert". Sure.

Egyptians slaughter refugees

Why does Egypt have the right to indiscriminately slaughter Sudanese (read black African for those few of you with worse geography than mine) refugees but Israel doesn't have the right to defend itself through targeted killings of terrorists?

Will the Big Ten dominate Men's B-Ball?

Clark Kellogg thinks the Big Ten in general looks great this year. He is picking IU to narrowly win the the conference championship over MSU. He is further suggesting that up to 8 teams have a good shot at the big dance. I hope he is right on all three counts. IU does look good on the floor this year. IMHO they are still missing a critical piece, a good game coach, but I hope to be proved wrong this year. With a conference that has this much talent you cannot afford to lose the inevitable close games and Mike Davis has had a penchant for losing games that he should have won. Maybe Clark is seeing something I am missing.

Justice department finally opens leak probe

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally announced that they have opened an investigation into who leaked the NSA program information to the NYT. This is the Reuters story on the announcement with this shocking paragraph:

A 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, makes it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without the approval of a special, secret court. Bush secretly gave the NSA authority to intercept communications without such approval.

First of all, that is a pretty sad characterization of the FISA law. The FISA law was put in place for a number of reasons, one of which was to give the executive branch (mostly the FBI) the ability to "spy" on US Citizens without needing to go to a public court (such as a federal district court). By having a centralized and generally sealed court the process for a federal agency to "spy" on a US Citizen for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence gets easier not harder.

Secondly, it is well understood that the President has always had the authority to do what this executive order did. We know that the last two Democrat Presidents did it after FISA was passed. It is a power granted by Article II of the Constitution so a law cannot take that authority away.

Third, the President did not do this "SECRETLY". He informed both of the other branches that this program was in place and updated them regularly on its progress. Note, he is not required to do this under current law. But to say that he started and was running this program secretly when a bunch of Democratic Congresscritters knew about it and were being regularly briefed about it is a bold face lie.

65% of "Palestinians" support terror to US/EU

Powerline has the pointer to the poll and extracts from the press release in Paul's article "Remind Me Why We're Funding these Bastards". It is a good question.

Report on Clinton abuse of IRS buried?

I am not sure how I missed this story in its earlier incarnations but apparently the independent counsel investigation that led to the Henry Cicneros conviction is still ongoing. At least it is ongoing to the extent that the final report has not been published. Democrats are doing everything in their power to keep it that way, including putting amendments on spending bills to block the parts they don't like. I thought that the reason they objected to the Anwar drilling being put in the military spending bill was some long standing rule about not having disjoint things in a single bill. Publication of a final report on a government abuse investigation would seem less related to a generic appropriations bill than Anwar drilling is to a domestic security and military funding bill. Go read and be shocked.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The record of the "paper of record"

As a general rule giant media conglomerates don't go after each other. They happily attack police officers for not outing bad cops. They happily point out how hard it is to get one doctor to testify in another's malpractice case. But they generally only attack each other in cases like the Eason Jordon, Jayson Blair or Dan Rather/Mary Mapes where the issue isn't what is covered or what slant is put on it but the fact that it is intolerably bad journalism. They will cover it when a competitor is telling out and out lies but that is about it. That is why we need folks like RantingProfs to cover that for us.

The New York Post goes after not the nature of the coverage from the New York Times, not the liberal slant they tell it with, not the substance or facts of their reporting but their patriotism. "The Gray Lady Toys with Treason" is a must read piece.

The Jayson Blair and Judith Miller fiascoes were high-profile embarrassments for The Times, but at the end of the day mostly damaged the newspaper alone.

The NSA, CIA and NYPD stories are of a different order of magnitude they place in unnecessary danger the lives of U.S. citizens.

The New York Times a once-great and still-powerful institution is badly in need of adult supervision.


Fun with Math

Hugh Hewitt comments on a UPI story titled "Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them". His criticism is entirely valid but there are two things I saw he didn't point out.

From the UPI story:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.
A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Hearst newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.

The first thing that jumped out at me is that the UPI headline claimed that Bush was DENIED warrants and then quotes the number MODIFIED in comparison to years past. They are kind enough to tell us that the court rejected or deferred 6 requests from the Bush administration but gives us no comparison with previous administrations on that front.

The second thing is that raw numbers, while useful, are often misleading to the public. As a general rule when comparing disjoint sets you need to do the presentation including percentages or rates. So here we go.

In the first 22 years there were 13,102 requests and 2 modifications.

13,102 / (22 * 12) = 49.62 warrant requests per month
2/13,102 = so close to 0% modified as to be negligible

In the last 5 years (2001 - 2005) there were 5,645 requests with 179 modifications.

5,645 / (5 * 12) = 94.08 warrant requests per month
179/5,645 = 3.17% of requests modified
6/5,645 = 0.1% of requests rejected or deferred (pretty close to negligible)

I am not a lawyer or a police officer but I would have to assume that getting almost 97% of all warrant requests through without modification would be considered either a rubber stamp court/judge or a highly conservative prosecutor/cop. Further, only about 1 in 1,000 requests were rejected or deferred so most of even the 3% that were modified were approved in some form. I would think that would definitely be considered a rubber stamp court.

The Bush administration almost doubled the rate of warrant requests and fell from almost 100% approval without modification to 99.9% approval with 3% modified. How many DA's in the country can quote similar statistics in their "crack down on crime" campaigns?

Isn't math fun?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Kofi blows his top

James Bone was attacked by Kofi Annan who called him an "overgrown schoolboy" in reply to James' question about the abuse of diplomatic status by Kojo Annan to avoid import taxes on a Mercedes. Go read his article on the matter. He brings up some very important questions. (HT: RantingProfs)

NSA wire tapping question

RantingProfs offers the following well formed question about the NSA "scandal":

isn't the speed issue less one of getting to the caller before a relevant call has been made and missed, and more getting to the phone before the caller realizes that the terrorist who had the number in their possession is out of commission, possibly therefore captured, and the relevant number compromised? That is, after all, why governments tend to delay announcements that terrorists have been captured for 48 to 72 hours: they want time to make use of any intelligence the terrorist has in their possession, going to addresses, arresting people there, eavesdropping on any phone numbers in their possession.

Once a certain amount of time has gone by the government might as well go public because presumably the terrorist's palies will figure out he's out of the game, and bail on any addresses or phone numbers they know he had on him. Isn't that the shelf-life that's relevant?

I suspect this is indeed at least part of the question. We are not dealing with an organized crime investigation where the FBI spends months or even years building a case. We are talking about trying to track a web of people across the world who regularly change email addresses, web sites, disposable cell phones, etc. They also tend to travel a lot. Everyone in the know about FISA I have heard says that the FISA process has at least two problems in this kind of intelligence gathering. First, it takes days to run through the process. It has been pointed out by critics that a FISA judge is available 24x7 to approve applications for warrants. What is usually left out is the number of people that have to review and approve the application before it is presented to said judge. That is the second problem with using FISA. Too many people have to be in the loop. Aside from the possible security leak problem that presents, most of those people are not foreign intelligence gathering experts. Why would that be the case for "Foreign Intelligence Security Act" participants? FISA was designed to assist the FBI in catching foreign criminals who are breaking US law, not to help us catch terrorists. They are generally well versed in criminal investigations where one or more participants is a non-US person. They are not the experts on tracking terrorists.

RantingProfs concludes:

Does that in any way impact the debate over the difficulty in going to FISA?

I think the answer to that is yes. That is not the only difficulty but it does impact it.

Ed Morrissey's piece in the Weekly Standard goes even further in dissecting the issue.

The core of the issue is this: the NSA and the administration defined international communications as including those where one end--and one end only--occurs in the United States. Anything else still requires a warrant, as the Times acknowledges.

MOREOVER, the NSA's efforts did not take place in darkness. The FISA court did get informed of the issue, and the leaders of the oversight committees in both houses of Congress from both parties took part in the decision. It does not appear that the Bush administration sought to hide this from the other two branches of government, but sought to include them in the oversight of the new process as much as possible within the secrecy needed to conduct the program during wartime.


If one reads further into the Times's long and detailed article, the Bush administration received precedential decisions from courts that acknowledged the executive authority to wage war included a broader authority to set the parameters of espionage in order to guarantee security. Clearly, the administration has sought to comply with the letter of the law while getting the best possible information as quickly as it could to prevent another devastating terrorist attack.

So there is not only no evidence that the Bush administration did this in a vacuum, even the original Times piece acknowledged that the other two branches were briefed on it in their oversight roles.

Further, why would the President use the FISA court to do what the Supreme Court has said he has the power to do without it? There is the possibility of weakening the inherent Constitutional power of the Presidency as acknowledged multiple times by different Supreme Courts.

Some have questioned why, if the President believed he needed to do these searches without a warrant, the administration did not lobby Congress to pass a law explicitly allowing him to do so. The answer to that is obvious. If the Constitution allows it, and the Supreme Court has said it does, the President doesn't need a law. Why would he ask for a law to do something that implies that he doesn't have that power in the absence of a change in law? The point is that no change in law was needed.

There are laws in my area about needing to keep my dog on a leash in public areas. Should I go to my legislature and ask for a law to be passed allowing me to let my dog run off leash in my fenced back yard? Of course not. I implicitly have that right. The President believes, based on multiple unchallenged Supreme Court rulings that he had a right to do what he did. Further, he bothered to inform the other two branches of government that he was doing it. He, therefore, can not be accused of restricting the rights of the Congress for intelligence oversight or the right of the Court to interpret the Constitution and the law.

If there is a legal challenge actually mounted there are only two choices.
1. The Supreme Court confirms, again, this right of the Presidency.
2. The Supreme Court reverses precedent, making it not legal for the program to continue.

There is no rational way that the court can rule that the President violated the law as they will have to acknowledge (assuming what little we know is true) that he was acting in good faith according to the previous precedent they are overturning.

This is a bigger "non-scandal" than the Boulder football recruiting non-scandal.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

For God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son.

Have a wonderful and safe day.